Tag Archives: carrier

Battle Cat headed to the scrapper, and likely a park in South Texas

Blast from the past, first, from a decade ago:

Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) as the ship leaves San Diego, Aug. 28 2007. Kitty Hawk is making its final voyage after 47 years of service to Bremerton, Wash., where it will prepare to decommission early next year. Approximately 1,600 Sailors are making the deployment, along with nearly 70 former Kitty Hawk Sailors, including a few dozen of the ship's original crew, known as plankowners. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lily Daniels/Released)

Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) as the ship leaves San Diego, Aug. 28 2007. Kitty Hawk is making its final voyage after 47 years of service to Bremerton, Wash., where it will prepare to decommission early next year. Approximately 1,600 Sailors are making the deployment, along with nearly 70 former Kitty Hawk Sailors, including a few dozen of the ship’s original crew, known as plank owners. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lily Daniels/Released)

Now, from the Kitsap Sun:

The Kitty Hawk (CV 63) will be disposed of by dismantling, according to Naval Sea Systems Command spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke.

O’Rourke cited an annual report to Congress that outlines the Navy’s five-year shipbuilding plans. In this fiscal year’s edition, released in April 2016, the Kitty Hawk was listed as one of the Navy’s inactive ships slated for scrapping.

The Navy has not yet determined when the Kitty Hawk will depart its berthing in Bremerton, where the ship will go to be dismantled or what company will be awarded the contract, O’Rourke said.

Laid down in 1956, Kitty Hawk became the oldest active warship in the Navy (besides Constitution) in 1998 and held that title for a decade until she was officially decommissioned on 12 May 2009 after almost 50-years in the fleet. Between her launch date and now, 57.4 years have passed.

Kitty Hawk is currently held in Maintenance Category B receiving the highest degree of maintenance and preservation to a retired ship, though with USS Ford entering the fleet, she will likely be downgraded to Category C or X in coming months as the big new carrier moves through a 10-month shakedown and goes through working up for her first deployment. She recently has been used to help train ship-less carrier crews on the West Coast.

Though plans have been floated to look into reactivating “Shitty Kitty” the CNO has downplayed that and she now will most likely head to Texas, where all the conventional carriers in the past few years have gone.

As a result the city of Laguna Vista is set to unveil the Rio Grande Valley’s first ever Aircraft Carrier Memorial. As noted by the Brownsville Herald the memorial will include bollards, or posts that secured the ships, from the USS Independence, USS Ranger, and USS Constellation.

Kitty Hawk will no doubt join the collection in good time.

The ‘Battle Cat’ still serves

Sailors from the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) recently conducted damage control and medical training during three damage control “rodeo” events held aboard the decommissioned carrier ex-USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) over the past three months, showing that even ships on red lead row can still tap in when needed.

Laid down in 1956, Kitty Hawk became the oldest active warship in the Navy (besides Constitution) in 1998 and held that title for a decade until she was officially decommissioned on 12 May 2009 after almost 50-years in the fleet. Still, her hangar deck is and other passageways are similar enough to the Nimitz-class to work for DC training.

BREMERTON, Washington (May 17, 2017) Sailors assigned to USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) muster for a damage control rodeo prior to going aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). The damage control rodeo was held on Kitty Hawk to provide a shipboard environment, adequate space and hands-on training while John C. Stennis conducts a planned incremental availability (PIA) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, during which the ship is undergoing scheduled maintenance and upgrades. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cole C. Pielop / Released)

From the Navy’s presser:

John C. Stennis’ damage control and medical departments were unable to hold the “rodeos” on their own ship due to maintenance work being conducted during its planned incremental availability (PIA), but still wanted to give their fellow Sailors the most realistic experience possible.

Enter ex-Kitty Hawk, the Navy’s last conventional-powered aircraft carrier, held at Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility Bremerton, and just a quick walk away from John C. Stennis. Though Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in 2009, it remains largely intact and shares many basic similarities to modern Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, making it an ideal location for this type of training.

Kitty Hawk is officially to be held in Maintenance Category B receiving the highest degree of maintenance and preservation to a retired ship, though with USS Ford entering the fleet, she will likely be downgraded to Category C or X in coming months as the big new carrier moves through a 10-month shakedown and goes through working up for her first deployment.

Though plans have been floated to look into reactivating “Shitty Kitty” the CNO has downplayed that and it is more likely she would be held for museum donation and, should that fall through, scrapped.

Warship Wednesday April 26, 2017: Always a bridesmaid

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 26, 2017: Always a bridesmaid

Here we see the fourth ship of the Colossus-class of British Royal Navy carriers, HMS Venerable (R63), in her final career as the Argentine carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2). As you can tell from this statement, she would go on to change flags a few times and later serve as a very real threat to her original owners.

Venerable was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies, or remain on station in the South Atlantic (Falklands anyone?) or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

THE LAUNCHING OF HMS VENERABLE. 30 DECEMBER 1943, CAMMEL LAIRD’S YARD, BIRKENHEAD. THE LAUNCH OF THE 8,OOO TON AIRCRAFT CARRIER BY MRS HERBERT MORRISON. (A 21186) Men who helped build her watching the VENERABLE glide down the slipway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153550

The hero of our tale, the fourth HMS Venerable in the RN since 1784 and the last hull to bear the name in that fleet, was laid down at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead on 3 December 1942 and launched just over a year later. Commissioned 17 January 1945, she was made flagship of the RN’s 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt, CB, CBE, commanding.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 27086) HMS VENERABLE steaming at moderate speed during her acceptance trials. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119935

HMS VENERABLE (FL 14300) Underway, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205017364

Destined for service in the Far East where the war was expected to linger through 1946 or 1947, she was outfitted with an airwing of F4U Corsair fighters and Fairley Barracuda torpedo bombers of 814 and 1851 Squadrons and set off to join TF 37 of the US 3rd Fleet by way of the Med, which by early 1945 was quiet.

