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United States Navy – The Early Vessels (CV-1 through CV-8)

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Last Update: 15 November 2007

The following database is organized by hull number, vessel name, designations and notes.

1 (CV-1, AV-3), Langley, notes: Like many early aircraft carriers, the USS Langley was a conversion of an existing vessel, in this case the coal supply ship – a collier – USS Jupiter (AC-3). Its keel laid down on 18 October 1911 at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, the USS Jupiter was launched on 14 August 1912 and commissioned on 7 April 1913. Its first skipper was Commander Joseph M. Reeves. It is interesting to note that Jupiter was the Navy’s first electrically propelled ship.
On 11 July 1919, plans were approved to convert the vessel into the Navy’s first aircraft carrier. As such, shortly after pulling pier-side at Hampton Roads, Virginia, the USS Jupiter was decommissioned on 24 March 1920. The conversion to an aircraft carrier was straightforward and consisted basically of the installation of a stem to stern flight wooden deck. On 11 April 1920, the vessel’s name was changed to the USS Langley.
Reclassified as CV-1, the USS Langley was recommissioned on 20 March 1922, with Commander Kenneth Whiting in command. For over a decade, Langley was used by the Navy to develop the new concept of sending aircraft out to sea. On 25 October 1936, its service life as an aircraft carrier deemed complete, Langley pulled into the Mare Island Navy Yard for yet another conversion, this time into a large seaplane tender. With nearly half of it flight deck removed, but retaining the name Langley, the vessel was reclassified as AV-3 on 21 April 1937.
The new USS Langley spent much of its career deployed to the Pacific. Langley was anchored off Cavite, in the Philippines, when the United States entered World War Two. In February 1942, Langley had been tasked with the delivery of 32 Curtiss P-40 fighters to allied forces at Tjilatjap, Java. On 27 February, in company with the USS Whipple (DD-217) and USS Edsall (DD-219) as an antisubmarine screen, the USS Langley was attacked by several Japanese bombers. Taking five bomb hits, Langley was on fire, had damaged steering gear and was listing 10 degrees to port, before the vessel finally went dead in the water. Langley was clearly sinking and the order was given to abandon ship. Not wanting the tender to fall into enemy hands, the order was given for the escorting destroyers to scuttle Langley. It took several 4-inch shells and two torpedoes to send the USS Langley to the bottom.

USS Langley Specifications:
Length: 542 feet
Beam: 65 feet
Draft: 18 feet, 11 inches
Displacement: 11,500 tons
Speed: 15 knots
Compliment: 468
Aircraft: 55
Armament: 4 x 5-inch guns

2 (CV-2), Lexington, notes: The lead ship in the two vessel Lexington-class of aircraft carrier, this was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name Lexington. When its keel was laid on 8 January 1921, at the Fore River Shipbuilding Company in Quincy, Massachusetts, the vessel (CC-1) was intended to be the lead ship in the six-ship Lexington-class of battle cruisers, to be employed as fast battle scouts. Originally designed back in 1916, construction was delayed for World War One, after which a redesign was undertaken. When construction did finally begin, this class of warship fell afoul of the Washington Treaty – signed on 6 February 1922 – which limited the total naval tonnage of the signatories involved. At the time construction on all six of the ships was underway, however as per the treaty, four were cancelled and broken up, while two were redesignated as aircraft carriers. Thus, on 1 July 1922, CC-1 was redesignated CV-2, while its sister-ship CC-3 – to be christened Saratoga – was redesignated CV-3 (q.v.).
The USS Lexington (CV-2) was finally launched on 3 October 1925, and placed in commission on 14 December 1927, under the command of Alfred W. Marshall. In the subsequent years, Lexington continued the work that the USS Langley had begun, as well as participating in various fleet exercises both in the Pacific and the Caribbean.
The fateful day of 7 December 1941, found Lexington at sea – as part of Task Force 12 – between the Hawaii Islands and atoll of Midway. On board were replacement aircraft for the Marine Corps detachment at Midway. When word was received of the attack on Pearl harbor, Lexington immediately went on the offensive, launching scouts in an attempt to find the Japanese fleet. Lexington, now in company with the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), continued the search west of Hawaii until returning to port at Pearl on 18 December.
For the next few months Lexington completed several sorties as far in the Pacific as the Coral Sea. On 15 April 1942, Lexington left port at Pearl for another mission to the Coral Sea, joining Task Force 17 on 1 May. Now in company with the USS Yorktown (CV-5), contact was made with a portion of the Japanese fleet on 7 May. For the next two days, aircraft from both fleets tried to carry the battle back to the high value carriers. At approximately 1100, on the morning of 8 May, several Japanese aircraft managed to reach Lexington. Two torpedo hits and at least three bomb hits severely damaged the carrier, setting the vessel ablaze and causing a 7-degree list to port. Just after noon, with damage control parties working furiously, Lexington was underway at 25 knots, most of the fires were under control, and the flight deck crew was making ready to recover aircraft. However, vapors from the large stocks of aviation fuel suddenly erupted sending a violent shudder throughout the ship. After fighting the fires for several more hours, Lexington’s skipper Captain Frederick Sherman soon determined further damage control operations were futile and a hazard to the already exhausted crew. At 1707, he ordered the Lexington to be abandoned. Captain Sherman was the last to leave his ship.
Two torpedoes from the USS Phelps (DD-360) were required to finally sink the USS Lexington at 1956 on 8 May 1942.

