11 February 2013

FWS: Ships of the Line-The Dreadnought

Nothing quite says 'I'm going to kick your metal ass up and down the solar system' in space combat games more than a dreadnought class combat starship appearing on the scene. During my misspend childhood of playing pen-and-paper space combat starship games, the Dreadnought was a hallowed name reserved for your greatest and most powerful warship that was like the Wolf from Pulp Fiction. These were your brawlers, able to take on several hostile warships, and win the day while taking a pounding. Since the 1970's and continuing onto today, the Dreadnought is often the premier warship of any future space fleet, which is inline with the historical super battleship from the Great War. In the continuing series of Ship of the Line, FWS will spelling out the details of the Dreadnought class, both in historical naval combat, and in the realm of science fiction.

What Does the Name 'Dreadnought' Mean?
According to several naval sources, the name 'Dreadnought' is an old English word for 'fear nothing', and has a long naval tradition and history within the British Navy. The first Dreadnought was a wooden sail warship that fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and another British Dreadnought fought at Trafalgar in 1805. So, it only made sense that harbinger of a new era of warship would be christened 'Dreadnought'.

Naval Dreadnought of the Early 20th Century
At the beginning of the 21st century, the USA and China are the world superpowers, Europe is at peace, Germany makes the best cars, and the Aircraft Carrier is the ultimate symbol of military and national power. When the Dreadnought class vessels roamed the seas at the beginning of the 20th century, things were quite a bit different. Europe was the center of power, with three major empires dividing up the 3rd world, the car was not quite there technologically, and the ultimate symbol of military and imperial power was the battleship. That all changed in 1906, when the British Navy launched the HMS Dreadnought. Between 1905 and 1906, there was crisis within the three empires of Europe over the question of Moroccan independence, due to Germany's actions in Morocco, the British believed it was a direct threat to their security, and at the end of the crisis, the Dreadnought was launched to increase Britain's naval security.
What shaped the design of this new sea monster was the events of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, specifically, the Battle of Tsushima. Naval experts witness that long-range naval artillery combined with speed and a well-trained gunnery crew allowed for the Japanese warships to a crushing defeat of the Russian naval taskforce. The HMS Dreadnought was directly influenced by that battle...she was fast and heavily armed with good gun crews. At this time, it was the apex of that era's naval power, making all other battleships at the time obsolete, like an 8-bit game in the era of 16-bit. While the British navy now had the envy of all imperial naval powers, it also leveled the playing field for everyone else. France and Germany could never break the supremacy that the British Imperium had on seaborne power, that was until the Dreadnought era. Now, all Germany had to do was construct ships up to the standard of the HMS Dreadnought and while Britain had to start all over with their navy. This created what I like to call the Imperial European naval dick-measuring contest of the early 20th century....soon to be appearing in a professional historical journal. The 527 foot long HMS Dreadnought was venture into new thought and technology in naval warfare, being faster by using turbines, more heavily armed with long range guns, and thicker armor (11-to-12 inch thick) than any battleship on the high seas at that time.
Dreadnought was armed with five twin-barreled turrets that fired 12-inch 850 lbs shells at a nearly ten miles meaning it could pound hostile warships at a greater range with bigger shells, while their target could not return fire. Given this new standard, the other major naval powers at the time immediately began constructing their own Dreadnought warships, giving the battleships a 'pre' and 'post' Dreadnought label. All of this was costly, the original HMS Dreadnought cost 2 million pounds in 1906! This didn't stop German from fielding their own copy of the British sea-monster in 1908.
From 1908, there was a naval arms race in Europe, as tension rose in Europe, charging the conditions for war. All of this added to the factors that led to the Great First World War. The key naval engagement of the First World War, was the Battle of the Jutland in 1916 in the cold seas between Britain and Norway.
This battle is noted for massive amounts of fire exchanged between the British and German taskforces. The British had an iron ring of Dreadnoughts that landed down heavy fire, but despite a numerical advantage of more Dreadnoughts (23 to 10) and Battlecruisers, the British suffered high losses, 14 warship and nearly 7,000 killed, but not a single Dreadnought on either side was sunk. What killed the Dreadnought type warships, in only 10 years, was simply the conditions for these types of naval engagement disappeared, the vaguer of the Battle of the Jutland, there was only a single one in all of WWI, this coupled with advancements in seaborne air-power and submarines. Then there was the debt from World War One and the naval warship treaties in the post-war years. For millions and millions invested in these massive warships, there was little pay out, has the Battle of Jutland demonstrated  Sadly, by 1921, this usher of an entirely new class of warship was decommissioned and sold for about $80,000 as scrap. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Some of the design elements of the Dreadnought-era of warship did influence Second World War battleships.