ON BOARD HMS VENERABLE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. APRIL 1945, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VENERABLE, FLAGSHIP OF THE 11TH AIRCRAFT CARRIER SQUADRON, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28673) Fire and rescue party, with mobile foam extinguisher, double to the rescue when a Chance-Vought Corsair, though its hook had caught the first wire, nearly spills over the side. In the background is the attendant destroyer the Italian ORIANI steaming alongside ready to pick up crashed air crews. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160011

ON BOARD HMS VENERABLE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. APRIL 1945, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VENERABLE, FLAGSHIP OF THE 11TH AIRCRAFT CARRIER SQUADRON, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28674) From the island in the background the Commanding Officer, Captain W A Dallmeyer, DSO, RN, and Commander Flying, Commander (F) J Borrett, RN, direct the take-off of a Hellcat 6-gun naval fighter. Above is the flag deck and below the starboard wing can be seen some of the aircraft handling party and aft the fire and crash party. As she carried Barracuda and Corsairs at the time, this could be a cross-decked Hellcat. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160012

WITH THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS VENGEANCE. MARCH AND APRIL 1945, IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. ACTIVITIES OF AIRMEN AND SISTER SHIPS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 28908) A sister carrier HMS VENERABLE off the coast of Tunisia on passage from Gibraltar to Malta. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160216

She arrived just in time to join with the carrier HMS Indomitable and the battleship HMS Anson to re-occupy Hong Kong in August 1945, followed by the re-occupation of Kowloon the next month. As far as I can tell, Venerable did not engage either German or Japanese forces in live combat during WWII.

October found her in Haiphong, French Indochina, picking up liberated Indian and Commonwealth prisoners of war to be repatriated home. November and December found her supporting Dutch efforts to reoccupy the Dutch East Indies before spending Christmas of 1945 in Freemantle, Australia. The next year saw her continuing her trooping efforts, shuttling refugees, displaced persons, and soon-to-be-mustered out servicemembers from Singapore to Hong Kong and other parts of the Far East, and bringing in fresh troops for garrison duty.

By February 14, 1947, after fleet exercises with the British Pacific Fleet, she set sail for Plymouth where she was laid up in May, having served just 29 months on active duty, mostly as a taxi service.

The British, flush with flattops, broke and at peace, began a clearance sale over the next several years. In the end, class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches. The Australians picked up Vengeance, Majestic and Terrible; the Canadians got Warrior (more on her later), Powerful and Magnificent; and India picked up Hercules.

On 1 April 1948, our still relatively new carrier, Venerable, was sold to the Royal Netherlands Navy, who commissioned her 28 May as HNLMS Karel Doorman (R-81), named after the famed Dutch admiral lost with his flagship light cruiser De Ruyter in WWII. She was the second, and last aircraft carrier of the Royal Netherlands Navy (their previous carrier, also after Doorman, was the former British escort carrier HMS Nairana.)

Dutch propaganda poster, depicting Admiral Karel Doorman and his flagship light cruiser De Ruyter

With the country fighting separatists in the Dutch East Indies and facing the always-curious Venezuelans in the Dutch West Indies, she was quickly given a topicalization that included boiler modifications and partial air conditioning and deployed along with the cruiser Jacob van Heemskerck and frigate Johan Maurits van Nassau to the Carribbean.

HNLMS Karel Doorman with former USN TBM-3E Avengers on deck

She carried a mix of 24 Fireflies and Sea Furies as her initial air wing. For rescue duties, a yellow Sea Otter was included, later replaced by an S-51 helicopter, called Jezebel. On the cruise was Prince Bernhard, who had a long history of military service and had racked up several thousand hours in combat aircraft.

(Bernard flying off the carrier later in life, in an S-2 Stoof in 1967)

From 1955-58, Venerable saw extensive modernization at Wilton-Feijenoord Shipyard in Holland. During this time, she was fitted with a new steam catapult, an 8-degree angled deck, mirror landing sight, new island, massive mast, and funnel, as well as ultra-modern radar equipment, air search, height search, target acquisition, navigation and carrier controlled approach radar systems. The latter produced by the electronic company Holland Signaal.

Her dated AAA guns were replaced by 10 Bofors 40mm/L70s. Her new air wing consisted of 14 anti-submarine Avengers, 10 Hawker Sea Hawks, and 2 S-55 helicopters and she acted as the flagship of Smaldeel V (Task Force 5) operating in the North Sea as part of NATO.

Hawker Sea Hawks and Avengers on Karl Doorman

With Indonesia rattling the sabers over West Papua New Guinea, the Dutch carrier embarked a dozen Hawker Hunters besides her airwing and went to the Far East again in 1960 until that crisis was settled through negotiations. The Indonesians had planned to sink her with a six-aircraft sortie of Tu-16KS-1 Badger bombers using a dozen AS-1 Kennel anti-ship missiles, which her Bofors likely would have been unable to counter. Again, the carrier avoided combat by the luck of the draw.

Colossus-class aircraft carrier HNLMS Karel Doorman (R81)

Marine Luchtvaart Dienst, ‘Kon Marine’, VSQ-4 ‘D’ CS2F-1’s S-2A’s aboard HNMLS Karel Doorman R81. Note her distinctive green deck

The crisis abated, she returned to the Atlantic and made another trip to the New World in 1962, her air wing modified for ASW-only missions with 8 Grumman S2F Trackers and 6 S-58 (H-34) helicopters along with a company of Dutch Marines.

Dutch Aircraft carrier HNLMS Karel Doorman in 1962; All Hands and remembrance ceremony in the Dardanelles; Royal Marine Corps Band marching towards bow

This is the English version of a film about the Dutch aircraft carrier Hr.Ms. Karel Doorman (R81). It shows everyday life onboard the aircraft carrier during the journey it made in 1962 to Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. The destroyers Hr.Ms. Groningen (D813) and Hr.Ms. Limburg (D814) joined her during this voyage:

In early 1968, the 23-year old carrier suffered a boiler room fire that extensively gutted her engineering spaces. The Dutch, defense budgets always slim, moved to replace her with land-based ASW aircraft and helicopters borne by surface combatants. She was stricken 29 April 1968, deemed not worth the repair.

Remember HMCS Warrior mentioned above? The Colossus-class carrier loaned to the Canadians? Well, the Canucks didn’t need so many carriers so they gave her back to the Brits who decommissioned the unmodified flattop in February 1958. Argentina, feeling outclassed by the purchase in 1956 by neighboring Brazil of the Colossus-class carrier Vengeance after the Australians were done with her– the first Latin American country to have a carrier– moved to pick up the Warrior from the UK which the commissioned as ARA Independencia (V-1) in July 1959.

ARA Independencia (V-1). She flew F4U-5s in 2′ Escuadrilla de Ataque. Colorized by Postales Navales

Independencia flew a wing of former USN F4U Corsairs, SNJ-5Cs Texans, and Grumman S2F-1Trackers but, with the Argentines looking to swap their aging Corsairs and Texans for jet-powered F9F Panthers, they needed an angled flight deck. This led them to purchase Venerable/Karel Doorman in crippled condition on 15 October 1968 and refurbish her as a cheaper option than giving Independencia the needed topside improvements to run jets.