USS Lexington Specifications:
Length: 888 feet
Beam: 105.5 feet
Draft: 32 feet,
Displacement: 41,000 tons
Speed: 34.5 knots
Compliment: 2,122
Aircraft: 81
Armament: 8 x 8-inch guns, 12 x 5-inch guns

3 (CV-3), Saratoga, notes: This was the second vessel in the two ship Lexington-class of aircraft carrier, and was the fifth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name Saratoga. The early administrative history of the USS Saratoga, regarding the re-designation of the vessel from a battle cruiser to an aircraft carrier, directly mirrors that of the USS Lexington. More specifically, the keel of battle cruiser CC-3 was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey, on 25 September 1920. On 1 July 1922, the vessel was re-designated CV-3. On 7 April 1925, Saratoga was launched under the sponsorship of Mrs. Curtis D. Wilber, wife of the Secretary of the Navy. Saratoga was commissioned on 16 November 1927, and placed under the command of Captain Harry E. Yarnell, actually entering service before the USS Lexington.
The next several months were used for sea trails off the East Coast. It is interesting to note that during this shakedown, the first aircraft to land on Saratoga’s flight deck – on 11 January 1928 – was piloted by its Air Officer, Marc A. Mitscher. On 21 February 1928, Saratoga joined the Pacific Battle Fleet at San Pedro, California.
Now, with three aircraft carriers in its fleet, the U.S. Navy could seriously begin to develop not only the art of naval aviation, but more importantly the tactics of incorporating these forces in naval warfare. Dozens of fleet exercises and problems were conducted, in the Pacific, the Atlantic, as well as the Caribbean, oftentimes pitting the carriers against each other. Sometimes it was one versus one, while other times two carriers fleet would gang up on the other. As an example, during one exercise in the late 1920s, aircraft from the Lexington successfully attacked and disabled both Saratoga and Langley. Despite the deeply entrenched belief that large capital ships were the only viable naval force, many in the chain of command were beginning to see the real value of naval aviation.
The USS Saratoga, after having completed a yard period at Bremerton, Washington, was returning to San Diego when word came of the attack on Pearl Harbor. On 8 December 1941, Saratoga was underway with a deck load of Marine aircraft intended for the garrison at Wake Island. Reaching Hawaii on 15 December, the carrier stopped only long enough to refuel before setting course for Wake. In company with Saratoga was a variety of ships, including the seaplane tender USS Tangier (AV-8), which carried relief troops for the island. Unfortunately, Wake Island would fall before the Saratoga relief force had a chance to deliver its troops and aircraft.
During the war, the USS Saratoga was often in the thick of it, and would end the conflict as a battle scarred veteran. The first damage to Saratoga occurred on 11 January 1942. Steaming to join the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at a point some 500 miles southwest of Hawaii, Saratoga was hit by a single torpedo fired from the Japanese submarine I-16. Although damaged, Saratoga reached Hawaii under its own power, and after some hasty repairs, continued on to Bremerton for more complete repair. Back with the fleet by mid-May, Saratoga was at San Diego when the situation at Midway Island began to develop, and although the carrier sortied at the first possible moment, it reached the area after the Battle of Midway had concluded.
Not out of the action for long, by late July 1942, Saratoga was in the Southwest Pacific, and it was here, during operations in the Solomons campaign, that on 24 August, Saratoga’s air wing attacked and sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryujo. Unfortunately, a week later on 31 August, Saratoga was again struck by a Japanese torpedo, this time causing the carrier to go dead in the water. Damage control parties managed to get Saratoga back underway within a few hours, and after field repairs at Tongatabu, course was set back to Hawaii.