The Science Fiction Classification of the Dreadnought Warship

The term Dreadnought has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? And that name coupled with the WWI era Dreadnoughts has inspirited many sci-fi creators to dive head first into using this label to describe what Samuel L. Jackson would call their 'bad mother fucker'of their space navies. The common usage of the Dreadnought in a space fleet is the very lethal tip of the spear, the crown jewel of a planet's space fleet, and the vessel that they bring out to rattle the saber. These are the most expensive, largest, and mount the heavies of weapons. Most space navies can only afford a few Dreadnoughts, even Starfleet with over 600 starships, only had 20 Dreadnoughts. In terms of size, most science fiction Dreadnoughts are massive vessels, normally 800+meters with crew members to match, and have the largest the directed energy weapons, like the Reflex Cannon from ROBOTECH or even the largest kinetic energy cannons, similar to the Dreadnought-class warships from the Mass Effect universe.
As for the role of a spaceborne Dreadnought, I can foresee two. One being the standard vision of the Dreadnought, as the heaviest armored and armed warship in the fleet that is designed for capitol ship-to-capital ship slug-fests, mch like the Andromeda class from Starblazers. I can also envision Dreadnoughts being  the 'one ship fleet' concept. Think of the Yamato from Space Cruiser Yamato or the UNSC Infinity from HALO 4. These Dreadnoughts are designed to fight a guerrilla space war deep in enemy territory affecting supply lines and planetary will to fight without any support and able to deal out maximum damage to the enemy. For me, the best

Could There Be An Hard-Science Dreadnought?
I do believe there could be a purpose for a hard-science dreadnought type combat space vehicle, if we use the historic definition of a warship with 'all big gun armaments'. Most hard science warship would be armed with defensive and offensive armaments, and one of the best weak spots of these ships would be the massive heat radiators or the power plant. To counter incoming fire, a combat starship would most likely turn its whipple shield, and given this factor, you would need a vessel that could punch through and kill. That role primarily belongs to kinetic energy weapons. My term for this hard-science dreadnought is a 'kinetic bombarder', and is designed to be the killer of combat starships, a real brawler of a warship. Think of it like boxer George Foreman...he may not be the fastest fists in the ring, but if he hits you with that freight train of a fist, your ass is going down!
Our kinetic bombarder is the same way, (and could be an AI controlled warship) it is designed to delivery a hard knockout punch by firing a storm of low-heat generating kinetic energy weapons: rail guns, Gauss guns, and kinetic kill missiles. Because KEW systems are powerful, but slower than DEW systems, KE rounds could be dodged by an alert starship, but it cannot avoid all of them if our kinetic bombarder is designed in the correct way. All it would take is a few hits to critical damage the hostile hard-science warship.
I can see it unfolding much like this: The USS Cottontail detects the incoming USS Rolling a Hard Six, and turns it's whipple shield turns the attacking vessel. Rolling a Hard Six burns delta-vee on a parallel course, has the Cottontail launches missiles and its kitty-litter shields. Rolling a Hard Six closes the gap, and when it comes into range, unleashes a hailstorm of KE weaponry at an angle on the Cottontail's whipple shield. When the shield gives way, the Rolling a Hard Six shows no mercy, and pounding the heat radiators and body of the Cottontail. It is likely that Rolling a Hard Six is an AI warship and destroyed herself by the Cottontail's own attack. Hard science naval space battle had be a cruel bitch.

