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United States Navy
Aircraft Carriers
December 07, 1941

by Jack McKillop

 

 

 

On 7 December 1941, the U.S. Navy had seven aircraft carriers (CVs) and one aircraft escort vessel (AVG) in commission. The CVs were considered warships and  the AVG was considered an auxiliary vessel. In addition to these eight ships, the keels of five other CVs had been laid.  The names, history, status and aviation units of each of these ships is described below.

 

USS LEXINGTON (CV-2)

The keel of this ship was laid down at the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Massachusetts on 8 Jan 21 as Constitution, Battle Cruiser, First Line Number 1 (CC-1). Because of the limitations defined in the Washington Naval Treaty signed in 1922, she was authorized to be completed as an aircraft carrier on 1 Jul 22 and was renamed Lexington. The Lexington was launched on 3 Oct 25 and commissioned 14 Dec 27.

On 7 Dec 41, the Lexington Air Group was composed of:

  Bombing Squadron Two (VB-2) with 15 Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless
  Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2) with 16 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos
  Scouting Squadron Two (VS-2) with 1 Douglas SBD-2 and 14 SBD-3 Dauntless
  Torpedo Squadron Two (VT-2) with 12 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators

In order to augment the air defenses for Midway Island, USS Lexington departed Pearl Harbor on 5 Dec with 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scouting Bombing Squadron Two Thirty One (VMSB-231) aboard.  Along with the heavy cruisers USS Chicago (CA-29), USS Portland (CA-33) and USS Astoria (CA-34) and five destroyers, the Lexington formed Task Force 12. 

The plan was to approach within 400 miles (640 km) of Midway and fly the Marine squadron off to land on the island; Lexington would then be free to continue training/scouting.  This position would have been reached by mid-morning of 7 Dec.  Upon learning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington launched search planes to hunt for the Japanese fleet, and at midmorning headed south to rendezvous with USS Indianapolis (CA-35) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) task forces to conduct a search SOUTHWEST of Oahu until returning to Pearl Harbor on 13 December.

USS Lexington was sunk by aerial bombs and torpedoes during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 42.  Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 24 June 42.
 


USS SARATOGA (CV-3)

The Saratoga was a sister ship of the Lexington and her keel was originally laid down as a Battle Cruiser, First Line Number 3 (CC-3) on 25 Sep 20 at the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, New Jersey. She  was ordered converted to an aircraft carrier and reclassified CV-3 on 1 Jul 22.   Saratoga was launched on 7 Apr 25 and commissioned on 16 Nov 27.

On 7 Dec 41, USS Saratoga was just entering San Diego after an interim dry docking at Bremerton, Washington. The Saratoga Air Group consisted of:

  Bombing Squadron Three (VB-3) with 21 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless
  Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3) with 7 Grumman F4F-3 and 2 F4F-3A Wildcats
  Scouting Squadron Three (VS-3) with 22 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless
  Torpedo Squadron Three (VT-3) with 12 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators

USS Saratoga survived World War II and was used as a test ship at the Bikini A-bomb tests in Jul 46. She sank in Bikini Atoll on 25 Jul 46 and her name was struck from the Naval Register on 15 Aug 46.
 


USS RANGER (CV-4)

The Ranger was the first U.S. Navy ship to be designed and built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier.  Her keel was laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co, Newport News, Virginia on 26 Sep 31.  She was launched on 25 Feb 33 and commissioned on 4 Jun 34.

USS Ranger was returning to Norfolk, Virginia from an ocean patrol extending to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  At that time, the Ranger Air Group consisted of:

  Fighting Squadron Five (VF-5) with 18 Grumman F4F-3 and 1 F4F-3A Wildcats
  Fighting Squadron Forty One (VF-41) with 17 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats and 2 North American SNJ-3s
  Scouting Squadron Forty One (VS-41) with 8 Vought SB2U-1 and 2 SB2U-2 Vindicators
  Scouting Squadron Forty Two (VS-42) with 9 Vought SB2U-1 and 6 SB2U-2 Vindicators
  Torpedo Squadron Four (VT-4) with 3 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators

Speed was sacrificed for other essentials under the Washington Naval Treaty reducing the efficiency of the Ranger as a fleet carrier. She spent the war in the Atlantic until 1944 and then was used as a training carrier. She was decommissioned 18 Oct 46.  Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 29 Oct 46 and she was sold for scrap 28 Jan 47.
 


USS YORKTOWN (CV-5)

The keel of the Yorktown was laid down on at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia on 21 May 34.   She was launched on 4 Apr 36 and commissioned on 30 Sep 37.

