US Aircraft Carriers of WW2 in 27 Photos

Aircraft Carriers: Throughout naval history, it has been the battleship that dominated on the high seas. Be it the wooden galleys of the Spanish Armada or the revolutionary dreadnought class ships from the early 20th century, all of them had a primary goal – to engage the enemy while remaining safe from their weapons.

Half of this equation was in armor protection, which was as much as possible in key areas to protect against any shells that hit. The other half was firepower. The more powerful guns the better, in order to fire from further away, and do more damage when they arrive.

WW1-era battleships were armed with enormous guns up to 18 inches in size, hopefully able to fire on their enemy long before their guns were in range.

HMS Furious, fitted with a single, aft 18 inch gun. Interestingly for this article, the HMS Furious was later converted into an aircraft carrier.
HMS Furious, fitted with a single, aft 18 inch gun. Interestingly for this article, the HMS Furious was later converted into an aircraft carrier.

However, the centuries-old battleship was toppled from its position of ruler of the waves in WW2, when aircraft carriers matured into serious weapons of war.

While the best WW2 naval guns had a long range of 15-20 miles, an aircraft carrier can remain hundreds of miles away from its target, making the cumbersome battleship almost obsolete.

Nations quickly caught on to the potential, and increased their efforts to produce these floating airfields, often converting semi built and sometimes completed battleships into aircraft carriers.

Carriers quickly became the primary assets of a nation’s navy, with entire fleets surrounding them.

The U.S. fleet at Majuro Atoll in 1944. Visible (among many other ships) are three Independence-class light carriers, four Essex-class carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6, right front), a South Dakota-class battleship, and two Iowa-class battleships.
The U.S. fleet at Majuro Atoll in 1944. Visible (among many other ships) are three Independence-class light carriers, four Essex-class carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6, right front), a South Dakota-class battleship, and two Iowa-class battleships.

The Japanese gave the world a first hand display of the devastating power carriers possess, when they attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Just six aircraft carriers from the IJN were able to kill 2,300 on the island, destroy almost 200 US aircraft, sink 4 battleships and damage another 13. This show of force cemented the carrier as a critical weapon, and would set the bar for the war in the Pacific that would soon follow.

The attack was meant to cripple US naval power before they could prevent Japanese conquests in the Pacific, and to give themselves time to increase their own naval capacity. This plan severely backfired, when the US responded by building the worlds largest navy by the end of WW2. By 1945, the US Navy’s fleet made up 70% of the global total.

A few months after Pearl Harbour, the US launched the Doolittle Raid. 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers took off from the USS Hornet and attacked Tokyo, causing minimal physical damage, but a significant morale boost to the US.

The attack on Pearl Harbor proved the carrier punched well above its weight.
The attack on Pearl Harbor proved the carrier punched well above its weight.

Because of the huge distances involved, the mission was a one way trip. The aircraft continued to China, with one landing in Soviet territory.

This once again cemented the carrier as key weapon in future warfare.

Their size and purposed varied, from faster light carriers, which carried less aircraft, to the huge heavy fleet carriers, which doubled as flagships and a self sufficient floating airbase.

Then there were small and slow-moving escort carriers whose role was to protect convoys of merchant ships and operate in the rear during battles.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Barnes (ACV-20) underway in the Pacific Ocean on 1 July 1943, transporting U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Barnes (ACV-20) underway in the Pacific Ocean on 1 July 1943, transporting U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.

Throughout the Pacific war, the carrier became more and more essential, becoming the symbol of the war in that theatre.

Providing air support to the most displaced islands in the ocean, which became primary strategic assets, as well as hosting flocks of fighter planes and medium bombers during clashes on the open sea, these colossal sailing airports wrote history and also defined the term “naval superpower” for the present.

 

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca (ACV-55), at right, about to be launched at Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyard, Vancouver, Washington (USA), on 5 April 1943. Two of her 49 sister ships are under construction at left. All escort carriers were redesignated “CVE” on 15 July 1943.
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca (ACV-55), at right, about to be launched at Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyard, Vancouver, Washington (USA), on 5 April 1943. Two of her 49 sister ships are under construction at left. All escort carriers were redesignated “CVE” on 15 July 1943.

 

The U.S. Navy Task Group 38.3 enters Ulithi anchorage in column, 2 December 1944, while returning from strikes on targets in the Philippines. Ships are (from front): USS Langley (CVL-27), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Washington (BB-56), USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS South Dakota (BB-57), USS Santa Fe (CL-60), USS Biloxi (CL-80), USS Mobile (CL-63), and USS Oakland (CL-95).
The U.S. Navy Task Group 38.3 enters Ulithi anchorage in column, 2 December 1944, while returning from strikes on targets in the Philippines. Ships are (from front): USS Langley (CVL-27), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Washington (BB-56), USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS South Dakota (BB-57), USS Santa Fe (CL-60), USS Biloxi (CL-80), USS Mobile (CL-63), and USS Oakland (CL-95).

 

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) operating in the Pacific in February 1942, photographed from a Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane that has just taken off from her deck.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) operating in the Pacific in February 1942, photographed from a Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane that has just taken off from her deck.

 

Two U.S. Navy Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver aircraft from Bombing Squadron 11 (VB-11) bank over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) before landing, following strikes on Japanese shipping in the China Sea, circa mid-January 1945.
Two U.S. Navy Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver aircraft from Bombing Squadron 11 (VB-11) bank over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) before landing, following strikes on Japanese shipping in the China Sea, circa mid-January 1945.

