In 1942, Japan Ordered 2 Battleships to Be Built with Huge 20-Inch Guns
Japan’s naval success at the beginning of the Pacific War happened because of the treaties, not despite them. The IJN played a poor hand very well, but in any kind of extended naval competition against the United States, the UK, or a combination of the two, it could not win. Upon discovering the existence of these ships, the United States would have begun to construct even larger battleships, as well as other means of sinking large battleships. Indeed, in 1952 the United States laid down USS Forrestal, the first of a class of four aircraft carriers substantially larger than the A-150 class battleships.
Had the war not come, Japan would have bankrupt itself spending on these massive ships. Japan lacked the industrial capacity to compete with the United States; indeed, even if it had managed to seize and keep wide swaths of East Asia, it could not have matched U.S. industrial production for decades. The United States would have responded to Japanese construction with even larger, more deadly ships, and of course eventually with submarines, aircraft and guided missiles.
Warships are (imperfect) reflections of existing economic realities. Timing, technology and grand strategy matter, but in raw competition involving mature technologies, superior economic strength will eventually prevail. The Japanese economy would eventually become competitive with that of the UK, and even the United States, but this would only happen in context of an open trading system with access to the European and American markets. No battleship could carry guns large enough to bring that outcome about.
Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.
This piece has been updated since publication.
Image: The Yamato design.