Essex-class aircraft carriers were vital warships that formed the bulk of the combat strength of the United States Navy after World War II, until super carriers took over in the late 1960s. These carriers were designed and developed to carry a large number of aircraft.
They were sixty feet longer, ten feet wider in the beam, and heavier than the preceding Yorktown-class carriers, which were built before the Second World War. Essex-class carriers had larger and wider flight decks equipped with elevators for increased aviation operations, which raised their offensive and defensive capabilities.
Development and Design
The US Navy ordered about eight such carriers in 1940. They were: Franklin, Hornet, Ticonderoga, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Randolph, Wasp, and Hancock. Lexington, Wasp, Hornet, and Yorktown were renamed during construction, in accordance with the Navy's intent to continue the legacy of their predecessors, which had been lost in combat.
Many new changes were made in the post-World War II period. New aircraft being developed were heavier and wider, and hence, the carriers required more space for takeoff and landing. Advanced armament was added to carriers, resulting in the ships getting heavier.
The design of the hangar was also much discussed upon, because the US Navy not only wanted sufficient space for storing spare fuselages, but also enough space for engineers to work below the deck.
Many experiments were carried out, and the port-side deck-edge elevators were added, which were a great success, as they increased the parking area on the deck when in the 'up' position.
The Essex-class carriers had 36 fighters, 36 dive bombers, and 18 torpedo planes. These were collectively known as the Sunday Punch. It had SB2C-1 Helldiver standard scout aircraft and TBF Avenger torpedo planes.
They were equipped with advanced radar, like Mark 12 sweeping radar and Plan Position Indicator (PPI) display, which could keep track of ships. The most deadly weapons, however, were four 5-inch (127 mm) 38-caliber twin gun turrets, 17 quadruple 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, and 65 single 20 mm Oerlikon close-in defense guns.
Essex-class carriers played a vital role in the Pacific theater of World War II. They performed a multitude of missions, attacking the Japanese fleet and transporting aircraft and troops, all without a single carrier being sunk.
They were indeed a major reason of the resounding success of the US Navy. They played a key role in the Vietnam War as well, with 13 out of the 24 carriers participating. They also played a part in the United States space program by acting as recovery ships.
Essex-class aircraft carriers were decommissioned by the US Navy when super-carriers like the USS Enterprise, which were more technically advanced and lethal than the former, were built. Today, some of them have been preserved and are open to the public as museums.