Following a six-month repair at Rotterdam that saw her disabled boilers replaced by new ones transplanted from her incomplete sister ship HMS Leviathan, Venerable/Karel Doorman was commissioned into the Argentine Navy as ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (25 May– Argentina’s national day) (V-2) on 12 March 1969. For two years, on paper at least, Argentina had two carriers, though Independencia was soon withdrawn and by 1971 scrapped.

For the next 21-years, the Brazilian carrier Minas Gerais and the Argentine Veinticinco de Mayo— built as sister ships– were the yin and yang of Latina American carrier operations.

In 1971, Argentina bought 16 USN A-4B Skyhawks plus two for spare parts, then modified them with five weapon pylons and the ability to carry AIM-9B Sidewinders, creating A-4Q fighter bombers. These replaced the 1950s era F9F Panthers. Sea King ASW/SAR helicopters were added to the wing. Though it should be noted that in 1969 the Brits tested an early Harrier GR.1 on board her, which the Argentines declined to buy.

Argentina carrier 25 de Mayo along with the Gearing class destroyers Miguel Angel Gutierrez Barquin Al frente la 2da división de destructores (Espora, Brown y Rosales).

Note the Skyhawks. Colorized by Postales Navales.

With the Argentina military junta in charge in the late 1970s, the U.S. cut support to the country because of the fratricidal Dirty War, which made Veinticinco de Mayo‘s air wing increasingly hard to fly. The Argentines looked elsewhere and in 1978 negotiated a contract to buy 14 Dassault-Breguet Super Étendards and a quantity of air-launched Exocet anti-ship missiles from France. This came in conjunction with the surface-to-surface Exocet sales and France throwing in two corvettes, originally built for the apartheid Regime in South Africa. The corvettes, Good Hope and Transvaal, could not be delivered because of anti-apartheid embargoes. In Argentina, they were renamed ARA Drummond and ARA Guerrico.

The Argentine Navy, with their carrier in the forefront, moved to invade the Chilean islands of Picton, Nueva, and Lennox in the Beagle Channel in a territorial dispute in 1978, however, the junta reversed themselves before the conflict turned hot. Once more, our flattop did not fire a shot in anger.

Then came the Malvinas.

With just four Super Étendards (with five Exocets) and 10 A-4Qs operational in the Argentine Navy, the carrier made ready to sortie for that country’s push to retake the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in yet another dangerous territorial dispute. In April 1982, 35 years ago this month, she put to sea as the flagship of Carrier Task Force (CTF 79.1) tasked by the Naval High Command to support the invasion, codenamed Operation Azul.

Carrier ARA 25 de mayo (V-2) S2-Trackers, A4-Q Skyhawks, Aerospatiale Alouette. Note the camouflaged S-2. It should be noted the Etendards were not carrier certified until after the Falklands war.

Once the Brits mustered a task force to take the islands back,  25 de Mayo was ordered to sea to attack the arriving English carrier battle group, made up of the HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. With the two British carriers bristling with over 25 radar-equipped Sea Harriers armed with later model AIM-9L Sidewinders and surrounded by dozens of Sea Dart and Sea Wolf equipped escorts, the likelihood that the Argentine A-4s could have prosecuted a successful attack on the fleet was slim. Nonetheless, a strike was prepared and, with her S-2’s picking up the British fleet over the horizon, was only scrubbed at the last minute due to poor weather conditions. It would have been the first time since 1944 that a carrier v. carrier fleet action occured.

ARA Veinticinco de Mayo makes A-4 Skyhawk jets ready during the 1982 Falklands War note Invincible marked bomb

The image summarizes the deployment of Ar+Br naval forces around the Falklands Islands before the sinking of the ARA Belgrano during the Falklands War according to Ruben O. Moro with a hint that Middlebrook set the Argentine forces no more than 60-90 nautical miles from TEZ in opposite to Moro who set it further. Via Wiki

Further, once a British submarine sank the WWII light cruiser ARA General Belgrano (former USS Phoenix) with heavy loss of life on May 3, the Argentine Navy lacked the appetite to further risk their carrier. While her Skyhawks and Étendards made gallant and even successful strikes on British escorts and auxiliaries while flying from land at  Rio Grande over the next six weeks, Veinticinco de Mayo returned to port and remained there for the rest of the war, again not bathed in the blood of her enemies.

With the junta swept away after the Falklands War and military funding withering, the Argentines could put all their working French strike planes online but their carrier was increasingly restricted to port with bad engineering casualties. With her Skyhawks lost in 1982, her last air wing in her twilight years was 12 Etendards, six Grumman Tracker ASW aircraft, four SH-3D Sea King ASW and one utility helicopter.

Argentine carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo 25, A-4 forward, Etendards aft

Inoperable by 1990, the Brazilians were allowed to plunder her for parts to keep their own carrier at sea in exchange for granting Argentine carrier pilots a chance to tail hook on their neighbor’s ship to keep their qualifications up to date.

By 1997, Veinticinco de Mayo was officially decommissioned and towed to India in 2000 for scrapping. As for the Brazilians, they replaced her sister with the larger and slightly more modern French aircraft carrier Foch the same year.

All the Colossus/Majestic class carriers are now gone, with the Indian INS Vikrant/HMS Hercules, saved briefly as a museum ship, scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well traveled light carriers.

Oddly enough, the British Imperial War Museum has some Argentine relics of the Veinticinco de Mayo, an UZI submachine gun and FN FAL rifle captured in the Falklands that are Dutch-marked and believed to have transferred with the carrier to the “Argies” then subsequently used with that country’s Marines ashore in the Falklands.

Specs:

CV R81 Karel Doorman via shipbucket. Click to big up

Displacement

15,890 tons standard
17,500 tons normal
19,890 tons full load
Length:
630 ft. (190 m) between perpendiculars
695 ft. (212 m) overall
Beam:     80 ft. (24 m)
Draught:     24.5 ft. (7.5 m)
Speed:     25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) at 120 revolutions
Range:
12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
6,200 nautical miles (11,500 km; 7,100 mi) at 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)
Complement: 1,000 + 300 air group
Sensors and processing systems: (1982)
Air search: Lockheed SPS-40B; E/F band
Surface search: Plessey AWS 4; E/F band
Navigation: Signaal ZW06; I band
Fire control: 2 × SPG-34; I/J band
CCA: Scanter Mil-Par; I band
Aircraft
52 piston (as built)
20~ jets by 1958
Armament:
(As designed, 1942)
6 × 4-barrelled 2 pounder anti-aircraft guns
16 × twin 20 mm Oerlikon mountings
(1958)
10 × Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns (2 quads, 1 twin)
2 × 47 mm saluting guns

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Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16865

Here we see the Yorktown-class carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8), as she arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942. Note PT-28 and PT-29 speeding by in the foreground. If this image doesn’t scream “war in the Pacific” nothing else does. It should be noted that this photo was taken 75 years ago this month.

