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Essex class carriers

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The Essex class was a class of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy, which constituted the 20th century's most numerous class of capital ships with 24 vessels built in both "short-hull" and "long-hull" versions. Thirty-two were originally ordered; however as World War II wound down, six were canceled before construction, and two were canceled after construction had begun. TheEssex-class carriers were the backbone of the U.S. Navy's combat strength during World War II from mid-1943 on, and along with the addition of the threeMidway-class carriers just after the war continued to be the heart of U.S. Naval strength until the supercarriers began to come into the fleet in numbers during the 1960s and 1970s.


The precedingYorktown class aircraft carriersand the designers' list of trade offs and limitations forced by arms control treaty obligations formed the formative basis from which theEssexclass was developed — a design formulation sparked into being when the Japanese and Italians repudiated the limitations proposed in the 1936 revision of theWashington Naval Treatyof 1925 (as updated in October 1930 in theLondon Naval Treaty) — in effect providing a free pass for all five signatories to resume the interrupted naval arms race of the 1920s in early 1937.

At the time of the repudiations, both Italy and Japan had colonial ambitions intending or already conducting military conquests and their fascist governments, like the Nazis in Germany, were firmly controlled by military regimes. With the demise of the treaty limitations, and the growing tensions inculcated by the Nazi menace in Europe suggesting war was looming, naval planners were free to apply both the lessons they'd learned operating carriers for fifteen years and those of operating the Yorktown class carriers to the newer design.

Designed to carry a larger air group, and unencumbered by the latest in a succession of pre-war naval treaty limits, Essex was over sixty feet longer, nearly ten feet wider in beam, and more than a third heavier. A longer, widerflight deck and a deck-edge elevator (which had proven successful in the one-of-a-kind USS Wasp (CV-7)) facilitated more efficient aviation operations, enhancing the ship's offensive and defensive air power.

Machinery arrangement and armor protection was greatly improved from previous designs. These features, plus the provision of more anti-aircraft guns, gave the ships much enhanced survivability. In fact, during the war, none of theEssex-class carriers were lost and two, USS Franklin (CV-13) andUSS Bunker Hill (CV-17), came home under their own power even after receiving extremely heavy damage and were successfully repaired. Some ships in the class would serve until well after the end of the Vietnam conflict as the class was retired by newer build classes.

While debates raged, and continue to this day, regarding the effect of strength deck location (flight deck level on British ships vs. hangar deck level on American ships), British designers' comments tended to disparage the use of hangar deck armor, but some historians, such as D.K. Brown in Nelson to Vanguard, see the American arrangement to have been superior. Subsequently, the larger size of the first supercarriers necessitated a deeper hull and shifted the center of gravity and center of stability lower, enabling moving the strength deck to the flight deck thus freeing US Naval design architects to move the armor higher and remain within compliance of US Navy stability specifications without imperiling sea worthiness. In the late 1930s, locating the strength deck at hangar deck level in the proposed Essex-class ships reduced the weight located high in the ship, resulting in smaller supporting structures and more aircraft capacity for the desired displacement.[2] One of the design studies prepared for the Essex project, "Design 9G", included an armored flight deck, and displaced 27,200 tons or about 1,200 tons more than "Design 9F", which formed the basis of the actual Essex design[3]; 9G became the ancestor of the 45,000-ton Midway class.


In drawing up the preliminary design for Essex, particular attention was directed at the size of both her flight and hangar decks. Aircraft design had come a long way from the comparatively light planes used in carriers during the 1930s. Flight decks now required more takeoff space for the heavier aircraft being developed. Most of the first-line carriers of the pre-war years were equipped with flush deck catapults, but owing to the speed and size of these ships very little catapulting was done except for experimental purposes.

With the advent of war, airplane weights began to go up as armor and armament got heavier; aircrew complements also increased. By the war's end in 1945, catapult launches would become more common under these circumstances, with some carrier commanding officers reporting up to 40% of launches by catapult.

The hangar area design came in for many design conferences between the naval bureaus. Not only were the supporting structures to the flight deck required to carry the increased weight of landing and parked aircraft, but they were to have sufficient strength to support the storing of spare fuselages and parts (50% of each plane type aboard) under the flight deck and still provide adequate working space for the men using the area below.

