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CV-9 ESSEX Class

In the years after World War I the nature and conception of naval power was changed by the perfection of the airplane and the rise of the aircraft carrier. Supporters of airpower argued that the battleship as the principal capital ship of the navy was obsolete because of the long reach of naval aircraft. This view was strengthened early in World War II when the British carried out a carrier strike on the Italian battlefleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940. Subsequent Japanese carrier strikes on the American battlefleet at Pearl Harbor and on the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse confirmed the new order of naval strategy. The Pacific war of 1941-1945 against Japan was fought over vast stretches of ocean employing aircraft carriers as highly mobile weapons capable of destroying enemy ships and bases at great distances. The. success of the Japanese in the early phases of the war and the Americans in the later stages of the war was attributed to a large extent to the successes of the carrier battlegroups deployed by each side. The defeat of the Japanese aircraft carriers by 1944 was a preview to the surrender of Japan in 1945.

These ships were first ordered in 1940 and were ready for action by 1943. The Essex class aircraft carriers formed the core of the fast carrier task forces that won the war in the Pacific. After 1945 the Essex class formed the core of the postwar carrier fleet of the United States.

Three Essex (CV-9) class aircraft carriers were authorized in June 1940 (CV-9 to 11), with ten following in July 1940 (CV-12 to 21). A further nineteen were authorized between July and September 1942. CV-50 to 55 were cancelled on 28 March 1945 never having been laid down. Reprisal (CV-35) and Iwo Jima (CV-46) were cancelled 12 August 1945 partially completed. This is the largest class of fleet aircraft carriers ever built for any nation. In all, twenty-four Essex class carriers were commissioned.

Initially scheduled for introduction in 1944, these units were rushed to the fleet after losses at Coral Sea, Midway, and the Solomons. Essex (CV-9) joined the fleet on the last day of 1942, followed by Yorktown (CV-10) in January 1943; Lexington (CV-16) - Feb 1943; Bunker Hill (CV-17) - May 1943; Intrepid (CV-11) - Sep 1943; Wasp (CV-18) and Hornet (CV-12) in Nov 1943. These commissioned alongside the nine Independence (CVL-22) class light carriers which were Cleveland (CL-55) class light cruisers converted to a carrier design.

None of the Essex class were lost in action during World War II, though several were severely damaged by Kamikazes and survived despite ravaging fires and secondary explosions. Their only weakness when compared to similar ships of their era were the wooden flight deck. The armored flight deck of the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers offered great protection against the Kamikaze but at the price of much smaller air wings. A flaw in which the ventilation system dispersed smoke throughout the ship was later fixed during reconstructions.

When jet aircraft were introduced into the Navy, a number of reconstruction programs were introduced to modernize the Essex class and extend their useful service lives. SCB-27A was the first of these programs. The island superstructure was completely rebuilt and equipped, new arresting gear and hydraulic catapults were fitted as were new arrangements for aircraft fueling. The 5-inch guns at deck level fore and aft the superstructure were removed and eight single 5-inch/38 guns were fitted on sponsons. 12 to 14 dual 3-inch/50 AA guns were added. Full load displacement increased to 40,600 tons with a resultant loss in speed. CVS-9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, and 33 underwent this program in the early to mid 1950s.

The numerous World War II vintage Essex-class carriers served over a span of nearly half a century in various configurations and at least half a dozen roles as the core of the US postwar fleet. Many of the ships were extensively modified in later years, with many boasting a reinforced angle flight deck and a mirror landing system to accomodate jet aircraft as a result of Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) upgrades. The conversions included a hurricane bow and the installation of an angled flight deck which permits the simultaneous launching and recovery of aircraft.

This large fast carrier design was developed from the pre-war Yorktown Class, modified to include better underwater protection. The design evolved into a considerably larger configuraiton than the Yorktowns, though they retained the same high speed. Initially the first units were scheduled for completion by 1944, but construction was accelerated due to war. By the end of 1943 the ships of the Essex Class constituted the main striking power of the Pacific Fleet. The mainstay of the Fast Carrier Force, they were subjected to fierce air attack from the Leyte campaign onwards. Many were damaged, some severely, yet none were sunk.

A total of 32 ships of this class were planned, though only 24 of these were completed. Seventeen Essexes were commissioned, of which 15 of saw action, before the end of the Pacific war.

By the mid-1950s, time had largely passed the unmodernized carriers by. Incapable of handling modern aircraft types and no longer required to fill out the contemporary Navy force structure, five of them, Franklin, Bunker Hill, Leyte, Tarawa and Philippine Sea were reclassified as aircraft transports (AVT) in May 1959. They were held in reserve against the prospect that a really big overseas conflict would require fast, spacious ships to lift urgently-needed military aircraft to the war zone, as had been the case in both World War II and the Korean War. During the 1960s, however, aerial refueling made possible swift overseas deployment of nearly all tactical airplanes, greatly reducing the need for ships to fulfill this special mission.

The Lexington was commissioned on February 17, 1943, and was responsible for destroying over 1 million tons of shipping and more than 1,000 enemy planes during World War II. Tokyo Rose called the Lady Lex the `Blue Ghost' because of numerous reports of her sinking only to return to battle painted a blue-grey color which was different from the camouflage coloring of other naval vessels. After the Lex's brilliant stint during World War II, she was involved with the 7th Fleet off of Taiwan in 1958, and was on standby for the Laotian crisis of 1959, and served as an attack carrier during the Cuban missile crisis in 1963.

