Warship Wednesday April 6, 2016: The evolutionary link of Casablanca
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday April 6, 2016: The evolutionary link of Casablanca
Here we see the unique aircraft carrier, the first of its kind produced from the keel up for the U.S. Navy, USS Ranger (CV-4) as she lies at anchor in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 1939.
Although one of just seven carriers in the fleet when World War II broke out, her service was far different from the other six flattops who slugged it out with the Japanese from the Coral Sea to Tokyo Bay.
While the Navy’s “covered wagon” USS Langley (CV-1) was converted from a collier in 1922, and the follow-on Lexington and Saratoga were converted from incomplete battlecruisers in 1927, Ranger was the first carrier for the fleet designed from the onset to be one.
Larger than the Langley and smaller than the Lexingtons, the 769-foot one-off ship could make 29 knots, cruise for 10,000 nautical miles at half that, had three elevators, and carry as many as 86 aircraft as designed. Importantly, she also carried a relatively heavy AAA armament for her day (40 .50-cal machine guns). Best of all, at just 17,000-tons she sipped at the allowable tonnage under the Washington Naval Treaty.
Designed in the late 1920s, Ranger was ordered in 1930 from Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co in Virginia and laid down 26 September 1931.
There were over a half-dozen prior Rangers in the Navy dating back to John Paul Jones’ 18-gun sloop built in 1777.
In a rare case of extreme overlap, two different Rangers were active on the Navy List in WWI (SP-237 and SP-369) while two different Lexington-class battlecruisers (irony!) of the same era were at one time or another to carry the moniker.
Commissioned 4 June 1934, the subject of our tale had a very clean look to her, though was very different from John Paul Jones’ vessel.
One of the reasons a 17,000-ton ship could carry over 80 aircraft was due to a unique outrigger system that allowed deck parking with a minimum of space. (No folding wings back then).
Ranger embarked the brand-new Air Group Four consisting of VT-4, VB-4, and VF-4, stood up specifically for the ship. She soon set off for the Pacific and spent almost the entire prewar period in those warm waters.
Well, not always warm…
In early 1936 Ranger and her aircrew, which included Coast Guard aviators at the time, conducted the first-ever carrier cold weather test trials in Alaska waters, proving the concept.
Then followed more normal peacetime service.
However, with the war drums beating in far-off Europe, and the new Yorktown-class carriers taking her place in the Pac, Ranger chopped to the Atlantic Fleet in 1939. Once the war popped off, she began armed Neutrality Patrol operations in the North Atlantic.
After Pear Harbor, she was one of the first ships to pick up a borderline experimental RCA CXAM-1 radar, able to detect single aircraft at 50 miles and to detect large ships at 14 miles. Conducting sea patrols in the Atlantic, she also ferried Army P-40 Warhawks to Africa for transshipment to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers fighting the Japanese in the Far East.
Setting sail for North Africa, she was the center of the Allied air fleet covering the Torch Landings in November 1942, accompanied by four new Sangamon-class escort carriers (which were technically heavier than Ranger at over 22,000-tons, though with a much smaller flight deck and hangar).
Conducting almost 500 combat sorties in 72 hours, Ranger‘s aircraft destroyed at least 28 Vichy French planes on the ground in strikes on the Rabat and Rabat-Sale aerodromes, wiped out over 100 military vehicles, strafed four French destroyers at Casablanca, plastered the Richelieu-class battleship Jean Bart, bombed the destroyer Albatross, and severely damaged the Duguay-class light cruiser Primauguet.
Ranger lost 16 planes in the Torch operation and cost the lives of ten airmen.
Her next solid combat was in a raid in occupied Norwegian waters in 1943. Attacking the Bodo roadstead, SBD dive-bombers escorted by Wildcats sank four steamers and logged hits on the 8,000-ton freighter LaPlata and a 10,000-ton oiler.
With newer, faster, better armored, and larger fleet carriers joining the fleet, Ranger had by 1944 become more than just somewhat obsolescent and was converted to a training carrier.
She picked up a camo scheme, landed her old 5″/25s and puny .50 cals, replaced them with 40mm and 20mm AAA guns, had catapults installed, and got to the business of qualifying naval aviators.
Sailing for the Pacific, she arrived in Hawaiian waters in August 1944 and quickly began carrier qualification cruises, concentrating on Navy and Marine night fighter squadrons, securing 35,784 landings by the end of the war.
Totally obsolete in a fleet of new Essex-class vessels, she was used in Pensacola for a while then was decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 18 October 1946. She won two battlestars for her wartime service.
Ranger was sold for $259,000 in scrap metal pricing on 31 January 1947 and subsequently broken up.
She minted brass on an unparalleled scale, with all ten of her skippers between 4 June 1934 and 1 May 1946 going on to become admirals including ADM. John Sidney (“Mac”) McCain Sr. His grandson is the current senator from Arizona.
Ranger had lots of “onlys” in the fact that she was the only pre-war US carrier to have never engaged Japanese forces in battle (even Langley was sunk by the Combined Fleet), the only U.S. carrier to perform flight operations above the Arctic Circle (during Operation Leader off the coast of Norway) during WWII, the only carrier not to receive a Unit Citation for her performance in Operation Torch (the four escort carriers which accomplished less all received one), the only carrier whose airgroup used green painted tail assemblies, and was the first U.S. fleet carrier to be scrapped.
Her bell is preserved in Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation, and her builder’s plate is at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
The Forrestal-class supercarrier (CV-61) of the same name ordered in 1954 and sold for scrap in 2014 maintained her legacy.
A vibrant veteran’s group, which celebrates the armada of past Rangers, is very active.
Displacement: 14,576 tons standard; 17,577 tons full load
Dimensions (wl): 730′ x 80′ x 22′ 4.875″ (full load)
Dimensions (max.): 769′ x 109.5′
Armor: 2″ (sides and bulkheads)-1″ (top) over steering gear
Power plant: 6 boilers; steam turbines; 2 shafts; 53,500 shp
Speed: 29.25 knots
Endurance (design): 10,000 nautical miles @ 15 knots
Armament: 8 single 5″/25 gun mounts; 40 .50-cal machine guns (1934)
24 40 mm (6x quad mounts); 46 20mm single mounts (1943)
Aviation facilities: 3 elevators; no catapult
Crew: 2,148 (ship’s company + air wing) (1941 figure)
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