Starting with the “covered wagon” that was the converted collier USS Langley, and moving through a pair of huge converted battlecruisers USS Lexington and Saratoga, and the Navy’s first flattop designed from the keel up, USS Ranger, gave the Navy four lessons learned over a 15-year period in carrier design and development which led to the Yorktown class.

Designed in the early 1930s, these 19,800-ton vessels (26,000 fl) were nice floating landing strips some 824-feet long. Equipped with two catapults on the flight deck and a (useless) hangar deck level cat, these straight deck carriers featured three elevators and could accommodate a 90-plane air wing. Fast, at 32.5-knots, they could outstrip submarines and most battleships of the era, and a smattering of 5″/38, 1.1″/75 quads, and water-cooled Browning .50 cals provided defense against 1930s-era small surface combatants and planes. With long legs (12,500nm at 16 knots) they could travel the Pacific or Atlantic with ease and minimal tanker support.

Class leader, Yorktown (CV-5), was laid down in 1934 and made it to the fleet three years later, followed by the famous Enterprise (CV-6). The subject of our tale was the 7th USS Hornet on the Navy List and, like her two sisters was laid down at Newport News.

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while in drydock at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Virginia, from directly ahead, while in process of completion. View taken on 17 September 1941. Paint scheme appears to be peacetime “haze gray.” Catalog #: 19-N-26389

Hornet was commissioned 20 October 1941, two years after the rest of the world entered WWII and two months before the United States did the same. Her first commander was a scrappy fellow by the name of Captain Marc A. Mitscher.

USS Hornet (CV-8) Photographed circa late 1941, soon after completion, probably at a U.S. east coast port. A ferry boat and Eagle Boat (PE) are in the background. Catalog #: NH 81313

When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, Hornet was in Norfolk but was made ready for war in the Pacific, losing her .50cals in exchange for Oerlikon 20mm guns and picking up a camo scheme.

USS HORNET (CV-8) At Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Planes visible in foreground at the forward end of the flight deck are Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8) and a Curtiss SBC-4 from either VS-8 or VB-8. Note rat guards on lines in the foreground. Catalog #: 19-N-28429

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while alongside Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942, prior to her departure for the war zones. Her air group consists of Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8), Curtiss SBC-4s (VS-&VB-8) and Douglas TBD-1s (VT-8). Camouflage on ship is measure 12 (MOD.) Catalog #: 19-N-28431

USS HORNET (CV-8) Broadside view of amidships, at Naval Operating Base Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Plane types visible on deck: Douglas TBD-1 (VT-8), Grumman J2F-5 (utility unit), Curtiss SBC-4 (VS-or VB-8) and Grumman F4F-4 (VF-8). Note Meas .12 (Mod.) camouflage; and cars on the pier. Catalog #: 19-N-28432

It was at Norfolk that she tested flight deck operations with a trio of Army B-25 medium bombers, and found they could be launched successfully with a degree of pucker– and even landed with a greater one.

“Take-off and landing tests conducted with three B-25B’s at and off Norfolk, Virginia, indicated that take off from the carrier would be relatively easy but landing back on again extremely difficult.” said Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle in his report to the commanding general of Army Air Forces. “It was then decided that a carrier take-off would be made some place East of Tokyo, and the flight would proceed in a generally westerly direction from there. Fields near the East Coast of China and at Vladivostok were considered as termini.”

Then came a transfer to the West Coast, and a special mission for the carrier still technically on shakedown.

Arriving in San Francisco, Hornet had part of her Naval airwing offloaded and 16 Army B-25s, 64 modified 500-pound bombs, and 201 USAAF aviators and ground crew transferred aboard.

Putting to sea on April 2, the task force commanded by Vice Adm. Halsey consisted of Hornet with her escort Nashville, the carrier Enterprise with her three companion heavy cruisers Salt Lake City, Northampton, and Vincennes, as well as a group of destroyers and tankers headed West for points unknown and under great secrecy.

After refueling from the tankers on April 17, the four cruisers and two carriers raced towards Japan. The plan was to launch the first raid on the Home Islands to score a propaganda victory following a string of defeats across the Pacific in the first four months of the war.

Army Air Forces B-25B bombers parked on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. The plane in the upper right is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Note the use of the flight deck tie-down strips to secure the aircraft. The location is near the forward edge of the midships aircraft elevator. Catalog #: NH 53296

USAAF B-25B bombers and Navy F4F-3 fighters on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while she was en route to the mission’s launching point. Note wooden dummy machine guns in the tail cone of the B-25 at left. Catalog #: NH 53422

Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942 View looking aft and to port from the island of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. USS Vincennes (CA-44) is in the distance. Several of the mission’s sixteen B-25B bombers are visible. That in the foreground is tail # 40-2261, which was mission plane # 7, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Note searchlight at left. Catalog #: NH 53293

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet (CV-8), pose with a 500-pound bomb and USAAF aircrew members during ceremonies on Hornet’s flight deck, while the raid task force was en route to the launching point. Catalog #: NH 64472

However, the group was sighted while still far out to sea. The quick-shooting Nashville rapidly engaged the Japanese ship, Gunboat No. 23 Nittō Maru, and sank her with 6-inch shells, but the little 70-ton boat got off a warning via radio on her way down.

The 16 bombers quickly launched into history and the six ships of the task force turned back for safer waters.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8) at the start of the raid, 18 April 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41196

As noted by DANFS:

As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, wet the flight deck and drenched the deck crews. The lead plane, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, had but 467 feet of flight deck while the last B-25 hung far out over the fantail. The first of the heavily-laden bombers lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 0920 all 16 of the bombers were airborne, heading for the first American air strike against the heart of Japan.

Hornet brought her own planes on deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1445 the success of the raids. Exactly one week to the hour after launching the B-25s, Hornet sailed into Pearl Harbor. Hornet’s mission was kept an official secret for a year; until then President Roosevelt referred to the origin of the Tokyo raid only as “Shangri-La.”

Three Raiders died trying to reach safety in China. Japanese soldiers executed three. One died in captivity.

However, Hornet was not allowed to rest on her laurels and soon set off to meet the Japanese in the Coral Sea, but arrived just after the pitched battle that saw the loss of the giant USS Lexington.

