Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Explaining Those Battleship Turrets Amidships

Sketch of HMS Dreadnought

By Steve McLaughlin

Placing main battery turrets amidships was a common practice in battleship designs up until just before World War I; it was used by the British, German, French, Italian, Japanese, American, and Russian navies (plus on some battleships built in Britain for Brazil and Turkey, as well as a pair of U.S.-built dreadnoughts for Argentina). The reasons were:

Two British Battleships with Turrets Amidships
HMS Erin and Centurion

a) Most navies built ships with twin turrets, and only so many turrets could be stacked ("superimpose" was the technical term) at the ends of the ship, although after Jutland the German Navy studied a design with three turrets, one above the other, at the aft end of the ship. They rejected it!

b) Battleships were meant to fight on the broadside primarily, so end-on fire was usually not seen as very important (although it did play a role in some early dreadnought-era designs including the Dreadnought herself.)

View of Dreadnought's Q-Turret Amidships

Problems with turrets amidships included the fact that their magazines were usually squeezed between engine and boiler rooms, with steam pipes running between these spaces; this made for increased temperatures around the magazines, which was generally seen as a bad thing. There were also some naval architectural problems involving hull strength and other such issues. As gun sizes increased, ships tended to carry fewer guns (e.g., British battleships went from ten 13.5-inch guns to eight 15-inch guns), so there was less reason to squeeze in extra turrets. Also, the use of triple turrets by many navies meant that more guns could be placed at the ends of the ship, again reducing the need for turrets amidships. 


  1. Future designs for ww2 included 2 turrets in front, one in the back. Yamato (Japanese) and her sister Musashi (2 more were planned), the largest battleships ever built (72,000 ton displacement and 9 18.1 inch guns), used this design as did the Missouri and other US ships. They never achieved much of anything BTW.

  2. At the start of the war, battleships were thought to be important. A short time into the war, aircraft carriers became the key naval asset

  3. Minor point: The technical term for turrets mounted one above the other was "superfire", rather than superimpose.
    The plan of Dreadnought shows two "wing turrets", one on either beam, as well as a midships turret on the centreline. This was common in pre-dreadnoughts and the early dreadnoughts, but the problems were that they and their ammunition hoists were very vulnerable to enemy fire from that side, and of course they could only fire to one side so it was an inefficient use of weight and machinery. The centreline amidships turret was an endeavour to address those issues, but some classes such as Dreadnought had both.