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The Oldest Ladies…Battleships USS Arkansas, New York and Texas

USS Arkansas 1919

Note: This is the second of my series on US Battleships of World War Two. The First was the essay The Battleships of Pearl Harbor and I will follow this with essays on the New Mexico class, the North Carolina class, the South Dakota class and the Iowa Class. I have published other series on US Aircraft Carriers, the Treaty Cruisers, the Alaska Class Battle Cruisers and the German Battle Bruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

Arkansas Passing through the Kiel Canal on Midshipman Training Cruise June 6th 1937

When the United States entered the Second World War the average age of its battleship fleet was over years, an age that if the new North Carolina and Washington were omitted would have been well over 23 years old.  Two former battleships, the Utah and Wyoming had been demilitarized and were serving as gunnery training ships. The oldest of these ships, the Arkansas, the second ship of the Wyoming class was commissioned well before the First World War and was typical of ships built in that era comparable to the Italian battleships Conti de Cavour, Giulio Caesar.  The Two ships of the New York Class were improved Wyoming’s with a heavier main battery and better protection and were comparable to the Japanese Fuso class and British Royal Sovereign class ships.

Arkansas 1944

The oldest and also the smallest battleship in service in 1941 was the USS Arkansas. Displacing 26,000 tons and sporting a main battery of twelve 12”/50 guns in twin turrets she was launched on 14 January 1911 and commissioned on 17 September 1912 she first saw service in the Mexican crisis of 1914 and served with the British Home Fleet following the entry of the United States into the war. Between the wars Arkansas severed in both the Atlantic and Pacific and was modernized in 1925 receiving oil fired boilers to replace her coal fired plant. During the inter-war years she was engaged as were most battleships of the era in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve cruises, goodwill visits and in the case of Arkansas work with the Fleet Marine force as it began to develop its amphibious doctrine.

Operation Crossroad, Baker Test note Arkansas standing on end on right side of blast

When war came to Europe in 1939 Arkansas was serving with the Atlantic Fleet and conducted training operations and neutrality patrols.  In April 1941 she escorted the first convoy of Marines to Iceland and following that sailed to Argentia Newfoundland where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill concluding the Atlantic Charter.  Following Pearl Harbor she would primarily serve as a convoy escort and midshipman training vessel until June 6th 1944 where she provided naval gunfire support at Omaha Beach and subsequent support to land operations in Normandy. In August she took part in the invasion of southern France, Operation Anvil before returning the US for repairs and modifications before sailing to the Pacific.  The elderly ship then took part in the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa again providing naval gunfire support to Marines and soldiers ashore. She also was introduced to the Kamikaze at Okinawa.   When the war ended she carried returning troops home in “Operation Magic Carpet” and in 1946 she was earmarked for her last mission, Operation Crossroads, the first of the Bikini atomic bomb tests where she was sunk during test Baker on July 25th 1946.   She was anchored very close to the underwater blast and was violently sucked up into the blast where she can be seen standing on end it the picture below.

New York 1932 leading the Battle Line

The New York and her sister Texas were the first US Navy battleships armed with 14” guns.  The ships displaced 27,000 tons and mounted ten 14”/45 guns in twin turrets. Launched 30 October 1912 and commissioned April 15th 1914 the New York deployed with the Atlantic battle ship squadrons to Mexico during the crisis at Vera Cruz.  Like Arkansas she joined the American battleship squadron serving with the British Home Fleet in 1917 and served in convoy escort and deterrence missions until the end of the war.  Between the wars New York undertook various training missions and modernizations and was the sole US ship at the 1937 Grand Naval Review for the coronation of King George VI of England.

New York in 1944 departing for the Pacific

As war drew near New York remained engaged in training missions and took part in neutrality patrols and convoy escort missions in the Atlantic.  Following the outbreak of hostilities she would continue these missions and take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. She continued the vital convoy escort mission until she was withdrawn for service as a gunnery training ship for sailors being assigned to battleships and destroyer escorts.  In November 1944 she was sent to the Pacific where in February 1945 she provided naval gunfire support to the Marines at Iwo Jima. During pre-invasion bombardment she fired more rounds that any of the ships present.

New York at Iwo Jima

Her next action came at Okinawa where she provided 76 straight days of support to Marines and soldiers ashore while fending off kamikaze attacks and taking one minor hit.  She had her guns replaced at Pearl Harbor in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan.  After the cessation of hostilities New York took part in Operation Magic Carpet and took part in Fleet Week in New York.

New York receiving anti-radiation wash down after Baker. She has survived the blast in good condition

New York was then assigned to be a target ship in Operation Crossroads where she survived both Test Able and Test Baker.  Towed back to Pearl Harbor for extensive study she was finally expended as a target on July 8th 1948 by the Navy 40 miles off Oahu taking the punishment of a number of ships before sinking after 8 hours under fire.