One innovation in Essex was a portside deck-edge elevator in addition to two inboard elevators. The deck-edge elevator was adopted in the design after it proved successful on theWasp.[6] Experiments had also been made with hauling aircraft by crane up a ramp between the hangar and flight decks, but this method proved too slow. The Navy's Bureau of Shipsand the Chief Engineer of A.B.C. Elevator Co. designed the engine for the side elevator. It was a standard elevator, 60 by 34 ft (18 by 10 m) in platform surface, which traveled vertically on the port side of the ship. The design was a huge success; it greatly improved flight deck operations.


There would be no large hole in the flight deck when the elevator was in the "down" position, a critical factor if the elevator ever became inoperable during combat operations. Its new position made it easier to continue normal operations on deck, irrespective of the position of the elevator. The elevator also increased the effective deck space when it was in the "up" position by providing additional parking room outside the normal contours of the flight deck, and increased the effective area on the hangar deck by the absence of elevator pits. In addition, its machinery was less complex than the two inboard elevators, requiring about 20% fewer man-hours of maintenance.

Ongoing improvements to the class were made, particularly with regards to the ventilation system, lighting systems, and the trash burner design and implementation.

These carriers had better armor protection than their predecessors, better facilities for handling ammunition, safer and greater fueling capacity, and more effective damage control equipment. Yet, these ships were also designed to limit weight and the complexity of construction, for instance incorporating extensive use of flat and straight metal pieces,[7] and of Special Treatment Steel (STS), a nickel-chrome steel alloy that provided the same protective qualities as Class B armor plate, but which was fully structural rather than deadweight.[8]

The original design for the class assumed a complement of 215 officers and 2,171 enlisted men. However, by the end of World War II, most crews were 50% larger than that.[9]

The tactical employment of U.S. carriers changed as the war progressed. In early operations, through 1942, the doctrine was to operate singly or in pairs, joining together for the offense and separating when on the defense—the theory being that a separation of carriers under attack not only provided a protective screen for each, but also dispersed the targets and divided the enemy's attack. Combat experience in those early operations did not bear out the theory, and new proposals for tactical deployment were the subject of much discussion.

As the new Essex- and Independence-class carriers became available, tactics changed. Experience taught the wisdom of combined strength. Under attack, the combined anti-aircraft fire of a task group's carriers and their screen provided a more effective umbrella of protection against marauding enemy aircraft than was possible when the carriers separated.

When two or more of these task groups supported each other, they constituted a fast carrier task force. Lessons learned from operating the carriers as a single group of six, as two groups of three, and three groups of two, provided the basis for many tactics that later characterized carrier task force operations, with the evolution of the fast carrier task force and its successful employment in future operations.



"Sunday Punch"

The pride of the carrier, known as the "Sunday Punch",[10] was the offensive power of 36 fighters, 36 dive bombers and 18 torpedo planes. The F6F Hellcat would be the standard fighter, the SB2C-1 Helldiver the standard scout aircraft and dive-bomber, and the TBF Avenger was designed as a torpedo plane but often used in other attack roles. Later in the war some Essexes, such as Bunker Hill, also included F4U Corsairs in fighter-bomber squadrons (VBFs), the precursor to modern fighter-attack squadrons (VFAs).



Guns, radar and radios

The defensive plan was to use radio and radar in a combined effort to concentrate anti-aircraft fire.

The design boasted twelve 1.1 in/75 caliber guns mounted in the earlier Lexington andYorktown classes.

The Essex class also made use of advanced technological and communications equipment. All units were commissioned with SK air-search and SC and SG surface-search radars. Several of the class received SM fighter-direction radar. Two Mark 37 fire control directors fitted with FD Mark 4 tracking radar for the 5"/38 battery were installed; the Mk4 proved inadequate at distinguishing low-level intruders from surface clutter and was quickly replaced with the improved Mark 12/Mark 22 combination. 40mm AA batteries were controlled by Mark 51 gyro-stabilized optical directors with integrated lead-angle calculators. APlan Position Indicator (PPI) display was used to keep track of ships and enabled a multi-carrier force to maintain a high-speed formation at night or in foul weather. The new navigational tool known as the Dead Reckoning Tracer was also implemented for navigation and tracking of surface ships. Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) was used to identify hostile ships and aircraft, especially at night or in adverse weather. The four-channel Very High Frequency (VHF) radio permitted channel variation in an effort to prevent enemy interception of transmissions. It also allowed for simultaneous radio contact with other ships and planes in the task force.


