Dreadnought guns revolutionised naval warfare and played a pivotal role in shaping the design and capabilities of battleships during the early 20th century.

Here we explore the design and workings of dreadnought guns, their weight and ammunition. We’ll look at their accuracy, and notable instances of malfunctions.

Additionally, we will examine the battleships that featured the largest guns. The impact of these guns on naval tactics, and their significance in the annals of naval history.

Design and Functionality

Dreadnought guns were large-calibre naval artillery pieces that became a defining characteristic of the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought battleship. The design of these guns incorporated several key features.

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They were typically housed in armoured turrets, enabling them to rotate and engage targets on different azimuths. The turrets themselves were designed to protect the gun crew and ammunition from enemy fire.

HMS Dreadnought had fearsome 12 inch guns . The Japanese Yamato-Class had bigger still !

The weight of shells fired by dreadnought guns varied depending on the specific calibre. For instance, the British 12-inch guns fired shells weighing approximately 850-850 pounds. The larger 15-inch guns fired shells weighing around 1,900-1,950 pounds.

These massive projectiles had devastating impact potential, capable of inflicting significant damage to enemy vessels.

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The working mechanism of dreadnought guns involved a combination of hydraulic and mechanical systems. Hydraulics were used for training and elevating the guns, allowing them to be aimed precisely at targets.

Mechanical mechanisms facilitated the loading process, with ammunition hoists delivering shells and propellant charges to the gun breeches.

Battleships with the Largest Guns

Several battleships featured the largest guns of their time. The British Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, which introduced the concept of the dreadnought battleship itself, carried ten 12-inch guns. Subsequent classes, such as the Queen Elizabeth-class and the Revenge-class battleships, were armed with eight 15-inch guns, making them a force to be reckoned with.


The Revenge-class battleships were formidable warships that played a significant role in the Royal Navy during World War I and the interwar years. Their design and capabilities showcased advancements in naval technology, providing enhanced firepower and armour protection.

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These battleships served as a testament to the strategic importance of dreadnoughts in naval warfare. Their participation in the Battle of Jutland highlighted their contribution to major engagements and demonstrated the Royal Navy’s determination to maintain control of the seas.

HMS Royal Oak’s aft pair of guns. A formidable site indeed.

The Revenge-class battleships were an important chapter in the evolution of British naval power. Their service represented the culmination of the dreadnought era, as subsequent battleships focused on further advancements in design and weaponry.

Revenge-class battleships stand as a testament to the Royal Navy’s commitment to naval supremacy during a crucial period in history. Their participation in World War I and their subsequent service symbolise the strategic importance of battleships and their impact on naval tactics and strategy.

The legacy of the Revenge-class battleships continues to remind us of the technological advancements and sacrifices made in the pursuit of maritime dominance.


In terms of sheer firepower, the Japanese Yamato-class battleships outmatched their contemporaries. These behemoths boasted nine 18.1-inch guns, the largest caliber ever mounted on a battleship. However, the Yamato-class battleships were completed too late in World War II to have a significant impact on the outcome of the conflict.

The Yamato-class battleships left a lasting impact on naval warfare and continue to be renowned for their size, firepower, and technological achievements. They represented the peak of battleship development and highlighted the arms race among nations during the war.

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While the Yamato-class battleships had limited combat opportunities, their very existence played a vital role in Japanese naval strategy. Their psychological impact on enemy forces cannot be understated, and their reputation as symbols of Japanese naval power endures to this day.

The Japanese warship Yamato near completion in 1941. Its huge 18 inch guns can clearly be seen.

The construction of the Yamato-class battleships consumed significant resources and manpower, diverting valuable assets from other crucial aspects of the war effort. Their deployment and eventual loss served as a turning point, highlighting the diminishing role of large battleships in modern warfare and the rise of aircraft carriers and other naval platforms.

Accuracy and Reliability

The accuracy of dreadnought guns was influenced by various factors, including the design of the gun itself, the quality of fire control systems, and the skills of the gunnery crews. While the guns were capable of remarkable precision over long distances, hitting moving targets presented considerable challenges.

Fire control systems, such as rangefinders and director control towers, played a crucial role in improving accuracy. By accurately determining the range to the target and calculating necessary adjustments, these systems allowed gunnery crews to aim with greater precision.

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However, despite advancements in fire control technology, malfunctions and inaccuracies were not uncommon. Factors such as mechanical failures, rough seas, and human error could affect the performance of the guns. For instance, misfires or barrel deformations occasionally occurred, diminishing the guns’ effectiveness.


Dreadnought guns revolutionised naval warfare by introducing larger calibres, improved fire control systems, and innovative design features. These powerful weapons transformed battleships into formidable instruments of destruction, reshaping naval tactics and strategies.

The Brazilian dreadnought Minas Geraes firing a broadside in 1910.

The weight and design of dreadnought shells, coupled with their accuracy and destructive potential, had a profound impact on naval engagements.

Battleships armed with these formidable guns dominated the seas and influenced the course of conflicts throughout history.

While the accuracy of dreadnought guns was commendable, it is important to note that hitting moving targets, especially in the heat of battle, presented significant challenges.

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Unpredictable factors such as rough seas, changing weather conditions, and the agility of enemy vessels could affect the precision of the guns. Moreover, human error and mechanical malfunctions occasionally led to inaccuracies or misfires.

Despite these challenges, the sheer power and range of dreadnought guns allowed naval commanders to exert control over vast stretches of the ocean and project their influence on shorelines. The ability to strike targets from great distances gave battleships armed with these guns a significant advantage, both defensively and offensively.

The Future

The introduction of dreadnought guns not only impacted naval warfare but also had broader implications for international relations. The arms race among naval powers to develop and deploy battleships armed with larger and more powerful guns reflected the geopolitical tensions of the time.

The USS New York. Its speed and guns made it a formidable opponent.

The mere possession of Dreadnoughts and their impressive armament signalled a nation’s naval prowess and its ability to project power on a global scale.

In conclusion, Dreadnought guns were a pivotal development in naval warfare, transforming battleships into formidable platforms of destruction. With their impressive calibre, range, and destructive potential, these guns reshaped naval strategies, influenced ship design, and played a crucial role in defining the balance of power on the high seas.

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While challenges such as accuracy and malfunctions were present, their impact on naval warfare cannot be overstated. The legacy of dreadnought guns continues to resonate in the annals of naval history, forever etching their mark as powerful symbols of naval might and technological advancement.