Any fan of the history of the high seas will be more than familiar with some of the most famous ships in history. Whether it be the RMS Titanic, HMS Victory, USS Enterprise, so on, so forth.
But, for every massively successful and famous ship launched, there are equal numbers of less famous, or even completely forgotten ships throughout history. This is especially the case for proposed ships that either never left the drawing board or were aborted in dry dock.
Progress in any technological field is as much a matter of trial and error as it is scientific and technological innovation. Sometimes proposals for new things, like ships, are a roaring success, other times a complete and absolute failure.
Here are some prime examples of the latter: Some of these proposed, but aborted designs.
1. Germany's WW2 carrier that never was: The Graf Zeppelin
One of the most infamous massive ships that were never actually completed was the Graf Zeppelin. Partially completed by the outbreak of WW2, the ship would suffer from a combination of poor planning and resource management.
Originally planned to be the first of two aircraft carriers, the Graf Zeppelin would have been able to carry around 42 aircraft at any one time. Her keel was laid down at the end of December 1936 at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel.
Named after the German general Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin (who also invented the airship of the same name), the ship was launched in 1938 and was around 85% complete at the start of WW2.
She was 861 feet (262.5m) long, had a beam of 118.8 feet (36.2m), and a maximum draft of 27.9 feet (27.9m). If ever made operational, she would have had a maximum displacement of 33,500 long tons. Long tons are British imperial tons or around 1.12 US "short" tons.
At launch, she was powered by four Brown, Boveri & Cie geared turbines with sixteen oil-fired, ultra-high-pressure LaMont boilers. This gave her around 200,00 shaft horsepower (149,140.0 kW) and a top speed of 33.8 knots (62.6 km/h; 38.9 mph).
She was originally planned to carry a complement of navalized Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bombers, Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, and Fieseler Fi 167 torpedo bombers. Though, some plans had been made to make an entirely new aircraft for her.
While her main offensive and defensive power would have been her aircraft, she also came with some serious onboard firepower too from her 8 number 15cm SK C/28 medium naval guns. These guns served as the secondary armament on the German Navy's Bismark-class and Scharnhorst-class battleships.
Her hull was also bristling with various anti-aircraft guns of various calibers. If she had ever been completed, she would have been very capable of defending herself at sea with or without air cover.
Ultimately, she was never completed. She remained moored in the Baltic for the entirety of the war spending some time as a highly expensive lumber store. Her massive naval guns were requisitioned for coastal batteries, and, at war's end, was scuttled to prevent her capture by Soviet Forces. Incredibly, her hull was actually raised by the Soviets in 1946, before being sent to the bottom of the sea after being used for target practice.
2. HMS Lion would have been a very formidable battleship
HMS Lion was to be the first of a class of six battleships for the Royal Navy that were originally designed in the late 1930s. A large, beefier version of the highly successful King George V-class of battleships, she (and the rest of her class) would have been some of the most powerful warships of the day if ever completed.
The ships were designed to be the frontline of the Royal Navy's next war on the sea, but that war came a little too early for these ships to ever see the light of day. The first of the so-called "post treaty" battleships for the Royal Navy, these ships were to bring the most advanced technologies of the day into the fleet.
Each vessel was designed to be armed with no less than 9 number 16 inch (406mm) main guns, located over three turrets (2 fore and 1 aft). HMS Lion and another of her class had their keels laid down in September of 1939, with a third on order by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Each of the vessels would have been powered by 8 Admiralty 3-drum boilers capable of putting out 130,000 shaft horsepower (97,000 kW). This would have been enough power to provide each ship with a top speed of 30 knots, or 56 kph.
The ships were designed to be 780 feet (237.7) meters long, with a beam of 108 feet (32.9 m), and a draught of 34 feet 10.4 m). Such ships would also be heavily armored, with their 14.7 inches (373m) thick belt armor, 6 inches (152mm) of deck armor, and 15 inches (381 mm) of thick turret front armor.
Their construction was soon suspended and some modification was made to their design during the early years of the war. By 1942, however, the two existing, partially-completed ships were scrapped.