The Progenitor: The Federation class Dreadnought from Star Trek

Here is the long and strange trip of the first science fiction Dreadnought type warship. As far as I can research, the first mention of a dreadnought concept being applied to a combat space vehicle was in 1975 semi-canon Franz Joseph authored  Star TrekStarfleet Technical Manual. On page T0:01:04:00 (no shit, there are no traditional page numbers in the frakking thing!) there is an outline of a heavy tri-nacelle Federation warship called 'dreadnought' and is under construction, no solid image appeared of this Starfleet Dreadnought class for some time. But, it was enough for fans to fully adopt this heavy warship into their collective consciousnesses  In 1979, a fully fleshed out Starfleet dreadnought appear in the form of quasi-canon blueprints by artist Allie C. Peel III. Starfleet blueprints were popular items for fans until the 1990's, and many were published without the consent of the studio. However, according to Memory Alpha, Gene Roddenberry did official signed off on the design of the Federation class, but the debate still rages if the tri-nacelle design is 'canon' or not. It is believed that the name of the class switched from Dreadnought to Federation around the time of these blueprints.
 The next piece of the puzzle that is the Federation class came in 1986 with the Pocket Books Star Trek novel Dreadnought! The basic plot is that terrorists (damned terrorists!) capture the newly minted USS Star Empire, the NCC-2116 , a dreadnought type vessel, and is the most powerful vessel in Starfleet or even the galaxy. The cover art for the book clearly shows a tri-nacelle, but not the Federation design we are used to. Instead, the USS Star Empire is a completely different design with more similarity to the Excelsior class than the Constitution class. The odd thing was during the run of the highly successful and much loved FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator from around 1983-1989(?), the Federation class Dreadnought was not officially a part of Strafleet. There was never a FASA die-cast gaming model piece, nor did it appear in any of the rule-books. That didn't stop gamers from including them, even kitbashing their own Federation class Dreadnoughts. The only two mentions of the Federation class were minor in canonized ST sources. One being an audio mention of the NCC-2120 USS Entente during the Epsilon IX starbase scenes in ST:TMP and a profile outline of the Federation class is seen for a split-second on a read-out monitor screen behind Kirk's shoulder during ST:TWOK. When the final episode of ST:TNG was seen, fans went nuts over the alternate future Enterprise-D that was modified by Admiral Riker, and featured a third nacelle, causing this to be a visual homage to the old non-canon Federation class design. Speaking of design, the base starship class used for the Federation class switches from non-canon source to source. Some use the familiar Constitution class heavy cruiser, like the original 1975 design.
 However, DC Comics in April of 1987 printed their Who's Who of Star Trek: volume II and listed among the Starfleet starship classes was the dreadnought class...not the Federation class dreadnought, which was very odd. Also odd was DC Comics using the completely non-canon Decatur class heavy cruiser has the foundation for the Dreadnought class. Other sources, used the Constitution class refit for the foundations...and even others mounted the third nacelle on the secondary hull, making for zero inconstancy among non-canon source material. I've always liked the idea of the tri-nacelle Federation badass warship, but its design left something to be desired. The placement of the third nacelle was on the primary 'saucer' hull, and not the secondary hull, give the vessel an odd profile, much like Meryl Streep or Sofia Coppola. I remember reading that why three nacelle starships were never really seen on-screen in either TV series or movies was because they felt it was stupid and made no logical or scientific sense, plus was over-militaristic...in other words...tacticool!

