Due to a shortage of merchant ship hulls, four escort carriers were built on Cimarron-class fleet oiler hulls. These four, USS Sangamon (CVE 26), USS Suwanee (CVE 27), USS Chenanago (CVE 28), and USS Santee (CVE 29), were so successful in anti-submarine work and in covering amphibious operations that, after participating in the landings in North Africa, they were deployed to the Pacific. There, the fleet was in desperate need of carriers.
This group of ships was converted early in the CVE program, when the need for carriers was greatest and the number of available hulls was small. Following the conversion of the first 6 C3 freighter hulls there was an immediate need for additional hulls suitable for conversion, so these ships joined the CVE program. They had been built as merchant tankers but had been taken over as fleet oilers.
These ships underwent a more extensive conversion than other early CVEs. They had long hangars and flight decks, small island, and a single catapult. They were much larger and faster than the C4 and S4 types, allowing them to function more effectively in combat roles. Following conversion they retained facilities to carry oil cargo and to operate as oilers. These were by far the best of the converted CVEs. There were no significan variations between the designs of the four ships modified, all were of the Cimarron (AO-22) class.
By the end of WWII the gun battery was 2 quad and 12 dual 40 mm AA, and 13 dual 20 mm AA. A second catapult was added in 1944. Other modifications were minor in nature.
Classified as AOs when first taken over for naval service. Reclassed as AVGs when they joined the escort carrier program; designations changed to ACV and later CVE as with other ships of the type. Survivors became CVHE in 1955 while in reserve.
Found to be very good aircraft operating platforms, better than any of the other CVEs (except the later T3-types), and much steadier than the CVLs. These ships operated together during much of the war. During the 1942 they supported Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. From late 1942 on three ships operated in the Pacific, serving as fleet carriers during the 1942-43 carrier shortage. They saw far more combat than most CVEs, although they also filled the typical transport and training roles. Santee remained in the Atlantic until early 1944 when she joined her sisters in the Pacific. At times these ships operated as oilers.
One ship discarded at the end of WWII due to damage sustained in combat; others laid up during immediate postwar fleet reductions. Postwar they were seen as possible helicopter carriers or aircraft transports. Remained in reserve until discarded in 1959.
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