[A goon stole this from somewhere, I stole it from him.]
In the beginning was HMS Victory, and she was good. She was so good that her military career outlasted several generations of officers and crew. But some engineers with no respect for tradition got to fooling around with steam, armor, and explosive shells, and ruined the whole thing.
They started with USS Monitor, which was the first ship to combine a rotating turret with extreme unseaworthiness, and CSS Merrimack, whose main role was to make people forget that her actual name was CSS Virginia. Britain replied with HMS Warrior, the first all-iron seagoing warship, whose main role was to make people forget that the French built the ironclad ship Gloire first.
There followed a period of experimental design, in which naval engineers tried to guess what a steam-powered battleship should look like. This resulted in classic designs like the Italian Affondatore (“The Sinker”), which never sank anything; the French designs, which were something to frighten children with; the American ships, which sat so low in the water that they gave John Holland the idea for a practical submarine; and the Russian ships, which combined the mediocrities of French design with the mediocrities of Tsarist engineering, and created the most soundly defeated fleet in modern history.
Eventually, nearly everyone settled on four big guns (which was an improvement on HMS Victory’s 104 guns), a handful of medium-sized guns whose role was to confuse the shell-spotting for the big guns, and some armor where it did the least good. These ships were propelled by hundreds of galley slaves who had reshaped their oars into coal shovels.
Then came Fisher, and he really made a mess of things. He conceived a new kind of battleship, HMS Dreadnought, which was the first ship to be suspected of pushing herself sideways when she fired a full broadside. Then he improved on the armoured cruiser by making it a bigger and more attractive target while making it more costly. The other nations of the world were unwilling for Britain to spend all its money on ships unchallenged, and so a naval arms race began. The winner was Brazil, whose ships were the most powerful in the world for a time, and whose command of the sea was never challenged.
At this point, someone realized that these ships needed a war to justify their existence, so they chose teams and started the War to End All Wars. Everyone waited for the huge battle that would test these mighty ships... including the admirals, whose contribution delayed the battle somewhat. But it finally happened. The German goal was to meet a part of the Royal Navy and point out some problems with British shell-handling practice, like any good friend would do. When Admiral Jellicoe behaved like a blackguard and brought his entire fleet, the Germans changed their minds about the whole thing. From that point on, Germany relied on submarines to win the war for them. When this failed, they turned their surface ships into submarines for one last try, but their battleships and battle-cruisers proved to be much better at diving than surfacing.
Once the war ended and peace ruled the world, it was obviously necessary for the naval powers to build some more battleships. These would have been huge, swift, powerful enforcers of peace all over the world. But the war-hawk faction opposed this idea and convened the Washington Naval Conference, which agreed to put all future ships on a diet, and to scrap the wonderful new ships under construction so they wouldn’t give the older ships an inferiority complex. This time period also saw several battleships and battle-cruisers “razeed” into aircraft carriers.
An influential figure at this time was the American aviator “Billy” Mitchell, whose superheated rhetoric sank both the German battleship Ostfriesland and his own career. Nevertheless, it was clear that the battleship had a rival in the aeroplane, so the admirals relegated the aeroplanes to scouting and invented a new naval strategy, which could be summed up as “fervently hoping that the enemy would also use their aeroplanes for scouting.” Unfortunately, the aeroplane mutated into the airplane, a much more formidable weapon.
Barely 21 years after the War to End All Wars had ended, the world had had enough of peace, so they started another war, with more players on each team this time. The Germans brought four battleships that were unsinkable, even though they all sank. The Italians had some leftovers from the last war, upgraded to Version 2.0, along with a few brand-new ones that were equally effective at running away from the British and then getting stuck in port with no fuel. The French battleships had a series of translation problems; first the British shot them up so they wouldn’t speak German, then the ones that were left shot themselves up so they wouldn’t speak German. The Americans got into the act by shooting up the incomplete French ship Jean Bart, scoring a direct hit on her escargot locker.
As was fitting for the world’s greatest navy, the British battleships were mostly designed or built during the previous war, but they were still useful in War to End All Wars II. The older American battleships played a peacekeeping role, bombarding all of the beaches in the Pacific except the clothing-optional ones, while the new battleships mostly protected the aircraft carriers that were putting the battleships out of business. Finally, the Japanese built the biggest battleships ever, Yamato and Musashi, in order to test the old proverb, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” As usual, the proverb was proven true.
After the war, nearly all of the world’s battleships were recycled into early-model Toyotas and Minis. The Americans kept a few so people could keep arguing over whether we still need them or not. To the dismay of many military-hardware buffs, the British didn’t preserve any of their battleships. But they still have HMS Victory, which is quite likely to outlast them all.