Of the other ships of the class, none were laid down, but plans were presented to modify one of the existing hulls to a hybrid battleship-come-aircraft carrier with two 16 inches (406mm) turrets and a flight deck. Work on this design began in 1944 but was soon abandoned after the conclusion of the war.
3. The A-150: like the mighty Yamato only on steroids
The Japanese Yamato-class of battleships were some of the most powerful warships ever built, but even they would have paled in comparison to the A-150s. Based on the Yamato and her class, the A-150, called the "Super Yamato" by some, would have been the most heavily armed and armored warships ever built, if completed.
In keeping with the Imperial Japanese doctrine to ensure their main warships were leagues ahead of their enemy's in firepower, these ships would have been armed with six 20.1 inches (510 mm) guns. To put that into perspective, the largest guns fielded on Allied battleships of the day were 16 inches (406 mm) with the Yamato herself "only" being armed with 18-inch (457 mm) guns. These were, at the time, the largest naval guns ever fielded on a warship. The proposed 20.1 inches (510 mm) guns of the "Super Yamato" ships would have dwarfed even these.
Much like the Yamato-class, the superstructure of the ships would also be bristling with "many" 3.9 inches (100 mm) caliber guns and a nest of anti-aircraft weapons. Their displacement would likely have been very similar to the Yamato-class, though likely larger given the vessels' main armament and requirement to also resist similar caliber weapons hitting the vessel.
The proposed armor belt of the ship was far beyond the steel mill capability of Japan at the time and would, therefore, require "double strakes of armor plates" over their most vital parts. While less effective than purpose-built single plates, this thickness of armor would have made them very formidable opponents in ship-to-ship combat.
Beyond some scant evidence of their plans, little else is known of these vessel designs beyond the fact that they would probably have displaced 70,000 long tons and had belt armor about 18 inches (457 mm) thick. From what can be garnered, designs for the ships began after the completion of the Yamato and Musashi in the late-1930s with work more or less complete by 1941.
However, at this time the Japanese navy had shifted focus to building aircraft carriers and other smaller capital ships in preparation for the upcoming Pacific conflict.
For this reason, no A-150s were ever laid down, and most of the details of the ships were apparently destroyed before the war's end. If these ships had ever been built, the outcome of the Pacific Theatre may very well have gone very differently.
However, considering how disappointing the Yamato and her sister ship were during the conflict, it probably quite likely that these "Super Yamatos" would have suffered much the same fate as their "smaller" predecessors.
4. The Whale Ship never left the drawing board
Developed, at least in concept, by a Broadway musical set designer, the Whale Ship is another mighty ship that never came to be. However, interestingly, while the ship remained something of a pipe dream for its designers, it did have an impact on ship design.
Conceived by industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, through his private design studio, the ship formed part of the design studios' more ambitious designs including a bubble-shaped car, a nine-deck amphibious plane, and a vision for a future city called "Futurama". Before you ask the question, yes this is what inspired the animated sitcom.
The studio's concept for a new ultra-modern ocean liner, the Whale Ship, was first unveiled in the early-1930s, and it was unlike anything ever seen before.
Resembling a cross between a more modern submarine and a torpedo, and incorporated other design features that were way ahead of their time. The vessel's size, for example, was far beyond anything seen in an ocean liner at the time, and her design was completely revolutionary.
According to the concept art, she would have been 1800 feet (549m) long and weighed 82,000 tonnes. The vessel would have enough room to carry 2,000 passengers and be crewed by around 900. Apparently, though not really explained as to how, the ship would be fast enough to reduce the journey between Europe and America to a single day. There was also a hangar that would fold open and extend out as a platform for launching the aircraft. Although it is unclear how the planes would return to their hangar.
While a model of the ship was built, no serious attempt to translate the concept into reality was undertaken. Though the model of the ship did feature in a 1938 Hollywood film, "The Big Broadcast", that satirized the intense rivalry of ocean liner companies.
Although the ship never made it off the drawing board, some of the features of the ship would become standard in modern modes of transport. For example, Geddes' attention to streamlining in his ship design.
Today, great pains are taken to make transportation like cars, trains, etc, as streamlined as possible. Her shape is also very reminiscent of modern nuclear submarines. While there is no apparent link between the Whale Ship and modern submarine designs, the resemblance is, we think you'll agree, almost uncanny.
