Illustration showing the equivalent number of planes and airships you could buy for the cost of a single Dreadnought battleship.
In their day (c.1905-1920) Dreadnoughts were super weapons, the equivalent of an aircraft carrier today. They were faster, better armed and more advanced than any previous warship. During the first two decades of the 20th century they became the centre of an arms race between the world’s most powerful navies. When the Royal Navy first commissioned HMS Dreadnought in 1906 (see image #3) - they rendered every other ship in the world obsolete. They were however, very, very expensive to build costing approximately £2,000,000 which when adjusted for inflation is roughly equal to £207,000,000 today.
The just-launched HMS Dreadnought, 10th February 1906 (Source)
The primary difference between Dreadnought and earlier vessels which became known as ‘pre-dreadnoughts’ was the number of heavy guns Dreadnought carried. Previously capital ships had been armed with a range of guns in various calibres from small deck guns, medium 6 and 8 inch turrets and a main armament of normally two 10 or 12 inch guns. Dreadnoughts replaced this array of various calibre guns with more heavy guns ranging between 9 and 12 inches. The Lord Nelson class battleship which was replaced by the Dreadnought class for example carried two small 3-pounder deck guns, twenty-four quick firing 12-pounders, a medium armament of eight 9.2 inch guns and a main armament of four 12 inch guns. HMS Dreadnought however, boasted a main armament of ten 12 inch guns and twenty-seven 12-pounder deck guns as secondary armament. (see image #2)
The Dreadnoughts other major advantage was its improved steam-turbine powerplant which was able to give a top speed of 21 knots, making it the fastest battleship of that size when she was launched.
With the launch of HMS Dreadnought Britain and Germany became embroiled in an arms race of who could build the most Dreadnoughts, By 1912, Britain was considering backing down due to the massive cost of building the battleships. However, the British public, whipped up by the press, were outraged at the prospect of being overtaken by Imperial Germany and refused to lose face demanding construction of Dreadnoughts continue.
Germany launched her first Dreadnought, SMS Nassau, in 1908. The US launched USS South Carolina the same year and in 1911, France commissioned the Courbet. By 1914, Britain had designed six classes of Dreadnoughts with 34 ships in commission in August 1914, while lagged behind Germany with 24 Dreadnoughts in commission.
SMS Nassau (source)
The illustration above was published in a June 1911 edition of The Illustrated London News, the diagram itself was originally published in the Scientific American journal - the Dreadnought is actually the Delaware class USS North Dakota - hence the US ensign. The illustration shows how many aircraft can be bought for the equivalent cost of commissioning a new Dreadnought. The illustration claims that ‘52 Dirigibles and 235 Aeroplanes’ could be bought in place of a new battleship.
Dreadnoughts remained the World’s most powerful naval vessels until the late 1920s when they themselves were made obsolete by newer faster, better armoured Battlecruisers.
Illustration & Article Source
Image One Source
Image Two Source
Rise of the Dreadnought Battleship, 1906 to 1914, ed. G. Smith (Source)