World War II saw clashes between some of the most impressive warships of the day. However, the clashes that never got to happen appear to capture the imagination more than those that did. We are approaching a century since the end of the Second World War, and people still hotly debate how warships would have compared to one another. Of those debates, the hypothetical scenarios of battleship combat rein supreme. The Iowa class vs Bismarck class debate is one of the most popular ones, second only to the Iowa class vs Yamato class. In this article, we will not go the usual Iowa vs Bismarck route about which warship would have triumphed over the other. We will examine the design of each ship and see how they compare on a technical level.

Iowa Class vs Bismarck Class – Specifications

Bismarck Class – Specifications

  • Displacement (Long Tons):
    • Standard Load – 41,000 tons (Tirpitz – 42,200 tons)
    • Full Load – 49,500 tons (Tirpitz – 51,800 tons)
  • Length:
    • Overall Length – 823′ 6″ (251 m)
    • Waterline Length – 792′ 8″ (241.6 m)
  • Beam – 118′ 1″ (36 m)
  • Draft – 30′ 6″ (9.3 m)
  • Speed – 30 knots
  • Range – 8,525 nmi (Tirpitz – 8,870 nmi)
  • Compliment – 103 Officers / 1,962 Enlisted Men
bismarck class
The wide beam and twin main gun batteries of the battleship Bismarck are clearly seen in this photo.

Iowa Class – Specifications

  • Displacement (Long Tons):
    • Standard Load – 45,000 tons
    • Average Load  – 53,000 tons
    • Full Load (WW2) – 57,500 tons
  • Length:
    • Overall Length – 887′ 2″ (270.4 m)
    • Waterline Length – 861′ (262 m)
  • Beam – 108′ (33 m)
  • Draft – 36′ (11 m)
  • Speed – 33 knots (Practical)
  • Range – 14,890 nmi
  • Compliment – 2700 Officers and Men
iowa class
USS Missouri passing through the Panama Canal. The 108′ beam of the Iowa class was designed to allow passage through the 110′ locks.


Battleships are built around their guns so it should come as no surprise that both Germany and the United States used the most powerful weapons available to mount on their battleships.

Bismarck Class – Main Weapons

On the Bismarck class battleships, the Germans mounted the 38 cm SK C/34 naval gun. It is commonly thought that these were simply carryovers from the World War I era guns that armed the Bayern class. These weapons were actually completely new designs that utilized the latest technology available at the time. The only similarity to the older gun was the caliber and this was simply due to familiarity with the size.

The most striking aspect of the main armament of the Bismarck class was that it utilized twin turrets. The vast majority of modern battleships built at the time used triple or even quadruple turrets. While Germany did examine triple turrets, they felt that twin turrets would allow for maximum rate of fire through a roomier turret. Twin turrets were also thought to allow for superior fire control as it was easier to keep track of each salvo.

bismarck class

38 cm SK C/34 Specs:

  • Caliber – 15″
  • Rate of Fire – 2.2 to 3 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,700 fps (820 m/s)
  • Maximum Range – 39,589 yards (36,520 m)
  • Projectile Weight :
    • APC – 1,764 lbs (800 kg)
    • HE –  1,764 lbs (800 kg)
  • Initial Broadside Weight – 14,112 lbs (6401 kg)
  • Sustained Broadside Weight per Minute at 3 RPM – 42,336 lbs (19203 kg)
  • Armor Penetration:
    • 5,000 yards – 24.26″ (side armor)
    • 10,000 yards – 22.2″ (side armor)
    • 15,000 yards – 18.7″ (side armor)
    • 25,000 yards – 13.6″ (side armor) / 4.2″ (deck armor)
    • 35,000 yards – 10.3″ (side armor) /  7.1″ (deck armor)

Iowa Class – Main Weapons

The 16″/50 Mark 7 guns of the Iowa class were the result of a lack of communication between various Bureaus during the design phase of the Iowa class. The barbettes were to small to mount the existing 16″/50 Mark 2 guns and thus a new emergency gun had to be designed. The resulting weapon, the Mark 7, turned out to be one of the best battleship guns ever built relative to their weight.