Dreadnoughts and Science Fiction 
The seaborne naval dreadnought battleships were phased out of the imperial navies of the Europe  when my grandmother was a teenager...so, why does the mere mention of these nearly-ancient and outdated warships cause sci-fi geeks  to get their Batman panties wet? In 1975, the Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph was, from my research, the origin of  'dreadnought' being applied to a uber space combat vessel. That 1975 technical manual was widely read and became the founding text for much of the early homebrew starship combat games and the 'official' FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator in 1983. During most of my misspent youth, along with others of my generation, the term Dreadnought quickly gained nearly universal understanding has THE premier warship class. Even when I was a kid playing with my Legos, I understood this concept. When I constructed Lego warships, the best of the best, was always the Dreadnought, and served at the front of the space flotilla.
This idea filtered down through the years, even other pen-and-paper space combat RPGs used the Dreadnought label, I can remember Renegade Legion: Levithan having the best of the TOG navy being a Dreadnought, along with RPG Dreadnoughts in Traveller and in Star Frontiers. Despite the among of space-based science fiction shows in the 1990's, there was only one Dreadnought seen, the Earth Force Nova class on Babylon 5. Dreadnoughts were in the Honor Harrington Universe, has combat vessels in the five and six million ton range. Dreadnought type space warship are popular among sci-fi artists, and it seems that Dreadnoughts in space are not going anywhere!

Examples of Science Fiction Dreadnoughts

The Starfleet Federation class Dreadnought from Star Trek
After the Federation-Klingon Four Year War in the 2250's, Starfleet put forth the construction of a more purely combat vessel based around the Constitution class heavy cruisers. To generate the required power output projected by Starfleet, this Federation class dreadnought was  an unorthodox tri-nacelle design. After the NX-2100 Federation passed its shakedown, Starfleet approved the construction of a total of twenty Federation class Dreadnoughts.    According to several sources, there about 14 out of 20 Federation class Dreadnoughts in service with Starfleet around the time of ST:TWOK...2285. Other says that only four were actually constructed, and one was destroyed, and three were mothballed.
Either way, the Federation class were phased out and placed in mothball status after the Excelsior class battlecruiser was officially approved by Starfleet in 2285. The high cost, low-flexible (a hallmark of Federation starships) and aggressive nature of this warship class, were all reasons cited has causes for the phasing out of the Federation class in the 2280's with only four being refitted. Some where stationed on cold-standby status at key starbase locations and where the command flag-vessels of Admirals if the balloon went up. Some believe that during the crushing Federation-Dominion War of the 24th century, some of these old ladies of battle were resurrected and refitted for service, due to the high losses of Federation combat starships.

The Earth Alliance Nova class Dreadnought from Babylon 5
When the spacefaring Terra took her place among the more advanced races of her corner of the Milky Way galaxy, her warships were at a serious disadvantage. This was painfully demonstrated during the Earth/Minbari War of 2245-2248, when most of the Earth Force fleet was crushed. To counter this technological gap, Earth Force constructed the Nova class Dreadnought armed with 18 twin-barreled plasma cannons in 2225. To fuel this amount of firepower and prevent long recharge times, the most powerful spaceborne energy reactor at that time was fitted to the Nova class. Helping take the load of the reactors, the Nova was a stripped down vessel, with less crew comfort areas, less armor plating, and less secondary weaponry. The main crew area was heavily reinforced to counter this weakness, which crews of the Nova class referred to has 'the iron cube'. During engagements, the Nova class would serve has the artillery, weakening alien ships while faster vessel attacked.
When the shit got close, Novas would pound their target with the massive firepower, overwhelming the advanced technology of their enemy. The Nova class met with great success during the Dilgar War, but was outmatched by the firepower of the Minbari. But that didn't stop the Earth Force from constructed nearly 100 during the war. These were being phased out just prior to the Shadow Wars, but still used for certain mission, much to the discomfort of the crew. Unlike the Omega class, the Nova lacked centrifugal generating gravity, making tours onboard more taxing, like most of the Earth Force ships prior to the Earth-Minbari War that lacked spinning section for artificial gravity.  The successful Omega class destroyer was based off the Nova base design. Personally, this is my favorite science fiction Dreadnought, and to me, it truly captures the spirit of the original naval concept...plus it is really badass looking.

