If Admirals Nimitz and Yamamoto wanted to raise the bets in the great game of Pacific Ocean supremacy Guadalcanal presented an opportunity for both sides. Effectively, the United States Navy had available two modern battleships, with an additional one being repaired and another due to arrive in late November as well as two older battleships.The older ships were:
Colorado (BB-45; commissioned 1923; 8 16 inch guns; 21 knots rated speed) and
Maryland (BB-46; a member of the Colorado class; commissioned 1921; 8 16 inch guns; 21 knots rated speed).
Colorado and Maryland were near Fiji by mid-November – 1200 miles east of Guadalcanal. Presumably, held in reserve because of concerns about their speed and armor.
The newer battleships assigned to the Pacific were
North Carolina (BB-55; commissioned April 1941; 9 16 inch guns; 28 knots rated speed) had been torpedoed in September and was being repaired at Pearl Harbor.
Washington (BB-56; commissioned May 1941; member of the North Carolina class)
South Dakota (BB-57; commissioned March 1942; 9 16 inch guns; 27 knots rated speed)
Indiana (BB-58; commissioned March 1942; a member of the South Dakota class), acted as a replacement for the North Carolina, and arrived in late November of 1942.
Under construction were
Massachusetts (BB-59; commissioned March 1942; a member of the South Dakota class) but slated to be assigned to duty in the Atlantic in late 1942.
Alabama (BB-60; commissioned August 1942; a member of the South Dakota class) was also scheduled for Atlantic duty. She arrived in the Pacific in September of 1943.
Iowa (BB-61; commissioned February 1943; 9 16 inch guns; 33 knots rated speed)
New Jersey (BB-62; commissioned May 1943; a member of the Iowa class)
Missouri (BB-63 ; commissioned June 1944; a member of the Iowa class)
Wisconsin (BB-64; commissioned April 1944; a member of the Iowa class).
Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66) were both intended to be members of the Iowa class. Construction was started with expected completion in late 1945. Neither ship was completed. Five ships of the Montana class with 12 16 inch guns were designed but cancelled.
One may infer that other five older battleships like Wyoming (BB-32; by 1941 being used as a training ship); Arkansas (BB-33 and sister of Wyoming), New York (BB-34), Texas (BB-35), and Nevada (BB-36) were judged to have insufficient armor and speed. Note that Nevada was the first US battleship to have triple gun turrets and burn oil. Oklahoma (BB-37) was the sister of Nevada but was deemed too damaged to repair after Pearl Harbor. Pennsylvania (BB-38) was in dry dock and was damaged at Pearl Harbor, but was repaired by summer of 1942. Her sister ship Arizona (BB-39) was much less fortunate.
The three ships of the New Mexico class – New Mexico (BB-40), Mississippi (BB-41) and Idaho (BB-42) had all been built at the end of WWI and were judged to have insufficient armor and speed.
Tennessee (BB-43) and her sister ship California (BB-44) were rebuilt after Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nimitz had a fuel problem: Tennessee and sister battleships and their escorts based in San Francisco were excluded from the Guadalcanal invasion task force because there were just seven oil tankers. Task Force 1, including its escorts, burned ten thousand barrels of oil per day = the total oil storage capacity of the Pacific theater at that time. A carrier task force needed almost as much, so the Navy had to choose whether to operate carriers or battleships.
Washington (BB-47) was a Colorado class ship that was cancelled in 1922.
West Virginia (BB-48) was also a Colorado class ship. She was raised after Pearl Harbor and returned to active duty in July 1944.
Note that six ships of the proposed South Dakota class (BB49-BB54) were cancelled in 1922.
Mississippi, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania all fought at the Battle of Surigao Strait.
Admiral Yamamoto had a much different problem: he had local superiority because he had available Hiei, Kirishima, Haruna, Kongo and Yamato with Musashi on the way (expected in 1943). But that was all in terms of battleships. He had the same problem as Admiral Nimitz – was there any use for the older battleships Fuso, Yamashiro, Ise, Hyuga, Nagato and Mutsu. Admiral Yamamoto faced much more limiting constraints on fuel and ammunition. He knew if the United States could avoid crushing defeats, America would out-build Japan, and the Japanese initiative would be lost.
It was clear to both sides that Japanese forces would have to destroy American aircraft carriers and neutralize the land-based planes at Henderson Field.