Question for the Gang: What is the Most Beautiful Warship Ever?

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One of the great things about being able to write for this or any other blog is the ability to ask questions with the purpose of drawing out opinions and generating discussion amongst knowledgeable readers.

The question I pose today is the following:

In your opinion, what was the most beautiful warship ever built?

Defining “beauty” in an instrument of war may seem a contradiction, but to the denizens here and elsewhere who are either Naval enthusiasts or have been to sea on a warship, there is an instinctive reaction to the sight of a graceful and well-balanced vessel that exudes power and strength.

Beauty, also being in the eye of the beholder, still has some qualifiers on this first offering:

  • The ship (for this round, at least) must be a capital ship, a fleet carrier, battleship, battle cruiser, armored cruiser, guided missile cruiser, or heavy cruiser.
  • The ship must be primarily steam-powered and of steel/iron construction.

Note that neither design success nor combat record is a part of any consideration.   This is not about the most effective fighting vessel, but rather the most aesthetically pleasing.

My offerings below are not at all exhaustive, and I encourage any additional input for which class or one-off ship strikes your sense of beauty.  That said, one can likely easily spot some of my biases in my selections.  The “clipper” or “Atlantic” bow.  Funnel caps.  I could think of no pre-Dreadnoughts that were beautiful ships.  Amphibs, either.  I offer only a single aircraft carrier class, as well.  I heavily favored guns, but not exclusively.  And there are a few selections that either precede or follow major rebuilds which make the vessels all but unrecognizable from their original design.  Which is good in one case, bad in another.

And I selected no French battleships.  They tend to be ugly affairs, with tumble-home sides and oddly-spaced machinery and funnels.  Even the Dunkerques and Richeleius, while significant improvements, suffer from the truncated appearance that plagued Nelson and Rodney, which are also not on my list.

Without further ado, grouped by country, below are my considerations for the most beautiful warships ever built.  Select from them, if you like, or offer your own choices.



Bismarck-class Battleships


Gneisenau-class Battlecruisers**


Helgoland-class Second Generation Dreadnoughts


Derfflinger-class Battlecruisers


Hipper-class Heavy Cruisers**

Great Britain


Battlecruiser Tiger


Queen Elizabeth-class Super Dreadnoughts (As built)


Renown-class Battlecruisers


Battlecruiser Hood


Battleship Vanguard



Yamato-class Superbattleships


Mikuma-class Heavy Cruisers


Maya-class Heavy Cruisers



Andrea Doria-class Battleships (post-rebuild)


Vittorio Veneto-class Battleships


Zara-class Heavy Cruisers

The United States

saratoga cv3

Lexington-class Fleet Aircraft Carriers


South Dakota-class Battleships


Alaska-class Battlecruisers


Iowa-class Battleships

des moines

Des Moines-class Heavy Cruisers


California-class Nuclear Guided Missile Cruisers



Duquesne-class Heavy Cruisers


Suffern-class Heavy Cruisers

Soviet Union/Russia


Project-68 (Sverdlov)-class Heavy Cruisers


Kirov-class Battlecruisers

So there you are, some suggestions for the most beautiful warships ever built.  Fire away, either with the ones I provided, or offer your own ideas.

(Next round will be Light Cruisers and Destroyers.)

** Both Gneisenaus and cruiser Hipper were completed with straight stem and no funnel cap.  The addition of the “clipper bow” and capped funnel was not considered a significant rebuild in either class/unit.

UPDATE and BUMPED: Now with a poll added. I’ll have to teach URR how to make one before the next round. Vote!

[polldaddy poll=6955815]

27 thoughts on “Question for the Gang: What is the Most Beautiful Warship Ever?”

    1. I’m conflicted between the Iowa and the Yamato classes; both beautiful. Kinda like trying to decide between a blonde and a brunette.
      Now. If there were a redhead mentioned, it would be no contest. 🙂

  1. This post arose from a discussion in the comments over at CDR Sal’s, where someone noted that the Kirov’s were good looking ships (whatever they’re named now!).

    My personal favorite is the Alaska (CB-1) class. It’s surprising how few pictures of them there are online.

    1. I can’t disagree with whoever it was that said that about the Kirov’s. Ivan built them pretty. I also agree with you about the Sverdlov’s – even prettier.

      I’m not sure that I’d put the ALASKA’s above the IOWA’s … but really, once you get to that level of perfection, it’s 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

      I’m a little surprised by your pick of LEXINGTON, though … I always found her island arrangement to be a little … off-putting, myself.

  2. Brad, it’s a deal. As long as I can teach you how to spell “Bismarck”!

  3. Bismarck and Tirpitz; hands-down. Like the Russians, the Germans knew how to build a warship that was aesthetically pleasing, yet obviously a warship. Can’t imagine missile tubes all over the deck of them, though. Kirov has nice lines, and I thought of it before I scrolled down to it.

  4. The Iowa is a personal favorite. My ship steamed in company with her for a Northern Europe summer cruise. Using the battleship part of ATP-1(B) for Divtacs was a great deal of fun. Beautiful ship.

    The California’s focsle went on forever, but the superstructure was too boxy. More fun to Unrep than Iowa.

    From history I like the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, the IJN Tone, IJN Agano, and HMS Sheffield.

    1. Roamy comes in with some 80s hair, 80s clothes, and 80s tunes! And a plug for the Showboat!!

    1. Well, in this question, we are limited to iron/steel warships with steam power. But those are two magnificent creations we are fortunate to still have and see.

    1. What a surprise, Scott! I thought sure you would have picked an Italian cruiser!!! 🙂

  5. I remember going to San Francisco – had to have been in the 90s – the Missouri came to visit and was docked near Pier 39 – and I thought what a beautiful, majestic ship. And she was over 50 years old.

  6. For the 1st Marine Division, the most beautiful ship was the one they went to after coming off Guadalcanal. My Corpsman Uncle would certainly agree.

  7. Not sure why I am drawn to the ships of the IJN, but I am.

    As I said earlier, I love the aesthetics of the Nagato Class.

    The Fuso is also a favorite.

    I guess maybe it has something to do with the pagoda masts.

    As to carriers, I’ll take the Shinano any day of the week.

  8. The poll reminds me of what was arguably my most memorable Navy experience — was a Nav/Comm on a P-3C at the time, patrolling at low level just outside the Straits of Gibraltor just after daybreak in heavy fog . Sensor operator calls heavy Naval traffic, so we sneak down to take a look . The first thing we see is a very large wake …then realized that we are running up along Iowa and escorts entering the Med. The right combination of low light and low visibility and proximity made this the most impressive sight.

    We talked with Iowa, hung around for a few more passes, then went on with our business.

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