Unlike the Bismarck, designers opted for triple turrets in the Iowa design. This allowed for a fewer number of turrets and a shorter armored citadel as a result. However, a disabled turret would also knock out a larger percentage of the battleship’s weaponry. The triple turrets would make it more difficult to track salvos compared to twin turrets. However, at the ranges at which US designers foresaw combat taking place, it was thought that observers could not track salvos anyways.

Iowa class

16″/50 Mark 7 Specs:

  • Caliber – 16″
  • Rate of Fire – 2 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,500 fps (762 m/s)
  • Maximum Range – 42,345 yards (38,720 m)
  • Projectile Weight:
    • AP – 2,700 lbs (1,225 kg)
    • HC – 1,900 lbs (861.8 kg)
  • Initial Broadside Weight – 24,300 lbs (11022 kg)
  • Sustained Broadside Weight per Minute at 2 RPM –  48,600 lbs (22044 kg)
  • Armor Penetration:
    • 5,000 yards –  29.3″ (side armor)
    • 10,000 yards – 26.16″ (side armor)
    • 15,000 yards – 23.04″ (side armor)
    • 25,000 yards – 17.36″ (side armor) / 5.17″ (deck armor)
    • 35,000 yards – 12.97″ (side armor) / 8.48″ (deck armor)
    • 40,000 yards – 11.2″ (side armor) / 11.26″ (deck armor)
    • 42,345 yards – 9.51″ (side armor) / 14″ (deck armor)

Iowa Class vs Bismarck Class – Main Weapons

Despite the extremely high rate of fire for the German main weapons, the extremely high projectile weight of the American battleship coupled with an extra barrel gives the Iowa class a heavier broadside by over 6000 lbs. In addition, the American battleship benefits from superior range and a slightly greater amount of penetration. However, I do not think that the Bismarck class does not lag as far behind as one might think. A combination of high muzzle velocity, accurate guns, and a high rate of fire still make the German battleship a dangerous foe. The Bismarck class battleships were incredibly adept at quickly establishing the range and landing hits on enemy warships. This is a just as dangerous as penetration and broadside weight.

The strengths of each nation’s main guns represents the type of combat they expected to take part in. The Germans would fight in the north Atlantic. Visibility there is often poor, making combat unexpected, quick, and brutal. The Germans needed a gun capable of quickly overwhelming enemy ships at relatively close range. The Americans designed their battleships for the Pacific Ocean, where conditions were often clear and combat would take place at longer ranges. A heavier shell at a lower velocity would more easily smash through enemy warships at these ranges while also extending the life of the gun barrels, an important consideration when thousands of miles away from friendly ports. In short, the Iowa and Bismarck classes were both optimized for their respective environment.

Bismarck Class – Secondary Weapons (Anti-Surface)

The Bismarck is notable for using a dedicated anti-surface secondary battery and a separate heavy anti-aircraft battery. Anti-surface firepower was provided by twelve 5.9″ guns in six twin turrets. The heavy anti-air battery was made up of sixteen 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns. While the 10.5 cm guns were primarily used in the anti-air role, they could be used in the anti-surface role if needed. For that reason, I included them among the anti-surface secondary weapons of the Bismarck class. I would not go so far as to call them dual-purpose weapons though, merely anti-air weapons with a secondary (and far less effective) anti-surface role.

bismarck vs iowa
One of the 15cm mounts onboard the battleship Bismarck. Bundesarchiv, Bild 193-06-7-16 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