5. The World City Phoenix would have been a literal floating city
Back in the 1980s, plans were afoot to build a ship so large, that it would dwarf even the mighty Oasis of the Seas. The brainchild of one Knut Kloster, the World City Phoenix was a truly ambitious design for a ship.
Kloster was a Norwegian tycoon of cruise ships who co-founded the Norwegian Caribbean Line, today known as the Norwegian Cruise Line. Famed for his fantastical visions of the future, Kloster dreamed of an enormous cosmopolitan floating city that would offer its patrons unapparelled luxury and freedom to roam the oceans of the world.
At that time, the largest ocean liner afloat was The Norway, with a total displacement of around 70,000 tonnes. The World City Phoenix, by Kloster's estimation would exceed 250,000 tons, be 1,247 feet (380 meters) long, 253 feet (77 meters) wide, have 21 decks, and would be able to accommodate more than 5,00 guests and about 2,600 crew members.
The ship would feature public spaces, with guest accommodations around the outside of the hull. Bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, boutiques, art galleries, spa and fitness centers, pools, jogging tracks, cinemas, casinos, places of worship, libraries, museums, planetariums, TV and music production facilities, even a university campus were all to be included within the ship's long list of facilities.
The ship was to be so large that it would even incorporate a marina to host guests' own private vessels for those ports too small for the ship to moor at.
This behemoth of a ship would be powered by two 20-MW diesel-electric motors supplemented by eight diesel generators. The ship would also come with two variable-pitch propellers that would be 7 meters in diameter. Bow thrusters and four stern thrusters were to also be part of the design to maximize the ship's maneuverability.
At the time, some industry experts projected the ship would cost somewhere in the order of $800 million to $1.2 billion to construct.
Knut Kloster defined the World City Phoenix as “the largest and most exciting passenger vessel on earth, a premier resort, a fabulous destination in and of itself, a world-class conference and business center.”
Although Kloster's World City was never built, in 2020, marine consultancy Knud E. Hanson announced the designs for a much smaller version - an expedition cruise ship named Phoenix World Village.
6. The Freedom Ship was an absurd design
Another interesting, if completely bizarre, concept for a ship that never left the drawing board was the Freedom Ship. According to its design, the vessel would be a total of something like 0.85 miles long (1.37 km), with a total of something like 25 decks stacked up like some mockery of a multistorey parking lot.
The ship would also be around 750 feet (229m) wide and have a total floor area of somewhere in the region of 1.7 million square feet. Incredibly, this is still, sort of, a proposed ship that could one day be built for real.
Initially proposed in the early-1990s, the proposed ship would continuously circumnavigate the planet, stopping regularly at various ports of call. It was envisioned more as a place for residents to live, work, or retire than as a cruise ship.
If it is ever constructed, the Freedom Ship would be about four times longer than the famous "Allure of Seas".
Like the World City Phoenix, this ship would have been a kind of floating city that could support something like 70,000 people at any one time. She would rise about 350 feet (107 m) out of the water, and even came with her own airport on the top deck, schools, parks, hospitals, and, of course, a casino.
The vessel was proposed to be powered by solar and wave energy, and she could, apparently, stay at sea pretty much indefinitely.
Freedom Ship is a very ambitious design and has been estimated to cost $10 billion if anyone dared to build her for real.
7. RMMV Oceanic would have been the Titanic's big sister
Conceived in the 1920s, the Oceanic was another aborted mega-ship. Partially finished by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line, she was never completed.
Oceanic would have been the third ship to bear the name after the 1870 and 1899 predecessors. The former was the White Star Line's very first ocean liner, and the second their flagship for a time. For this reason, the name had always had a special significance for the company.
In the early 1920s, the White Star Line envisaged a new ship that would modernize transatlantic voyages for the company but plans for the ship took a back seat for a time as restrictions on immigration to the United States came into force for a time during the decade.
However, the rise of the so-called "tourist class" in the 1920s saw the White Star Line take another look at the ambitious ship.
When Lord Kylsant joined the White Star Line as its head honcho, the scope for the ship increased dramatically. So much so, in fact, that plans for her would mean she would break the symbolic 984 foot (300m) length and 30 knots (56 kph) top speed for ocean liners of the day.