Texas in 1919 note the Battle “E” on her funnel

The Texas was launched on May 18th 1912 and commissioned on March 12th 1914 and within two months was in action with the Atlantic Fleet off Mexico without the benefit of the normal shakedown cruise.

During World War One Texas joined Battleship Division 9 serving alongside the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow.  In this capacity she took part in convoy escort missions and operations in the North Sea including one where the Home Fleet nearly met the German High Seas Fleet in action.

Texas firing her main battery 1927 after her modernization

Between the wars Texas served on both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and received a major overhaul in 1925.  Like other ships she engaged in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve training cruises and operations with the Fleet Marine Force.  With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe Texas joined the neutrality patrol.  When the US entered the war Texas served as a convoy escort and participated in Operation Torch.  Her convoy escort duties remained unchanged until she took part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of France and provided gunfire support to Rangers at Point du Hoc and soldiers on Omaha Beach. Closing to within 3000 yards of the beach Texas guns provided direct support to troops on the beach and interdiction fire on German troop concentrations further inland. She continued this following D-Day and while engaged in a duel with heavy German guns near Cherbourg was struck by two 280mm (11.2 inch) shells, one of which struck her on the navigation bridge killing the helmsman and wounding nearly everyone else.   She then sailed into the Mediterranean where she again supported troops ashore lending her weight to the invasion of south France. With that mission completed Texas returned to New York for repairs and to have her main battery guns replaced.

Texas under German Fire off Cherbourg

Reassigned to the Pacific Texas would support the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she would remain in action for almost two months.  She finished the war in the Philippines and like so many other ships took part in Operation Magic Carpet. She arrived at Norfolk on February 13th 1946 to prepare for inactivation, but unlike so many other ships was spared the ignominious fate of the scrap yard or that of the New York and Arkansas. She was towed to Texas to serve as a permanent memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield and decommissioned there on April 21st 1948.  She was dry-docked and received a major overhaul in from 1988-90 which restored her to her 1945 appearance and in which major structural repairs were made. Continual restoration is conducted on the ship and there are plans for another major overhaul.  She is the last surviving “Dreadnaught” battleship in the world, a singular example of the great ships that once dominated the seas.

Texas at San Jacinto, the last of the Dreadnaughts

Though obsolete the Arkansas, New York and Texas rendered commendable service throughout the war and took part in some of the key invasions of the war. Their guns inflicted considerable damage on Vichy French, German and Japanese forces in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.  New York and Arkansas trained thousands of sailors for service aboard other ships.  They performed admirably and their availability to do the less glamorous missions of naval gunfire support, convoy escort and training sailors for the fleet enabled other ships to be available for other missions.  They and the proud Sailors and Marines who served aboard them should never be forgotten.

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

The First Aircraft Carriers Part One: The First American Flattops- Langley, Lexington and Saratoga

saratoga aircraft approach for landingAircraft over Saratoga

Note: This is the first in a series on the early aircraft carriers.  Two others will follow on the British and Japanese carriers.  My dad was a Chief Petty Officer in Naval Aviation.  As such I grew up around Naval Air Stations, Squadrons and of course Aircraft Carriers.  My dad retired off of the USS Hancock CVA-19 in 1974.  I spent two weeks underway on USS Coral Sea CV-43 as a NJROTC Cadet in the summer of 1976.  It was an experience that I will never forget.  While on the Cruiser USS Hue City CG-66 we deployed with the USS John F Kennedy CV-67 for Operation Enduring Freedom.  There is something about the power and majesty of the modern carriers at the same time there is a sense of timelessness in the first aircraft carriers.  Three of the first four American ships were converted from other platforms.  As a kid, a young adult and even now I am fascinated by all things Navy, especially ships that made history.  Here is my look at the first American Aircraft Carriers.

The United States did not invent the aircraft carrier although Eugene Ely flew an aircraft onto and off of the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania on January 18th 1911.  It was the British Royal Navy which first built and operated aircraft carriers beginning with the HMS Furious which had been converted from a light Battle Cruiser.  The Royal Navy would covert the sister ships of the Furious, the Glorious and Courageous as well as the auxiliary ship the Argus before building their first carrier that was designed from the keel up, the HMS Hermes.     With the British building carriers and the Japanese following suit the United States began a program of aircraft carrier production and operation unmatched in history.

uss langleyUSS Langley CV-1 The “Covered Wagon”

The first US carrier was the USS Langley, CV-1.  Langley was converted from the collier USS Jupiter beginning in July 1919.  She was commissioned as USS Langley CV-1 on 21 April 1920.  Displacing 15,150 tons fully loaded Langley embarked 34 aircraft and had a maximum speed of 15.5 knots.  Langley was primitive but groundbreaking.  She was the first carrier equipped with catapults and on 18 November 1922 achieved the first catapult takeoff by an aircraft.  She served as an invaluable training platform for Naval Aviators and helped provide the fleet with highly skilled flight crews that would operate from the USS Lexington and USS Saratoga.