USS HORNET (CV-8) Steaming in the coral sea area, 13 May 1942. Photographed from USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6). Catalog #: 80-G-16430

USS Hornet (CV-8) Enters Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942. She left two days later to take part in the Battle of Midway. Photographed from Ford Island Naval Air Station, with two aircraft towing tractors parked in the center foreground. Catalog #: 80-G-66132

Then came Midway, where the now seven-month-old Hornet joined her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise to blunt Yamamomo’s greatest effort.

On 4 June, the combined torpedo plane fleet of the three carriers made a charge of the light brigade style attack on the Japanese task force. Of the 41 TBD Devastators that took off that day, 15 were from Hornet‘s Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8). However, they were jumped by Japanese fighters eight miles from their targets and all 15 were shot down. Only one pilot, Ens. George H. Gay, USNR, reached the surface as his plane sank and hid under a rubber seat cushion while he watched the dive bombers come in and get revenge in the sinking of four Japanese carriers, turning the tide of the war

Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) Pilots Photographed on board USS Hornet (CV-8), circa mid-May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Midway. They are Ensign Harold J. Ellison; Ensign Henry R. Kenyon; Ensign John P. Gray; Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. (circled); Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Jeff D. Woodson; Ensign William W. Creamer; Aviation Pilot First Class Robert B. Miles. Lieutenant James C. Owens, Jr.; Ensign E.L. Fayle; Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Squadron Commanding Officer; Lieutenant Raymond A. Moore; Ensign Ulvert M. Moore; Ensign William R. Evans; Ensign Grant W. Teats; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George M. Campbell. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 93595

Two days later, to add the ending period to the battle, Hornet‘s planes attacked the fleeing Japanese fleet to assist in sinking cruiser Mikuma, damaged a destroyer, and left cruiser Mogami aflame and heavily damaged.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. The photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes. Catalog #: 80-G-17054

War artist Tom Lea shipped out on Hornet for her next run across the Pacific after Midway. There, in fierce service off Guadalcanal in late summer 1942, he spent more than two months on a front-line carrier in the thick of the war and sketched as he found, including the loss of the carrier Wasp.

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

navy plane captian

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942.

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

in blue gleam of a battle light tom lea an american dies in battle tom lea a bomb explodes below deck tom lea

From a six-week period from mid-September until 24 October, Hornet was the only operable U.S. carrier in the Pacific, all the others being either in repair or at the bottom.

On 26 October, joined by the newly patched up Enterprise, Hornet was involved in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island. During that sharp engagement often forgotten to military history, Hornet‘s airwing severely damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku, delivering at least three (and possibly as many as six) 1,000-lb. bomb hits from the 15 Douglas SBD-3 dive bombers launched from our carrier, putting her out of service for months. Hornet‘s planes also made hay of the cruiser Chikuma.

However, just 371 days after she was commissioned, Hornet took extreme damage in return from Japanese torpedo and bomber aircraft.

A Japanese Type 99 shipboard bomber (Allied codename Val) trails smoke as it dives toward USS Hornet (CV-8), during the morning of 26 October 1942. This plane struck the ship’s stack and then her flight deck. A Type 97 shipboard attack plane (Kate) is flying over Hornet after dropping its torpedo, and another Val is off her bow. Note anti-aircraft shell burst between Hornet and the camera, with its fragments striking the water nearby. Catalog #: 80-G-33947

Crew members of USS Hornet (CV-8) prepare to abandon ship on 26 October 1942, after she was disabled by Japanese air attacks. Photographed from USS Russell (DD-414). Note radar antennas on the carrier’s masts and gun directors, and other details of the ship’s island and port side. Radar antennas include those for FD types mounted atop the two Mark 37 gun directors at the island ends, a CXAM atop the foremast and a smaller radar (presumably an SC) partially visible atop the after mast. Catalog #: 80-G-34110

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942 Description: USS Northampton (CA-26), at right, attempting to tow USS Hornet (CV-8) after she had been disabled by Japanese air attacks on 26 October 1942. Catalog #: 80-G-33897

USS HORNET (CV-8) dead in the water with a destroyer alongside, 26 October 1942. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-304514

As noted by DANFS

The abandoned Hornet, ablaze from stern to stern, refused to accept her intended fate from friends. She still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellfire from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 0135, 27 October 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. Her proud name was struck from the Navy List 13 January 1943.

Boston Herald sinking of USS Hornet (CV-8), fourth US carrier sunk in WWII, the first three were Lexington (CV-2), Yorktown (CV-5), and Wasp (CV-7).

Tom Lea remembered the ship fondly.

On 21 October, just six days before she was to sink, he left the Hornet, pulling away on a fleet oiler that would land him back at Pearl Harbor. The cleared sketches he produced above would appear in LIFE in March and April 1943, sadly, after the carrier had long been sunk.

As told by Lex

Back at Pearl Harbor, Lea showed Admiral Nimitz some of his drawings. One of them was the one above. Underneath the drawing, he inscribed a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Moreover the Lord thy God shall send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed.”

Admiral Nimitz looked at the drawing for a long time, then turned his head to Lea, and said: “Something has happened to the Hornet.”

That was how Lea found out that the aircraft carrier he had been on, together with his friends, perished.

This he immortalized in a painting ran by LIFE of how he pictured the ship going out– fighting.

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ” “Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.” “There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.” “The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.” “Behind them their ship died a smoking death.” “The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.” “A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark she went down.” -LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ”
“Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.”
“There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.”
“The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.”
“Behind them, their ship died a smoking death.”
“The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.”
“A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark, she went down.”
-LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

Hornet remains a favorite subject of maritime art, not just from Lea, but other painters. Take for instance this great piece by Gordon Grant.

USS HORNET (CV-8). Description: Courtesy of John H. Chafee, 1974 Catalog #: NH 82718-KN

Remember VT-8’s Ensign Gay? The lone survivor of his squadron survived the war, ending his service as a Lt. CDR and Navy Cross holder. In 1994 he died of a heart attack at a hospital in Marietta, Georgia, age 77, was cremated and his ashes spread at the place that his squadron had launched its ill-fated attack

As for the Raiders, the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was commemorated by the ceremonial arrival of 11 B-25 bombers at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, on 17 April 2017, who flew in formation on the anniversary on Tuesday.

As noted by the AP, the last Raider living is 101-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole. He attended Tuesday’s service at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Lead plane co-pilot Cole came from his Comfort, Texas, home.

The Navy still considers the Doolittle Raid to have relevent principals today.

