Warship Wednesday, June 9, 2021: First of the Jeep Carriers

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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

Warship Wednesday, June 9, 2021: First of the Jeep Carriers

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-236393

Here we see the unassuming yet near overloaded escort carrier, USS Long Island (CVE-1) underway off California on 10 June 1944, acting as an aircraft transport. Wearing Measure 32, Design 9a camo, she has 21 F6F Hellcats, 20 SBD scout bombers, and two J2F Duck utility planes on her flight deck. Commissioned 80 years ago this week, she was the prototype escort carrier in American service and made one hell of a beta test.

Laid down 7 July 1939, as the Type C3‑S‑A1 cargo freighter SS Mormacmail, under Maritime Commission contract for the Moore-McCormack Lines (Moore Mack), by the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Chester, Pennsylvania, she launched 11 January 1940 and surely would have gone on to become any other merchantman had she not been acquired by the U.S. Navy on 6 March 1941 and entered service 2 June 1941 as Long Island (initially designated APV-1, but redesignated and commissioned as AVG-1, then later as Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier ACV-1 and CVE-1), with a lot of modifications from her original intended design.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) (ex-Mormacmail) Under conversion at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. Yard, 1 April 1941. She had received the name LONG ISLAND on 31 March 1941. Note flight deck under construction and temporary retention of her neutrality MKGS open. Lighter YC-301 is in the left background. NH 96711

Some 13,500 tons, she was 492 feet long and could accommodate 21 single-engine aircraft between her hangar deck and topside parking, or more than twice that many (as seen in the first image of this post) when being used as an aircraft transport.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) underway on 8 July 1941, with two F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters parked at the forward end of her flight deck. Note flight deck markings: LI. The ship is painted in Measure 1 camouflage, with heavy weathering of paint evident on the hull side. 80-G-26567

As noted by DANFs:

In the tense months before Pearl Harbor, the new escort aircraft carrier operated out of Norfolk, conducting experiments to prove the feasibility of aircraft operations from converted cargo ships. The data gathered by Long Island greatly improved the combat readiness of later “baby flattops.”

No matter if you call them “jeep carriers,” or “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable,” the escort carrier concept is one we have covered a few times in the past several years on WW. Besides one-off training carriers and prototype ships, four large classes of U.S.-built CVEs (Bogue, Sangamon, Casablanca, Commencement Bay) were cranked out during WWII, approaching 150~ hulls planned or completed for Uncle Sam and his Allies. And Long Island was the inaugural model.

FDR himself had a keen interest in her development and went to sea to view her in operation firsthand.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) (upper center) Underway in company with the heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31), in the left front, off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, in August 1941. Augusta had President Franklin D. Roosevelt embarked to witness Long Island’s operations. Among the other ships present are USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), partially visible at far right, and USS Meredith (DD-434), steaming astern of Long Island. 80-G-13074

Officers of Scouting Squadron 201 (VS-201) posing on the flight deck of USS Long Island (AVG-1), 10 September 1941. VS-201 was the Navy’s pioneer composite squadron, formed in early 1941 specifically for service on Long Island. 80-G-28406

USS Long Island (AVG-1) in Measure 12 (Modified) Atlantic camouflage, circa 10 November 1941. Planes on her flight deck include seven Curtiss SOC-3A scout observation types and one Brewster F2A Buffalo fighter, both types rare to carrier operations in WWII. 19-N-27986

Following the official U.S. entry into WWII after Pearl Harbor, Long Island got operational, escorting a convoy to Argentia.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) View on the flight deck while operating in the vicinity of Argentia, Newfoundland, January 1942. This was the only time Long Island operated in such northern areas. Planes parked on the carrier’s snowy flight deck, behind the palisade, are Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull types, craft normally seen as floatplanes on cruisers and battleships of the day. 80-G-13129

Then, she qualified naval aviators on new types and made for the West Coast, because, while Hitler’s U-boats were beating a drum from Maine to Texas, things in the Pacific were even worse.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) View on the hangar deck, looking aft over the elevator pit, 28 March 1942. Three Vought SB2U scout bombers are present, embarked for carrier qualifications. Note propellers on deck, and cowling removed from the SB2U at left. The plane in the center is marked S-75. 80-G-16967

