I have a couple of questions about U.S. aircraft carriers in WW2.
As I understand it the U.S. has three carriers in the pacific at the time of pearl harbour: Saratoga, Lexington and Enterprise.
However according to some sources the states also had the following carriers:
Langley, Ranger, Yorktown, Wasp and Hornet.
My question is where were they at that time?
Also I have seen in different sources both Hornet and Wasp listed as Yorkrown class carriers, only to see in others that one or the other or both are listed as a different class. I was wondering does anybody know what class Wasp and Hornet were officially attached to?
The first thing to realize regarding the confusion of carrier names is that several of the ships that were sunk by the Japanese had their names assigned to later Essex class ships in honor of the ones that were sunk. So before WWII, the U.S. Navy had a Lexington (CV2), Yorktown (CV5), Wasp (CV7) , Hornet (CV8), and Langley (CV1) that were all sunk during WWII, then we renamed several hulls under construction to be the Lexington (CV16), Yorktown (CV10), Wasp (CV18) , Hornet (CV12), and Langley (CVL27). (The Langley had been the first U.S. carrier, a converted collier, that had been demoted from full carrier status before the war, so her replacement was a light carrier instead of an Essex class ship.)
At the beginning of the war:
Langley was in the Philipines;
Saratoga was at San Diego;
Ranger was operating out of Norfolk (but was in the Caribbean),
Yorktown was based in Norfolk,
Enterprise was based at Pearl Harbor (and jjust missed the attack, actually losing some aircrews who had flown in early);
Wasp was at Grassy Bay, Bermuda;
Hornet was based in Norfolk,
and Essex was seven months away from being launched.
Yeah, the Enterprise was really in the thick of it. My uncle was an AA gunner on the Enterprise. He was on it during Pearl Harbor and stayed on it for the entire war. (I think the Enterprise was either headed to or back from Midway to pick up planes on 12/7). I think he only got one substantial leave during the war where he had enough time to come home to Virginia. He had quite a few stories to tell.
The original Yorktown (CV5), Enterprise (CV6), and Hornet (CV8) comprised the Yorktown class. The original Wasp (CV7) was a one-off design based on a modified version of the Ranger (CV4) and was smaller than the Yorktown class. The Wasp made use of the remaining available tonnage in the Washington and London Naval Treaties; there wasn’t enough tonnage left for the construction of another Yorktown class in the treaty limits. Hornet was built after the treaty expired.
Just a question on the shipbuilding aspects of aircraft carriers…
Tomndebb mentioned that certain hulls circa 1941-1942 were renamed while they being built. Well my question is, how do ship yards build hulls that big? Are they made of plates which are riveted, or are they actually poured in moulds? Like in yacht building?
And some of 'em are fucking huge. I understand that a modern Nimitz class carrier is over 110,000 tons of displacement - WITHOUT ordnance and supplies and aircraft etc. Man, how do they manufacture hulls THAT BIG?
Oh, in closing, in case you haven’t heard an Australian say it in a while (and fuck 'em if it sounds contrived) but once again, thank you America for your efforts in the Battle of Coral Sea. That one was VERY close, and it turned the Pacific War. Thank you.
I only work on destroyers, but I’d like to encourage anyone even slightly interested to examine the shipbuilding industry. It’s a fascinating line of work, and much more complex than you might think. Not just a bunch of guys welding plates together.
Don’t forget the plucky Long Island, which survived the war. It was not considered suitable for fleet operations, and thus took the designation AVG-1 (later ACV-1 and CVE-1). However, it did operate in potentially dangerous combat situations, for example performing escort duties for the few American battleships which had managed to muster after the battle of Midway.
In relation to the battle of Midway. As I understand it there were three carriers involved:
Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet.
Lexington had been sunk at Coral Sea and Saratoga had taken a torpedo.
If this was the case Langley, Ranger and Wasp were still active. If the US was so strapped for carriers, it had to fight 4 Japanese carriers, then why not use these available carriers as well at Midway?
Surely ASW in the Atlantic was a little less important than the turning battle in the Pacific?
Not really, the Langley was sunk during the Japanese invasion of Indonesia, a couple of months before Midway. And don’t forget, Midway was a crapshoot. They didn’t know if they were going to win or turn the tide in the Pacific. And the Allies had also decided that Germany was the main opponent (“Germany, first”).
As mentioned by detop, the Langley had been sunk by this time; it also was no longer an aircraft carrier, it had been converted into a seaplane tender in 1937 and was ferrying Army Air Corp P-40s (which she couldn’t launch) to the Philippines when sunk. Even in her pre-seaplane tender days she would have been a liability rather than an asset in fleet carrier operations. She could only make 15 knots and was about the size of an escort carrier. In May 1942, Wasp had just finished making two trips bringing Spitfires to Malta in the Mediterranean, which was under aerial siege. Due to the loss of Lexington at Coral Sea, Wasp was sent stateside for quick alterations and repairs and set sail for the Pacific just as Midway was ending. Ranger was ferrying aircraft to Accra at about this time, was the smallest of the fleet carriers, and the only one left in the Atlantic after the decision was made to shift the Wasp to the Pacific.
I’m not sure if the speed of the Ranger played a decisive role in keeping her in the Atlantic. She was the slowest of the fleet carriers, but as the Wasp was based on her design she wasn’t much faster. Conway’s All The World’s Fighting Ships 1922-1946 lists the speed of the Ranger as 29.25 knots versus 29.5 knots for the Wasp. Ranger was the least able of the fleet carriers though, after service in the Atlantic through 1944 she spent the last year of the war as a training carrier working up carrier night fighter groups in the Pacific. As a bit of a side note, apparently the Wasp was one of the first vessels equipped with the quadruple mounted 40mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns to replace the much less effective quadruple 1.1inch anti-aircraft mounts used pre-war and early on in the war, presumably during her stateside visit in May 1942 prior to heading for the Pacific as she was torpedoed and sunk in operations near Guadalcanal before ever spending much time at major port again.
Perhaps you are right, dissonance. There seems little doubt that the Ranger would have been the last remaining choice during the disturbing period from September to December of 1942 when for the most part only one operational fleet carrier was online in the Pacific (I believe Hornet, Enterprise, and Saratoga all spent periods where they were the lone operational U.S. fleet carrier in the Pacific in those months).
But even then it’s unlikely Ranger could have been called upon; she was busy at Casablanca in November and was undergoing her own overhaul from December to February, 1943. By then, the Essex-class and CVLs were arriving in the Pacific and the dearth of coverage was at an end.