Wasp dresses with flags for Navy Day while she anchors in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 27 October 1940. Note the old flush-deck destroyer in the distance. (U.S. Navy Photograph NH 43463)
Built with 15,000 leftover tons allocated for U.S. aircraft carriers under the Washington Naval Treaty, the ninth USS Wasp (CV-7), was a lightweight version of a fleet carrier. Some 5,000-tons lighter than the preceding Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown, she was only about 80-feet shorter and could still carry roughly the same-sized airwing. In addition, she had a 4th catapult whereas the preceding and much larger half-sisters only had three. Granted it was a hangar deck cat, but still.
Commissioned on 25 April 1940 at the Army Quartermaster Base, South Boston, Mass, the war in Europe was on and the U.S. was out of it for another 20 months, but Wasp soon wandered into the periphery of the conflict. In August 1941, after shakedowns, she carried 30 Army Curtiss P-40C’s and three Stearman PT-17 trainers from the AAF 33rd Pursuit Squadron to Iceland– where they flew off her deck to land on the U.S.-protected island, one of the first times Army planes took off from an operational U.S. carrier.
After the U.S. entered the war, she was quickly assigned to watch over convoys routed to North Russia, looking for German surface raiders, and twice carried RAF Spitfires to embattled Malta.
To make good the losses of the Lexington (CV-2) at Coral Sea and Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway, Wasp was recalled from her North Atlantic and Med adventures and rushed to the Pacific, where her service was brief. Wasp arrived off Guadalcanal in early August and her aircrew was soon delivering “stings” to Japanese positions in the area.
Narrowly missing the Battle of Eastern Solomons on 24 August, on 15 September Wasp, Hornet, the battleship North Carolina, with ten other warships, were escorting the transports carrying the Seventh Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal as reinforcements. That day, Japanese submarine I-19 fired a spread of 6 torpedoes at the ripest of targets. Four hit Wasp, one hit the destroyer USS O’Brien and the final hit North Carolina— surely the most effective torpedo attack in naval history.
Abandoned later that afternoon, Wasp was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer USS Lansdowne. Of the 2,162 on board, 176 were killed as a result of the attack.
Now, after 77 years on the bottom, the research vessel RV Petrel has located her sitting upright in 4,345 meters (14,255 feet) of water.
“Wasp represented the U.S. Navy at the lowest point after the start of WWII. Her pilots and her aircrew, with their courage and sacrifice, were the ones that held the line against the Japanese when the Japanese had superior fighter aircraft, superior torpedo planes, and better torpedoes,” said Rear Adm. (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “The first year of the war, it was touch and go. Those who served at that time deserve the gratitude of our nation for holding the Japanese back.”
The follow-on 10th USS Wasp, (CV-18), was an Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 and sold for scrap in 1973 after a very busy and successful career. The 11th Wasp, (LHD-1), is the lead ship of her class of very aircraft carrier-like (nearly three times larger in tonnage than CV-7) amphibious assault ships and was launched in 1989.
Ironically, at about the same time Petral discovered Wasp‘s namesake, LHD-1 was working alongside the JMSDF amphibious transport dock ship, JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) in a training exercise off Japan.
USS Wasp (LHD 1), JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) and USS Green Bay (LPD 20) transit in formation in the East China Sea, Jan. 12 (U.S. Navy/MC1 Daniel Barker)