Her keel was laid down in June of 1928 at the Harland and Wolffe shipyards in Belfast in just ten days, but after slow progress construction ground to a halt in 1929. The reasons for this were a combination of the technical challenges associated with the ship's design, but also the onset of the Great Depression at the time.
The project wasn't helped by the fact that Lord Kylsant was sent to prison in the early-1930s after being convicted for some financial shenanigans. The British government refused to provide financial assistance for the project, and the ship's construction was finally ended.
Oceanic would never leave the drydock and what had been completed of her hull was broken up on the slipway in 1930. Within the White Star Line fleet, Oceanic was thus replaced by two smaller ships, MV Britannic and MV Georgic, both inspired by its profile.
For many ocean liner enthusiasts, the Oceanic is probably the most famous of "what ifs". If history had been a little different, she would have become one of the world's most famous ocean liners of all time.
She would most certainly have been the largest, and possibly fastest, of her kind in her day, but the financial problems the White Star was facing, together with the drop in passenger numbers and the effects of the Great Depression did not allow the realization of this ambitious project.
8. HMS Habukkuk was put on ice fairly early on in her planning
Perhaps one of the most famous ships that never came to be is the "iceberg aircraft carrier" conceived under Project, or HMS, Habakkuk (named for the prophet Habakkuk, who, in the Old Testament, said: "...be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.") Technically not made from ice but a special material called pykrete, the ship was an attempt by the British to design a nye-on unsinkable ship to combat the threat of German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.
At the time of the ship's design, German "Wolf Packs" of submarines were causing havoc for Atlantic convoys that Britain relied heavily on for resources. Air cover was possible near to land, but in the middle of the Atlantic very few, if any, aircraft had the range to offer aerial support and counter submarine warfare to protect convoys on their perilous journies.
While the Royal Navy did have a number of aircraft carriers, and some were used for escort duty, they were deemed too valuable to sacrifice if the war was to be won.
And so, one of the wilder plans was to develop a ship made partially of ice and wood pulp that should, in theory, be incredibly resilient to torpedo attacks. The ship was the brainchild of one Geoffrey Pyke who worked for the British Combined Operations Headquarters - a special department founded to harass German operations on the continent.
Several variants were designed, including the very large Habakkuk II, a self-propelled vessel made primarily of pykrete and steel. It would have been around 3,927 feet (1,200 meters( long and 591 feet (180 meters) wide but very slow. Another variant, Habakkuk III, was a much smaller ship that would have been considerably faster.
Scale models and a prototype of the ship were developed and showed some promise. However, the project was later shelved due to its rising costs, ever-changing requirements, the need to actively keep the pykrete cool, and the development of longer-range aircraft and specialist escort carriers. These factors ultimately undermined the entire purpose of the ship.
9. There were plans to convert Iowa-class battleships into hybrid aircraft carriers
Imagine a ship that has the massive guns of a battleship with the flight deck and power projection capabilities of an aircraft carrier? While this might sound fanciful on the surface, it was actually a proposed project not once, but twice!
Called by some the Iowa-class Battlecarrier, the last two of the planned six Iowa-class battleships were almost turned into one of the strangest ship designs you've ever seen. But there was some logic to the apparent madness of the proposal.
The Iowa-class of the battleship was an incredibly powerful ship, but, more importantly, very fast for their size. Fast enough, in fact, to be one of the few large capital ships able to keep up with aircraft carrier strike groups of the period.
To this end, the unfinished USS Illinois and USS Kentucky were planned to be converted to include some flight decks and armaments similar to the U.S. Navy's Essex-class of aircraft carriers. However, this never came to pass during the Second World War.
And that, for a time was the end of the story. At least, that is, until the Cold War. When the Soviets developed a hybrid battlecruiser and aircraft carrier known as the Kiev-class (Project 1143 Krechyet) in the 1970s, a fresh look was taken at potentially doing something similar in the US Navy.
This prompted a return to the idea of converting some Iowa-class battleships into half-carriers by removing the rear turret and installing an at short take-off and landing aircraft flight deck. The plans would call for the provision of around 20 AV-8B Harrier "Jump Jets" being carried on the ship.