The Earth Defense Force Andromeda class Dreadnought from Star Blazers/Space Cruiser Yamato
In 2200, the Gamilon Empire was defeated and the Cosmo DNA has begun to heal the Earth from the damage of the radiation
bombardment. It seems the moment the Yamato returned from their holy crusade, the EDF began rebuilding their navy, using the Yamato and its Iscandar technology. Within one year, not only had the United Earth Government rebuild most of the Earth's surface, but also field a good number of combat warships, including the new apex EDF warship, the Andromeda. Our own government can't even pass a tax bill in a year! The Andromeda was the flagship of the Earth taskforce at Saturn when the White Comet Empire attempted to invade the Sol System. While the taskforce was successful in wiping out the bulk of the White Comet Imperial Fleet, their mobile planetoid HQ destroyed the Andromeda after only one month of service...that's right...one month...the paint wasn't even dry yet!  In most of the official Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato literture, the Andromeda class is a battleship, but due to its extreme firepower, and mount twin Wave Motion Cannons, I personally believe that the Andromeda is a dreadnought. 

Dreadnoughts from Eve Online
Due to their size, Dreadnought type warships in the Eve Online universe cannot use the standard stargates, but have their own FTL system. While less powerful(!) than a battleship, the role of the Dreadnought is as a siege platform, causing maximum damage to starbases and outposts. So, that means the Dreadnoughts of Eve Online are more akin to an orbital siege platform designed for bombardment than anti-capitol ship work....interesting.

The High Guard Siege Perilous class Dreadnought
Just before the fall of the Systems Commonwealth, the High Guard was given their most powerful ship-killer, the Siege Perilous class. This was a combination of the two roles for a Dreadnought I spoke of, it could operate in a naval taskforce has the artillery, and then also has a lone warship, operating behind enemy lines. The Siege Perilous was armed with the most powerful kinetic energy vehicles, massive amounts of missile tubes, and Anti-Proton cannons, like 100+, dotted the thin profile of this class. The best of High Guard naval technology was poured into the class, allowing for the Siege Perilous class to emerge from Slipspace, unload on the enemy target with overwhelming firepower, then re-enter Slipspace before anyone knew what hit'em. Sadly, only four of this class were constructed before the Nietzschean Revolt.

The Systems Alliance Dreadnoughts from the Mass Effect universe
Coming in at 800-to-1,000 meters, Dreadnought class warships are the most powerful warships in the Mass Effect Universe. Their offensive power comes from their ability to launch hard-hitting 20 kilogram slugs at 1.3% of Light Speed, and the impact of just one of the rounds is equal to 38 kilotons of TNT. Much like the post-World War One, there were limits on how many Dreadnoughts could exist, Terra only had eight while the Turians had 37.

The Imperial Navy Executor class Star Dreadnought from Star Wars universe

Big doesn't begin to describe the steer mass of this big bastard...coming in at 100 time larger than the standard Imperial Star Destroyer, with a crew of nearly 300,000 and armed with 5,000 weapons systems...turbo lasers, and missile launchers. According to several sources, the power output needed for this class is equal to an medium sun! Adding to its offensive firepower, a single Executor class could delivery nearly 40,000 troops along with support equipment (including some pre-fab bases) and vehicles to a planetary battlefield, and hang in orbit to prevent an counter-attack. Along with just the firepower, these class of uber warship could carry thousands of fighters. A single Executor took six years in the shipyards, and the combined economic output of several star systems to fund the project. This being said, these were extremely rare vessels in the navy. At the time of the battle of Holt, there just four in service with the Imperial Navy. This is one of largest warships n the whole of science fiction. I'd like to thank a reader of FWS that caught my mistake at not including this well-known dreadnought!

Some information on the Nova class

links to some good information on the Federation class



  1. I understand you aren't a huge Star Wars fan, but how could you forget one of the more recognizable dreadnoughts in movie history? The Executor Class Super Star Destroyer!

  2. I saw that the Executor class uber-star destroyer came up on some sources...and I wasn't sure. But, I will take down the blogpost and add it.

    1. IIRC Executor was less of a dreadnought and more of mobile fleet support base, administrative and command centre. A heavily armed one though, but it has more roles than dedicated heavy brawler.

    2. I think the Battlestar Galactica might fill the role of Dreadnaught. It should at least fit the criteria of being able to operate alone behind enemy lines.

  3. What always bugged me, at least once I understood the terms, was that in at least 3 universes, the dreadnought equivalents are called destroyers. As you noted, Babylon 5, Star Trek, or at least some of the books (My Enemy, My Ally), and Star Wars.

