The oddity that was the Flying Deck Cruiser
Between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII, the U.S. Navy experimented with a number of, ultimately spurned, designs to create a hybrid aviation carrier or cruiser carrier– basically a cruiser hull, engineering suite, and partial main battery, but with an aircraft carrier flight deck and abbreviated hangar. Basically, a light carrier that could escort itself while still outrunning most submarines and battleships of the day– a perfect weapon! Also, there was the prospect of using such designs to thread loopholes in the various naval treaties of the day and getting the most bang for the buck.
Here are some of the concepts, designated as Light Aircraft Carrier (CLV) in the 1930s:
The initial 1931 design, with nine 8″ guns forward and a short, angled deck:
“Proposed Flight Deck Cruiser, type CF”
Proposed Flight Deck Cruiser Preliminary design plan prepared for the General Board during the final effort to develop a flight deck cruiser (CF). This plan, dated 19 December 1939, is for a 12,000-ton standard displacement ship (14,220-ton trial displacement) with a main battery of three 8/55 guns, a secondary battery of eight 5/38 guns and an aircraft complement of 24 to 36. Ship’s dimensions are waterline length 640′; waterline beam 67′; draft 21′ 8. Powerplant has 100,000 horsepower for a speed of 33 knots. The scale of the original drawings is 1/32 = 1′. The original plan is in the 1939-1944 Spring Styles Book held by the Naval History and Heritage Command. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
“Proposed Flight Deck Cruiser Preliminary design plan prepared for the General Board during the final effort to develop a flight deck cruiser (CF)”
This plan, dated 8 December 1939, is for a 12,000-ton standard displacement ship with a main battery of three 8/55 guns and a secondary battery of eight 5/38 guns (six specified in the table). Ship’s waterline length is 640′. The data table leaves other characteristics blank, and the plan is annotated Void – sec. batt arr. changed. The scale of the original drawings is 1/32 = 1′. The original plan is in the 1939-1944 Spring Styles Book held by the Naval History and Heritage Command.
“Proposed Flight Deck Cruiser, CF-2 Preliminary design plan prepared for the General Board during the final effort to develop a flight deck cruiser (CF).”
This plan, dated 31 January 1940, is for a 12,200-ton standard displacement ship (14,560-ton trial displacement) with a main battery of six 6/47 guns, a secondary battery of four 5/38 guns and an aircraft complement of 36 scout-bombers. Ship’s dimensions are waterline length 640′; waterline beam 67′; draft 22′. The powerplant has 100,000 horsepower for a speed of 33 knots. The scale of the plan and side elevation drawings is 1/32 = 1′. The original plan is in the 1939-1944 Spring Styles Book held by the Naval History and Heritage Command.
As noted by Global Security:
In 1933 Retired Admiral Hilary Jones called the ship “a hermaphrodite – neither a real cruiser nor a real airplane carrier. It has all the weaknesses of both and none of the efficient characteristics of either.” Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, commander-in-chief of the United States Fleet, summed up the case against the flying-deck cruiser in a memo to the General Board dated 08 October 1934 “Each study shows it to be a hybrid type entirely unsuitable as a cruiser or a carrier.” The idea of the flying deck cruiser, though kept alive until 1940, finally disappeared into the land of what-might-have-been.
Of course, the Navy did turn actual cruiser hulls into light carriers, sans armament (the Independence-class), while the Japanese did convert some battleships (Ise and Hyūga) into hybrids during the War.
The Brits even flirted with the idea for their canceled 52,000-ton Lion-class battleships. On 8 January 1941, Rear Admiral Bruce Fraser, Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy asked the DNC to work up a hybrid aircraft carrier based on the Lion-class hull, these included versions with a top flight deck and either 6 or 9 BL 16-inch Mk II guns as well as batteries of QF 5.25-inch Mk I dual purpose guns and smaller 2-pdr pom-poms.
Further, in the Cold War, the Russians produced the ill-fated and relatively unsuccessful Kiev-class of carrier-battlecruisers while the British billed their Invincible-class “harrier carriers” as through-deck cruisers, a concept that the U.S. experimented with in the 1970s as a “strike cruiser” for VSTOL aircraft, but never got off the ground.
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