Aircraft Carriers: Images of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific

A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft starting jet assisted take off with full load from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Altamaha (CVE-18). A Douglas SBD Dauntless is visible behind the F6F.
A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft starting jet assisted take off with full load from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Altamaha (CVE-18). A Douglas SBD Dauntless is visible behind the F6F.

The monster aircraft carriers. Since the beginnings of maritime combat, it was the battleship that commanded naval warfare. Whether they were the galleys of the Spanish Armada or the early 20th century dreadnought class, they all shared a common principle ― long-range encounters with the enemy.

Artillery was key, as opposing ships would exchange fire in an attempt to cause as much damage as possible to each other.

However the Second World War challenged this centuries-old concept by introducing aircraft carriers that enabled planes to engage in combat while being hundreds of miles away from their floating airfields.

USS Enterprise
The U.S. fleet at Majuro Atoll in 1944. Visible (among many other ships) are three Independence-class light carriers, four Essex-class carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6, right front), a South Dakota-class battleship, and two Iowa-class battleships.

But before entire fleets of aircraft could fit onto the platforms of massive aircraft carriers, risky experiments were conducted almost simultaneously in the U.S, Great Britain, and Japan.

As modifying battleships for carrier use bore fruit, the necessity to invest in the new naval technology became primary for most maritime superpowers.

USS Enterprise and USS Washington
Enterprise and Washington pass through the Panama Canal en route to New York in October 1945

The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 demonstrated how effective and essential aircraft carriers were for the future of naval warfare, and set the bar that dictated the terms of the Pacific Theatre.

However, once fully involved, the United States Navy responded with tremendous force. An overture to their offensive was the famous Doolittle Raid, which took place a few months after Pearl Harbor.

A B-25 taking off from USS Hornet for the raid

Launched from USS Hornet, the daring bombing raid involved 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers which released their bomb load over Tokyo. Landing the aircraft back on the deck of the carrier was not going to possible, so they proceeded on to China where ― unable to locate the landing markers ― the crews bailed out as darkness and bad weather closed in.

The United States public, as well as military forces, received a much-needed morale boost, while the Navy consolidated its doctrine regarding future campaigns and how much it should rely on developing an airborne force.

USS Hornet Doolittle raiders
Aft flight deck of USS Hornet while en route to the launching point of the Doolittle Raid, Apr 1942; note USS Gwin and USS Nashville nearby.

Thus, the number of aircraft carriers and specially adapted airplanes grew over the next few years.

Their size and purpose, as well as capacity, varied ― from light carriers, which were fast-moving, but limited in terms of aircraft aboard, to the slow and heavy fleet carriers, which served as flagships while acting as fully-functional seagoing airbases, providing facilities for carrying, arming, deploying and recovering aircraft.

Then there were small and slow-moving escort carriers whose role was to protect convoys of merchant ships and operate in the rear during battles.

As the war in the Pacific progressed, aircraft carriers became essential to the war effort, ultimately becoming the symbol of Allied supremacy in the field of battle.

Providing air support to the most displaced islands in the ocean, which became primary strategic assets, as well as hosting flocks of fighter planes and medium bombers during clashes on the open sea, these colossal sailing airports wrote history and also defined the term “naval superpower” for the present.

More photos

USS Enterprise
USS Augusta, USS Midway, USS Enterprise, USS Missouri, USS New York, USS Helena, and USS Macon in the Hudson River in New York, New York, United States for Navy Day celebrations, 27 October 1945.


USS Altamaha
A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft starting jet assisted take off with full load from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Altamaha (CVE-18). A Douglas SBD Dauntless is visible behind the F6F.


USS Attu
Crewmen on board the escort carrier USS Attu (CVE-102), her deck packed with Vought F4U Corsairs, observe personnel being transferred by high line to USS Fox (AG-85).


 USS Bairoko
View of a gunnery drill aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Bairoko (CVE-115), circa in 1945


USS Barnes
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Barnes (ACV-20) underway in the Pacific Ocean on 1 July 1943, transporting U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.


USS Belleau Wood
The U.S. Navy light aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) burning aft after she was hit by a Kamikaze, while operating off Luzon, Philippines, on 30 October 1944.


USS Birmingham and USS Block Island
The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) maneuvering alongside the escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-106) on 30 January 1945


USS Yorktown
Ships of the Bremerton Group, U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington (USA), circa on 23 April 1948. There are six aircraft carriers visible (front to back): USS Essex (CV-9), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), and USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) (in the background). Three battleships and various cruisers are also visible.


USS Boxer
USS Boxer (CV-21) during launching ceremonies, 14 December 1944. Note banner proclaiming: “Here We Go to Tokyo! Newport News Shipyard Workers’ War Bonds Help to Sink the Rising Sun”.


USS Yorktown
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) operating in the Pacific in February 1942, photographed from a Douglas TBD-1 torpedo plane that has just taken off from her deck.


Ulithi Atoll
U.S. Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. The other Essex-class carrier painted in sea blue Measure 21 is USS Lexington (CV-16).


USS Casablanca
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca (ACV-55), at right, about to be launched at Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyard, Vancouver, Washington (USA), on 5 April 1943. Two of her 49 sister ships are under construction at left. All escort carriers were redesignated “CVE” on 15 July 1943.


 USS Commencement Bay
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Commencement Bay (CVE-105), circa 1944-1945.  She wears Camouflage Measure 32 design 16A.


USS Anzio
The U.S. escort carrier USS Anzio (CVE-57) rolling in heavy seas of the Pacific Ocean, probably in 1945. Note the casual attitude of the deck crew. A Grumman TBF (or TBM) Avenger is visible on the left, a Grumman F4F (or FM) Wildcat is tied to far end of the deck.


USS Bunker Hill
Task Group 58.3, under Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, departs Ulithi on 10 February 1945. Seen from USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) are USS Cowpens (CVL-25), left, and USS Essex (CV-9), center.


USS Hollandia
View of crewmen making “three turns around the flight deck” aboard the U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Hollandia (CVE-97), in 1944-1945.


Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver
Two U.S. Navy Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver aircraft from Bombing Squadron 11 (VB-11) bank over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) before landing, following strikes on Japanese shipping in the China Sea, circa mid-January 1945.


Battleship New Jersey
Part of the anti-aircraft gun crew of the Battleship New Jersey (BB-62), watching helplessly, as a Japanese kamikaze plane prepares to strike the aircraft carrier Intrepid (CV-11) on 25 November 1944.


USS Kitkun Bay
Japanese plane shot down as it attempted to attack USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) near Mariana Islands


The U.S. Navy Task Group
The U.S. Navy Task Group 38.3 enters Ulithi anchorage in column, 2 December 1944, while returning from strikes on targets in the Philippines. Ships are (from front): USS Langley (CVL-27), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Washington (BB-56), USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS South Dakota (BB-57), USS Santa Fe (CL-60), USS Biloxi (CL-80), USS Mobile (CL-63), and USS Oakland (CL-95).


USS Long Island
View of the forward hangar bay of the first U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Long Island (ACV-1) in June 1942. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats and Curtiss SOC-3 Seagulls (biplanes) of squadron VGS-1 are spotted.


USS Randolph
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March.


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Nikola Budanovic

Nikola Budanovic is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE