Independence-class light aircraft carrier
The Independence-class carriers were a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's interest in Navy shipbuilding plans. In August 1941, with war clearly in prospect, he noted that no new fleet aircraft carriers were expected before 1944 and proposed to quickly convert some of the many cruisers then building. Studies of cruiser-size aircraft carriers had shown their serious limitations, but the crisis following the December 1941 Pearl Harbor disaster demonstrated the urgent need to have more carriers as soon as possible. The Navy responded by greatly accelerating construction of the big Essex-class carriers and, in January 1942, reordering a Cleveland-class light cruiser as an aircraft carrier.
Plans developed for this conversion showed much more promise than expected and two more light cruisers were reordered as carriers in February, three in March and a final three in June 1942. Completed in January–December 1943, simultaneously with the first eight Essexes, the nine Independence class ships were vital components of the great offensive that tore through the central and western Pacific from November 1943 through August 1945. Eight of them participated in the June 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea, which effectively eliminated Japan's carrier air power, supplying 40 percent of the fighters and 36 percent of the torpedo bombers.
The Independence-class design featured a relatively short and narrow flight deck and hangar, with a small island. To compensate for this additional topside weight, the cruiser hulls were widened amidships by five feet. The typical air group, originally intended to include nine each of fighters, scout-bombers and torpedo planes, was soon reoriented to number about two dozen fighters and nine torpedo planes.
These were limited-capability ships, whose principal virtue was near-term availability. Their small size made for seakeeping problems and a relatively high aircraft accident rate. Protection was modest and many munitions had to be stowed at the hangar level, a factor that contributed greatly to the loss of Princeton in October 1944.
There was also little margin for growth, as their post-war careers showed. Independence was expended as an atomic bomb target, and the rest were laid up in 1947. Five returned to service in 1948-53, two with the French Navy. Two were used as training carriers, while Bataan saw Korean War combat duty with Marine Corps air groups. She and Cabot received anti-submarine warfare modernizations in the early 1950s, emerging with two smokestacks instead of the original four. All but the French ships decommissioned in 1954-56 and were reclassified as aircraft transports in 1959. Cabot got a new lease on life in 1967, when she became the Spanish Navy's carrier Dedalo, serving until 1989.
The nine ships of the Independence class were all converted from Cleveland-class light cruisers building at the New York Shipbuilding Coporation shipyard, Camden, New Jersey. Initially classified as "aircraft carriers" (CV), all were redesignated "small aircraft carriers" (CVL) on 15 July 1943, while four ships were still under construction:
- USS Independence (CV/CVL-22). Keel laid in May 1941 as Amsterdam (CL-59); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in January 1942; launched in August 1942; commissioned in January 1943.
- USS Princeton (CV/CVL-23). Keel laid in June 1941 as Tallahassee (CL-61); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in February 1942; launched in October 1942; commissioned in February 1943.
- USS Belleau Wood (CV/CVL-24). Keel laid in August 1941 as New Haven (CL-76); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in February 1942; launched in December 1942; commissioned in March 1943.
- USS Cowpens (CV/CVL-25). Keel laid in November 1941 as Huntington (CL-77); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in March 1942; launched in January 1943; commissioned in May 1943.
- USS Monterey (CV/CVL-26). Keel laid in December 1941 as Dayton (CL-78); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in March 1942; launched in February 1943; commissioned in June 1943.
- USS Langley (CVL-27). Originally planned as Fargo (CL-85); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in March 1942; keel laid in April 1942; name changed from Crown Point to Langley in November 1942; launched in May 1943; commissioned in August 1943.
- USS Cabot (CVL-28). Keel laid in March 1942 as Wilmington (CL-79); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in June 1942; launched in April 1943; commissioned in July 1943.
- USS Bataan (CVL-29). Originally planned as Buffalo (CL-99); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in June 1942; keel laid in August 1942; launched in August 1943; commissioned in November 1943.
- USS San Jacinto (CVL-30). Originally planned as Newark (CL-100); reclassified as an aircraft carrier in June 1942; keel laid in October 1942; name changed from Reprisal to San Jacinto in January 1943; launched in September 1943; commissioned in December 1943.
- Displacement: 11,000 tons (standard)
- Dimensions: 622' 6" (length overall); 71' 6" (hull); 109' 2" (over flight deck and projections)
- Powerplant: 100,000 horsepower, steam turbines, four propellers, 31.5 knot maximum speed
- Aircraft (Typical operational complement, October 1944): 34 planes, including 25 F6F fighters and 9 TBM torpedo planes.
USS Independence (CV/CVL-22)
Independence was commissioned in January 1943 with the hull number CV-22. In July 1943, following shakedown operations in the Caribbean, Independence joined the Pacific Fleet and was redesignated CVL-22. During the rest of 1943, she took part in raids on the Japanese bases at Marcus, Wake and Rabaul and in the campaign to seize the Gilbert Islands. She was damaged by a Japanese aerial torpedo attack on 20 November, while operating off the Gilberts, and had to return to the United States for repairs.
Independence returned to the Pacific operational area in July 1944 and trained to serve as a night carrier. She participated in the Palaus operation in September 1944, air strikes in the Philippines and Okinawa and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October, and further offensive operations in the Western Pacific during November–December 1944 and January 1945. After an overhaul, Independence rejoined the fast carrier task force in March. Over the next six months, she took part in the Ryukyus campaign and conducted strikes against targets in the Japanese Home Islands. Following Japan's capitulation in mid-August 1945, the carrier supported occupation operations and helped bring U.S. service veterans home as part of Operation "Magic Carpet". In 1946, Independence was assigned to target duty as part of the atomic bomb tests at Bikini. She was badly damaged by the 1 July 1946 air burst and further contaminated by radioactivity in the 25 July underwater test. Formally decommissioned in August 1946, she was later used as a radiological research hulk. USS Independence was sunk as a target off the California coast in January 1951.
USS Princeton (CV/CVL-23)
Princeton was commissioned in February 1943 and, following shakedown operations in the Atlantic area, arrived at Pearl Harbor in August. She covered the occupation of Baker Island in August and September and raided Makin and Tarawa later in September 1943. Princeton had a busy November, supporting the Bougainville landings, raiding Rabaul and Nauru and participating in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
Following a quick overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Princeton helped in the conquest of the Marshall Islands in January and February 1944. Over the next four months, her planes attacked Japanese targets in the Central Pacific and supported amphibious landings at Hollandia, New Guinea. In June, Princeton participated in the invasion of Saipan and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. She continued to cover the Marianas operation in July, then joined in raids on the Palaus, the Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa during August, September and October.
On 24 October 1944, as Japanese Navy forces were approaching the Philippines from the north and west, Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman's Task Group 38.3 was operating about more than a hundred miles east of central Luzon. With other elements of Admiral William F. Halsey's Third Fleet, TG38.3 had spent the last several days pounding enemy targets ashore in support of the Leyte invasion operation. This morning Sherman's four carriers, Essex, Lexington, Princeton and Langley, had sent off fighters for self-protection and other planes on search missions. Still more aircraft were on deck, ready for attack missions.
Though the Japanese had sent out many aircraft to strike the Third Fleet, most were shot down or driven away. However one "Judy" dive bomber escaped notice and, at 0938, planted a 250 kilogram bomb on Princeton's flight deck, somewhat aft of amidships. It exploded in the crew's galley after passing through the hangar, in which were parked six TBM bombers, each with full gasoline tanks and a torpedo. In its passage, the bomb struck one of these planes, which was almost immediately ablaze. For some reason, the carrier's firefighting sprinklers did not activate and the entire hangar space was quickly engulfed, while smoke penetrated compartments below. Princeton was still underway, but at 1002 a heavy explosion rocked the after part of the hangar. This blast was followed by three more, which heaved up the flight deck, blew out both aircraft elevators and quickly made much of the ship uninhabitable.
With all but emergency generator power gone, and much of her crew abandoning ship, Princeton now depended on the light cruisers Birmingham and Reno, plus the destroyers Irwin (DD-794) and Morrison (DD-560), to help fight her fires. While alongside, Morrison's superstructure was seriously damage when she became entangled in Princeton's projecting structures. After more than three hours' work, with the remaining fires almost under control, a report of approaching enemy forces forced the other ships to pull away. By the time they returned Princeton was again burning vigorously, heating a bomb storage space near her after hangar. At 1523, as Birmingham came alongside, these bombs detonated violently, blowing off the carrier's stern, showering the cruiser's topsides with fragments, and killing hundreds of men. There was now no hope that Princeton could be saved. Her remaining crewmen were taken off and Irwin attempted to scuttle her with torpedoes and gunfire, but with no success. Finally, Reno was called in to finish the job. One of her torpedoes hit near the burning ship's forward bomb magazine and USS Princeton disappeared in a tremendous explosion.
USS Belleau Wood (CV/CVL-24)
Belleau Wood was commissioned in March 1943. Her original carrier hull number was CV-24, which was changed to CVL-24 in July 1943 at the time she arrived in the Pacific to join the war against Japan. During the rest of 1943, Belleau Wood took part in raids on Tarawa and Wake Islands and the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
In the first half of 1944, Belleau Wood was part the carrier force that supported the Marshall Islands operation, raided enemy positions throughout the Central Pacific and helped conquer Saipan. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in mid-June, her planes sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiyo. Following a brief overhaul, she rejoined Task Force 58 for further operations to take Guam, the Palaus and Morotai, as well as raiding the Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa. In late October 1944, Belleau Wood participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. While operating off the Philippines on 30 October, she was hit aft by a Kamikaze suicide plane and set afire. Badly damaged, with 92 of her crew killed or missing, she had to return to the United States for repairs.
Belleau Wood returned to the Western Pacific war zone in February 1945, in time to help in raids on the Japanese Home Islands and support Marines on Iwo Jima. The rest of the war was spent on further attacks on targets in and around Japan. Her planes participated in the massed aircraft flyover that followed the Formal Surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945. After supporting occupation operations into October, Belleau Wood transported U.S. service personnel back to the United States until early 1946. Generally inactive from then on, she was placed out of commission in January 1947.
Belleau Wood was reactivated in 1953 for loan to France. Under the name Bois Belleau, she served the French Navy until 1960, when she was returned to U.S. custody and sold for scrapping.
USS Cowpens (CV/CVL-25)
Cowpens was commissioned in May 1943 with the hull number CV-25. She was redesignated CVL-25 two months later and arrived in the Pacific in September to join the war against Japan. After seeing combat for the first time in the October 1943 raid on Wake Island, she participated in the Gilberts and Marshalls invasions during the last two months of 1943 and the first two months of 1944. From February until May 1944, Cowpens and other Fifth Fleet aircraft carriers attacked enemy targets in the Central Pacific and New Guinea. She took part in the Marianas campaign, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, during June 1944, and continued her support of operations in that area into July.
In September 1944, Cowpens covered the invasions of the Palaus and Morotai. Over the next three months, she participated in raids on Okinawa, Formosa and the Philippines and in the great Battle of Leyte Gulf. Her combat activities continued into January and February 1945, with raids around the South China Sea and Philippines areas and support for the landings at Lingayen Gulf and Iwo Jima.
Following a west coast overhaul, Cowpens returned to the war zone in June 1945. During the last months of the Pacific War, her aircraft pounded Wake Island and targets in the Japanese home islands. Support for the occupation of Japan was followed by duty transporting war veterans home from the Pacific during late 1945 and early 1946. Cowpens was decommissioned in January 1947 and spent the rest of her Navy service in the Reserve Fleet. She was briefly reclassified as an aircraft transport, with the new hull number AVT-1, in May 1959 and was sold for scrapping a year later.
USS Monterey (CV/CVL-26)
Monterey was commissioned in June 1943 with the hull number CV-26. A month later, this was changed to CVL-26. Monterey transited the Panama Canal to the Pacific later in the year, and took part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands in November. The following month, her planes raided Kavieng, New Ireland.
During the first half of 1944, Monterey participated in the Marshalls operation, attacks on the Japanese in the central Pacific and New Guinea, the Marianas invasion and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After an overhaul, she rejoined the fast carriers for strikes on Wake Island, the Ryukyus and the Philippines in September–December 1944. In October, Monterey took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Late in the year, she was damaged while steaming through a typhoon and had to return to the U.S. west coast for repairs and another overhaul.
The carrier returned to the combat zone in time to contribute her air power to the conquest of Okinawa. In July and August 1945, she attacked the Japanese Home Islands. After a trans-Pacific voyage bringing veterans home from Japan, Monterey went to the Atlantic, where she was employed transporting men from Italy to the United States. She was decommissioned in February 1947.
After more than three years in "mothballs", the outbreak of the Korean War brought Monterey back to active duty. She recommissioned in September 1950, but remained in the Atlantic area. Sent to Pensacola in early 1951, she served as training carrier from then until mid-1955. Decommissioned again in January 1956, she returned to the Reserve Fleet. Monterey was reclassified as an aircraft transport in May 1959, with the new hull number AVT-2, but had no active service in that role. She was sold for scrapping in May 1971.
USS Langley (CVL-27)
By the time her keel was laid in April 1942, Langley had been redesigned as an aircraft carrier, using the original cruiser hull and machinery. Commissioned in August 1943, Langley went to the Pacific late in the year and entered combat during the Marshalls operation in January–February 1944. During the next four months, her planes attacked Japanese positions in the central Pacific and western New Guinea. In June 1944, she took part in the assault on the Marianas and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Langley continued her war role through the rest of 1944, participating in the Palaus Operation, raids on the Philippines, Formosa and the Ryukyus, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In January–February 1945, she was part of the Third Fleet's foray into the South China Sea, the first massed carrier attacks on the Japanese Home Islands and the invasion of Iwo Jima. More combat activity followed in March–May, as Langley's planes again hit targets in Japan and supported the Okinawa operation. Overhauled in the U.S. in June and July, she was en route back to the Pacific war zone when the conflict ended in August.
Following service transporting Pacific veterans home, Langley went to the Atlantic, where she carried out similar missions in November 1945 - January 1946. Inactive at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the remainder of 1946, the carrier decommissioned there in February 1947. Langley was taken out of "mothballs" early in 1951, refurbished and transferred to France under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. After more than a decade of French Navy service, under the name La Fayette, she was returned to the United States in March 1963 and sold for scrapping a year later.
USS Cabot (CVL-28)
Cabot was commissioned in July 1943. Early in 1944, Cabot arrived in the Pacific war zone and immediately became part of the Pacific Fleet's fast carrier striking force. She participated in all the Fleet's major carrier actions from then until the end of World War II, notably including the Marshalls Operation, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, raids on the Philippines and other Pacific islands, the Iwo Jima Operation, carrier strikes on Japan and the Okinawa Campaign. She was damaged by Japanese Kamikazes on 25 November 1944, but remained in operation despite casualties to her crew and structure.
Following Japan's capitulation in August 1945, Cabot supported occupation efforts and then returned to the United States in November. She was decommissioned in February 1947, but returned to active service in October 1948 as a Naval Air Reserve training carrier. During the early 1950s, Cabot deployed once to European waters and received modernization to fit her for the anti-submarine support role. Decommissioned in January 1955, she was reclassified as an aircraft transport and redesignated AVT-3 in May 1959.
In 1967, after over twelve years in "mothballs", Cabot was loaned to Spain, in whose navy she served as Dedalo. The loan was converted to a sale in 1972. Dedalo was stricken by the Spanish Navy in August 1989 and given to a private organization in the U.S. for use as a museum ship. However, during the subsequent decade plans to memorialize Cabot/Dedalo met with no success, and the now much deteriorated ship was sold for scrapping in 1997. After the failure of a lengthy legal effort to preserve the old carrier, she was cut up at Brownsville, Texas, beginning in November 2000.
USS Bataan (CVL-29)
Bataan was commissioned in November 1943 and assigned to the Pacific. During April–June 1944, Bataan took part in attacks on Japanese positions in New Guinea, the Caroline, Mariana and Bonin Islands and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Following an overhaul, she participated in 1945 assaults in the Western Pacific, including the Okinawa Campaign and raids against the Japanese home islands. In October 1945, after Japan's surrender, the carrier returned to the United States and subsequently helped transport servicemen home from overseas. Inactive after January 1946, Bataan was decommissioned in February 1947.
Bataan recommissioned in May 1950, and was soon involved in transporting aircraft to the Korean war zone. From December 1950 until June 1951, her planes supported United Nations' ground operations in the embattled peninsula. She again went to the Far East in January–August 1952 and in October 1952-May 1953, taking part in Korean War actions during both tours. Following a final brief deployment to Asiatic waters in mid-1953, USS Bataan was decommissioned in April 1954. She was reclassified as an aircraft transport (AVT-4) in May 1959, but was stricken from the Navy List in September of that year and sold for scrapping in May 1961.
USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)
San Jacinto was commissioned in December 1943. After a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, San Jacinto joined the Pacific Fleet in time to take part in the June 1944 Marianas operation and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Over the summer, her planes struck targets in the Palaus, the Bonins and the Carolines. During October 1944, San Jacinto participated in raids on Okinawa, Formosa and the Philippines and in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Following that great naval battle, she was part of the task groups that continued the Western Pacific offensive with attacks on targets in the Philippines, Formosa and around the South China Sea.
In February and March 1945, San Jacinto's planes raided the Japanese Home Islands on two occasions and assisted with the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Remaining off the latter island over much of the next three months, she battled suicide planes and helped destroy the final Japanese surface warship attack of the Pacific War. San Jacinto again struck targets in Japan during July and operated in the area through the last days of the Second World War.
San Jacinto returned to the United States in mid-September 1945. Generally inactive thereafter, she was decommissioned at San Diego, California, in March 1947. While laid up in the Reserve Fleet in May 1959, the carrier was reclassified as an aircraft transport and given the new hull number AVT-5. Following over two decades in "mothballs", USS San Jacinto was sold for scrapping in December 1971.
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