USS Ticonderoga (CV-14): The Aircraft Carrier That Served In Two Wars and Aided In the Apollo Missions

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / National Museum of Naval Aviation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / National Museum of Naval Aviation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The USS Ticonderoga (CV/CVA/CVS-14) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier built by the US Navy during the Second World War. She was the fourth ship to hold the name for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolution. Throughout the latter years of World War II, she served in the Pacific Theater, after which she participated in the Vietnam War and even played a role in NASA‘s Apollo 16 and 17 missions.

Construction of the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) at sea
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), 1944. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The USS Ticonderoga was laid down on February 1, 1943 at Newport News, Virginia. Initially, the aircraft carrier was going to be named Hancock, after the founding father, John Hancock, but her name was changed during the construction process. The vessel was commissioned on May 8, 1944, under the command of Capt. Dixie Kiefer.

After two months of outfitting in Norfolk, Virginia, Ticonderoga, designated CV-14, sailed to the British West Indies, where she trained with Air Group 80. On July 16, she departed for Norfolk, before making a trip to Panama. Following a transit of the Panama Canal, Ticonderoga traveled to San Diego, where she received provisions, as well as US Marine Corps defense and aviation units. She then sailed to Pearl Harbor for additional training and tests.

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) specs

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) at sea
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), 1944. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The USS Ticonderoga was 888 feet long, with a 93-foot beam and a draft of 29 feet. She weighed 27,500 tons, and was powered by eight boilers, four geared steam turbines and four shafts, which allowed the aircraft carrier to reach speeds of up to 33 knots (38 MPH).

In addition to her complement of 3,448 officers and men and 90-100 aircraft, Ticonderoga carried an array of armaments, including twelve 5-inch guns, thirty-two Bofors 40 mm guns and forty-six Oerlikon 20 mm cannons.

Entering the fight in the Pacific Theater

Smoke rising from the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) following a kamikaze attack, 1945. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / National Museum of Naval Aviation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The USS Ticonderoga departed Pearl Harbor on October 18, 1944 for the Western Pacific, arriving off the coast of the Western Caroline Islands 11 days later. She was added to Task Force 38 (TF 38), part of Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman’s Task Group 38.3 (TG 38.3).

Ticonderoga‘s first action took place during the Philippines Campaign, providing air support as part of the Battle of Leyte. On November 5, she launched her first air strike, with her aircraft playing a role in the bombing and strafing of airfields at Zablan, Mandaluyong and Pasig; the sinking of the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi; and the destruction of seven enemy aircraft, with an additional 23 damaged.

It was during this engagement that Ticonderoga first encountered Japanese kamikaze aircraft. While the USS Lexington (CV-16) took a hit from two, Ticonderoga made it out unscathed. Following this, she and TF 38 continued to launch strikes against enemy positions in the region, scoring a number of successes.

Falling victim to Japanese kamikaze strikes

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) shrouded in smoke
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) after being hit by Japanese kamikaze aircraft off Formosa, 1945. (Photo Credit: USN / USS Ticonderoga 1958-59 Cruise Book / NavySite / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In January 1945, the USS Ticonderoga and TF 38 sailed through the South China Sea to begin operations as part of Operation Gratitude. Her aircraft helped down four enemy bombers in the early days of the raid, after which TF 38 conducted anti-shipping sweeps, which took out 44 Japanese vessels.

TF 38 then moved its focus to the South Japanese Islands. Good weather made American flying operations easy. Unfortunately, it was also good for the Japanese. On the afternoon of January 21, two kamikaze aircraft appeared on the horizon. One struck the USS Langley (CVL-27), while the second crashed through Ticonderoga’s flight deck. When it hit the carrier, the kamikaze‘s bomb exploded above the hangar deck, damaging stored aircraft and killing numerous crewmen.

To save the ship, Ticonderoga was turned, to keep the wind from fanning the flames, while possibly disastrous areas, such as the magazines, were flooded to prevent the spread of damage. This created a 10-degree list to port.

While fighting the fires created by the first kamikaze, four more attacked the carrier. The anti-aircraft guns were able to shoot down three. The fourth, however, hit Ticonderoga on the starboard side, setting more aircraft aflame and killing or injuring another 100 men, including Capt. Dixie Kiefer.

With the crew’s fast actions, the fires were kept under control, and Ticonderoga sailed back to Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs. These were finished by April 20, and she left the following day to return to the Pacific. After a stop in Hawaii to pick up crewmen and aircraft, she arrived at Ulithi and rejoined the Fast Carrier Task Force, as part of Task Group 58.4 (TG 58.4).

Only two days after her arrival, Ticonderoga departed to fight the final weeks of the war in Japanese home waters. This period saw aircraft from the carrier strike enemy airfields and other targets, including Tokyo. After Japan formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), Ticonderoga served as part of Operation Magic Carpet, bringing home American servicemen.

USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) returns to the fight

USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) at sea
USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14), 1971. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Following the end of the Second World War, the USS Ticonderoga was decommissioned and placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet. During this time, she was upgraded for use by jet aircraft through the addition of steam catapults, updated systems and other modifications. She was also redesignated CVA-14 during this time.

On September 11, 1954, Ticonderoga was recommissioned, under the command of Capt. William A. Schoech. Back in operation, she received additional modifications, the most significant being an angled flight deck. These upgrades were finished in 1957, at which point she got underway, traveling to the waters off Japan for a six-month deployment.

Following additional peacetime deployments in the Pacific, Ticonderoga found herself involved in a second war, this time in Vietnam.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident

North Vietnamese boats at sea
North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, as seen from the USS Maddox (DD-731), 1964. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

On August 2, 1964, the USS Ticonderoga became involved in the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which saw the United States become even more involved in the Vietnam War. An encounter between the US Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy, it began after the USS Maddox (DD-731) reportedly came under attack while the American forces were conducting secret operations in North Vietnamese territorial waters.

Receiving word of the attack, Ticonderoga sent four Vought F-8E Crusaders, armed with rockets, to assist. They engaged the North Vietnamese with the rockets, as well as strafing fire. Two days later, on August 4, the aircraft carrier received a second request for aid, this time from the USS Turner Joy (DD-951). Again, Ticonderoga launched fighters, sinking two boats and damaging an additional two.

Ticonderoga continued to launch air strikes against North Vietnamese supply, logistics and communications targets between 1964-69, split between “Dixie” and “Yankee” stations. Over the course of her time in the Far East, she conducted tens of thousands of sorties.

Apollo 16 and 17

USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) transiting near the Apollo 17 Command Module
USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) recovering the astronauts and Command Module of the Apollo 17 mission, 1972. (Photo Credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

After her return from Vietnam, the USS Ticonderoga was redesignated CVS-14 and underwent conversion to an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) support carrier. She conducted training for this new role, and during the same year made a brief appearance in the film, Tora! Tora! Tora!, portraying the USS Enterprise (CV-6).

In April 1972, Ticonderoga was deployed to the eastern Pacific to recover the Apollo 16 mission capsule and its crew of three, some 215 miles from Christmas Island. The carrier did the same for the Apollo 17 mission later that year, picking up Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt off the coast of American Samoa.

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Ticonderoga’s final action was on June 22, 1973, when she picked up the Skylab 2 astronauts off the coast of San Diego. The aircraft carrier remained active for a number of months after, before being decommissioned for a final time on September 1, 1973. Two years later, she was sold for scrap.

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.