USS Yorktown was at Norfolk, Virginia on 7 Dec 41. The Yorktown Air Group consisted of:

  Bombing Squadron Five (VB-5) with 19 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless
  Fighting Squadron Forty Two (VF-42) with 18 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats
  Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5) with 19 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless and 2 North American SNJ-3s
  Torpedo Squadron Five (VT-5) with 14 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators

USS Yorktown was sunk by aerial bombs and torpedoes during the Battle of Midway, 7 Jun 42.  Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 2 Oct 42.
 


USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6)

The Enterprise was a sister ship of the Yorktown.  Her keel was laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia on 16 Jul 34.   She was launched 3 Oct 36 and commissioned 12 May 38.

USS Enterprise departed Pearl Harbor on 28 Nov 41 on a mission to deliver 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Eleven (VMF-211) to Wake Island.  The Enterprise, with the accompanying three heavy cruisers and nine destroyers, comprised Task Force 8 (TF 8).  The Marine fighters were launched on 2 Dec when the Enterprise was 75 miles (120 km) north of Wake Island.  She then turned east and headed back to Pearl Harbor where she was due to arrive on 6 Dec.  Due to a storm, Vice Admiral William Halsey, commander of TF 8 in Enterprise, ordered reduced speed thus delaying the carrier's arrival at Pearl Harbor until 7 December.

On 7 Dec 41, the Enterprise Air Group consisted of:

  Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) with 17 Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless
  Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6) with 16 Grumman F4F-3A Wildcats
  Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) with 10 Douglas SBD-2 and 8 SBD-3 Dauntless
  Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) with 18 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators and 2 North American SNJ-3s

At 0618 hours on 7 Dec 41, Enterprise launched SBDs of VB-6 and VS-6 to search a sector 045 to 134 degrees for a distance of 150 miles (240 km) and to then proceed to NAS Pearl Harbor on Ford Island.  A total of 18 aircraft arrived over Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.  One was shot down by U.S. antiaircraft fire, four by the Japanese and one crash-landed.  The remainder landed at either NAS Ewa or NAS Pearl Harbor.

The Enterprise survived World War II and was decommissioned on 17 Feb 47.  She was reclassified as an attack carrier (CVA-6) on 1 Oct 52 and antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-6) on 8 Aug 53. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 2 Oct 56 and her hull was sold for scrapping on 1 Jul 58.
 


USS WASP (CV-7)

The Wasp was built at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp, Quincy, Massachusetts.  Her keel was laid down on 1 Apr 36.  She was launched 4 Apr 39 and commissioned on 25 Apr 40.

USS Wasp was at anchor in Grassy Bay, Bermuda on 7 Dec 41. The Wasp Air Group consisted of:

  Fighting Squadron Seventy One (VF-71) with 18 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats
  Fighting Squadron Seventy Two (VF-72) with 17 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, 2 Vought SB2U-2  Vindicators and 1 North American SNJ-3
  Scouting Squadron Seventy One (VS-71) with 4 Vought SB2U-1 and 13 SB2U-2 Vindicators and 2 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators
  Scouting Squadron Seventy Two (VS-72) with 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators

USS Wasp was hit by two torpedoes fired from the Japanese submarine I-19 on 15 Sep 42 while operating off Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Islands.  The flaming hull was torpedoed and sunk by the U.S. destroyer USS Landsdowne later that day. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 2 Nov 42.
 


USS HORNET (CV-8)

The Hornet was built at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co, Newport News, Virginia.  Her keel was laid on 25 Sep 39.   She was launched 14 Dec 40 and commissioned 20 Oct 41. 

Based at Norfolk, Virginia, USS Hornet was undergoing training cruises during Dec 41.  The Hornet Air Group consisted of:

  Bombing Squadron Eight (VB-8) with 19 Curtiss SBC-4 Helldivers
  Fighting Squadron Eight (VF-8) with 19 Grumman F4F-3 and 2 F4F-3A Wildcats
  Scouting Squadron Eight (VS-8) with 20 Curtiss SBC-4 Helldivers
  Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) with 8 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators and 7 Naval Aircraft Factory SBN-1s

The SBC-4 Helldivers operated by VB-8 and VS-8 were biplanes with a maximum speed of 237 mph (379 km/h).

USS Hornet was sunk by torpedoes and bombs off Santa Cruz Island on 26 Oct 42.  Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 13 Jan 43.
 


USS LONG ISLAND (AVG-1)

Long Island was built at Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Chester, Pennsylvania.  Her keel was laid 7 Jul 39 as the merchant vessel SS Mormacmail.  Launched on 11 Jan 40, she was acquired by the US Navy on 6 Mar 41.   Converted to an AVG at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co, Newport News, Virginia, she was commissioned USS Long Island, AVG-1, the first Jeep Carrier, on 2 Jun 41.