15 cm SK C/28

  • Caliber – 5.9″ (15 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 6 to 8 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,871 fps (875 m/s)
  • Maximum Range – 25,153 yards (23,000 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 99.87lbs (45.3 kg)
  • Initial Broadside Weight – 1,198.44 lbs (543.6 kg)
  • Sustained Broadside Weight per Minute at 8 RPM – 9,587.5 lbs (4,348.8 kg)

10.5 cm SK C/33

  • Caliber – 4.1″ (10.5 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 15 to 18 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,900 fps (884 m/s)
  • Maximum Range – 19,357 yards (17,700 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 34.8 lbs (15.8 kg)
  • Initial Broadside Weight – 626.4 lbs (284 kg)
  • Sustained Broadside Weight per Minute at 18 RPM – 5,011 lbs (2273 kg)

Iowa Class – Secondary Weapons (Anti-Surface)

Unlike the Bismarck class, the Iowa class carried a uniform secondary battery of dual-purpose guns. These dual-purpose guns were the excellent 5″/38 model. Used on nearly all US warships of the Second World War, these were among the most effective weapons of their type. True to their dual-purpose nature, these weapons were equally adept at engaging targets on the surface or in the air. The utilization of dual-purpose weapons allowed the Iowa class to save deck space and weight compared to the Bismarck class.

iowa vs bismarck
The 5″/38 dual-purpose guns of USS Missouri in action during gunnery practice.

5″/38 Mark 28

  • Caliber – 5″ (12.7 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 15 to 22 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,600 fps (792 m/s)
  • Maximum Range – 17,392 yards (15,903 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 55.18 lbs (25 kg)
  • Initial Broadside Weight – 551.8 lbs (250 kg)
  • Sustained Broadside Weight per Minute at 22 RPM – 12,193.6 lbs (5531 kg)

Bismarck Class vs Iowa Class – Secondary Weapons (Anti-Surface)

In the anti-surface role, the German battleship narrowly beats the Iowa class. During a minute of firing, the guns are capable of sending 14,598 lbs of projectiles downrange. This is 2400 lbs more than the American battleship. In addition to having a heavier weight of firepower, the Bismarck’s secondary weapons outrange the American guns by 2000 yards (10.5cm) to 8000 yards (15 cm). However, it is important to remember that firepower advantage of the Bismarck is dependent on whether the 10.5cm guns are used in the anti-surface role. Being housed in open mounts, the gunners would be at a much greater risk of incoming fire.

The 15 cm secondary weapons of the Bismarck class are optimized for the anti-surface role. This again highlights the German expectation that surface vessels would prove to be the greatest threat to the battleships of the Bismarck class. Coupled with the main guns, the Bismarck was designed to quickly shred through opposing vessels. The 5″ guns of the Iowa class were chosen as it was thought that aircraft would prove to be a greater threat to the battleship compared to surface vessels.

Bismarck Class – Anti-Aircraft Weapons

While the Bismarck was optimized for anti-surface firepower, this does not mean that the ship ignored anti-air firepower. Unlike other ships, it did utilize a dedicated battery of heavy anti-aircraft guns. It also had a reasonably (compared to other ships at that time) strong battery of lighter anti-aircraft weapons.

10.5 cm SK C/33

16 guns in 4 twin mounts

  • Caliber – 4.1″ (10.5 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 15 to 18 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,900 fps (884 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 41,010′ (12,500 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 33.3 lbs (15.8 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight per Minute – 9,590.4 lbs (4,350 kg)
bismarck class
One of the 3.7cm SK C/30 anti-aircraft mounts onboard the Bismarck class battleships. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MN-0945-08 / Winkelmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

3.7 cm /83 SK C/30

16 guns in 4 twin mounts

  • Caliber – 1.5″ (3.7 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 30 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 3,281 fps (1,000 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 22,310′ (6,800 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 1.64 lbs (.742 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight per Minute – 787.2 lbs (357 kg)

