U.S. LIGHT CARRIERS IN ACTION
|Author(s)||Michael C. Smith, Don Greer|
US naval aviation begun with the launch of an aircraft flown by Eugene Ely from a temporary flight deck constructed on the light cruiser BIRMINGHAM (CL-2), followed by a launch from a similar jury-rigged deck on the armored cruiser PENNSYLVANIA. The United States Navy experimented with floatplanes during WW One, but by the end of that war it had become quite clear that the future of naval aviation as an offensive weapon required ships that could launch and land combat aircraft while at sea. The United States Navy's first step was to obtain an official authorization to convert a collier - the ex-USS JUPITER (AC-3) - into its first aircraft carrier, the USS LANGLEY (CV-1). By the time the LANGLEY was ready for operation in 1922, the Navy had acquired two more vessels for conversion into carriers, namely the incomplete battlecruisers SARATOGA and LEXINGTON. The huge battlecruiser hulls were available due to the 1921 Washington Conference's stringent limitations on capital ship construction - those limitations required all battleships and battlecruisers then under construction to be scrapped, with the only exception of two ships per nation, which could be converted into aircraft carriers. LANGLEY did not join the fleet until the end of 1924, and LEXINGTON and SARATOGA not until 1928, by which time the Navy had to decide how to utilize the remaining 69,000 tons of additional carrier construction available under the Treaty. Based on the belief that more numerous, but smaller carriers were better, the 13.800 ton (12.519.4 mt) USS RANGER (CV-4) was authorized in 1930. RANGER was the Navy's first carrier designed as such from the keel up. She was to have been the first of five similarly sized carriers, but experience soon showed that she was too small for effective operation. Consequently, the tonnage reserved for the next three carriers was instead divided between the 20.000-ton (18.144 mt) YORKTOWN (CV-5) and ENTERPRISE (CV-6). both authorized in 1933. The remaining tonnage was allocated in 1935 for construction of WASP (CV-7). Although WASP was similar in size to the earlier RANGER. WASP was built to an improved design. The Washington Treaty lapsed in 1938. and plans began for a class of 27.100 ton (24.585.1 mt) improved YORKTOWNs. Until new plans could be drawn up. HORNET (CV-8) was authorized in 1938 as an improved YORKTOWN - essentially a stopgap measure - leaving ESSEX (CV-9) to be lead ship of the new class. During the interwar period, the Navy also made plans for the rapid expansion of the carrier force in the event of war by drawing up plans for converting existing merchant ships to carriers. These ship conversions, designated "XCVs," were to be used for transporting aircraft to the battle zone as part of the Navy's 'Orange" war plan. The conversions, similar to those eventually undertaken by Japan during the war and resulting in the light carriers НIYО and JUNYO, never left the drawing board in the US, where they were quickly replaced by plans for the "emergency-built" Escort Carriers (CVEs) and Light Carriers (CVLs).
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