USS Long Island (AVG-1) LCDR Lex L. Black, Commanding Officer of squadron VGS-1, makes the ship’s 2000th landing, 20 April 1942, just 10 months after the tiny carrier’s commissioning. No that is a serious shakedown! He is flying a Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull scout-observation aircraft. Note lowered flaps and deployed leading-edge slats on the upper wing. 80-G-14256

USS Long Island (AVG-1) Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull scout-observation planes, of the carrier’s embarked squadron, VGS-1, parked on the flight deck, 10 May 1942. 80-G-14521

Reaching San Francisco on 5 June, Long Beach was attached to Task Force ONE under VADM William S. Pye to provide air cover for his four battleships headed to join Nimitz.

USS Long Island (AVG-1) moored at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, on 2 June 1942, shortly before she sortied with TF1. Aircraft on deck include six Grumman F4F-4 fighters and three Curtiss SOC-3A of squadron VGS-1. 80-G-31839

Same as above

USS Long Island (AVG-1) crewmen spotting an early Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter on the ship’s hangar deck, 17 June 1942. Several other F4F-4s are present, as are Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull scout-observation planes. All are from squadron VGS-1. 80-G-14524

USS Long Island (AVG-1) Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter on the catapult, ready for take-off, 17 June 1942. Several more F4F-4s are waiting their turn for launch. All planes are from squadron VGS-1. Note that Long Island’s catapult runs diagonally across the flight deck, from starboard toward the port bow. 80-G-14548

USS Long Island (AVG-1) a Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull scout-observation plane landing on board, 17 June 1942. Note bomb (or anti-submarine depth bomb) carried on the plane’s centerline rack and arresting gear wires on the carrier’s flight deck. 80-G-14257

USS Long Island (AVG-1) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 17 July 1942, with at least eight SBD scout bombers and one TBF torpedo plane parked on her flight deck. This is only six weeks past the Battle of Midway. She is painted in camouflage Measure 12 (Modified) and wears an unusual number on her bow: 751. 80-G-73390

With things growing hairy at a place called Guadalcanal, Long Island picked up two squadrons of Marine tactical aircraft, part of Marine Aircraft Group 23, and headed down to Henderson Field accompanied by the cruiser USS Helena (CL 50) and destroyer USS Dale (DD 353) to supply the first planes to the budding “Cactus Air Force.”

Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighter rests in the flight deck gallery walkway after suffering landing gear failure while landing onboard USS Long Island (AVG-1), off Palmyra Island, 25 July 1942. This plane is from Marine Fighting Squadron 211 (VMF-211), now best known as “The Wake Island Defenders” the last Navy or Marine Corps unit to operate the F2A in a front-line capacity. 80-G-12905

Another view of the same. Note marking MF-5 on the plane’s fuselage and very weathered paint. The carrier’s SC radar antenna is visible atop her stub mast at the right. 80-G-12906

At 1700 on 20 August, the first Marines landed aircraft at Henderson Field– taking off from Long Island, some 200 miles to the southeast. They included 18 F4F Wildcats flown by the Bulldogs of VMF-223 (MAJ John L. Smith) and 12 SBD Dauntless dive bombers of the Red Devils of VMSB-232 (Lt. Col. Richard Mangrum). “A shout of relief and welcome went up from every Marine on the island,” reported LT. Herbert L. Merrill.

MAG-23 fighters from the escort carrier USS Long Island are flown into Henderson Field Air Strip.

Dispersal Area of Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, circa 1942 USMC Archives Soule Collection

They flew their first combat missions from Guadalcanal the very next day and were in dogfights just 19 hours after landing.

Ordered back to the West Coast to serve as a training carrier– flattops in the Pacific of any type being exceedingly short at the time– Long Island avoided further brushes with combat but spent the better part of two years in this vital duty, alternating it with running aircraft to the forward areas as deck cargo. It was during this period that she was reclassified as an “Escort Carrier” and redesignated CVE-1.