“The Doolittle Raid, some 75 years ago, pushed Air Force Bombers outside of their normal operating envelope,” said Capt. Kevin Lenox, commanding officer of USS Nimitz (CVN 68), a World War II-namesake ship. “They were designed to fly from an airfield, but USS Hornet provided the perfect mobile launch point to send them into combat from the sea. The Navy didn’t have planes that could reach Tokyo, and the Air Force didn’t have any runways close enough. Together, their integrated capabilities were able to win the day, and that lesson has carried forward to today’s highly capable joint force.”

Specs:


Displacement:
20,000 long tons (20,000 t) (standard)
25,500 long tons (25,900 t) (full load)
29,114 long tons (29,581 t) (maximum)
Length:
770 ft. (230 m) (waterline at design draft)
824 ft. 9 in (251.38 m) (overall)
Beam:
83 ft. 3 in (25.37 m) (waterline)
114 ft. (35 m) (overall)
Draft:
24 ft. 4 in (7.42 m) design
28 ft. (8.5 m) full load
Installed power: 120,000 shp (89,000 kW)
Propulsion:
4 × Parsons geared steam turbines
9 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Speed:
32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h) (design)
33.84 kn (38.94 mph; 62.67 km/h) (builder’s trials)
Range: 12,500 nmi (14,400 mi; 23,200 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 2,919 officers and enlisted (wartime)
Armament:     (as built)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
16(4×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
24 × M2 Browning .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Armament (by July 1942)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
20 (5×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
32 × 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon
Armor:
Belt: 2.5–4 in (63.5–102 mm)
Deck: 4 in (102 mm) 60 lb. STS steel
Bulkheads: 4 in (102 mm)
Conning Tower: 4 in (100 mm) sides, 2 in (51 mm) top
Steering Gear: 4 in (102 mm)
Aircraft carried: 72-90 × aircraft
Aviation facilities:
3 × elevators
3 × hydraulic catapults (2 flight deck, 1 hangar deck– latter removed 1942)

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.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

John Gresham has passed

john Gresham

In the small world of top-notch military commentary, there were a handful of legitimate experts. That pool has grown smaller with the untimely passing of John D. Gresham.

If you ever thumbed through Tom Clancy’s his best-selling series of non-fiction “guided tour” books about military units published in the 1990s:  Submarine, Armored Cav, Fighter Wing, Marine, Airborne, Carrier, and Special Forces, it was Clancy’s name that sold the book– but the insides were all made possible by the hard work of Gresham.

gresham
In all, he had some 15 books of his own in circulation as well as the annual The Year in Special Operations and a lot of the best open-source defense analysis in circulation. I corresponded with Mr. Gresham on a number of occasions.

He will be missed.

Warship Wednesday Oct. 21, 2015: The humble yet resilient Frenchman

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, Oct. 21, 2015: The humble yet resilient Frenchman

Here we see the French aircraft carrier Bearn, the only one of her kind, in pre-WWII aircraft operations. She was too young for WWI and too old for WWII, but she remained with the fleet for some 50 years.

In 1912, the Republic ordered five brand new battleships to augment the (26,000-ton, 10 × 340mm/45 Modèle 1912 guns in five twin turrets, powered by four direct-drive steam turbines) Bretagne-class.

These new ships, Normandie, Flandre, Gascogne, Languedoc, and Béarn, would carry a full dozen 340mm guns in three quadruple turrets (the French loved that arrangement, using it on all their later battleships) and be powered by a hybrid powerplant of two turbines and two reciprocating engines, each on their own shaft. Insulated by up to 12 inches of armor, they were thought to be comparable to the latest Italian, Austrian, and German designs of the 1911-era and fast enough at 21 knots to make due.

To speed up construction, the five ships were to be built around the country at three different yards with class leader Normandie laid down 18 April 1913 at St Nazaire and her four sisters likewise started over the next eight months with Bearn, begun 10 January 1914 at F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, the last of the class.

However, when the Great War began in August 1914, France, allied to the mighty Royal Navy and soon to that of the Italian Regina Marina, was good in the battleship department with both the Austrians and Germans bottled up in their respective harbors and unlikely to sail on Toulon or Brest any time soon.

This meant that the five new battleships were suspended and the first four of their hulls, able to float but not much else, launched to clear the ways for other more pressing projects. Bearn, even less along than the other four, was left on the ways. Several of the battleships’ intended 340mm and 138.6 mm guns were mounted as railway artillery instead and went to pounding the Kaiser’s thick gray line along the Western Front and then lingered as coastal artillery emplacements into the 1940s. (Some of these coastal guns saw action in August 1944 during the Allied invasion where they were fired upon by USS Nevada (BB-36))

At the end of the war, the prospect of a financially strapped France completing five 1911-era battlewagons whose hulls were already covered with enough kelp and sea growth to make an instant reef was slim. In the end, it was decided to scrap the four floating leviathans and launch Bearn‘s own incomplete hull in April 1920 and figure out what to do with her later.

The French hit upon the idea to do what the Brits, Japanese, and Americans were doing with their likewise unfinished battleship/cruiser hulls– turn them into an aircraft carrier. You see the RN did that with the three 27,000 ton Courageous-class carriers (converted from battlecruiser hulls), the 22,000 ton (battleship-hulled) HMS Eagle; the Japanese followed course with the 42,000-ton Akagi (converted from a battlecruiser hull in 1927), and the 38,000-ton Kaga (converted from a battleship hull in 1928), while the Americans rolled with former 36,000-ton battlecruisers Lexington and Saratoga in 1927.

To be fair, the French beat the Japanese and Americans to the punch and started converting Bearn in 1923, with her shakedown complete and entering service with the fleet in May 1928.

Interesting arrangement of the flight deck and hanger elevator on French aircraft carrier Bearn

An interesting arrangement of the flight deck and hangar elevator on French aircraft carrier Bearn

Covered with a 590-foot flight deck, she had two below-deck hangars served by three elevators (all in the center of the deck) and could carry about 40 aircraft.

Close up of her pre-war. Note the two casemated 6.1-inch guns Photo colorized by irootoko_jr http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Close up of her pre-war. Note the two casemated 6.1-inch guns Photo colorized by irootoko_jr

Like other carriers of her day, she was equipped largely with the same suite as a decent-sized cruiser, with eight 6.1-inch guns mounted in casemates (!) for surface action, a host of modest anti-aircraft guns, and a quartet of 22-inch torpedo tubes (unique in carrier development). She also had a modicum of armor above the waterline but no torpedo blisters.

French carrier Béarn, date unknown

French carrier Béarn viewed from another warship, date unknown

French carrier Béarn viewed from another warship, date unknown

Her peacetime role in the 1930s saw her sprout the flower of French naval aviation, which was to be used on two follow-on 18,000-ton purpose-built flattops, Joffre and Painlevé, ordered in 1937. As Bearn was somewhat stubby (with a 590-foot flight deck, far outclassed by the big Lexington and Akagi), the newer carriers would go almost 800-feet long, which was thought ideal.