After the Cuban missile crisis, she sailed back to Pensacola to serve as an aviation training carrier. She was homeported in Pensacola since 1962 , where it served as the Navy's only aircraft carrier used exclusively for training. This important new role allowed her to train new student aviators and maintain the high state of flight training for active duty and reserve naval forces. In fact, her decks trained the Navy and Marine pilots who fought to preserve the peace in conflicts from the Vietnam war to the Persian Gulf war.

The training aircraft carrier USS LEXINGTON (AVT 16) operated out of Pensacola, providing deck-landing and takeoff experience for Naval aviation cadets for over 20 years prior to being decommissioned on 08 November 1991. When the Navy announced the decommissioning and retirement of the Lexington in 1991, several communities launched efforts to have the ship transferred to their respective areas for use as a naval museum and memorial. On February 18, 1992, the Secretary of the Navy notified the Congress of his intent to transfer the obsolete aircraft carrier Lexington to the Corpus Christi Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Navy requested funding for the reactivation of the aircraft carrier Oriskany in both the fiscal year 1981 supplemental budget and the fiscal year 1982 budget request. According to the Navy, the reactivation of the Oriskany would fill a near-term requirement to meet sustained global requirements and relieve the strain on fleet material and personnel resulting from increased U.S. commitments in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. The reactivation of the Oriskany would provide the Navy an additional aircraft carrier to respond to increased tensions requiring naval commitments. The Oriskany, with its air wing composed of A-4M attack aircraft, would have day-only attack capabilities. The A-4M is not considered an all-weather aircraft and requires visual sighting before attacking a target. Also, the Oriskany would have virtually no air defense capability with an air wing composed of only attack aircraft. The Oriskany would require in medium and high threat areas a large deck carrier, including its complement of support ships, for anti-aircraft and antisubmarine warfare protection. In low threat areas, Navy officials say the Oriskany would be capable of operating without another carrier. The Navy planned to operate the Oriskany in conjunction with a Marine amphibious unit and to support the Rapid Deployment Force.

It was envisioned that the Oriskany would provide air support for Marine amphibious operations and would be limited to operations in the Pacific. The aircraft would be made available from the 2d Marine Air Wing located at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and the 3d Marine Air Wing located at El Toro, California. Two squadrons of 24 A-4M aircraft each would be deployed aboard the Oriskany. In addition, 4 SH-3 helicopters are scheduled to provide search and rescue for the Oriskany, Also under consideration is the deployment of AV-8 vertical lift-off aircraft aboard the Oriskany. The landing gear on the A-4M aircraft must be modified to allow maximum gross weight carrier landings to be fully carrier capable. This modification consists of structural changes to the aircraft and installing heavy duty main and nose landing struts. Currently, only 25 A-4M aircraft hade been modified.

The Navy's budget estimate, as presented in the fiscal year 1981 supplemental and fiscal year 1982 budget requests, for reactivation of the aircraft carrier Oriskany was $503 million. This was an increase of $213 million from the Navy's fiscal year 1980 budget estimate of $290 million. Navy officials explained that initial budget estimates were based on performing the minimum amount of work needed to reactivate the Oriskany in the shortest time possible. This type of overhaul would have only extended the life of the Oriskany approximately 5 years. To recover the cost of reactivating the Oriskany, the ship's life should be extended to 15 years. To increase the life of the ship, more extensive repair and modification is required. In the event, Oriskany was not reactivated.

Only four of the Essex-class carriers commissioned during World War II remain extant. All others have been dismantled. Lexington (CV-16), and Yorktown (CV-10) located at Patriots Point, South Carolina, Intrepid (CV-11) at New York, and Hornet (CV-12) at Alameda, California are preserved as floating museums; the latter three are National Historic Landmarks. All share a common history as part of the World War II Essex-class carrier campaigns in the Pacific and all were modernized during their careers to provide service for decades after the war. However, each made individual contributions to these historical events and the maturing of naval aviation from a doctrine of fleet support to one of primary fleet weapon. Lexington is unique from the other Essexes for having served in every pivotal Central Pacific campaign except Okinawa. As well, she had the longest service record, operating from 1943 to 1991 with nearly thirty of those years spent as the Navys aviation training carrier.

Oriskany (CV-34) was commissioned in 1950 and saw no World War II service. USS Oriskany was decommissioned in September 1976. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in July 1989 and sold for scrapping in 1994. However, after a prolonged effort that exhibited the perilous state of the domestic ship-breaking industry at the end of the Twentieth Century, she was repossessed in 1997 and spent nearly a decade awaiting final disposition and her condition was very poor. On 17 May 2006, following careful preparations, Oriskany was deliberately sunk off Pensacola, Florida, to serve as an artificial reef and sport diving attraction. As well, CVs 1-8 were either lost during the war or scrapped shortly thereafter while the World War II-era CVL light carriers and the CVE escort carriers have all either been sold or scrapped. Of the three CVB large carriers completed after the war, only Midway (CVB-41) remains.



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