The Aircraft Carrier, its development and use through WW2 Part 2
by Walter Mow
Feasibility studies promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in October of 1941 would prompt the Navy to order a total of 9 Cleveland Class light cruisers to be converted to Independence Class aircraft carriers beginning in January 1942.
HMS Ark Royal would be torpedoed by German U-boat (U-91) November 13; as repair and rescue efforts failed she would sink November 14.
A still neutral US continued to build its forces: The USS Wasp (CV-7) was commissioned April 25, 1940; a neutral US would build the Wasp under the auspices of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922; as part of the Atlantic Fleet she would ferry aircraft to Iceland and Malta before reassignment to the Pacific Fleet. June 1941 the US would commission its first Escort Carrier, the USS Long Island with the designation (AVG-1), but be reclassified as (CVE-1) July 15, 1943. Note: Of the 151 aircraft carriers built in World War Two, 122 would be escort carriers.
October 20, the USS Hornet (CV-8) was commissioned. Seven weeks later the Japanese Imperial Navy’s carrier fleet launched an all out attack on the Pacific base in Hawaii, December 7, 1941, “A day that will live in infamy”!
The Japanese utilized six carriers in the Pearl Harbor attack; Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Zuikaku and Shokaku.
The three carries assigned to the Pacific Fleet were all absent the attack; The Saratoga (CV-3) was in San Diego after completion of an overhaul; The Lexington (CV-2) was SE of Midway Island after delivering a Marine Bombing Squadron to strengthen the islands air defenses; The Enterprise (CV-6) was 200 miles west of Hawaii after delivering a Marine Fighter Squadron to Wake Island. The attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to catch the Pacific Fleet carriers in port and destroy much of the offensive capability of the US Navy in the Pacific.
At the outbreak of hostilities the Atlantic carrier fleet consisted of the USS Ranger (CV4); the USS Wasp (CV-7); the USS Yorktown (CV-5) would be reassigned to the Pacific Fleet and departed Norfolk December 16, 1941. The uncompleted USS Hornet (CV-8) was scheduled to join the Atlantic fleet. Commissioned October 20, 1941, reassigned to the Pacific Fleet, she would depart Norfolk for the west coast March 4, 1942.
HMS Audacity, a British Escort Carrier was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat (U-751) December 21, 1941.
A reeling US Navy would begin the long road to regain the initiative in the carrier war. It would be a year of tumult as Atlantic Fleet carriers were reassigned to the Pacific Fleet to help stem the Japanese advance and cover the loss of US carriers.
A smarting US Navy utilizing Task Force 8, USS Enterprise (CV-6) under the command of Vice Admiral Halsey and Task force 17, USS Yorktown (CV-5) under Rear Admiral Fletcher would raid Japanese held islands in the Gilbert and Marshall Island groups February 1. This would be the first offensive action carried out by the Carriers of the US Navy. Admiral Halsey would later say of the raid,” it was one of those plans which are called ‘brilliant’ if they succeed and ‘foolhardy’ if they fail”.
The US Navy’s first carrier vessel casualty would be the USS Langley (AV-3) off the coast of Java, February 27, when she was attacked by Japanese bombers.
April 9, the British carrier HMS Hermes was attacked and sunk by Japanese dive bombers off the coast of Ceylon.
April 2, the USS Hornet (CV-8) departed Alameda, California; eleven days later she was joined by the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6); April 18, Naval Task Force 16 would place a force of 16 B-25 bombers
under the command of Lt. Col. James H. (Jimmy) Doolittle within striking distance of the Japanese home islands. The “Doolittle Raid” would launch from the decks of the USS Hornet (CV-8) under the command of Capt. Marc A. Mitscher.
Beginning May 4 and ending May 8, the US Navy and the Navy of Imperial Japan Navy would conduct a naval battle in which the main antagonists, the carriers, would never gain sight of one another. The Battle of the Coral Sea would be a naval battle fought “over the horizon”; it would be costly to both sides. The Japanese would lose the light carrier Shoho and the fleet carrier Shokaku heavily damaged; the US would have to scuttle the USS Lexington (CV-2) due to severe battle damage and the Yorktown (CV-5) was damaged. This battle would begin the demise of Japanese naval dominance in the Pacific due to declining numbers of sufficiently trained pilots and support personnel.
The Battle of Midway, June 4-7, would be heavily influenced by this loss of air crews in that the damaged Shokaku was in dry dock undergoing repair and the Zuikaku was unavailable to sortie for lack of sufficiently trained airmen to conduct combat flight operations. The hastily repaired Yorktown (CV-5)
would be lost at Midway; while the Japanese suffered the loss of 4 fleet carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, and more Japanese air crews.
August 7, began the six month campaign that became known as Guadalcanal. Three US carriers would be tasked with supporting the landings and defend against air attack from Japanese forces on Rabaul.