It took just over 6 weeks to complete repairs, and the USS Saratoga was back in the fray, participating in several operations throughout the Pacific, including a rather rare deployment to the Indian Ocean for joint operations with the British Royal Navy. By June 1944, Saratoga was back at Bremerton for a yard period, after which the carrier sailed for Hawaii. Saratoga, along with the USS Ranger (CV-4), now formed Carrier Division 11, its primary mission being the development of night fighter operations and tactics. With this expertise well in hand, Saratoga, along with Enterprise, formed a night fighter task group, and sortied on 29 January 1945 for combat operations off of Iwo Jima.
It was during these operations that Saratoga, on 21 February, took no less that five hits from Japanese bombers. Two hours later another wave of enemy aircraft scored an additional hit, however, within two hours damage control parties had the fires under control. Badly damaged, Saratoga was still able to recover aircraft, but this would put the aircraft carrier out of the fight for good.
Repaired at Bremerton, Saratoga arrived back in Hawaii in early June 1945, and was again employed as a training aircraft carrier, a duty that ceased with the Japanese surrender. With the end of the war, the vast number of troops deploy throughout the Pacific need a way to quickly get home, thus Operation Magic Carpet. The USS Saratoga brought a total of 29, 204 veterans back the United States, more that any other vessel. Another record set by Saratoga was the most landings on board any aircraft carrier – 98, 549 recoveries since the ship was launched, a record that has since been eclipsed.
Clearly the oldest aircraft carrier in the fleet by over a decade, and certainly overshadowed by the vast number of Essex-class vessels then at anchor, the long serving USS Saratoga was deemed redundant and turned over to the Operations Crossroads project then forming at Bikini Atoll. An atomic blast on 1 July 1946, did scant damage to the vessel, but an underwater blast on 25 July finally did the veteran carrier in. Although there was some discussion on attempting a salvage operation, it was all for naught as the old war veteran slipped beneath the waves a few hours after the detonation.
The U.S. Navy official struck the USS Saratoga from the list on 15 August 1946. It is interesting to think that, although accessible to only the most dedicated of divers, the USS Saratoga actually still exists to this day.

USS Saratoga Specifications
Length: 888 feet
Beam: 106 feet
Draft: 24 feet, 1 inch
Displacement: 33,000 tons
Speed: 33.9 knots
Compliment: 2,111
Aircraft: 81
Armament: 8 x 8-inch guns, 12 x 5-inch guns, 4 x 6-pound guns

Note: The specifications for both the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga are from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, published by the Naval Historical Center. Although not explained in the book, the large differences in displacement and draft are most certainly a matter of the ship’s load out, which often changed for the conditions and the mission.

Note: It became quite obvious during the aforementioned fleet problems that the identical appearance of Lexington and Saratoga was causing problems for the Naval Aviators, particularly in light of the fact that the two ships were often on opposing sides. In response a large vertical black stripe was painted on the funnel of the USS Saratoga. For those aviators in the landing pattern, a large LEX or SARA, as appropriate, was painted on the aft end of the flight deck. Please click on the GALLERY link above and compare the images.

4 (CV-4), Ranger, notes:

5 (CV-5), Yorktown, notes:

6 (CV-6, CVA-6, CVS-6), Enterprise, notes:

7 (CV-7), Wasp, notes:

8 (CV-8), Hornet, notes:

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