Beginning in March 1943, one visually very significant change was authorized for ships then in the early stages of construction. This involved lengthening the bow above the waterline into a "clipper" form. The increased rake and flare provided deck space for two quadruple 40mm mounts; these units also had the flight deck slightly shortened forward to provide better arcs of fire.[11] Of the Essex-class ships laid down after 1942, only Bon Homme Richard followed the original "short bow" design. The later ships have been variously referred to as the "long-bow units",[12][13] the "long-hull group",[14][15] or the "Ticonderoga class".[1][16] However, the U.S. Navy never maintained any institutional distinction between the long-hull and short-hull members of the Essex class, and postwar refits and upgrades were applied to both groups equally.[16] Less immediately visible aspects of the March 1943 design modification included a safer ventilation system, the Combat Information Center moved below the armored deck, two flight-deck catapults and the elimination of that on the hangar deck, and a third Mk 37 fire-control director; some of these changes were also made to short-bow ships nearing completion or as they returned to the yards.

Modifications were made throughout the Essex building program. The number of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns was greatly increased, new and improved radars were added, the original hangar deck catapult was removed, the ventilation system was substantially revised, details of protection were altered, and hundreds of other large and small changes were executed. In the meantime, earlier ships were continually modified as they returned to the yard for repair and overhaul. For example, Intrepid, one of the first to be commissioned, by the end of the war had received two H-4B flight deck catapults on place of her original single H-4A; three quad 40mm mounts below the island to starboard, three more on the port side and one additional on both the starboard quarter and the stern; 21 additional 20mm mounts; SM fighter-control radar; FD Mk 4 radar replaced with Mk 12/22; and an enlarged flag bridge.[17] In fact, to the skilled observer, no two ships of the class looked exactly the same.

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Post-war rebuilds


The large numbers of new ships, coupled with their largerMidway-classcontemporaries, sustained the Navy's air power through the rest of the 1940s, theKorean Warera, and beyond. While the spacious hangars accommodated the introduction of jets, various modifications significantly improved the capability of fifteen of the ships to handle the jets’ increased weight and speed. These modifications includedjet-blast deflectors(JBDs); mirror and then Fresnel-lens landing light systems (a British innovation); greater aviation fuel capacity; stronger decks, elevators, and catapults; and ultimately anangled flight deck.[18]

Five of the long-hulls were laid up in 1946–47, along with all of the short-hulls. Eight of the last nine completed stayed on active duty to form, with three Midways, the backbone of the post-war Navy's combat strength. Though the Truman administration's defense economies sent three of the active Essexes into "mothballs" in 1949, these soon came back into commission after the Korean War began. Ultimately, nine short-hulls and all thirteen long-hulls had active Cold War service.

Oriskany, which had been left unfinished at the end of the war, was completed to an improved design between August 1948 and September 1950, with a much stronger (straight) flight deck and a reconfigured island. Eight earlier ships were thoroughly rebuilt to theOriskany design under the SCB-27A program in the early 1950s.[19] Six more of the earlier ships were rebuilt to an improved 27C design as the last stage of the SCB-27 program; these ships received steam catapults instead of the less powerful hydraulic units. The otherwise unmodified Antietam received an experimental 10.5 degree angled deck in 1952.[19] An angled flight deck and enclosed hurricane bow became the distinctive features of the SCB-125 program, which was undertaken concurrently with the last three 27C conversions and later applied to all 27A and 27C ships except Lake Champlain.[19]Shangri-La became the first operational United States angled deck aircraft carrier in 1955.[19]Oriskany, the first of the modernized ships but the last angled-deck conversion, received a unique SCB-125A refit which upgraded her to 27C standard, and included steam catapults and an aluminum flight deck.[19]