When those two carriers joined the fleet, she was to convert to a seaplane depot ship in 1942.

French aircraft carrier Béarn, the only aircraft carrier produced by France until after World War II, and the only ship of its class built

However, when the next war started, Bearn was all the French had as the other two carriers were still under construction (and never completed).

"Le porte-avion Bearn et un latecoère 298"by Albert Brenet

Le porte-avion Bearn et un latecoère 298″by Albert Brenet

In 1939, Bearn was assigned, alongside the new battleship Dunkerque (with quadruple turrets!) and three cruisers to go and hunt down German surface raiders, which turned out to be uneventful.

In May 1940, with things not going so well for the French Army, she was ordered to Toulon where she secretly took aboard the 3880 boxes of the Republic’s gold reserves (over 250-tons) and, escorted by the 6500-ton school cruiser Jeanne d’Arc and the new 8400-ton light cruiser Émile Bertin, sailed for Canada under the command of Rear Admiral Rouyer.

In early 1940, 50 former USN Curtiss SBC Helldivers were taken out of reserve, given French machine guns and camo patterns, then flown to Nova Scotia to be loaded onto Béarn and the light cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. Because of space limitations, only 44 of the SBC-4s could be carried on Béarn as she also had 25 Stinson 105s, 17 former USAAF P-36s, and 6 Brewster F2A-2 Buffalos aboard for the Belgian Air Force. Jeanne d’Arc carried 14 crated, unassembled aircraft: 8 Stinson 105s and 6 Curtiss P-36s.

French Helldivers delivered to RCAF Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia for carrier Béarn

Sailing from Halifax on 16 June 1940 bound for Brest, the news came that France fell and the ships diverted to the colony of Martinique.

 

 

Six Belgian Brewster Buffalo's aboard the French aircraft carrier Béarn during the journey, which would end on Martinique. Besides the Buffalos, she was carrying 27 Curtiss H-75s (P-36s), 44 SBC Helldivers and 25 Stinson Voyagers.

Six Belgian Brewster Buffalo’s aboard the French aircraft carrier Béarn during the journey, which would end on Martinique. Besides the Buffalos, she was carrying 27 Curtiss H-75s (P-36s), 44 SBC Helldivers, and 25 Stinson Voyagers.

Unwilling to join the Free French forces, the three-ship task force offloaded their gold and planes on the island and made ready to defend it against any invader, be they British or German, and remained on this footing for almost two years. Finally, after pressure from the Americans, on 16 May 1942, they were ordered by the Vichy authorities to be immobilized and interned.

With the fall of Vichy France following the invasion of North Africa, the ships joined the Free French forces in June 1943 when the local government recognized DeGaulle’s.

At that point, Jeanne d’Arc immediately left for the Med where she participated in the capture of Corsica and helped the Allied fleets for the rest of the war. Bearn and Émile Bertin, in need of a refit, sailed for the U.S.

French carrier Béarn, date unknown, seen in the May 1963 issue of US Navy publication Naval Aviation News

French carrier Béarn, date unknown, seen in the May 1963 issue of US Navy publication Naval Aviation News

After modernization at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Bertin joined Jeanne d’Arc in the Med in time for the Allied invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) in August 1944 and later bombarded Axis positions along the Italian Riviera.

As for the aircraft Bearn left in the Caribbean, they were shipped from the West Indies to Morocco during 1943-44, placed in flying condition, and used for training, with some of the Stinsons reportedly remaining in service as late as the 1960s.

For Bearn, her refit took far longer due to her size, complex engineering suite, and the fact that her pre-war AAA suite was considered wholly inadequate by 1943 standards for a ship her size.

She traded in her 6-inch casemates, 13.2mm machine guns, and 75mm low-angle pieces for 4 5″/38s, six quad 40mm Bofors, and 26 20mm Oerlikons, which sounds about right. Her flight deck was shortened, the central elevator was removed, modern electronic equipment was installed, and complement reduced to 650. Oh yeah, and her torpedo tubes, inactive since 1939 anyway, were deactivated.

Bearn after her WWII American refit. Note the casemates are empty and a number of AAA guns are fitted as are emergency rafts and liberal camo. Note stored planes on deck Photo colorized by irootoko_jr http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Bearn after her WWII American refit. Note the casemates are empty and several AAA guns are fitted as are emergency rafts and liberal camo. Note stored planes on deck Photo colorized by irootoko_jr

Emerging from Philadelphia in April 1945 and with the European war ending, she was sent with her old Martinique pier-mate Émile Bertin as part of the immense French Armada sailing to liberate Indochina from the Japanese, arriving there just after the end of the War in the Pacific.

A repurposed Japanese Aichi E13A “Jake” floatplane aboard Béarn, while at Ha Long Bay, Indochina.

Although the only French aircraft carrier from 1928-45, her final days were numbered. Instead of an air wing, she arrived at Haiphong loaded with troops and supplies.

French carrier Béarn, 1946

French carrier Béarn, 1946

Serving as an aviation transport rather than a full-fledged carrier, (the French immediately after the war operated F6Fs, Bearcats, Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, Helldivers and F4Us from loaned jeep carrier HMS Biter/Dixmude, the Independence-class light carriers Langley/Lafayette, and Belleau Wood/Bois Belleau as well as the British-built Arromanches and didn’t need Bearn‘s flattop anymore), she was recalled to Toulon and served as an immobile submarine accommodation and training ship.

Dutch submarine Dolfijn (3) moored alongside the French aircraft carrier Bearn, Toulon Mar 1963

Dutch submarine Dolfijn (3) moored alongside the French aircraft carrier Bearn, Toulon Mar 1963

french carrier Bearn in port at Toulon, France, 1964

French carrier Bearn in port at Toulon, France, 1964. Note the moored submarines, lack of any armament, and helicopter landing zones marked on her deck.

Bearn continued this sad role until November 1966 when she was stricken. She was sold for scrap the following year. Although her hull had more than 50 years on it, she was only in active service in fleet operations for about 14 of those and reportedly never fired a shot in anger or launched a combat sortie.

