Two aircraft carriers were ordered under the FY1933 program which would take into account the lessons learned with the operation of Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3); both modified battlecruisers, and in the construction of Ranger (CV-4) -- the first purpose-built carrier. The Yorktown (CV-5) class carriers were designed for fleet operation rather than independent operation. Yorktown commissioned in September 1937 and Enterprise (CV-6) followed in May 1938. Both were completed without AA armament, though this was added later. In FY1939, a third unit, Hornet (CV-8) was ordered to this specification to speed her completion as part of the pre-war buildup.
The Yorktown class carriers were designed to the maximum size allowable under London Treaty restrictions -- this left them with inadequate underwater protection which was later fixed with the introduction of the Essex (CV-9) class. Hornet (CV-8) had minor improvements over her two sister ships, including improved anti-aircraft battery.
The General Board had become convinced - even before the Ranger was launched - that the minimum effective size of aircraft carriers was 20,000 tons. A request for two of these heavier ships was made in the Building Program for 1934, which was issued in September 1932. In May the following year, the Board again submitted this recommendation. As a result, the Secretary of the Navy asked the President for Public Works Administration funds to build two carriers of this tonnage, in addition to other ships. USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) were authorized.
Files of the Bureau of Aeronautics housed in the National Archives reveal a memorandum dated May 15, 1931, which was to affect the two new carriers: "The Department has approved a new building program with two aircraft carriers similar to the Ranger, but before embarking on this new construction, it is suggested that a careful examination may show many design changes are desirable. "The particular improvements in the Ranger design that should be considered are: speed increase to 32.5 knots; addition of underwater subdivision to resist torpedo and bomb explosions; horizontal protective deck over machinery magazines, and aircraft fuel tanks; improvement in operational facility (this includes hangar deck devoted exclusively to plane stowage, four fast elevators, complete bomb handling facilities, possible use of two flying-off decks, and improved machine gun anti-aircraft defense)."
The Yorktown was launched April 4, 1936, sponsored by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the carrier was commissioned September 30, 1937, her over-all length was 827 feet, four inches; extreme beam was 95 feet, four inches; and standard displacement, 19,800 tons. Her trial speed was 33.6 knots.
USS Enterprise (CV-6) was the seventh Navy ship to bear this name. Her keel was laid July 16, 1934 and she was launched October 3, 1936, sponsored by Mrs. Claude A. Swanson, wife of the Secretary of the Navy. She was placed in commission at Norfolk on May 12, 1938. Her specifications were similar to Yorktown's. She had accommodations for 82 ship's company officers and 1447 enlisted men.
Tightening of world tensions in 1938 caused the Navy Department to reconsider its carrier-building program, and USS Hornet (CV-8) was authorized on May 17 that year. She was launched December 14, 1940 and commissioned October 21, 1941, with Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, her first commanding officer.
Yorktown was lost at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, Hornet four months later in the Battle of Santa Cruz. Enterprise received an updated AA battery of 20/40mm guns at Puget Sound, most likely July-Nov 1943, amongst other improvements. She was the sole survivor of the class; decommissioning in February 1947 and scrapped by 1960. Enterprise (CV-6) escaped disaster in the Pacific time and time again, earning her the nickname "Lucky E".
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