    1. Welcome to the weird world of warship classification. Especially when people try to classify their spaceships using terms borrowed from wet navies, when said terms refer to already outdated designs or having been inflated over the years.

      A good example could be frigates, which started as a type of fast seagoing ships, morphed into the 18th-19th century multirole warships capable to operate independently, only disappear entirely, when the cruisers took over their old jobs. Then they reappeared in WW2 as a mid sized convoy escort, which were incapable to operate independently.

      Example of naming inflation is the modern frigate and the destroyer. Both were started as small escorts/fast attack ships unable to operate independently, but grew so much in size and capabilities, that the most modern examples can be considered capital ships on their own right.

    2. Well, part of that inflation is the US Navy doing an end run around congress. When you get told "all new cruisers must be nuclear powered," and you want a non-nuclear cruiser you can get it by building a really big 'destroyer' or 'frigate'.

    3. Not really. Not even in the US. For example the Soviets didn't really care about the classification of the US/NATO ships but even their late-Cold War destroyers were as big as the late 50s - early 60s missile cruisers*. The growth was mostly because they took on more roles and the required equipment took more space, but for a change, said equipment gradually became more and more effective. For example, larger antiship missiles put the final nail into the all gun ships' coffin and you could mount them easily on an enlarged destroyer hull (think 50s-early 60s), hence destroyers grew in size to house the new, more potent weapon systems. Then bigger ships got helos and they turned out to be a really handy tools to have, but they took up space, so the next generation of helo equipped destroyers grew even more.

      * take note that the soviet cruisers went down to less then half of their displacement when they went from guns and armor to missile. US cruisers went through a similar, although not that drastic diet too.

  4. Oh man, I'm sorry to have to say this, but your research for the blogpost completely failed. You didn't mention E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series, which asides from being among the founding works of "space opera", also had enormous space warships that Smith called "dreadnoughts". And, even bigger than those where the "superdreadnoughts", and in addition there are "maulers", huge slow-moving warships powerful enough to attack planetary bases. And, entire PLANETS are fit with inertialess drives and converted into warships, which leads to even bigger weapons used to combat them. Dreadnoughts have been mauling enemy fleets since the 1930s and 40s!!!


    Star Trek had absolutely nothing to do with dreadnoughts becoming famous as huge space warships. The term dreadnought has been around since the 30s, and I mean in a big way- Smith's fiction had everything from ancient founder aliens to blaster pistols, immense warships with gigantic energy cannon, the first usage of powered armor (Heinlein read Triplanetary and Lensman), and gigantic spaceships able to shatter entire planets with energy beams.

    Most SF fans today seem to think SF got started with the first "Star Trek" TV show or "Star Wars" film, but it just isn't so. Even the lightsaber is not a Lucas idea- in force field blades were used in Isaac Asimov's 1952 novel "David Starr, Space Ranger". And the Matrix? Virtual reality goes back to Arthur C. Clarke's "The City and the Stars" (1956) and a more limited form of VR appeared in EE. "Doc" Smith's "Skylark 3" (1930)!! The term blaster dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis' When the Green Star Waned, and the disintegrator ray dates back to 1898 in in Garrett Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars. That means it has been 115 years since the disintegrators first fictional appearance, and we still haven't come up with a disintegrator ray...

    As far as I can tell "dreadnought" is a name given to the biggest and most powerful space battleships, probably just because people think it sounds cool. E.E. "Doc" Smith probably used the term because the arms races he featured in his fiction resemble situations like the dreadnought races- with whole new advances in propulsion and weapons outclassing earlier vessels. I would name a space warship a "dreadnought" if it has improved propulsion and an unprecedented number of massive energy cannon, seeing as what made dreadnoughts revolutionary were their big guns and steam turbines. I suspect most people just slap on the term on any big space warship 'cause it sounds impressive.

  5. William, I am also sorry but I have to agree with Christopher Phoenix on this. E.E. "Doc" Smith mentioned dreadnoughts in his Lensman novel Galactic Patrol (the first written book of the series, in 1937). Though to be fair he had an odd habit of spelling it "dreadnaught".