USS Long Island (ACV-1) Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo plane makes an arrested landing, probably during carrier qualifications in late 1942 or early 1943. 80-G-66735

USS Long Island (ACV-1) Underway with a mixed cargo of airplanes and stores on her flight deck, 25 May 1943. The planes include F4F, SBD, and TBF types. 80-G-83216

USS Long Island (CVE 1), starboard bow view, with new masts and camouflage upon departure from Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., February 11, 1944. Note the camouflage Measure 32, Design 9a. 80-G-413493

Following VJ Day, she would continue serving as a Magic Carpet ride for returning GIs and bring back captured Japanese wonder weapons for technological analysis.

Japanese Army Type 4 Fighter, a Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate (U.S: “Frank”), painted in U.S. Navy colors onboard USS Long Island (CVE 1), 1945. Japan’s fastest fighter, Franks were the bane of B-29 squadrons over the Home Islands in the last years of the war. This example, serial number 1446, was captured at Clark Field during 1945 and shipped to the U.S. on Long Island late that year to be examined by the War Department. Sold off as surplus in 1952, it eventually made its way to the Tokko Heiwa Kinen-kan (Kamikaze) Museum in Japan, where it is the only surviving Ki-84 in the world.

Epilogue

Long Island received only one battle star for her World War II service and decommissioned on 26 March 1946 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Struck 12 April 1946, she was sold to Zidell Ship Dismantling Co., Portland, Oregon., 24 April 1947, ostensibly for scrapping.

A survivor, she was converted by Albina Engineering & Machine Works, Portland, to become an immigrant carrier under the name of Nelly, slowly shuttling war-shook Europeans eager to quit the old world for the new from ports in Western Europe to Australia, with accommodations for 1,300 steerage class passengers.

MS Nelly is seen at sea

By 1955, she had been purchased by the Europe-Canada Line to, as noted by SS Maritime.com, “provide inexpensive student/migrant travel to Canada” with 20 First Class and 970 Tourist Class accommodations. She would sail as MS Seven Seas.

A postcard of the Seven Seas issued by Europe-Canada Line via SS Maritime.com.

In 1963, she was again converted to a school ship for the University of the Seven Seas and World Campus Afloat (now Chapman University) then later become a floating dormitory in Rotterdam for Erasmus University, then for foreign workers in the 1970s.

Via SS Maritime.com.

Her usefulness long since passed, ex-SS Mormacmail/USS Long Island/SS Nelley/MS Seven Seas was towed to the breakers in Belgium in May 1977.

Seven Seas, ex-USS Long Island, in tow, on her last voyage from Rotterdam to Ghent, Belgium, 4 May 1977. She arrived there one day later and breaking up started immediately. Gerhard Mueller-Debus. Via Navsource 

Little to nothing of Long Island remains today, and her name was never reused by the Navy, sadly. However, several of her squadrons, especially the 1942 Marine units, are still in existence.

Speaking of which, the image of the VMF-211 Buffalo crashed on her deck in July 1942 has gone on to have a life of its own, circulating far wider in its modified form than any other Long Island photo. It makes its rounds every May 4th. 

Specs:

The Long Island (CVE-1), the prototype escort carrier, as an aircraft transport, June 1944. Note that she still retained her arresting gear at this time. The original freighter superstructure is visible amidships, forward of her short hangar. Drawing and text from U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History, by Norman Friedman, via Navsource.

(As converted, 1941)

Displacement: 7,886 tons standard; 13,499 tons full load
Length: 465 feet (wl) 492 feet deck
Beam: 69.5 feet (wl), 102 feet over deck edges
Draft: 27.5 feet
Power plant: 4 Busch-Sulzer diesels (7-cylinder); 1 shaft; 8,500 bhp
Speed: 16.5 knots
Aviation facilities: 1 elevator; 1 hydraulic catapult
Crew: 970 (wartime figure)
Sensors: SG and SC-1 radar
Armor: None
Armament: 1 single 5″/51 mount; 2 single 3″/50-cal gun mounts; 4 .50-cal machine guns
Aircraft: 21

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.