Myth #3: The Montana was basically a larger Iowa Class Battleship
The Montana was a larger Iowa class battleship with an extra turret.
The belief in the connection between the Iowa and Montana classes likely stems from their similar appearance and use of the same main armament. However, examination of their design features shows two very different ships for two different roles.
Armoring is the largest difference between the two classes. The Iowa class ships used an internal armored belt inherited from the proceeding South Dakota class. This brought the armored belt inside the hull and was done as a weight saving measure. However, shells striking this belt first penetrated the outer hull. This had the unwelcome effect of potentially flooding the void space between hull and belt for shots that hit at or below the waterline. The Montana design didn’t have to follow weight restrictions and so reverted back to a traditional external belt where the armor was on the outside of the hull. This ensured that potential damage was outside of the hull and that watertight integrity would remain intact. Unlike the Iowa, the Montana was protected from its own guns. This armoring style reflects the design philosophies behind the two ships. The Iowa was meant to be a fast interceptor to guard against cruisers and fast battleships. The Montana class was designed to participate with the main battle line and engage in furious gunnery duels with multiple battleships.
After armor, speed shows another sizable difference between the classes. The Iowas were designed to be high speed 32-knot battleships to act as protection to the carrier fleet. While designers considered making the Montana class faster, they decided that firepower and armor were more important. Thus, the Montana was limited to a speed of 28 knots like the North Carolina and South Dakota classes. Not fast enough to escort carriers, but fast enough to operate in the battle line.
Overall, the Montana was a vastly different warship compared to the Iowa class. The design reflects the role that they were intended for, a heavily armed and armored warship capable of taking on anything else that it might encounter.
The Montana class battleships would have been one of the most powerful dreadnoughts ever to be launched, rivaled only by the Yamato class battleships. However, like the Yamato, the tiger tank, or many other of the “wonder weapons” created during the Second World War, a certain aura of myth has been built around them. They weren’t ultimate weapons conjured up to single-handedly win the war, just simple units designed to fill a role particular role in warfare. Unfortunately for the Montana class, the role of the battleship in warfare was in its twilight phase. They arrived too little too late.
Author: Chris Knupp