langley as av-3Langley after conversion to AV-3

Nicknamed the “Covered Wagon” she served initially in the Atlantic until November of 1924 when she was transferred to the Pacific Battle Force.  She served as a carrier in the Pacific until 1936 when she was converted into a Seaplane Tender AV-3 and assigned to the Pacific in September 1939 based in Manila.  She was in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked and was sent south to Australia.  She was assigned to the ABDA forces defending the Netherlands East Indies and was sunk by her escorts after being bombed and disabled by Japanese aircraft while delivering fighter aircraft to Java with the loss of 16 sailors.

uss lexingtonUSS Lexington CV-2

The second two American Aircraft Carriers were also conversions.  Unlike Langley the Lexington and Saratoga were converted from a new class of large and powerful battle cruisers whose construction had been canceled by the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty.  Commissioned on December 14th 1927 Lexington was 880 feet long and displaced 38,746 tons.  Saratoga was commissioned on November 16th of the same year and of similar dimensions and displacement.  Both of these ships could steam at 33.25+ knots and had a complement of 90 aircraft.  They were armed with eight 8” guns mounted in 4 turrets at the behest of more traditionally minded officers who felt that the armament might be needed for surface actions.

Saratoga underwayUSS Saratoga CV-3

They were the largest American carriers built until the Midway class appeared inin late 1945 and early 1946.  Of other nations pre-war carriers only the Japanese Navy’s Akagi and Kaga, converted from a battle cruiser and battle ship for the same reason as a the Lexington’s were comparable in size, air group capacity, protection and speed. Saratoga’s 8”battery would be replaced by twin 5” 38 caliber mounts in 1942.

lexington sinkingLexington Burning and Sinking

Both ships were used to help develop carrier doctrine and the concept of the carrier task force. Future leaders of Naval Aviation including Marc A. Mitscher trained aboard or flew from these ships.  Of particular note was that during Fleet Problem XIX in 1938 Saratoga launched a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor from a point 100 miles off Oahu, setting a pattern that the Japanese copied in December 1941.

saratoga 1945Saratoga 1945

During World War II both helped hold the line after Pearl Harbor along with Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet. Lexington was the flagship of TF-11 during as series of raids on Japanese outposts in the Solomons.  TF-11 joined Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher’s TF-17 at the Battle of Coral Sea, the first Naval Battle fought outside of eyesight of the respective forces. Lexington’s aircraft helped sink the Japanese light carrier Shoho on May 7th 1942 and heavily damage the fleet carrier Shokaku the following day. However aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku hit Lexington with two torpedoes and 3 bomb hits which her damage control parties seemed to have under control when vapors from ruptured aviation fuel lines were ignited resulting in a series of explosions which ignited uncontrollable fires. Her crew was evacuated by escorts and she was torpedoed by the destroyer USS Phelps.

Saratoga served throughout the war. She engaged in patrols after Pearl Harbor and while enroute to joining Enterprise was hit by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-16. After repairs she was rushed to Hawaii to join the American Task Forces at Midway but arrived in Hawaii the day after the battle.  Following this Saratoga operated in the Central Pacific in the first offensive at Guadalcanal.  She participated in the landings as the flagship of Admiral Fletcher and then at the Battle of Eastern Solomons sank the Japanese light carrier Ryujo and damaged the seaplane carrier Chitose.  Following this battle she was hit by a torpedo from the I-26. After repairs she again went to the Solomons joined by the light carrier USS Princeton.  On November 5th the two carriers conducted a brilliant strike on Japanese ships and aircraft facilities at Rabaul which were threatening the landings at Bougainville.

saratoga 1944Saratoga September 1943

Following these operations Saratoga operated in the Gilberts and then with the British in the Indian Ocean.  She then was used as a training carrier for new pilots and aircrews at Pearl Harbor before being brought to Iwo Jima to operate night fighters against Kamikaze raids.  While conducting these operations she was attacked by Japanese aircraft in which 6 Japanese aircraft score 5 hits on her in 3 minutes.  Her forward flight deck was wrecked and she suffered great damage below decks and she lost 123 sailors.

saratoga kamikaze 2Saratoga burning after Kamikaze hits in 1945

Following repairs she resumed training duties and after the defeat of Japan was involved in Operation Magic Carpet to bring Servicemen back from overseas.  Surplus to Navy needs at the end of the war Saratoga was sunk in Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll by an underwater atomic blast in the “Baker” bomb test a mere 500 yards from her position. She sank 7 hours later.

saratoga sinkingThe End of an Era- Saratoga goes down at Bikini

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