 

Crewmen on board the escort carrier USS Attu (CVE-102), her deck packed with Vought F4U Corsairs, observe personnel being transferred by high line to USS Fox (AG-85).
Crewmen on board the escort carrier USS Attu (CVE-102), her deck packed with Vought F4U Corsairs, observe personnel being transferred by high line to USS Fox (AG-85).

 

USS Augusta, USS Midway, USS Enterprise, USS Missouri, USS New York, USS Helena, and USS Macon in the Hudson River in New York, New York, United States for Navy Day celebrations, 27 October 1945.
USS Augusta, USS Midway, USS Enterprise, USS Missouri, USS New York, USS Helena, and USS Macon in the Hudson River in New York, New York, United States for Navy Day celebrations, 27 October 1945.

 

View of crewmen making “three turns around the flight deck” aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Hollandia (CVE-97), in 1944-1945.
View of crewmen making “three turns around the flight deck” aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Hollandia (CVE-97), in 1944-1945.

 

View of a gunnery drill aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Bairoko (CVE-115), circa in 1945
View of a gunnery drill aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Bairoko (CVE-115), circa in 1945

 

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March.

 

Part of the anti-aircraft gun crew of the Battleship New Jersey (BB-62), watching helplessly, as a Japanese kamikaze plane prepares to strike the aircraft carrier Intrepid (CV-11) on 25 November 1944.
Part of the anti-aircraft gun crew of the Battleship New Jersey (BB-62), watching helplessly, as a Japanese kamikaze plane prepares to strike the aircraft carrier Intrepid (CV-11) on 25 November 1944.

 

USS Boxer (CV-21) during launching ceremonies, 14 December 1944. Note banner proclaiming: “Here We Go to Tokyo! Newport News Shipyard Workers’ War Bonds Help to Sink the Rising Sun”.
USS Boxer (CV-21) during launching ceremonies, 14 December 1944. Note banner proclaiming: “Here We Go to Tokyo! Newport News Shipyard Workers’ War Bonds Help to Sink the Rising Sun”.

 

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) maneuvering alongside the escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-106) on 30 January 1945
The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) maneuvering alongside the escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-106) on 30 January 1945

 

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Commencement Bay (CVE-105), circa 1944-1945. She wears Camouflage Measure 32 design 16A.
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Commencement Bay (CVE-105), circa 1944-1945. She wears Camouflage Measure 32 design 16A.

 

Task Group 58.3, under Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, departs Ulithi on 10 February 1945. Seen from USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) are USS Cowpens (CVL-25), left, and USS Essex (CV-9), center.
Task Group 58.3, under Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, departs Ulithi on 10 February 1945. Seen from USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) are USS Cowpens (CVL-25), left, and USS Essex (CV-9), center.

 

Japanese plane shot down as it attempted to attack USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) near Mariana Islands
Japanese plane shot down as it attempted to attack USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) near Mariana Islands

 

View of the forward hangar bay of the first U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Long Island (ACV-1) in June 1942. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats and Curtiss SOC-3 Seagulls (biplanes) of squadron VGS-1 are spotted.
View of the forward hangar bay of the first U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Long Island (ACV-1) in June 1942. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats and Curtiss SOC-3 Seagulls (biplanes) of squadron VGS-1 are spotted.

 

Enterprise and Washington pass through the Panama Canal en route to New York in October 1945
Enterprise and Washington pass through the Panama Canal en route to New York in October 1945

 

The U.S. escort carrier USS Anzio (CVE-57) rolling in heavy seas of the Pacific Ocean, probably in 1945. Note the casual attitude of the deck crew. A Grumman TBF (or TBM) Avenger is visible on the left, a Grumman F4F (or FM) Wildcat is tied to far end of the deck.
The U.S. escort carrier USS Anzio (CVE-57) rolling in heavy seas of the Pacific Ocean, probably in 1945. Note the casual attitude of the deck crew. A Grumman TBF (or TBM) Avenger is visible on the left, a Grumman F4F (or FM) Wildcat is tied to far end of the deck.

 

The U.S. Navy light aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) burning aft after she was hit by a Kamikaze, while operating off Luzon, Philippines, on 30 October 1944.
The U.S. Navy light aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) burning aft after she was hit by a Kamikaze, while operating off Luzon, Philippines, on 30 October 1944.

 

Aft flight deck of USS Hornet while en route to the launching point of the Doolittle Raid, Apr 1942. Note USS Gwin and USS Nashville nearby.
Aft flight deck of USS Hornet while en route to the launching point of the Doolittle Raid, Apr 1942. Note USS Gwin and USS Nashville nearby.

 

A B-25 taking off from USS Hornet for the raid
A B-25 taking off from USS Hornet for the raid

 

U.S. Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. The other Essex-class carrier painted in sea blue Measure 21 is USS Lexington (CV-16).
U.S. Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. The other Essex-class carrier painted in sea blue Measure 21 is USS Lexington (CV-16).

Another Article From Us: Torpedownia, an Abandoned Luftwaffe Relic off the Coast of Poland

Ships of the Bremerton Group, U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington (USA), circa on 23 April 1948. There are six aircraft carriers visible (front to back): USS Essex (CV-9), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), and USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) (in the background). Three battleships and various cruisers are also visible.
Ships of the Bremerton Group, U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington (USA), circa on 23 April 1948. There are six aircraft carriers visible (front to back): USS Essex (CV-9), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), and USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) (in the background). Three battleships and various cruisers are also visible.