South Carolina-class battleship

Photograph of the Battleship USS Michigan - NARA - 19-N-13573.jpg
Michigan at a naval review off New York City, October 1912
Class overview
Name:South Carolina-class battleship
Operators:Flag of the United States (1908-1912).svg United States
Preceded by:Mississippi class
Succeeded by:Delaware class
In service:1910–1922
General characteristics
  • 16,000 long tons (16,000 t) (standard)
  • 17,617 long tons (17,900 t) (full load)
Beam:80 ft 3 in (24.46 m)
Draft:24 ft 6 in (7.47 m)
Installed power:
Speed:18.5 kn (21.3 mph; 34.3 km/h)
Range:6,950 nmi (8,000 mi; 12,870 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h)
Complement:51 officers and 881 enlisted men
  • Belt: 12–8 in (305–203 mm)
  • Casemates: 10–8 in (254–203 mm)
  • Barbettes: 10–8 in (254–203 mm)
  • Turrets:
    • Face: 12 in (305 mm)
    • Side: 8 in (203 mm)
    • Roof: 2.5 in (64 mm)
  • Decks: 2.5–1 in (64–25 mm)
  • Conning tower: 12–2 in (305–51 mm)

The South Carolina-class battleships, also known as the Michigan class,[B] were built during the first decade of the twentieth century for the United States Navy. Named South Carolina and Michigan, they were the first American dreadnoughts—powerful warships whose capabilities far outstripped those of the world's older battleships.

In the opening years of the twentieth century, the prevailing theory of naval combat was that battles would continue to be fought at relatively close range using many small, fast-firing guns. As such, each of the ships in the United States' previous battleship class (the Connecticut class) had many medium-sized weapons alongside four large guns. This paradigm, however, was soon to be subverted, as American naval theorists proposed that a ship mounting a homogeneous battery of large guns would be more effective in battle.

As their ideas began to enjoy wider acceptance, the US Congress authorized the country's Navy to construct two small 16,000-long-ton (16,000 t) battleships. This displacement was roughly the same size as the Connecticut class and at least 2,000 long tons (2,000 t) smaller than the foreign standard. A solution was found in an ambitious design drawn up by Rear Admiral Washington L. Capps, the chief of the navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair; it traded heavy armament and relatively thick armor—both favored by naval theorists—for speed.

With their superfiring main armament, press accounts billed South Carolina and Michigan, alongside the British HMS Dreadnought, as heralding a new epoch in warship design. Both, however, were soon surpassed by ever-larger and stronger super-dreadnoughts. The class's low top speed of about 18.5 knots (21.3 mph; 34.3 km/h), as compared to the 21-knot (24 mph; 39 km/h) standard of later American battleships, relegated them to serving with older, obsolete battleships during the First World War. After the end of the conflict and the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty, both South Carolinas were scrapped.


In 1901, the US Navy's battleship designs reflected the prevailing theory of naval combat—that battles would initially be fought at some distance, but the ships would then approach to close range for the final blows, when shorter-range, faster-firing guns would prove most useful. The premier battleship class then under construction carried four large 12-inch (305 mm), eight 8-inch (203 mm), and twelve 7-inch (178 mm) guns, a striking power slightly heavier than typical foreign battleships of the time.[1]

The Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine devoted space in two of its 1902 issues to possible improvements in battleship design. The first article was authored by Lieutenant Matt H. Signor, who argued for a ship with 13-inch (330 mm) and 10-inch (254 mm)/40 caliber guns in four triple turrets. The secondary battery would be composed of 5-inch (127 mm)/60 guns. This paper provoked enough thought that Proceedings published comments on the story from Captain William M. Folger, Professor P. R. Alger and naval constructor David W. Taylor—an up-and-coming officer and future head of the Bureau of Construction and Repair (C&R). These comments expressed doubt that the proposed vessel could be modified into a feasible design, but they praised his thoughts as a step in the right direction. Alger believed that Signor was on the right track in suggesting larger armament, though he thought that triple turrets would be unworkable and eight 12-inch guns in four twin turrets would be a much more realistic arrangement. Naval historian Norman Friedman believes that this was one of the "earliest serious proposals for a homogeneous big-gun battery."[2]

The South Carolina design began in the United States' previous pre-dreadnought battleships, such as the preceding Connecticut class (New Hampshire pictured).

The suggestion leading directly to the South Carolina class came from Homer Poundstone, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, who became the principal proponent of an American all-big-gun design. In a December 1902 paper written for President Theodore Roosevelt, he argued for greatly increasing the size of current battleships, although he also supported retaining mixed main batteries.[3][C] However, by the March and June 1903 editions of Proceedings, Poundstone began advocating for an all-big-gun arrangement, featuring twelve 11-inch (279 mm) guns mounted on a 19,330 long tons (19,640 t) ship. In October of the same year, the Italian naval architect Vittorio Cuniberti presented a similar idea in an article for Jane's Fighting Ships entitled "An Ideal Battleship for the British Navy". He argued in favor of a ship with twelve 12-inch guns on a slightly larger displacement than the battleships in service at the time, 17,000 long tons (17,000 t). He believed that the higher weight would allow 12 inches of armor and machinery capable of propelling the ship at 24 kn (44 km/h; 28 mph). Poundstone used what he believed to be the great popularity for this idea among Europeans to justify the all-big-gun design.[5]

In 1903, Poundstone's designs began receiving attention from American naval authorities. After being refined by Washington Irving Chambers, Poundstone's work was brought to the Naval War College, where it was tested in war games during the 1903 Newport Conference. The results indicated that a theoretical battleship that dispensed with the intermediate 8- and 7-inch armament and was armed with only twelve 11- or 12-inch guns, all able to fire on a single broadside, was worth three of the battleships then in service. According to the men who conducted the tests, the main reasoning for the finding was that the measure of effective gun ranges was directly related to the maximum length of an enemy's torpedo range. At this time, the latter was roughly 3,000 yd (2,700 m); at that distance, the 7- and 8-inch guns common to American intermediate batteries would not be able to penetrate the armor of enemy battleships. Worse still, it was certain that—as the United States was developing a 4,000 yd (3,700 m) torpedo—gun range would have to rise in the near future, making the intermediate guns even less useful. However, a homogeneous main battery of 11- or 12-inch guns would be able to penetrate the armor and have sufficient explosive power to disable an enemy capital ship, and adding as many 3-inch (76 mm) guns as possible would provide a strong defense against torpedo-carrying but unarmored destroyers.[6] As it turned out, events in the Russo-Japanese War soon showed that naval battles could be fought at significantly greater distances than had been thought possible.[7]