US Battleship Fuel Usage

Quote of the Day

Y2K was 21 years ago. Looking back, I think the only thing we learned is that if a bunch people work really hard to stop a problem from happening, lots of other people will assume it was never really a problem.

— Steve Lieber. I have seen many people work hard to ensure problems would never occur. This effort was never appreciated. I have also watched people who created problems win awards for fixing the problems they created. Very strange organizational behavior.


Figure 1: USS North Carolina, my choice for the most beautiful of the US battleshps. (Wikipedia)

Figure 1: USS North Carolina, my choice for the most beautiful of the US battleships. (Wikipedia)

In this post, I will examine the fuel consumption of the three most modern battleship classes that the US deployed during WW2:  North Carolina,  South Dakota, and Iowa. The data is scraped from the Hyperwar website, which is one of my favorite targets for data extraction. In this case, the Hyperwar page contains a set of tables from the US Navy document FTP 218: War Service Fuel Consumption of US Navy Surface Vessels.

The fuel consumption (gallons/hr ) for a ship is a highly non-linear function of speed (knots), as my graphs will show. I also estimate each ship's running time as a function of speed using their rated fuel capacity, which is called radius oil that is the sum of the fuel oil and diesel capacities.

For those who like to follow along, my Excel workbook is available here.


US Battleship Classes

I first look at the different battleship classes the US deployed during WW2. Fortunately, a table in Wikipedia makes this data easy to access. Table 1 shows the ten battleship classes that the US deployed during WW2, along with the main battery diameter and the number of main battery guns. The battleship classes are shown in the order they were deployed.

Table 1: US Battleship Classes Deployed During WW2.

US WW2 Battleships By Name

There were 18 battleships in US Navy service on the morning of 7-Dec-1941. All were WW1-era ships, except for the 2 North Carolina class ships that were just entering service. After Pearl Harbor, 8 of these ships were damaged with 6 returned to service after months of repair and refit. The battleships in service immediately after Pearl Harbor bore the brunt of the fighting, both in the Atlantic and Pacific, until newer ships were completed.

Table 2: US WW2 Battleships By Name.


Scraping the data from the Hyperwar website was straightforward using Power Query because all the data was contained in well-structured tables. Figure 2 shows the fuel consumption of the USS South Dakota, USS North Carolina, and USS Iowa versus speed in knots. Note how their fuel consumption was similar at low speeds but diverged as their speed increased. USS North Carolina, in particular, was comparatively inefficient. The USS Iowa was quite efficient, with its fuel consumption rate at 29 knots roughly the same as the USS North Carolina at 25 knots.

Figure 2: Battleship Fuel Consumption Versus Speed.

Figure 2: Battleship Fuel Consumption Versus Speed.

Knowing a ship's fuel consumption as a function of speed and its fuel capacity, we can compute its sailing time before running out of fuel (Table 3). Ships normally would refuel their tanks regularly to ensure that they always had enough fuel to handle foreseeable needs (link). When they didn't, problems occurred (see discussion of Bismarck's fuel issues).

Table 3: Battleship Running Time Versus Speed.


It is hard to imagine ships that consume 9000+ gallons of fuel per hour. It is also impressive how fuel-efficient the USS Iowa as compared to the earlier classes.

We are fortunate that the US was able to to keep 9 battleships as museums ships:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Iowa
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Missouri
  6. New Jersey
  7. North Carolina
  8. Texas
  9. Wisconsin

I hope to see them all in the next few years.

This entry was posted in History Through Spreadsheets, Military History, Naval History. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to US Battleship Fuel Usage

  1. Malcolm Frame says:

    There are no battleships preserved as museums in the UK. The nearest equivalent is the battlecruiser "Belfast", which is moored in the Thames in the centre of London.

    A question about battleship ordnance: What causes a shell to detonate, is it initiated on impact with the target or by a timing device calibrated to the distance from the target before the shell is fired? It appears that a broadside straddles the target, which means that if the shell detonates on impact, the seabed must be littered with unexploded shells, but films of actual battles seem to show shells that fall short detonating on the surface of the sea. On the other hand, the shell fired by the "Bismarck" that destroyed the "Hood" penetrated deep into the superstructure before it detonated, rather than on initial impact.

    • mathscinotes says:

      I plan on visiting the UK and HMS Belfast once our COVID nightmare is over. She looks like a beautiful ship.

      Most armor-piercing battleship projectiles that I have seen have a base detonating fuze, which mounts in the base of the projectile as shown below with the 15-inch UK battleship round. These fuzes would activate on detecting the impact of the shell.
      UK 15 inch shell
      These fuzes had a small delay built into them before they would detonate the bursting charge, which was actually quite small. In the case of the US 16-in armor-piercing shell, it had bursting charge mass 18.55 kg out of a total projectile mass of 1225 kg, with a delay of 33 milliseconds (Mk 23 base detonating fuze). Here is a cross-section of this fuze.

      Here is an excerpt from the operational description of the Mk 23 fuze.

      When the projectile is fired, centrifugal force causes the firing-pin detents and ball-retainer detents to be moved outward against their springs. When the firing-pin detents have moved out, the firing pin moves forward because of creep (projectile deceleration during flight), and the locking balls drop into the space left by the forward movement of the firing pin and will be held outward by centrifugal force., thus locking the firing pin in the forward position. The ball retainer is prevented from moving forward under influence of creep, because of the anti-creep spring behind it. On impact, the ball retainer moves forward until stopped by the nose, and is locked in this position by three split ring segments engaging a shoulder at the end of the body this forward movement of the ball retainer and are projected out-ward. When the force of impact has diminished sufficiently to permit the firing spring to propel the plunger to the rear, the sensitive primer in the base of the lunger is thrown down on to the firing pin. When the plunger moves down, it brings the booster lead-ins and lead-outs in line, and the plunger is locked in the rear position by three split ring segments in a manner similar to the ball retainer. When the sensitive primer is fired, the gas from it fires the percussion primer. The flash from the percussion primer passes through and around the baffle and ignites the delay pellet. This defers ignition of the detonator for 0.02 seconds. The detonator then first the booster elements.

  2. Ronan A Mandra says:


    A minor typo. You have an extra %22 in your link to the HyperWar website. When you click on it, this link shows up:

    I also downloaded your Excel file and noticed that your Time(Days) table in your "Report" tab had every cell filled with "#NAME." You use the SEQUENCE function in your "Report" for the Time(Days) table which apparently only works for "Excel for Microsoft 365." However, a workaround is to manually type the sequence: 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5 with then works with my version of Excel 2019.

    As before, thanks for sharing your info. As a battleship and math enthusiast, I've enjoyed your postings.

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