CV-9 Essex Class
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USS Essex in WW2 configuration. (some parts taken from Shipbucket.com)

Ship Characteristics

Dimensions Length 888 ft
Beam 93 ft
Draft 30.8 ft
Displacement (Standard) 30,800 tons
Displacement (Full Load) 38,5000 tons
Performance Speed (max) 33 knots
Speed (Cruising) 15 knots
Endurance 15,000 nm. at 15 knots
Armament Aircraft (1944) 36 F4U1 36 SB2C, 18 TBF
Aircraft (1946) 18 FV-1, 54 F4U4, 18 AD-1
Aircraft (1956) 36 F9F, 24 A4D
Aircraft (1966) 24 F9U, 24 A2U
Guns 12 5 inch L38, 68 40mm L70, 78 20mm

Background

The preceding Yorktowns formed the basis from which the Essex class was developed. Designed to carry a larger air group, and unencumbered by pre-war naval treaty limits, the Essex class was over sixty feet longer, nearly ten feet wider in beam, and more than a third heavier. A longer, wider flight deck and a deck-edge elevator facilitated more efficient aviation operations, enhancing the ship's offensive and defensive air power. Machinery arrangement and armor protection was greatly improved from previous designs. These carriers had better protecting armor than their predecessors, better facilities for handling ammunition, safer and greater fueling capacity, and more effective damage control equipment. These features, plus the provision of more anti-aircraft guns, gave the ships much enhanced survivability. In fact, none of the Essex-class carriers were lost and two, Boxer and Kearsarge made it home after being torpedoed by German submarines.

In drawing up the preliminary design for Essex, particular attention was directed at the size of both her flight and hangar decks. Aircraft design had come a long way from the comparatively light planes used in carriers during the 1930s. Flight decks now required more takeoff space for the heavier aircraft being developed. Most of the first-line carriers of the pre-war years were equipped with flush deck catapults, but owing to the speed and size of these ships very little catapulting was done — except for experimental purposes. One innovation in Essex was a portside deck-edge elevator in addition to two inboard elevators. Experiments had been made with hauling aircraft by crane up a ramp between the hangar and flight decks, but this method proved too slow. The Navy's Bureau of Ships and the Chief Engineer of A.B.C. Elevator Co. designed the engine for the side elevator. It was a standard elevator, 60 by 34 ft (18 by 10 m) in platform surface, which traveled vertically on the port side of the ship. The design was a huge success which greatly improved flight deck operations. There would be no large hole in the flight deck when the elevator was in the 'down' position, a critical factor if the elevator ever became inoperable during combat operations. Its new position made it easier to continue normal operations on deck, irrespective of the position of the elevator. The elevator also increased the effective deck space when it was in the 'up' position by providing additional parking room outside the normal contours of the flight deck, and increased the effective area on the hangar deck by the absence of elevator pits. In addition, its machinery was less complex than the two inboard elevators, requiring about 20% fewer man-hours of maintenance.

The tactical employment of U.S. carriers changed as the war progressed. In early operations, through 1942, the doctrine was to operate singly or in pairs, joining together for the offense and separating when on the defense—the theory being that a separation of carriers under attack not only provided a protective screen for each but also dispersed the targets and divided the enemy's attack. Combat experience in those early operations did not bear out the theory, and new proposals for tactical deployment were the subject of much discussion. As the new Essex- and Independence-class carriers became available, tactics changed. Experience taught the wisdom of combined strength. Under attack, the combined anti-aircraft fire of a task group's carriers and their screen provided a more effective umbrella of protection against marauding enemy aircraft than was possible when the carriers separated. When two or more of these task groups supported each other, they constituted a fast carrier task force. Lessons learned from operating the carriers as a single group of six, as two groups of three, and three groups of two, provided the basis for many tactics which later characterized carrier task force operations, with the evolution of the fast carrier task force and its successful employment in future operations. By 1947, the U.S. Navy was operating its carriers in groups of six with between four and six such task groups strung out in a long line ready to ripple off strikes against any selected target. This formation was called "Murderer's Row" by the United States Navy.