Specs:

Displacement:
22,146 long tons (22,501 t) (standard)
28,400 long tons (28,900 t) (full load)
Length: 182.6 m (599 ft. 1 in) (o/a)
Beam: 35.2 m (115 ft. 6 in)
Draft: 9.3 m (30 ft. 6 in)
Installed power:
2 Parsons steam turbines, 2 VTE, 6 Normand du Temple boilers, 4 shafts
22,500 shp (16,800 kW) (turbines)
15,000 ihp (11,000 kW) (reciprocating engines)
Speed: 21.5 kn (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph)
Range: 7,000 nmi (13,000 km; 8,100 mi) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 865 as completed
Armament:
Original: 8 × 155 mm (6.1 in)/50 cal guns (8 × 1)
6 × 75 mm (3.0 in)/50 cal anti-aircraft guns (6 × 1) 8 × 37 mm (1.5 in) anti-aircraft guns (added 1935)
16 × 13.2 mm (0.52 in) anti-aircraft machine guns (6 × 1) (added 1935)
4 × 550 mm (22 in) torpedo tubes
After 1944 Refit: 4 × 127 mm (5.0 in)/38 cal dual-purpose guns
24 × 40 mm (1.57 in) anti-aircraft guns (6 × 4)
26 × 20 mm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft autocannons
Armor:
Main Belt: 8 cm (3.1 in)
Flight Deck: 2.5 cm (1.0 in)
Aircraft carried:
35-40 as designed
1939: 10 × Dewoitine D.373, 10 × Levasseur PL.7, and 9 × Levasseur PL.10

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/

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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, May 15 The First Night Carrier

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  May 15
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Here we see the light carrier USS Independence (CV/CVL-22). Began as the light cruiser USS Amsterdam (CL-59) in 1940, she was converted while still at New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J to help fill the urgent and pressing need for fast carriers after Pearl Harbor.  A 30/30 ship, she could make 30+ knots and carry 30+ aircraft while having legs long enough to cross the Pacific and operate on her own for a few weeks before she needed to find an oiler. While she was much smaller than a regular fleet carrier such as the Enterprise that could carry 80-90 aircraft, she could still put a few squadrons in the air.

In effect, she was good-enough.

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Above you see a scale model of the USS Duluth (CL-87) compared to the USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) both are directly related to the Indy. The Duluth is a Cleavland-class cruiser and is what the Indy was originally ordered to be. The Belleau Wood underwent to same conversion that Indy did. Notice the similarity in the hull. Both ships only differed above the 01 deck.

When Independence was commissioned on January 14th 1943, the only other carriers in the fleet of the original 8 that started WWII were the Enterprise and Saratoga who were fighting for their lives off the Solomons, and the small USS Ranger which was up to her ass in U-Boats in the Atlantic. The new USS Essex had commissioned just a couple of weeks earlier and was in shakedown. The old carrier Langley, converted to a seaplane tender, had been lost early in the war, the huge Lexington was sent to the bottom at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Yorktown lost at Midway, Wasp and Hornet (stricken literally the day before Independence was commissioned from the Naval List) lost in the Solomons.

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In short, the Indy came just in time and she was put to hard work fast. Before the year was out she was conducting raids off Marcus Island, Rabaul, and the Gilberts– tying down Japanese forces needed elsewhere. It was in these raids that the Indy picked up a torpedo (one of a half-dozen fired at her) in her starboard quarter. As this was repaired, she received a new air-group, an additional catapult, and a new mission– that of a night carrier.

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The first full-time night Air Group was Air Group 41, established through the drive and persistence of Lt. Commander Turner F Caldwell. He commissioned VF(N)-79 in January 1944, training at NAAF Charlestown, Rhode Island. While at Charlestown Caldwell sold his idea of an ‘pure’ night air group to anyone who would listen. With the availability of the CVL Independence Caldwell got his wish. VF(N)-75 was dissolved and reformed as VF(N)-41, with an enlarged TBM contingent designated as VT(N)-41. Total size of the Air Group was 14 F6F-5N’s, 5 F6F-5’s and 12 TBM Avengers. Independence sailed for Eniwetok at the end of July 1944 to join Task Force 38. Air Group 41 finished it’s tour in January 1945. In that time it had claimed 46 kills, but lost ten of it’s 35 night fighter pilots in action, A further three were lost to operational causes – a tribute to the high training standards and skill of the group. The CVL Independence was the only light carrier to be completely equipped with a Night Air Group. Later in 1945 several large carriers and even a much smaller Jeep Carrier (CVE-108 Kula Gulf) went to Night Groups including Enterprise, Saratoga and Bon Homme Richard— but the Indy was the first.

By the end of the war she held 8 battlestars.

The Japanese couldn’t sink her, so the Navy decided to use her for testing. Since the USN had dozens of brand new fleet carriers of the Essex types, it didn’t need the old Indy anymore. Therefore, she was only 1/2 mile from ground zero on 1 July 1946 when the A-bomb went off in the Bikini Atoll tests. When she didn’t sink, they used her again for another A-bomb test three weeks later. Still afloat, she was only scuttled in 1951 off the coast of San Fransisco. Five of her remaining sisters pressed on and were used during the Cold War as transports, anti-submarine carriers, and as the first modern carriers that the French and Spanish navies had– one, the former USS Cabot, even tested the first Harriers at sea.

Indy is just to the right of the giant column of water that is much wider than she is long....

Indy is just to the right of the giant column of water that is much wider than she is long….

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In the end you can say that the Indy had a hard life in her eight years above water to say the least.

Today, even after being under 3100-feet of seawater for 60 years, she is still on the job. You see ,she took down 70,000 sealed barrels of 1940s radioactive materiel with her which she is guarding in the forever night of the deep ocean and is forbidden to dive on using any means.

In a way, she is still a night carrier, with a very dangerous cargo.

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Specs:
Displacement: 11,000 tons standard; 15,100 tons full load
Dimensions (wl): 600′ x 71′ 6″ x 26′ (max)  /  182.9 x 21.8 x 7.9 (max) meters
Dimensions (max.): 622′ 6″ x 109′ 2″  /  189.7 x 33.3 meters
Armor: no side belt (2″ belt over fwd magazine); 2″ protective deck(s); 0.38″ bridge; 5″/3.75″ bhds; 5″ bhds, 2.25″ above, 0.75″ below steering gear
Power plant: 4 boilers (565 psi, 850°F); 4 geared turbines; 4 shafts; 100,000 shp (design)
Speed: 31.6 knots
Endurance (design): 12,500 nautical miles @ 15 knots
Armament: 2 single 5″/38 gun mounts (soon removed); 2 quad 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts (in place of 5″ mounts); 8 (soon 9) twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts; 16 single 20-mm/70-cal guns mounts
Aircraft: 30+
Aviation facilities: 2 centerline elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult
Crew: approx. 1,560

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!