    Mr. Phoenix could have also mentioned that Doc Smith first used the term "tractor beam" in his 1931 novel Spacehounds of IPC (though Edmond Hamilton wrote of an "attractive ray" in his 1928 novel Crashing Suns).

    I do not think the board will allow posting links, but if you go to my Atomic Rocket website in the Warship Design section, there is some discussion about warship classification. The idea is that there is a trade-off between weapons, defenses, and speed. In that system, dreadnoughts are mostly weapons, a bit of defenses, and slow as pregnant hippo.

  6. Man! This blogpost got popular while I was writing on my new book and playing SPARTAN OPS! One of the main reason for the genesis of this blogpost series was to add some realism to the 'weird world' of space ship classification, and so far, this dreadnought post has been my favorite. After some research, I completely agree that Smith was the first to use the naval label of dreadnought to classify a type of space warship, and as always, I am very grateful for my readers clearing that one up. However, I do maintain that while Smith via his 1930's space opera works, which are a foundation work of sci-fi, the Star Trek Federation class Dreadnought could made the concept popular, especially for geeks of my generation. Like any art form, science fiction is constructed on the foundations of previous writers and works. Most fans and/or creators explore and are influenced by different veins of works that they find interesting. I was never much for the very early sci-fi, and to be honest, had never heard of Smith's series until several years ago. I wrote off the majority of early sci-fi has pulpy rocket porn that mimicked Buck Rogers and Flash(!) Gordon, and mostly paid attention to Isaac Asimov. That line of thinking was a mistake. In future Ships of the Line blogpost will give Smith the credit he deserves. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. William, your blog is marvelous, and you are doing a proper service to the community. This post was a worthy entry to your list of informative essays.

    The reason for my curmudgeonly comment was the statement:
    "As far as I can research, the first mention of a dreadnought concept being applied to a combat space vehicle was in 1975 semi-canon Franz Joseph authored Star Trek: Starfleet Technical Manual."

    This is because one of my pet irritants is how the latter generation seems to think that science fiction was invented by Star Trek, so the comment did hit a sore spot. However, you are absolutely correct that the Federation Dreadnought made the concept popular for geeks of your generation.

    But your turn will come, when the new generation will tell you that the role of Captain Kirk was first played by Chris Pine. ;)

  8. I gotta say, I was bit curmudgeonly for pretty much the same reason as Winchell, and I read a whole lot of old SF stories. Star Trek is pretty much riding on the coattails of the older stuff- FTL spaceships, teleportation, disintegration rays, and ray-guns with both stun and kill settings were all featured in the old stories. The problem is not that people are mostly influenced by what they read or watched in their youth, it is that they are unaware of its origins- especially today, when extensive articles on EE "Doc" Smith and others are just a google search away, and you can even find many of the old, out-of-print works through Project Gutenberg.

    I probably should have remembered the tractor beam, as it is used so often in the likes of Star Trek. Especially since I recently found the earliest reference in written SF of beamed-energy space propulsion was in EE "Doc" Smith's "Spacehounds of the IPC", and was written up in a Centauri Dreams blogpost for mentioning this in the comments section!! The tractor beams were used by a mysterious Jovian spaceship to drag the sliced-up sections of a terrestrial beamed-energy cruiser to Jupiter after said ship attacked the Earth ship with irresistibly powerful cutting rays.


  9. If you ever feel like reading some old SF stories, William, I have a few suggestions. Recently, I have been reading Clifford D. Simak's work- I started with CITY, and am now reading Way Station. I like his writing style, as did Asimov, who said that he strove to emulate it.

    I also like James Blish's stories, especially the "Cities in Flight" series. Although I must say that his novel "A Case of Conscience" was rather odd. If that were ever made into a movie, I think it will be even better than "2001: A Space Odyssey" at puzzling audiences.

    And I love AE Van Vogt's classic "The Voyage of the Space Beagle". Some people might criticize this as a monsters- and-spaceships story, but it is rather fun- and has been a major influence on everything from Star Trek to Alien.

