Cold War Battleships – Platforms That Never Were

As the USSR began its forced-industrialization in the 1930s, warships were on the list. Stalin’s plans included a grand fleet of battleships. Command makes this historical footnote playable, and thus a look at the navy is worth it.

By the time of the revolution Russia’s navy was a shambles, wrecked in World War I and the earlier conflict with Japan. Losses in the civil war continued this miserable trend, and a much higher military priority was given to readying the land forces.

Yet the capital ship program continued. Even though Soviet industry could barely build cruisers, the battleships were still laid down. One extensive study on the program suggested that Stalin’s infamous deal with Germany was due in part to further the buildup since it had few other potential partners. (The Soviets even ordered two cruisers right from German yards, a fact made ironic by the recent fate of the Mistral amphibious ships they planned to acquire.)

In World War II, large warships would only be a waste of resources given that the war was decided on land. Stalin continued a now-anachronistic buildup after the war ended, but it progressed haltingly, and Khrushchev wasted little time in cancelling the Stalingrad battlecruisers and halting the purchase of Sverdlov gun cruisers.

The Soviet Navy would become the largest inherently asymmetric warfare force in the world, focusing on submarines, aircraft, and heavy missiles to conduct a sea denial mission rather than futilely trying to match the US in carriers.

Command contains the forces of the big-fleet. Stalingrad and Kronshtadt battlecruisers, October Revolution battleships (then you could have a real “hunt for Red October”), and several classes of carriers. There are also missile upgrades to salvage the big-gun ships.

The western powers already had their big fleets of battleships, however they would not be in service for most of the Cold War. Historically, the only long-standing ones were the Iowas. But the CWDB contains quite a few conversions of the Iowa, Alaska, and Vanguards into missile ships. In keeping with the naval doctrine, most of the conversions were “defensive” ships with SAMs to protect carriers and other high value units, opposed to the Soviet “offensive” ships with large ASMs to attack said units.

The most intriguing conversion is one that turned an Iowa into a heavy assault ship with the ability to deploy helicopters and landing craft. While still not the most practical (landing ships don’t want to go any closer than they have to, while battleship guns still have a limited range), the raw cheesiness of the ship gives it an appeal. There’s just something -interesting- about seeing 16 inch shells and attack helicopters roaring off the same ship.

(Also interesting are the nuclear missile monitors, but those would be made even more obsolete by SSBNs very quickly)

What could plausibly bring the western battleships back to life? That’s the biggest problem.

Battleships are huge and resource-intensive, and the missiles they carried could be (and were) fitted aboard cruiser hulls. For a US Navy still being overloaded by SAC during the time of the proposed upgrades, it made more sense to go with a ship that had a fifth less the displacement and half the crew. There is one military (as opposed to political pork for the shipyards) reason for the conversions, and that could be as a stopgap to get as many missile hulls into the navy as quickly as possible.

The circumstance can easily be determined-in a minor war, either jet bombers or early anti-shipping missiles score a powerful hit on a legacy ship, which triggers a panic that leads to the conversions. The luckier of them may see a bit of action in Vietnam or another Cold War crisis, but most will plausibly, once more cost-effective ships enter service, be sent to the scrapyards, having gone from hypothetical curiosities to historical curiosities.