Despite the four existing Iowa-class battleships returning to service in the 1980s under the Reagan administration, the Cold War would come to an end within the decade, rendering both the Iowa-class battleships once again obsolete but also sinking the idea of the Iowa-class carriers once and for all.
10. The French once made plans for a 100,000-ton cruise liner
During the 1930s, something of an arms race was underway between two of the largest ocean liner companies of the 20th-century, Cunard and the French Compagnie Generale Transatlantique (CGT). This came to a height with the intense rivalry seen between their top-of-the-line ships the Queen Mary and the Normandie respectively.
The former was faster and more profitable but was the older and more aged vessel of the two. To cement their dominance of the transatlantic liner market, Cunard ordered and completed the Queen Mary's sister ship, the first Queen Elizabeth, to be completed by 1940.
CGT needed to do something about this if they were to ever remain relevant and so they put together plans for a new ocean liner that would dwarf both of Cunard's mighty ships - La Bretagne. This ship was to be massive and, most importantly, had to be faster than either Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth.
According to some remaining plans for the ship, she would have had a displacement of a whopping 100,000 and been able to travel at no less than 35 knots (64 kph). To this end, CGT executives recruited the services of a Russian ship designer by the name of Vladimir Yourkevitch who designed the Normandie.
He provided two potential designs, one a larger version of the Normandie and another, a much more ambitious design that was very ahead of its time. Opting for the more conventional design, CGT approached the French Government for funding for this massive project - as they had done for her predecessor.
However, this was not to be. The German invasion of France in 1940 the subsequent collapse of the French Republic, not to mention the capture of CGT’s port of Le Harve for the next four years killed the Bretagne project for good. By the time war finally ended, CGT had lost Normandie in a catastrophic fire in New York. Building Bretagne was now ultimately pointless and the project was officially canceled in late 1945.
11. There were once plans for a nuclear-powered ocean liner too
In the 1960s, a proposal was actually made to create an entirely nuclear-powered ocean liner called, appropriately enough, the "Nuclear Ship". For any student of the history of this part of the 20th-century, this is not entirely a surprise as the expectation for the period was that almost everything would eventually be nuke-powered to some extent.
For people alive at the time, the concept of a civilian ship powered by nuclear energy would not really be a surprise but would have been looked at as an inevitable advancement in travel technology. President Eisenhower even publicly extolled the potential of nuclear-powered vessels and called for the launching of “an atomic ship”.
Across the pond, in the United Kingdom, the British Government seemed to agree and set about starting a research group to deliver just that - the world's first atomic ocean liner. To this end, the earmarked £3 million of public money to get the ball rolling - well ship sailing.
After several years of research, a preliminary design was produced that closely resembled P&O Ferry's 1961 Canberra. The ship, according to designs, would have a displacement of about 51,000 tonnes with a white hull, aluminum superstructure, swept funnels, fiberglass lifeboats, and, of course, a nuclear-powered propulsion system.
However, nothing was seen or heard of the ship after that. In 1964, one Member of Parliament officially requested an update on the status of the ship, only to be completely ignored.
By all accounts, the project had mysteriously stalled and was, apparently, quietly being canceled. It seems the concept as a whole was far beyond the technological limits of commercial shipbuilders of the day - notably finding ways to safely insulate the rest of the ship from dangerous levels of radiation.
This is probably in part due to the findings from an actual nuke-liner produced in the United States around the same time - the NS Savannah. Soon after construction, this ship began leaking radioactive material almost at once, causing havoc for the local environment of the ports the ship visited.
According to reports of the day, the Savannah managed to release 115,000 gallons of radioactive waste into the sea, as it was only able to store a fraction of that amount.
While it was planned that the ship would dispose of this waste at every port, most ports, understandably, were unwilling to be used as dumping grounds for potentially lethal radioactive waste.
This buried the idea of nuclear-powered transatlantic passenger ships for good and that failed maritime vessel enthusiast is your lot for today.
These are but a few examples of the most famous/infamous failed ship proposals over the last century or two. While some of the proposals are completely outrageous to our modern eyes, in their day they made, at least to their designers, some modicum of sense.
"Hindsight is always 20:20," as the saying goes.