2 cm /65 C/30 & C/38

Bismarck – 20 guns / Tirpitz – 78 guns

  • Caliber – .79″ (2 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 220 RPM (Practical)
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,740 fps (835 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 12,140′ (3,700 m)
  • Projectile Weight – .3 lbs (.134 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight per Minute:
    • Bismarck – 1,320 lbs (599 kg)
    • Tirpitz – 5,148 lbs (2,335 kg)

Iowa Class – Anti-Aircraft Weapons

5″/38 Mark 28

20 guns in 10 twin mounts

  • Caliber – 5″ (12.7 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 15 to 22 RPM
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,600 FPS (792 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 37,200′ (11,887 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 55.18 lbs (25 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight per Minute – 12,193.6 lbs (5,531 kg)
iowa class
A 40mm quadruple bofors mount in action on a US Carrier. The Iowa class carried up to 80 of these weapons in 20 quad mounts.

Bofors 40mm /60

80 guns in 20 quadruple mounts

  • Caliber – 1.57″ (4 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 140 RPM (Practical)
  • Muzzle Velocity – 2,890 FPS (881 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 22,299′ (6,796 m)
  • Projectile Weight – 1.985 lbs (.9 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight per Minute – 22,232 lbs (10,084 kg)

Oerlikon 20mm /70

49 guns in single mounts

  • Caliber – .79″ (2 cm)
  • Rate of Fire – 275 RPM (Practical)
  • Muzzle Velocity -2,770 FPS (844 m/s)
  • AA Ceiling – 10,000′ (3,048 m)
  • Projectile Weight – .271 lbs (.123 kg)
  • Total Anti-Air Throw Weight – 3,651 lbs (1,656 kg)

Iowa Class vs Bismarck Class – Anti-Aircraft Weapons

While the Bismarck class might have held the edge in anti-surface firepower, the more balanced design of the Iowa class makes it the clear winner in the anti-air category. A combination of more modern weapons plus a greater number of them puts a huge gap between the Iowa and Bismarck classes. With all guns firing, the Bismarck could put 10,378 lbs of metal in the air in a single minute. The Iowa class could put out an incredible 38,076 lbs of metal into the sky, 360% more than the German battleship. Even the mighty Tirpitz, with a greater number of anti-aircraft weapons, still has less than half of the Iowa’s firepower at 15,526 lbs per minute.

The biggest reason for the overwhelming advantage in anti-aircraft firepower is the 40mm Bofors. The 40mm weapons alone can put just over 22,000 lbs of metal into the air, more than all the anti-air weapons on the German battleships put together! It was an incredibly effective weapon that had few, if any, peers. For the majority of the war, Germany had no competitor to the 40mm Bofors. They eventually placed them weapon into production themselves and began using it as the 4cm Flak 28. Unfortunately, Germany never had the chance to mount them on the Bismarck class.


Much like the main weapons, the armor of the Bismarck and Iowa classes was a reflection of the combat they were expected to take part in. The armor of each ship was optimized to better protect the vessels at certain ranges and against certain weapons.

Bismarck Class – Armor Specifications

  • Belt – 12.6″
  • Turtleback – 4.33″ (sloped inwards at 68 degrees)
  • Barbettes – 13.38″
  • Conning Tower –  14″
  • Bulkheads – 8.66″
  • Turrets:
    • Front – 14″
    • Sides – 8.7″
    • Top – 5.1″
  • Decks:
    • Main Armored Deck  – 4.7 to 3.9″
    • Upper Deck – 2″
  • Percentage of Armor Tonnage – 40%

Bismarck Class – Armor Layout

The Bismarck class battleships had a unique armor layout that was very specialized compared to her contemporaries. She carried a heavy 12.6″ external armored belt that protected the magazines and machinery spaces. Fore and aft, the armored belt was capped with 8.66″ armored bulkheads. What was most unique about the armor of the Bismarck class was what came after the armored belt. Directly behind the armor belt, the Bismarck class carried another 4.33″ of armor sloped back in a turtle-deck fashion. This turtle-deck was capped by the main armored deck, ranging from 4.7″ to 3.9″ in thickness. Shells that managed to penetrate the main armor belt would have lost the velocity needed to penetrate the turtle-deck armor. This comprehensive network of armor made it extremely difficult, if not impossible for enemy battleships to penetrate the vitals.

