Aircraft Carriers Versus Battleships in War and Myth with James R. FitzSimonds

“FitzSimonds is a research professor with the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the U.S. Naval War College and director of the Halsey Alfa Advanced Research Group. Captain, USN (retired), FitzSimonds is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and MIT.”

He argues that battleships were more important than aircraft carriers, that the US Navy understood this during the war, and that the ‘carrier revolution’ is a postwar revisionist view that historians have latched onto.

Your thoughts?


I’ve long held the belief that the US Navy leadership absolutely didn’t see the carrier as a “capital ship” until long after Pearl Harbour, in the context of people claiming that the USN deliberately baited the IJN to attack their battleships because the battleship was no longer the dominant naval asset. The USN substituted carriers into their warfighting because they had no choice, not because they were already convinced that the carriers were the critical asset.

Remember that the capabilities of carrier aircraft had been pretty limited until just before the war, in the sense of their combat radius, speed, and armament. Monoplane carrier aircraft were still somewhat of a novelty and hadn’t proven themselves in actual combat in USN leadership’s eyes.

I’ll watch the video later, but I do think that the carrier had pretty decisively established itself by, say, 1943, as the main combat strength of the Pacific Fleet, and even the crustiest battleship admiral was unlikely to want to send a squadron of BBs anywhere dangerous without carrier aircraft available.


I would slightly disagree with this. After the end of the Washington treaty in 1936, Washington began to design and procure ships not limited by the treaty. Before Pearl Harbor, they had already ordered 11 Essex class carriers as well as the Iowa class battleships. I would argue that ordering so many of the most advanced carriers in the world at that time indicated that they planned for carriers to play a key role in future naval actions.

What the US navy had not figured out was how to make the carrier task force work. The Japanese got their first and most effectively. The US learned quickly and by 1943 like you said had figured out how to use multiple carriers in concert with surface ships. Considering how that had never been demonstrated before 1940, I would consider it a pretty fast learning curve.

I think if you look at fleet actions the US engaged in 1943-1945 Aircraft carriers were the central part of everything they did. I can’t think of any big fleet movement designed to have the goal of getting the battleships in killing range. It was always centered around if it was in carrier range it was dead. It was also not just that carriers were now there in numbers but that the aircraft grew so much more effective and maybe just as important, logistics to support task forces was created from scratch.

So imho, look at what the US Navy built and aimed to do and it’s hard to conclude other than by 1939-1940 aircraft carriers were considered at least equal to the battleship. Pearl Harbor just accelerated this trend.


Agree and it the Carriers became very useful in certain war situations like the Pacific but also Korea (spoiler) after the war. There carriers were moved in quickly to augmented plane strength and act as floating nearby runways.

Battleships, stayed useful for bombardments and protection but it is obvious to me that the Carriers were important in WW2 at a time when planes had short ranges and could not be refueled in air.

E.g. If the invasion in 1944 will come in Northern Norway (we don’t know yet right? ) I would expect Fleet Carriers to do some of the heavy lifting as Norway is much further from the UK bases then e.g. Calais. Calais has the big plus of not requiring Carriers :wink:

Moreover the US/UK aggressively built Carriers and Japan converted battleship into carriers. “Shattered Sword” has some fantastic information on Carrier development and why these became very useful.



While there were many battles during the war that involved strictly ship to ship combat what it did show is while battleships were powerful, had big guns and had range superiority they were very vulnerable to small fast moving ships like destroyers and fast boats (pt boats, e-boats) necessitating having a fleet of smaller vessels like destroyers, cruisers and so forth to protect the capital ships.

All this would be negated by aircraft carriers as instead of engaging ships at 30km away now you could engage with aircraft up to 400km away from the carrier provided you knew where the opposing fleet was. Sure plane losses could be and often were high many militaries found losing planes was a far cheaper alternative to losing a much more expensive ship. Something that the US initially was very slow to accept.


If the invasion is in Norway, then we will be seeing a massive movement of carriers and logistics capabilities moving to the Atlantic months before the invasion. I wonder how quickly they can secure a good port and road capability to support troops.

I thought the Uk carriers interesting. The armored flight decks are nice but it definitely appears they are designed more for an Atlantic war than a Pacific war. Not as much range and more logistics issues all the way around. I could be wrong here but the Essexes seemed a better design gIven all the other Naval resources coming online in 1944.


Definitely agree. Battleships seemed to be a liability. The older ones too slow. The modern ones too vulnerable to aircraft. But they definitely had their fire support and air defense strong points.


Unlike the situation in the game World of Warships, where destroyers need a screen of battleships to protect them from submarines. :wink: