Fastest Warships of World War II

Its easy to find an article about the biggest warships on the internet, So let’s try something interesting and list the fastest warships of World War II. These ships could easily outrun the competition and stack up pretty well with even modern warships today.

Fastest Battleship: Iowa Class (33+ Knots)

fastest battleship of world war 2

Moving tens of thousands of tons of steel and weaponry through the ocean is no easy feat. Battleships required powerful engines to get them up to speed. Luckily, the fastest battleship had plenty of power on tap, 212,000 shaft horsepower to be exact.

The Iowa class battleships of the United States were designed to fulfill a different role compared to older ships. It had to be fast enough to chase down the fastest capital ships the Empire of Japan had. To accomplish this, it was given a long fine hull form, a bulbous bow, and extremely powerful engines. All together, these allowed the Iowa class battleships to reach speeds greater than 32 knots. Not bad for one of the largest battleships ever built! During the Second World War, the Iowa and New Jersey both reached 32.5 knots as they pursued a fleeing destroyer. However, it is commonly believed the ships could go even faster.

During the Korean war, the USS Iowa reportedly exceeded 33 knots while changing stations. Prior to her deployment to Vietnam, New Jersey managed to exceed 35 knots for six hours during a shakedown cruise in 1968. Of course, the cleanliness of the hull and displacement of the ship drastically affect their top speeds so pinning down an accurate number is difficult. It is apparent though that the ships could easily exceed 33 knots on a typical combat displacement.

Fastest Carrier: Shōkaku Class (34.5 Knots)

fastest carrier of world war 2

Perhaps the best carriers in the world at the time of their launch, the Japanese Shokaku class were very swift vessels. The hull of the ship was based on the results of extensive tank testing. They had a bulbous bow and twin rudders arranged inline to improve their hydrodynamic efficiency. Complementing their sleek hulls, they carried the most powerful power plant ever fitted to an Imperial Japanese warship. Producing 160,000shp, the Shokaku class had 10,000 more horsepower than the 72,000 ton super battleship Yamato.

During trials, both ships of the class reached a speed of 34.5 knots, roughly two knots faster than American carriers. As Japan’s most modern aircraft carriers, they were an important part of the Japanese fleet, participating in almost every major fleet action of the war. During these engagements, the high speed of the Shokaku class was put to the test. While records are spotty, several claims have been made saying that the ships were able to reach speeds of around 35 knots or more when the boilers were pushed.

Fastest Cruiser: Capitani Romani Class (43 Knots)

fastest cruiser of world war 2

What happens when you take a cruiser power plant and cram it into a hull only slightly bigger than a typical destroyer? You get the Capitani Romani class light cruisers of the Italian Navy.

Concerned about the arrival of new French destroyers that were incredibly fast, the Regia Marina sought a warship that could outrun and outgun these destroyers. The Capitani Romani class light cruisers were designed to counter destroyers while also operating as a scout for the main fleet. They sacrificed almost all of their protection for high speed, leading some historians to label them heavy destroyers. Their 5,400 ton displacement was about half that of traditional cruisers, but they carried a more powerful power plant of 125,000shp. This allowed them to reach a speed of 43 knots during trials and roughly 41 knots when at full displacement.

Their high speed proved decisive in the only combat they took part in. Aided by radar, the Scipione Africano ambushed a flotilla of British torpedo boats in 1943. She sank one ship while heavily damaging another after charging past at high speed.

Fastest Destroyer: Le Fantasque Class (45 Knots)

fastest destroyer of world war 2

The world record speed attained by a destroyer was by the Le Fantasque class ship Le Terrible when she sustained a speed of 45 knots during trials. This was incredibly fast for a warship and it caused considerable alarm among rivals to the French Navy. Many scrambled to develop counters to the le fantasque class like the Italian Capitani Romani class cruisers.

The le fantasque class was intended to operate with the French battleship and cruiser forces. They would operate as high speed scouts while also screening the capital ships. However, the German invasion prevented the le fantasque class from fulfilling their original mission. However, four ships managed to escape to join the Allies. Following refits in the United States, the class received more anti-aircraft weapons, radars, and other improvements. All this weight came at a cost though and the speed of the ships dropped to 37 knots. However, they were still fast enough to take part in several important Allied operations, including a 1944 raid of the Adriatic sea where a German convoy was destroyed.

A final note here on another destroyer that might have been as fast if not faster. The Imperial Japanese Navy launched a single prototype super-destroyer, the Shimakaze, in 1942. Even when loaded, the advanced power plant enabled her to reach a speed of 40 knots. This was faster than the Le Fantasque class following their refits. It has been theorized that the Shimakaze might have been able to travel faster, but no records exist. Feel free to debate which was faster.

Fastest Submarine Type XVII U-Boat (25 Knots Submerged)

fastest warships of world war ii

We have already seen the many fast warships that operated on the surface, but how about under it? The winner in that category are the Type XVII U-boats of the German navy.

These small coastal submarines did not look like much compared to the larger fleet submarines. However, these vessels would have been formidable opponents. They utilized the revolutionary Walter turbine, an early form of air independent propulsion. This made them one of the first submarines intended to spend most of its time submerged. They also incorporated a highly streamlined hull that, when combined with their power engines, allowed the subs to reach a phenomenal speed of 25 knots underwater.

As most convoy escorts could only manage a speed of 20 knots, this class of sub could have outrun most pursuers. Only destroyers and other fleet warships could hope to run the Type XVII class down. Hitting such a fast sub with depth charges would have been near impossible. The advent of these fast German submarines caused considerable alarm among the Allies and led to research in new high performance anti-submarine weapons.  Luckily, they came too late in the war to have any impact and surviving subs heavily influenced future submarine design.


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Chris Knupp

A student of military history, I am working to make history more interesting and accessible for everyone.

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