bismarck vs iowa
Bismarck in port. Her armored belt can be seen just above her waterline. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MN-1361-16A / Winkelmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Elsewhere on the Bismarck class, armoring was also extensive. The turrets were armored with up to 14″ of armor plate. The conning tower was also heavily armored with 14″ of armor on the sides. The barbettes were of similar thickness to that of other nations. Interestingly, the Bismarck class carried a lighter armored belt that extended from the main belt all the way to the top of the hull. At just over 5″ in thickness, this belt was intended to protect the ship from the lighter guns carried by destroyers and cruisers. Combat was expected to take place at ranges where light surface combatants could get close enough to pummel the German battleships. The armor of the Bismarck class was optimized for close range combat and was expected to withstand high amounts of damage.

Iowa Class – Armor Specifications

  • Belt – 12.1″ (sloped outwards at 19 degrees)
    • Outer plate over the Belt – 1.5″
  • Barbettes – 17.3″ tapering to 11.6″
  • Conning Tower – 17″
  • Bulkheads:
    • Forward – 11.3″ (Iowa & New Jersey) / 14.5″ (Missouri & Wisconsin)
    • Aft – 11.3″
  • Turrets:
    • Front – 17″
    • Sides – 9.5″
    • Top – 7″
  • Decks:
    • Bomb Deck – 1.5″
    • Main – 6″
    • Splinter – .6″ to 1″
  • Percentage of Armor Tonnage – 32.5%

Iowa Class – Armor Layout

The Iowa class armor scheme was largely a carryover from the preceding South Dakota class with only minor improvement. However, the Iowa class did benefit from experience with previous ship designs and continued the “All or nothing” armor scheme prevalent in all modern US battleships. The most interesting feature of the Iowa class is its use of an internal armored belt. While most battleships mounted the main belt on the exterior of the ship, an internal armored belt was buried behind the outer hull plates. This helped to save weight and maintain a narrow beam. The 12.1″ belt was sloped outwards at 19 degrees, giving it improved effective thickness against incoming projectiles. For instance, at 19,000 yards it was expected that the belt would be equivalent to about 17.3″ of armor. Very thick bulkheads capped this belt. The high speed of the Iowa class meant that they would often chase enemy ships, leading to a lot of incoming fire aimed at their bows. The forward bulkhead was intended to withstand this damage.

iowa vs bismarck
The uncompleted Iowa class battleship Kentucky being floated out of drydock. Her armored belt is hidden inside the ship, giving her hull a smooth appearance.

The deck armor was also notable. A three part system, the 6″ main armored deck was located between two other decks. An upper 1.5″ bomb deck was intended to help impede incoming projectiles and arm bombs before they hit the main armored deck. The main armored deck would resist incoming shells and defeat the explosion of bombs. Finally, a thin splinter deck would catch any shrapnel from the main deck above it. Overall, the Iowa class utilized a very comprehensive system tailored to resist enemy battleships at long range and withstand the threat of air attacks.

Iowa vs Bismarck – Armor

Much like the main weapons, the armor of the Iowa and Bismarck classes is directly influenced by the type of combat that they were expected to take part in. The Bismarck class was designed to withstand any battleship that it might encounter at close range. This is a direct contrast to the Iowa class which was intended to fight at longer ranges. While the Bismarck class is designed to better withstand lighter guns, the Iowa class was designed to better withstand air attacks. Both ships had an almost night and day approach to protection. This does not mean that one design was inherently superior to the other. It simply comes down to the environment.

I believe the biggest and most important difference between the armor designs is centered on the space inside the citadels. The citadel of the Iowa class encased a much larger volume compared to the Bismarck class. This is important as that volume contributed to the ship’s buoyancy. The Bismarck sacrificed volume to ensure that it could maximize protection to its vitals. This made them effectively immune to other warships, however damage to the unprotected hull could still sink the ship regardless of whether the citadel was breached. The sinking of the Bismarck is an example of this. The ship was crippled and sinking despite its citadel never being penetrated by the British battleships. The citadel of the Iowa class  had much greater volume and thus more buoyancy. Even with the unprotected hull shot to pieces, as along as the citadel remained intact, the Iowa class could remain afloat. In this regard, the Iowa class had an important advantage over the German battleships.



All of the firepower and armor in the world won’t do anything if it cannot be brought into action. Luckily, both the Iowa and Bismarck classes were equipped with strong powerplants capable of pushing the ships to high speeds. Both ships were incredibly fast for their size and were among the fastest battleships of World War II.

Bismarck Class – Powerplant

The Bismarck class battleships were powered by twelve Wagner high pressure oil-fired boilers. These boilers produced steam at about 800psi. Two boilers were placed in each boiler room for a total of six separate boiler rooms. The boilers fed three engines, each consisting of a high and low pressure turbine.

The three shaft layout of the Bismarck class was a continuation of German design since the First World War. German designers liked the three shaft layout as it was generally lighter than the four shaft variations found in foreign designs. Indeed, the powerplant of the Bismarck class only made up about 9% of the ship’s weight. In addition to its lighter weight, the three shaft layout was more thoroughly distributed across the hull. This increased the distance between turbines, potentially reducing the impact of damage.

bismark vs iowa
Battleship Bismarck following her famous engagement with HMS Hood. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1984-055-14 / Lagemann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bismarck Class – Powerplant Specifications

  • Boilers – 12x Wagner Superheated Boilers
  • Maximum Boiler Temperature – 842 °F (450 °C)
  • Boiler Operating Pressure – 800psi
  • Turbines – 3x Blohm & Voss Turbines (Brown, Boveri, and Co. Turbines on Tirpitz)
  • Turbine RPM – 2800rpm (High Pressure) / 2400rpm (Low Pressure)
  • Propeller Diameter – 3x 15′ 5″ (4.70m) three bladed screws
  • Maximum Propeller RPM – 270rpm
  • Power Output – 148,116 Shaft Horsepower (Tirpitz – 160,795 SHP)

Iowa Class – Powerplant

The Iowa class battleships were powered by eight babcock & Wilcox water tube boilers. These boilers operated at 850 °F and produced steam at a pressure of 600psi. This fed four General Electric turbines that consisted of high and low pressure types. The powerplant was staggered to reduce the likelihood that the engines would be put out of action by battle damage. Four fire rooms, each with two boilers, were fitted with a turbine on the opposite side of the ship. This layout was flipped for each successive fire room and turbine space.

iowa vs bismarck

Unlike the Bismarck class, the Iowa’s opted for the more conventional four screw layout. This allowed the ships to steer with the propellers in the event of rudder damage. An interesting feature of the propeller arrangement is that the two inner propeller shafts are housed in skegs. Some claim that this was to improve the ship’s resistance to torpedo damage. However, this was actually to improve hydrodynamic efficiency and provide additional structural strength to the stern.

Iowa Class – Powerplant Specifications

  • Boilers – 8x Babcock & Wilcox M-type boilers
  • Maximum Boiler Temperature – 850 °F (454 °C)
  • Boiler Operating Pressure – 600psi
  • Turbines – 4x General Electric Turbines (Westinghouse on New Jersey and Wisconsin)
  • Turbine RPM – 2000rpm
  • Propeller Diameter
    • Inboard set –  2x 17′ 5″ (5.3 m) five bladed screws
    • Outboard set – 2x 18′ (5.5 m) four bladed screws
  • Maximum Propeller RPM – 225rpm
  • Power – 212,000 Shaft Horsepower

Bismarck Class vs Iowa Class – Powerplant and Seakeeping

If the armor and firepower was tailored to the respective environments that the ships were intended to operate it, then it should come as no surprise that the powerplant is no different.