The carriers USS Saratoga (CV-3), Enterprise (CV-6) and Wasp (CV-7) ferried aircraft to newly operational Henderson Field between the 15th and 20th of August. A hard fought land action between US Marines and the Japanese over the 19th and 20th of August forced the carriers of Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher to return to the vicinity of Guadalcanal from its holding position some 400 miles south on August 21.
In the battle known as The Battle of The Eastern Solomon Islands August 24-25, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) was heavily damaged while the Japanese light carrier Ryujo was sunk. Admiral Fletcher would claim his sixth carrier sinking in this battle.
Losses would continue in an area known as “Torpedo Junction”; the Saratoga (CV-3) was damaged by one torpedo August 31st severe enough to need a trip to Pearl Harbor for repairs; the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) was torpedoed off San Cristobal Island and sunk September 15.
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 26, the USS Hornet (CV-8) was sunk and the USS Enterprise (CV-6) severely damaged while the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuiho were damaged. Lost airmen and aircraft further drained Japan’s naval air operations.
December 31, the USS Essex (CV-9) was commissioned.
In the Battle of the Atlantic, the escort carriers would turn the tide in the favor of the allies. In the Pacific, with Guadalcanal as a base of operations the Navy was ready to begin its island hopping strategy.
USS Ranger (CV-4) made the first deliveries of aircraft to North Africa January 9. January 24th, USS Saratoga (CV-3) attacks Japanese fuel and ammunition dumps near Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands. US will gain the upper hand in the Guadalcanal Campaign, declaring Guadalcanal secure February 9. February 29 and the USS Ranger (CV-4) ferries another group of planes for North Africa.
A series of naval actions that were not carrier related but decisive in deciding future carrier actions: The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, March 2-4, would have a profound effect by denying the Japanese effort to control New Guinea. The Japanese would suffer a major blow April 18, when Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his transport plane was shot down over the island of Bougainville by USAAF P-38 fighter aircraft. Yamamoto was thought to be the planner for the raid on Pearl Harbor. The Battle of Vella Gulf, a night action August 6-7 doomed Japanese efforts to re-supply and reinforce Japanese held islands in the New Georgia chain, severely disrupting “The Tokyo Express”, a nightly resupply run by Japanese destroyers.
March 5 would mark the beginning of anti-submarine operations by the escort carrier USS Bogue (CVE-9) in a dramatic shift in the Battle of the Atlantic. The little escort carriers would turn the tide and be involved in 30 actions by year’s end. In 1943 alone, the “Jeep Carriers or Baby Flat Tops” accounted for 4 interdictions of fueling and resupply missions; damaging 13 and sinking 18 German submarines. As the number of escort carriers became available, they were formed into anti-submarine hunter-killer groups that eventually forced the German Navy to abandon wolf pack operations.
May 23 the British escort carrier HMS Archer would launch Fairey Swordfish aircraft to sink U-752. July 4 the USS Pompano (SS-181) sinks the seaplane carrier Sagara Maru. July 17 the small seaplane tender USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) is damaged by Japanese bombers off Vanikoro. July 22 Navy and USAAF aircraft attack a Japanese convoy off Cape Friendship and sink Japanese seaplane carrier Nisshin.
August 25th Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher is relieved as Commander Aircraft, Solomons. August 31, TF 15 commanded by Rear Admiral Charles A. Pownall would attack Marcus Island in a prototype fast carrier strike.
September 18, TF 15 consisting of the carriers USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Princeton (CVL-23) and Belleau Wood (CVL-24) attack islands in the Gilbert Islands. September 24 USS Cabrilla (SS-288) attacks and damages the Japanese carrier Taiyo. October 16 the USS Mingo (SS-261) attacks Japanese escort carrier Chuyo, but apparently suffers no damage. October 19 the USS Ranger (CV-4) supports Norwegian troops as they reoccupy their base at Spitzbergen.
In October Admiral Fletcher would assume command of the North Pacific Division under the overall command of Admiral Chester Nimitz. November 5, elements of TF 38 commanded by Rear Admiral Fredric Sherman attack Rabaul, air units from the carrier Saratoga (CV-3) and the USS Princeton (CVL-23) heavily damage 5 Japanese heavy cruisers and two light cruisers.
November 11 this same task force would again hit Rabaul. November 13 US Naval air would begin daily bombing raids on Japanese positions in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. November 24 escort carrier Liscome Bay (CVE-56) sunk by Japanese submarine I-175.
December 4, TF 50 (Rear Admiral C. A. Pownall) aircraft from Lexington (CV-16) and Independence (CVL-22) attack installations in the Marshall Island. Japanese airstrikes later that same day would torpedo the Lexington . December 4, USS Sailfish (SS-253) torpedoes and sinks Japanese escort carrier Chuyo.