The offensive power of the carriers started as 36 fighters, 36 dive bombers and 18 torpedo planes. The F4U Corsair would be the standard fighter, the SB2C-1 Helldiver the standard scout aircraft and dive-bomber, and the TBF Avenger was designed as a torpedo plane but often used in other attack roles. Later, additional Corsairs replaced the much-unloved SB2C. The design boasted four twin 5 in (127 mm)/38 caliber gun turrets, seventeen quadruple 40mm anti-aircraft guns and 78 single 20mm close-in defense guns. The Bofors 40 mm guns were a significant improvement over the 1.1"/75 caliber (28mm) guns mounted in the earlier Lexington and Yorktown classes. Later, the quadruple 40mms were replaced by the even more effective 3 inch L50 twin mount. Ironically, despite the density and volume of the anti-aircraft fire the CV-9 class could put up, this feature of their design was never really tested. Only on the last day of the war did the Germans manage to launch a successful air attack on a U.S. carrier group.

Post War Reconstruction

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USS Reprisal after SCB-27 reconstruction. (some parts taken from Shipbucket.com)

Post war, the Essex class were reconstructed to improve their ability to operate modern aircraft. The five inch twin mounts on the flight deck were removed, an angled deck and mirror landing sight were installed, new catapults fitted, fuel storage arrangements redesigned and new radar fits installed. One centerline elevator was removed and replaced by a starboard deck-edge elevator. This modification was referred to as the "SCB-27" after its Ship's Characteristics Board documentation number. As part of this reconstruction. the two newest ships. Orkneys and Hampton Roads were converted to training carriers. This was a much more elaborate conversion than simply re-assigning the ships to second-line duties. The entire hangar deck was converted into classrooms and practical demonstration areas with the aft third being used by aviation support crews learning the arts of maintaining and preparing aircraft in the naval environment. the center third (including access to both deck-edge elevators) was used to teach the arts of manoeuvering aircraft around in the cramped confines of a carrier. The forward third of the hangar deck became engineering, navigation, weapons and other classrooms. The ships were partly crewed by naval officer cadets and enlisted trainees. Orkneys and Hampton Roads served long after the rest of the Essex class had vanished from the Navy and were eventually replaced by the training ship conversions of Enterprise and Shiloh.

Class Members

Number Name Ordered Laid Down Launched Commissioned Fate
CV-9 Essex 1938 1941 1942 1943 Sold to France 1959
CV-10 Enterprise 1939 1941 1943 1943 Sold to France 1959
CV-11 Intrepid 1939 1941 1943 1943 Sold to Australia 1959
CV-12 Kearsarge 1940 1942 1943 1943 Sold to Australia 1959
CV-13 Franklin 1940 1942 1943 1944 Sold to India 1960
CV-14 Ticonderoga 1940 1943 1944 1944 Sold to India 1960
CV-15 Randolph 1940 1943 1944 1944 Sold to Argentina 1960
CV-16 Cabot 1940 1941 1942 1943 Sold to Brazil 1961
CV-17 Bunker Hill 1940 1941 1942 1943 Sold to Brazil 1961
CV-18 Oriskany 1940 1942 1943 1943 Sold to Italy 1963
CV-19 Hancock 1940 1943 1944 1944 Sold to Italy 1963
CV-20 Bennington 1941 1942 1944 1944 Decommissioned and scrapped 1970
CV-21 Boxer 1941 1943 1944 1945 Sold to Argentina 1960
CV-31 Bonne Homme Richard 1942 1943 1944 1944 Decommissioned and scrapped 1971
CV-32 Langley 1942 1944 1945 1946 Decommissioned and scrapped 1971
CV-33 Manila Bay 1942 1943 1944 1945 Decommissioned and scrapped 1973
CV-34 Lake Erie 1942 1943 1944 1945 Decommissioned and scrapped 1970
CV-35 Reprisal 1942 1943 1944 1945 Decommissioned and scrapped 1968
CV-36 Antietam 1942 1943 1944 1945 Decommissioned and scrapped 1968
CV-37 Valley Forge 1942 1943 1945 1945 Sold to Spain 1966
CV-38 Shangri-La 1942 1943 1944 1944 Decommissioned and scrapped 1965
CV-39 Lake Champlain 1942 1943 1944 1945 Sold to the Netherlands 1966
CV-40 Macedonian 1942 1943 1945 1945 Decommissioned and scrapped 1965
CV-45 Brandywine 1943 1944 1945 1946 Decommissioned and scrapped 1973
CV-46 Orkneys 1943 1944 1945 1946 Decommissioned and scrapped 1988
CV-47 Hampton Roads 1943 1944 1945 1946 Decommissioned and scrapped 1989
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