Korean War and subsequent Cold War needs ensured twenty-two of the twenty-four ships had extensive post–World War II service (Bunker Hill and Franklin had suffered heavy damage and were never recommissioned).[20] All initially carried attack air groups; however by 1955 seven unconverted Essexes were operating under the anti-submarine warfare carrier (CVS) designation established in August 1953.[19] As the Forrestal-class "supercarriers" entered the fleet, the eight 27A conversions were designated CVS to replace the original unconverted ships;[19] the latter began to leave active service in the late 1950s. Two 27C conversions were designated CVS in 1962 (although Intrepid would operate as an attack carrier off Vietnam) and two more in 1969.[19] The seven angle-deck 27As and one 27C received specialized CVS modifications including bow-mounted SQS-23 sonar under the SCB-144 program in the early 1960s.[19] The updated units remained active until age and the growing number of supercarriers made them obsolete, from the late 1960s into the middle 1970s. However, one of the very first of the type, Lexington, served until 1991 as a training ship.

Of the unmodernized Essexes, Boxer, Princeton, and Valley Forge were redesignated Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) amphibious assault ships for the Marine Corps, and remained in commission with their original straight decks until about 1970.[19] The remainder decommissioned in the late 1950s and early 1960s and were promptly reclassified as aircraft transports (AVT), reflecting their very limited ability to operate modern aircraft safely. An unmodernised Essex was offered to the Royal Australian Navy in 1960 as a replacement for HMAS Melbourne but the offer was declined due to the expense of modifications required to make it operationally compatible with the RAN's primarily British-designed fleet.[21] All were scrapped, most in the 1970s.



Evolution of the air wing


For a typical attack carrier (CVA) configuration in 1956–57 aboard Bennington, the air wing consisted of one squadron each of the following: FJ3 Fury, F2H Banshees, F9F Cougars, AD-6, AD-5N, and AD-5W Skyraiders, AJ2 Savages, and F9F-8P photo Cougars.[22]

By the mid-to-late 1960s, the attack air wing had evolved. Oriskany deployed with two squadrons of F-8J Crusaders, three squadrons ofA-4E Skyhawks, E-1 Tracers, EKA-3B Skywarriors, and RF-8G photo Crusaders. In 1970, the three A-4 squadrons were replaced by two squadrons of A-7A Corsair IIs.[23] The F-4 Phantom II and A-6 Intruder were considered too heavy to operate from the Essex-class, and the ships' jet-blast deflectors were not liquid cooled, a requirement for operating jets with afterburners.

Tasked and fitted out as an ASW carrier (CVS), the air wing of an Essex such as Bennington in the 1960s consisted of two squadrons of S2F Trackers and one squadron of Sikorsky SH-34 ASW helicopters (replaced in 1964 by SH-3A Sea Kings). Airborne early warningwas first provided by modified EA-1Es; these were upgraded in 1965 to E-1Bs. A small detachment of A-4B's or A-4C's were also embarked to provide daylight fighter protection for the ASW aircraft.[22][24]

Landing Platform Helicopter converted ships such as the USS Boxer never had an angled landing deck installed and flew only helicopters such as the UH-34 and CH-46 Sea Knight. Four converted Essex class ships served along side the purpose built Iwo Jima class amphibious assault ships providing floating helicopter bases for US Marines. The LPHs were sometimes also used as aircraft ferries for all branches of the U.S. armed forces. The AV-8A arrived into Marine Corps inventory too late to see regular fixed wing operations return to these ships. It was possible to launch and recover small aircraft like the OV-10 Bronco without need of catapult or arresting wires, but this was very rarely permitted on these straight-deck ships for safety reasons and to avoid interruption of helicopter operations.

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View Postkelly0101, on 03 October 2012 - 11:44 AM, said:

This, is a very extensive post, I salute you for the amount of research!

i had a lot more but i figured people wouldn't read all of that

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View Postmanthanboeing, on 03 October 2012 - 09:56 AM, said:


For many people real designs of winning side are much more boring than fantasy and/or losing side's designs, be it tanks, ships or aircrafts. Thanks for the effort put into the Essex class overview! :Smile_honoring:

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