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The 5 greatest warships of all time

The US Naval Institute completed a poll of its readers to determine the best warships of all time. The Naval Institute urged readers to consider vessels from ancient times to now, and with more than 2,600 votes and almost 900 written responses, they've developed a diverse list spanning hundreds of years.


The USS Constitution sails unassisted for the first time in 116 years, firing its guns in salute while underway in Massachusetts Bay, escorted by the frigate USS Halyburton (FFG-40), center, and the destroyer USS Ramage (DDG-61), right, as the US Navy's "Blue Angels" pass overhead. | US Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Todd Stevens

In some cases, readers wrote in recommending whole classes of ships, like aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, but the list below will only reflect the five specific ships that made the grade.

5. USS Nautilus

The USS Nautilus permanently docked at the US Submarine Force Museum and Library, Groton, CT. | Victor-ny via Wikimedia Commons

Congress authorized the construction of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine in 1951, and in 1954 first lady Mamie Eisenhower christened it.

The Nautilus changed the game when it came to naval warfare, and it ushered in an entirely new era for submarines. This nearly silent sub could hide among the ocean floor undetected, while offering up substantial contributions to surface warfare with cruise, or even nuclear, missiles.

The nuclear sub would go on to form one-third of the US's nuclear triad.

4. HMS Dreadnought

Wikimedia Commons

The HMS Dreadnought ushered in a new era of "all big-gun ships." Unlike battleships before it, the Dreadnought only had 12-inch cannons aided by electronic range-finding equipment. For defensive, the ship was completely encased in steel.

The Dreadnought presented a suite of technologies so cutting edge that it is often said that it rendered all battleships before it obsolete.

Though the Dreadnought did not have a distinguished service record, it did become the only surface battleship to sink a submarine. It is remembered largely for shifting the paradigm of naval warfare, as opposed to its victories in battle.

3. USS Enterprise

USS Enterprise in 1939. | US Navy

Unlike the Dreadnought, the historians remember the USS Enterprise for its outstanding record in combat.

As the sixth aircraft carrier to join the US Navy in 1936, the Enterprise was one of the first craft to respond after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it survived major battles in Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, and the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo during World War II.

After the war, the Enterprise was decommissioned as the most decorated ship in US naval history.

2. Korean Turtle Boats

Wikimedia Commons

Korean Turtle Ships served with the Korean navy for centuries, first coming into play in the Seven Years' War (1592-1598) between Korea and Japan.

The idea behind the Turtle Ship was to provide an impenetrable floating fortress optimized for boarding enemy craft. The side of the ship is dotted with holes from which the crew can fire cannons and other artillery, while the top of the ship is covered in iron spikes, making it especially dangerous for enemy sailors to board the vessel.

With up to 80 rowers pulling along the heavy craft, the Turtle Ships were brutal but effective.

1. USS Constitution

The USS Constitution underway. | Wikimedia Commons

The USS Constitution, or "Old Ironsides," as it is affectionately known, first hit the seas as one of the first six frigates in the newly formed US Navy of 1797.

The Constitution had both 30 24-pound cannons and also speed. Not only was it technologically sound for its time, but it was also simply unparalleled and undefeated in battle.

Famously, in 1812, the Constitution fought against the HMS Guerriere, whose guns could not pierce the heavily armored sides of the Constitution.

The Constitution is still commissioned by the Navy today, considered the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and the only currently commissioned US Navy ship to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is in every way worthy of the title "greatest warship of all time."

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