There were a number of famous battleships during the 1940s. While battleships gradually become more obsolete, before the war they still dominated most of the world’s largest navies. They remained a key support ship to aircraft carriers and were also effective for shore bombardments.

The Yamato

The Yamato was the largest battleship constructed with a formidable arsenal. However, it was not involved in any notable naval operations until 1944. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Yamato was among the primary Japanese battleships and played its part in the Battle off Samar before withdrawing after being bombed by American aircraft.

The Yamato survived that encounter, but at the Battle of Okinawa the IJN deployed it on another operation, which would ensure that it did not survive the war. Operation Ten-Go was a mission that required the Yamato to beach itself ashore Okinawa as a shore battery. The mission had little chance of reaching its objectives, and Allied aircraft sank the battleship before it could reach Okinawa.[1]

The USS Arizona

The USS Arizona was one of the battleships at Pearl Harbor. This ship dated back to the First World War, but was not involved in any notable naval battles. In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl; so the Arizona drowned at the harbor. The ship could not be salvaged after the airstrike, and today there is a USS Arizona Memorial at the harbor.

The Bismarck

This was a German battleship that first sailed during the early 1940s. It was one of the largest European battleships, at about 50,000 tons, although did not last long despite its undoubted caliber.[2] On its first operation, the Bismarck targeted British merchant ships; but the Royal Navy detected it before it reached them. The Royal Navy deployed the Prince of Wales and the Hood to intercept the Bismarck off Denmark Strait. During the battle, the Bismarck emerged victorious as it sank the Hood.

Battleship BismarckCredit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.  
The above image is licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.  

Despite its victory, the Bismarck postponed its original operation and began to head for port for repairs. The Royal Navy remained in pursuit, and thanks to its torpedo bombers jammed the ship's rudder. This gave the British a chance to finish off the battleship, and they duly did when their warships intercepted the ship soon after. After a salvo of gunfire, the Bismarck’s crew abandoned ship; but before they did laid scuttling charges to make sure it sank. 

The USS Missouri

The USS Missouri joined the US Navy in 1944, so missed most of the notable battles in the Pacific War. However, the battleship still provided naval support for amphibious landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Missouri shelled Japanese positions and fortifications along the coastline.

Japanese delegates also boarded the USS Missouri to bring the Pacific War to a close. As such, it was here that Japan surrendered to the Allies. Today, the Missouri is a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.

The Tirpitz

The Tirpitz was another battleship of the Bismarck class. It was a very quick battleship, with good armor and an impressive arsenal that included torpedo tubes and AA guns. Soon after the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck, the Tirpitz became a primary target. The ship also lasted longer as various Royal Navy raids could not sink it. Only in 1944 was the Tirpitz floating fortress entirely destroyed with Dambuster Squadrons.

These were a few of the more famous battleships of the period. The Yamato, Tirpitz, USS Arizona, Missouri and the Bismarck were the last great battleships before the aircraft carrier emerged as the main naval unit. Battleships quickly declined in the postwar era as more navies removed them from their fleets.