Warship Wednesday, May 20, 2020: The Long Pennant

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

(Shorter than normal due to events beyond my control)

Warship Wednesday, May 20, 2020: The Long Pennant

National Archives photo 80-G-700448

Here we see the deck of the Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS Langley (CVL-27) on this day, 75 years ago, flying her homeward-bound pennant after spending one hell of a tour forward-deployed in the Pacific. As a rule, such pennants are only authorized for cruises lasting more than nine months, and Langley had managed almost twice that.

As noted by the Navy:

By tradition, the Homeward Bound Pennant is flown by ships that are on continuous overseas duty for nine months and returning to a U.S. port. The length of the pennant is one foot for each Sailor on the ship who has served on board while overseas in excess of nine months. It is divided vertically into two sections. Closest to the hoist is a blue field with one white star indicating nine months of service away from the U.S. An additional star is for each additional six months away. The remaining pennant is divided horizontally into halves, the upper being white and the lower being red. Upon the ship’s return to homeport, the blue portion of the pennant with the white star will be presented to the skipper while the remaining white and red half of the pennant will be divided equally among the officers and crew who served on the vessel for the prerequisite 270 days.

Built at New York Shipbuilding Corporation on a converted cruiser hull, our ship was originally to be the Cleaveland-class light cruiser USS Fargo (CL-85) but was converted to a light carrier named in tandem after the aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley, and the Navy’s first flattop, the converted collier “covered wagon” USS Langley (CV-1).

Commissioned 31 August 1943, the 11,000-ton carrier sailed for points west, and by 19 January 1944, she sailed from Pearl Harbor for her first overseas combat operation as part of with then-RADM Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58, bound for the attack on the Marshall Islands.

For the next 16 months, she would be forward deployed across the Pacific, earning nine battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation in the process.

Langley’s aircraft hit Japanese positions on Palau, Yap, Woleai, Caroline Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Peleliu. She would mix it up in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, run amok off Formosa and the Pescadores, then support the liberation of the Philippines.

Task Group 38.3 enters Ulithi anchorage in a column, 12 December 1944 while returning from strikes on targets in the Philippines. Ships are (from front): Langley (CVL-27); Ticonderoga (CV-14); Washington (BB-56); North Carolina (BB-55); South Dakota (BB-57); Santa Fe (CL-60); Biloxi (CL-80); Mobile (CL-63) and Oakland (CL-95). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (photo # 80-G-301351).

Again she would clash with the remnants of the Japanese surface fleet at the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea and the ensuing Battle off Cape Engaño where her planes would help write the final chapter of the carriers Zuihō and Zuikaku, the latter being the only remaining flattop of the six that had participated in the Pearl Harbor attack.

She endured Typhoon Cobra, a week before Christmas 1944.

Why are these sailors smiling? Perhaps they are happy not to be in the gun tub under the stacks – or wherever the crazy photographer is standing! M.D. “Pat” Donavan, who was a VT44 pilot, wrote “We called it the Christmas Typhoon and a lot of Christmas mail and packages were lost when the Hull, Spence, and Monahan, three DDs, capsized and were lost with all hands. As I recall, only the ship’s officers knew that the Langley was designed to take a 35-degree roll and actually went to 38. Fortunately, the word didn’t get around to the air group.”
Photo courtesy and copyright of The USS Langley CVL-27 Association 

Still chugging along, Langley went along for the raid on Indochina and occupied China in early 1945, where she caught a Japanese dive bomber’s deadly egg in the process, then turned towards Japan for strikes against the Home Islands to prep for taking Okinawa. Following operations for that scarred island, which included narrowly escaping crippling kamikaze strikes, she was allowed to retire homeward for repairs and modernization at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco– and broke out her homeward bound pennant shown at the top.

Due to the shipyard break, her shooting war ended on May 20 and she only returned to the Western Pacific under a U.S. flag for Magic Carpet voyages to bring the boys back. She would make two trips to the Pacific on such happy sorties and two further ones to Europe before Langley was decommissioned on 11 February 1947 in Philadelphia.

Refurbished and transferred on loan to France in 1951, she would serve De Gaulle for another decade as the French aircraft carrier LaFayette (R96), notably seeing combat off Indochina– a coastline she had already worked over in 1945– as well as in the struggle for Paris to retain her North African colonies.

The French aircraft carrier LAFAYETTE (R 96) former USS LANGLEY (CVL-27) at Mers el Kebir, Algeria North Africa 1962. Note the airwing of F4U Corsairs, TBM Avengers, and Piasecki H-21 Shawnee.

Returned to the U.S. in 1963, she was scrapped, although relics of her remain.

Still, she had an epic 1944-45 deployment that is hard to beat.

CAPT. WALLACE (GOTCH) DILLON, COMMANDING OFFICER. The symbols painted on the side of the island represent 48 enemy aircraft shot down, 22 bombing missions, 3 warships, and 8 merchant ships sunk, and 63 aircraft destroyed on the ground. Photo courtesy and copyright of The USS Langley CVL-27 Association

Displacement: 11,000 long tons (11,000 t)
Length: 622 ft 6 in (189.74 m)
Beam: 109 ft 2 in (33.27 m)
Draft: 26 ft (7.9 m)
Speed: 31.6 kn (58.5 km/h; 36.4 mph)
Complement: 1,569 officers and men
Armament: 26 × Bofors 40 mm guns
Aircraft carried: 30-40

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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