USS Long Island was based at Norfolk, Virginia on 7 Dec 41. Aboard was Scouting Squadron Two Hundred One (VS-201) with 12 Curtiss SOC-3A and 1 SOC-1A Seagulls and 7 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo.

USS Long Island survived World War II.  She was reclassified an auxiliary aircraft carrier (ACV-1) on 20 Aug 42 and an escort aircraft carrier (CVE-1) on 15 Jul 43.  Decommissioned 26 Mar 46, her name was struck from the Naval Register on 12 Apr 46 and she was sold on 24 Apr 47.  Her new owners converted her back to a merchant ship and she sailed in that configuration for a number of years.
 



     In addition to the eight commissioned vessels listed above, the keels of five Essex Class carriers had been laid down. These five ships, all of which survived World War II,  were:

 

USS ESSEX (CV-9)

Essex was under construction at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia.  Her keel had been laid on 28 Apr 41.

Essex was launched on 31 Jul 42 and commissioned 31 Dec 42.  She decommissioned 9 Jan 47 and recommissioned 15 Jan 51.  She was reclassified as an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-9) on 1 Oct 52 and an antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-9) on 8 Mar 60.   USS Essex decommissioned for the last time on 30 Jun 69.  Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 15 Jun 75 and she was sold for scrap.
 


USS YORKTOWN (BON HOMME RICHARD) (CV-10)

Bon Homme Richard was under construction at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia.  Her keel had been laid on 1 Dec 41.

Bon Homme Richard was renamed Yorktown on 26 Sep 42 to commemorate USS Yorktown (CV-5) (see above).  The second Yorktown was launched 21 Jan 43 and commissioned 15 Apr 43.  She was decommissioned 9 Jan 47 and reclassified attack aircraft carrier (CVA-10) on 1 Oct 52.  Re-commissioned in Feb 53, she was reclassified antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-10) on 1 Sep 57.  USS Yorktown decommissioned for the last time on  30 Jun 70 and her name was struck from the Naval Register on 1 Jun 73. 

Yorktown is currently a memorial at Patriots Point, South Carolina.
 


USS INTREPID (CV-11)

Intrepid was under construction at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia.  Her keel had been laid on 1 Dec 41.

Launched 26 Apr 43 and commissioned 16 Aug 43, Intrepid was decommissioned on 22 Mar 47.   She was re-commissioned 9 Feb 42,  and reclassified attack aircraft carrier (CVA-11) on 1 Oct 52 and antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-11) on 8 Dec 61.  USS Intrepid was decommissioned for the last time on 15 Mar 74 and her name was subsequently struck from the Naval Register. 

Intrepid is currently a museum in New York City.
 


USS LEXINGTON (CABOT) (CV-16)

Cabot was under construction at the Bethlehem Steel Co, Quincy, Massachusetts. Her keel had been laid on 15 Jul 41.

Cabot was renamed Lexington on 16 Jun 42 to commemorate USS Lexington (CV-2) (see above).  Launched 26 Sep 42 and commissioned 17 Feb 43.  Lexington was decommissioned on 14 Apr 47.   Lexington was reclassified as an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-16) on 1 Oct 52.  Re-commissioned 15 Aug 55, she was reclassified as an antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-16) on 1 Oct 62;  as a  training aircraft carrier (CVT-16) on 1 Jan 69; and as an auxiliary aircraft landing training ship (AVT-16) on 1 Jul 78.  Lexington was decommissioned 8 Nov 91 and is now a museum at Corpus Christi, Texas.
 


USS BUNKER HILL (CV-17)

Bunker Hill was under construction at the Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Massachusetts.  Her keel had been laid on 15 Sep 41.

Bunker Hill was launched 7 Dec 42 and commissioned 25 May 43.  Decommissioned 9 Jul 47, she was reclassified attack aircraft carrier (CVA-17) on 1 Oct 52;  antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-17) on 8 Aug 53; and auxiliary aircraft transport (AVT-9) on 15 May 59. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on 1 Nov 66 but she was retained as a moored electronics ship in San Diego until being sold for scrapping in Nov 73.
 



Material compiled and provided by naval historian Jack McKillop.

References:

Pawlowski, Gareth L.: Flat-Tops and Fledglings, A History of American Aircraft Carriers. South Brunswick, NJ and New York, NY: A..S. Barnes and Company, 1971.

Terzibaschitsch, Stefan: Aircraft Carriers of The U.S. Navy, Second Edition. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989.
 


 
 
 
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