Delaware class battleships

The two Delaware class battleships were the second class of American dreadnoughts, and the first to be on a par with their British contemporaries.

The earlier South Carolina class battleships had been developed at about the same time as the Dreadnought, and had a superior arrangement of guns, with eight guns in four superfiring twin turrets, giving her the same eight-gun broadside as the ten-gun Dreadnought, but they were powered by expansion engines, and had a top speed of 18.5kts. The Dreadnought was the first capital ship to use turbine engines, and had a top speed of 21kts. The US Navy responded by installing triple expansion reciprocating engines in the Delaware and steam turbines in the North Dakota, allowing for direct comparison of the two types of engines.

The Authorising Act for the Delaware class ships required the navy to ask for designs from private shipyards as well as from the Bureau of Construction and Repair. This delayed their construction somewhat - the Bureau's design was completed in 1906, but some of the private designs arrived later. They were all rejected as unsatisfactory, and work on the Bureau's own design for a 20,500t ten gun ship began in November-December 1907.

Plans of Delaware Class Dreadnought Battleships
Plans of Delaware Class
Dreadnought Battleships

The eventual design carried its ten 12in guns in five twin turrets, all on the centre line. Two turrets were carried at the bow, in the superfiring configuration. Three turrets were carried at the stern, with the third turret raised into a superfiring position but the fourth and fifth turrets on the same level. This meant that they could fire a broadside of ten guns, but could only fire four of the six rear guns directly to the stern.

Both ships carried a secondary armament of fourteen 5in guns, controversially carried in barbettes built into the gun deck. Experience with earlier designs had already proved that guns in this position were too low to be use used when moving at speed, as they rapidly became too wet, while the two guns mounted near the bow disrupted the bow wave, slightly reducing the ship's speed.

Crew of USS Delaware (BB-28), 1910
Crew of USS Delaware (BB-28), 1910

The two Delaware class ships were laid down in 1907, and completed early in 1910, arriving almost at the same time as the earlier South Carolina class ships, which thus became obsolescent almost as they entered service. The alternative engine installations demonstrated a flaw with early turbine engines - they were more economical at high speeds, but much less economical at low speeds - the North Dakota was 45% less fuel efficient at 14kts than the Delaware. This would be solved in some later ships by installed lower rated cruising turbines, but it did make the North Dakota less suitable for service in the Pacific.

The North Dakota's turbines weren't particularly reliable, and she didn't take part in the US Navy's operations with the Royal Navy during the First World War. She did take part in the occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914, and was then used as a training ship on the US East Coast. She was decommissioned in 1923 under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, but wasn't stricken until 1931 when she was sold for scrap.

The Delaware had a more active career. Her more reliable engines still allowed her to reach 21kts, and on 24 November 1917 she set sail for Scapa Flow, where she formed part of the American 6th Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. By this stage of the war the main excitement of the navy fighting was over, but the Delaware did put to sea on active service on a number of occasions. Her first sortie came in February 1918, when the 6th Battle Squadron, accompanied by eight British destroyers, escorted a convoy to Norway. The Delaware was twice attacked by a German submarine, but in each case avoided the torpedoes. She took part in convoy escort missions in March and April, and in late April put to sea with the Grand Fleet during one of the many frustrating occasions when it looked like a clash with the German High Seas Fleet was possible, but didn't occur. Between 30 June and 2 July the 6th Battle Squadron was used to provide cover for American ships laying the North Sea mine barrage, a massive minefield laid in an attempt to stop German submarines from leaving the North Sea. She was inspected by King George V on 22 July, and then in early August was relieved by the USS Arkansas (BB-33) and returned to the US.

Sailor in 12in breech, USS North Dakota (BB-29)
Sailor in 12in breech, USS North Dakota (BB-29)

The Delaware was also decommissioned in 1923, under the terms of the Washington Treaty, and her crews moved to the new USS Colorado. She was sold for scrap in 1924.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



6,000nm at 10kts

Armour – belt


 - lower casemate


 - upper casemate


 - barbettes


 - turret faces


 - coning tower


 - decks





85ft 4in


Ten 12in guns in five twin turrets
Fourteen 5in guns
Two 21in submerged beam torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Ships in Class


USS Delaware (BB 28)

Stricken 1924

USS North Dakota (BB 29)

Stricken 1931

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 September 2011), Delaware class battleships,

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