The Bismarck class had an extremely efficient powerplant that could drive it up to 30 knots. Very fast for a battleship, but slower than the Iowa class which was the fastest class of battleship put into service. The Bismarck class also had a smaller operational range. While the distance that it could go was certainly less than that of the Iowa class, this was largely due to the fact that the Bismarck was expected to operate relatively close to home. The Iowa class battleships had to travel across the Pacific ocean to even get to the front lines. The biggest difference between the ships was their shaft arrangement. While the 3 shaft arrangement of the Bismarck class is often criticized for being weak, it must be remembered that the stern was often the weakest location on any battleship. The same torpedo that crippled the Bismarck would have likely done the same to any other battleship. An unlucky hit can overcome even the most well thought out design.

This Atlantic vs Pacific design style also largely influenced the seakeeping qualities of both classes. The Bismarck class was well regarded as an excellent sea boat, easily capable of handling the rough weather of the North Atlantic. The class was said to be very stable and served as an excellent gunnery platform. While the Iowa class did not have many complaints about its stability, it was criticized for how it handled rough weather. The long and narrow bow was often said to bury itself into waves rather than ride over top of them. This made the ships wet during rough weather.  While the Bismarck class did have spray issues, it was nowhere near as bad as what the Iowa class experienced. On the other hand, that long and narrow hull is what gave the Iowa class its 3 knot advantage over the Bismarck class.

iowa vs bismarck
The battleship Bismarck during trials in 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 193-04-1-26 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bismarck vs Iowa – Conclusions

At this point in the article, you are probably expecting me to make a decision on the superior ship. However, the truth is that I cannot simply pick one ship. Their is no ideal ship design capable of handling all potential environments that it might find itself in. Both the Bismarck and Iowa classes were optimized for their respective environments. As such, they performed well in those environments.

The Bismarck class was a close range brawler, able to take on any battleship and overwhelm them with its superior rate of fire and excellent gunnery. In the North Atlantic, any battleship would have cause to worry about engaging a Bismarck class in combat. With Armor capable of resisting even the Yamato’s guns, it would have been a tough nut to crack. With its accurate main guns and powerful secondary battery, the Bismarck class could definitely bloody the nose of any other battleship it came across. The Allies were fortunate that the Bismarck class was not put to better use or more ably supported by other warships.

Like the Bismarck class, the Iowa class battleships were uniquely specialized in their role as well. Designed to chase down the fastest of Japanese capital ships, their were very few vessels that could outrun the Iowa class. With their powerful main battery, they could easily engage enemy battleships. Indeed, at long range, no battleship had the armor to resist the main guns of the Iowa class.  However, it was their formidable anti-aircraft firepower that made them so useful during the Second World War. Aircraft had become the defining symbol of naval firepower. With the ability to defend other warships and the speed to escort them, the Iowa class was a bit more well-rounded compared to other warships. This trait is what allowed them to continue to see service long after the age of battleships had ended.

iowa class
All four of the Iowa class battleships operating together.

Final Words and Additional Links

As always, I hoped you enjoyed the article. At four thousand words, it was beginning to get excessive so I have to cut some information out. I will include this information on later articles, one on torpedo defense systems and another on the various armor layouts used by battleships during the Second World War. The next VS. article will be a comparison between the Baltimore and Prinz Eugen class heavy cruisers. In the meantime, feel free to check out the previous VS. article, the Montana vs. Iowa examination.

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Chris Knupp

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


  1. I was hoping for a winner, but I agree with your conclusion that there is no clear winner (this time). However for next time, isn’t it the Admiral Hipper class instead of the Prinz Eugen?


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