  10. Thank you for the kind words about FWS, and that I am fulfilling the destiny that FWS was set up for. Your statement about future generations' prescriptive on Star Trek has led me to a future blogpost on the POV on Sci-Fi. Thanks! I always weirds me out now that there people growing up watching the Star Wars films in order and some Trekkies will grow up with Archer has the first captain of the Enterprise, and not think of him as Sam Beckett! Indeed this is a disturbing universe. Even for someone who is an history major, it can be hard to fight against some programming done by society. To be honest, it bothered me when I wrote that statement about the 1975 source, because I could feel it was wrong, I just couldn't fine another answer.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  11. Thanks for the older Sci-fi stories, Mr. Phoenix! I put them on my reading list. After the whole 'Dreadnought-gate' thing, I plan on casing a deeper net, and avoid this event next time.

  12. Glad that my list was some use to you!! Interesting bit of trivia, I just finished "Way Station" today and came across what is possibly the earliest instance in SF when a beam gun is identified as a laser. The laser had been invented only a few years before Simak published the book.

    This blog is doing a great job elucidating topics relevant to military SF and SF in general, so don't sweat the dreadnought thing too much- just be sure to research every topic thoroughly next time! FWS could be one of the few places on the web that a modern SF geek could find out about the origins of their favorite SF gadgets and ideas- maybe you can help prevent the "Chris Pine scenario!!"

    I was thinking about the SF classification of the dreadnought, and your interpretation of the "hard SF" dreadnought style ship. I would tend to hold to the historical classification of a dreadnought as a new, powerful warship with lots of propulsion and heavy gun-based firepower. "Doc" Smith seemed to use the term to describe new, powerful warships with entirely new weapons and engines that outmoded earlier ships- a lot of his books contained fictional arms races, probably inspired by events around WW1 and WW2. That makes sense, too, since the real dreadnoughts outmoded earlier ships and sparked an arms race.

    Kinetics? Those would work for a dreadnought, perhaps, in some settings. But I tend to like to think of dreadnoughts as carrying the biggest and heaviest lasers and other beam projectors available, which allows for long-range death ray duels in interplanetary space. Kinetics have a shorter range, which makes me think of a short range pounding with various guns and kinetic slugs. If kinetics still are effective far in the future, that is. We could vaporize kinetic slugs with lasers, and may have to do so on long interstellar flights to protect ourselves from bits of interstellar matter traveling at high relative velocities to the ship.

    Also, gauss guns and coilguns create waste heat, maybe not as much as many modern lasers- but the laser bank of a 25th century starship won't be much like a modern laser, for sure. Also, if you are willing to carry expendable missiles, you can carry expendable coolant for lasers. Kinetics can do heavy damage at the high speeds inherent in space battles, although they do tend to rip through things and exit the other side still carrying much of their kinetic energy. But, there is no limit on the amount of energy that can be crammed into a single light beam. With far future tech, I suspect that kinetics won't be as potent against a spaceship's defenses, and that lasers will be the "guns" of far future space dreadnoughts.

    The cool thing with SF is that you have a lot of leeway. Some questions, like kinetics vs. lasers, have more to do with your assumptions than "hard science". And there is no reason a dreadnought couldn't use of mix of rays and projectiles- spaceships are armed with rays, rocket torpedoes, and big guns in "Doc" Smith's "Triplanetary", for instance.

    Just don't try to take on the Nevian cruiser with some 20th century battleship guns.

  13. Another mention should be made for the game "Star Fleet Battles" based on ST:TOS. Not only did it exist several years before the FASA RPG, it has outlasted it, as SFB is still in production. SFB had Dreadnoughts for most of the races in the game (Klingon, Romulan, Gorn, etc.). In addition, SFB went one step further, introducing the "Battleship" - a starship having FOUR warp nacelles.

  14. I tend to think of a dreadnought as a capital ship that has its own air wing and big guns to take the fight to the enemy itself, or all by itself as you mention in the article. They get bonus points if they have enough space to store full-sized ships inside it like the Infinity from Halo or the First Order's mobile base.