As part of the Washington Naval Treaty, the battle cruisers Saratoga and Lexington were both converted into aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, these ships together used up nearly half the carrier tonnage quota allowed to the US Navy under the Treaty, so that less tonnage remained for future construction. Furthermore, a frugal Congress kept naval appropriations so small that no new carriers could be built. The result was that the Navy, well aware of the potential of the aircraft carrier for scouting and attack duties, began to consider aircraft carrier/cruiser hybrids.
Given that resources were too scarce to have both, the hope was to combine the best features of both ship types into a single cruiser class. Within a few months of the conclusion of the London Naval Treaty, the Bureau of Construction and Repair was working on plans for what was called a flying-deck cruiser. The design was to incorporate as much carrier capability as possible while sacrificing the least amount of cruiser capability. All of this in a ship whose displacement could not exceed 10,000 tons.
With the election of Roosevelt and the implementation of the "New Deal", specifically manifested in the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, the US Navy suddenly found itself in the unexpected position of no longer needing to compromise between carriers and cruisers. Given the funds necessary to build both types of ships, the flying-deck cruiser idea was scrapped for the moment.
The US had entered World War II with seven aircraft carriers but by early 1942 only one remained operational. In June of that year, in order to meet the Navy's pressing demand for carriers while the Essex class was under construction, President Roosevelt ordered the conversion of nine Cleveland-class light cruiser hulls to the Independence-class light aircraft carrier.
The first of a new class of carriers converted from cruiser hulls, Independence (CV-22), begun as Amsterdam, (CL-59), was laid down 1 May 1941, reordered as a CV, renamed and redesignated CV-22 on 10 Jan 1942. She was launched as CV-22 on 22 August 1942 by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, NJ. The carrier was redesignated as CVL-22 15 July 1943.
This series of 9 light carriers Independence (CVL 22), Princeton, Belleau Wood, Cowpens, Monterey, Langley, Cabot, Bantaan and San Jacinto was built upon the already completed hulls of Cleveland class light cruisers after the loss of four fleet carriers ind 1942. Their main operative missions should be the support of the fast task forces in the Pacific area.
The Independence class carriers were a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's interest in Navy shipbuilding plans. In August 1941, with war clearly in prospect, he noted that no new fleet aircraft carriers were expected before 1944 and proposed to quickly convert some of the many cruisers then building. Studies of cruiser-size aircraft carriers had shown their serious limitations, but the crisis following the December 1941 Pearl Harbor disaster demonstrated the urgent need to have more carriers as soon as possible. The Navy responded by greatly accelerating construction of the big Essex class carriers and, in January 1942, reordering a Cleveland class light cruiser as an aircraft carrier.
Plans developed for this conversion showed much more promise than expected and two more light cruisers were reordered as carriers in February, three in March and a final three in June 1942. Completed in January-December 1943, simultaneously with the first eight Essexes, the nine Independence class ships were vital components of the great offensive that tore through the central and western Pacific from November 1943 through August 1945. Eight of them participated in the June 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea, which effectively eliminated Japan's carrier air power, supplying 40 percent of the fighters and 36 percent of the torpedo bombers.
The Independence class design featured a relatively short and narrow flight deck and hangar, with a small island. To compensate for this additional topside weight, the cruiser hulls were widened amidships by five feet. The typical air group, originally intended to include nine each of fighters, scout-bombers and torpedo planes, was soon reoriented to number about two dozen fighters and nine torpedo planes.
These were limited-capability ships, whose principal virtue was near-term availability. Their small size made for seakeeping problems and a relatively high aircraft accident rate. Protection was modest and many munitions had to be stowed at the hangar level, a factor that contributed greatly to the loss of Princeton in October 1944.
There was also little margin for growth, as their post-war careers showed. Independence (CVL 22) was expended as an atomic bomb target ship at Bikini in 1946, and the rest were laid up in 1947. Five returned to service in 1948-53, two with the French Navy. Belleau Wood was given to France post war; renamed Bois Belleau. Two were used as training carriers, while Bataan saw Korean War combat duty with Marine Corps air groups. She and Cabot received anti-submarine warfare modernizations in the early 1950s, emerging with two smokestacks instead of the original four.
AVT - AUXILIARY AIRCRAFT LANDING TRAINING SHIP
On 15 May 1959 the classification of four support carriers, CVS, and seven light carriers, CVL, was changed to Auxiliary Aircraft Transport, AVT. This change removed the CVL designation from the Navy Vessel Register.
Cowpens was renamed AVT 1 in 1959, and Monterey was renamed AVT 2 in 1959. Langley was given to France post war and renamed La Fayette. Decommissioned in January 1955, Cabot was reclassified as an aircraft transport and redesignated AVT-3 in May 1959. In 1967, after over twelve years in "mothballs", Cabot was loaned to Spain, in whose navy she served as Dedalo. USS Bataan (CVL-29), was reclassified as an aircraft transport (AVT-4) in May 1959, but was stricken from the Navy List in September of that year and sold for scrapping in May 1961. While laid up in the Reserve Fleet in May 1959, USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), was reclassified as an aircraft transport and given the new hull number AVT-5. Following over two decades in "mothballs", USS San Jacinto was sold for scrapping in December 1971.
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