The Wartime Navy - Ships and Planes



At the beginning of the program, ten battleships were under construction. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, only two, the North Carolina and the Washington, were in service, but six more have joined the fleet since that time.

These include the South Dakota and three sister ships, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Alabama, and two of a larger class, Iowa and New Jersey. A third ship in the latter class, Wisconsin, was launched on 7 December 1943, appropriately enough, two years to the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

In speed, firepower, particularly antiaircraft fire, maneuverability, and protection, these ships represent a significant advance over previous designs.


Aircraft Carriers

The construction of aircraft carriers represents one of the most spectacular phases of the naval shipbuilding program. The carrier strength of the Navy on 7 December. 1941, was seven first-line vessels and one escort carrier, st converted mérchant ship.

Contracts had been placed for several large carriers of the new Essex class, and some had been laid down. Conversion of several merchant vessels was underway.

The pressing need to add to our striking power in the air and to replace losses suffered in the Pacific during 1942 led to a significant expansion of the construction program for first-line carriers.

Concurrently, the Navy undertook an even larger expansion of the escort carrier program. By the end of 1943, the Navy had put more than 50 carriers of all types into service in our Navy. In addition, many escort carriers had been transferred to Great Britain.

This remarkable record in construction enabled us in a single year to build up our carrier strength from the low point reached in the autumn of 1942, when the Saratoga, the Enterprise, and the Ranger were the only ships of our fleet carrier forces remaining afloat, to a position of clear superiority in this category.

The rapidity with which the Navy put new carriers of various types into service in 1943 influenced naval operations in many important respects. Availability of several ships of the Essex class and a considerable number of smaller carriers, completed months ahead of schedule, contributed to the success of our operations in the Southwest Pacific, aided materially in checking the submarine menace in the Atlantic, and enabled us to launch an offensive in the Central Pacific before the end of the year.

A large proportion of the Essex class carriers have joined the fleet. Excellent progress is being made on constructing the remaining ships in the original program and the additional vessels in this class authorized after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Nearly all of the carriers of the Independence class converted from light cruisers have been completed. Though smaller than the Essex class vessels, these ships are first-line carriers.

It is planned to supplement these two basic types of carriers with a third, substantially larger than any of our present classes, which will displace 45,000 tons and be capable of handling bombing planes larger than any which heretofore have operated from the decks of aircraft carriers.

They will be far more heavily armed than smaller carriers. They will be much less vulnerable to bomb and torpedo attacks.

The Navy's first escort carrier was the Long Island, which was converted early in 1941 from the merchant's Motmacmail. When experiments with this ship proved successful, a sizeable conversion program was initiated, using Maritime Commission C-3 hulls and several oilers. In 1942, the Navy greatly expanded this program because of a pressing need.


Plate VI: Destroyers -- Average Monthly Production in 1941, 1942, and 1943.

Plate VI: Destroyers -- Average Monthly Production in 1941, 1942, and 1943. Official US Navy Plate. Our Navy at War, 1944. GGA Image ID # 1d6a441d13


The "baby flat-tops'' have three principal uses. They serve as anti-submarine escorts for convoys; as aircraft transports, delivering assembled aircraft to strategic areas; as combatant carriers to supplement the main air striking force of the fleet.

These ships have proved invaluable in performing convoy escort and other duties for which larger and faster carriers are not needed. Although their cruising speeds are lower than those of our first-line carriers, these auxiliary carriers can be turned out more rapidly and at a fraction of the cost of conventional carriers.


The Baltimore class heavy cruisers, many of which are now in service, were designed from 19 July 1940 to 7 December 1941. These cruisers are considered as powerful as any heavy cruisers afloat, mainly as recent technical developments have made it possible to improve their fighting characteristics.

The Cleveland type of light cruiser (a development of the Brooklyn class) was approved for a large part of the cruiser program. Its design was completed just before the expansion was authorized.

The design of the large Alaska class resulted from a series of studies commenced when treaty limitations went by the board, and we were no longer bound by any limits on the size of ships.


Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts

The Fletcher class of destroyers, designed just after the outbreak of the war in Europe, formed a large part of the new destroyer-building program. Compared with earlier destroyers, they are larger.

They have significantly increased fighting power, made possible by the same technological developments that permitted similar improvements in our cruisers.

Destroyer production has been highly satisfactory, and it has been possible to expand and accelerate this part of the program in an orderly manner. Although some new yards were engaged in building destroyers, the increases were made possible by expanding facilities in yards that had experience in destroyer construction.

An idea of the acceleration in the delivery rate of destroyers may be had by comparison with the figures for 1941 and 1943. In 1943, the rate was approximately eight times that of 1941. (See Plate 6.)

Contracts for the first destroyer escorts were let in November 1941. In January 1942, the program was increased. As Germany stepped up the construction of U-boats, several more increases were found necessary.

Because of priorities, the Navy delayed the commencement of an extensive building program. Still, after the delivery of the first class vessel, in February 1943, mass production methods became effective in the 17 building yards concerned. The result was a phenomenal output of those very useful vessels.



As a result of the orderly progress in constructing submarines involving ongoing trials under service conditions, the main problem to be solved in building more submarines was expanding facilities.

For 15 years or more, there were only three yards in the United States with the equipment and the know-how to build submarines. These were the Navy yards at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Mare Island, California, and the Electric Boat Company afrGroton, Connecticut.

In addition to the expansion at these yards, two other yards went into the production of submarines. One was the Cramp Shipbuilding Corporation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the other was the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The building at the latter yard is a further testimonial to the ingenuity displayed throughout the entire program, in that submarines are built at Manitowoc, tested in the Great Lakes, then taken through the Chicago drainage canal and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where they are made ready for sea.


Landing Craft

One of the most significant achievements has been the landing craft construction program. Although the Navy began experimenting with small landing craft in 1936, we had only a few thousand tons in this category when we entered the war. In 1942, a billion-dollar program for the construction of landing craft was superimposed on the already heavy building schedule.

The shipyards gave the work top priority until the desired quota was filled. The facilities of existing public and private shipyards were given part of the burden.

New yards were constructed, many of them in the Mississippi Valley, where bridge-building and steel-working companies with no previous experience in shipbuilding put up new plants and swung into production.

In the second half of 1942, almost a quarter of a million tons of landing craft were produced. The figure increased to over a third of a million tons for the first half of 1943.

This production included a tremendous variety of vessels, from small rubber boats to tank landing ships more than 300 feet in length. Within this range are small craft designed to carry only a few men, ships with a capacity of 200, a tracked vessel capable of crawling over coral reefs or Up beaches, craft for landing tanks or vehicles, craft for landing guns, craft for giving close fire support —in fact, all types necessary for success in that most difficult of military operations, landing on a hostile shore.



As a natural consequence of the importance of aviation in war, there has been tremendous growth in the number of aircraft in the Navy.

Lessons learned in battle have been incorporated into the design of combat planes. New naval aircraft had larger engines and more power, increased protection for both crew and plane, and greater firepower than the models in service at the time of Pearl Harbor.

The Grumman Wildcat, which served with distinction through the first year of the war, has been largely replaced by two new fighters— the Chance-Vought Corsair and the Grumman Hellcat. These two fighters were born of the war.

While the Corsair existed as an experimental model before Pearl Harbor, it was modified before production to represent virtually a new plane. Offering significantly increased speed and firepower, the Corsair went into production in June 1942, and large numbers were being sent to the war fronts by the end of the year.

The Corsair was followed but in no sense succeeded by the Hellcat, which carries more armament and has dramatically increased climbing ability. In production since November 1942 and service with the fleet since September 1943, the Hellcat rounds out a powerful striking force for Naval aviation. These two planes are .superior to anything the Japanese have.

In service when this country entered the war, the Douglas Dauntless scout and dive bomber underwent successive modifications but is still in use. A new plane in this category—the Curtiss Helldiver—is now ready for the fighting front. This plane can carry a significantly increased bomb load, has more firepower, and is speedier than the Dauntless.

Twelve days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy approved the final experimental model of a new torpedo bomber, the Grumman Avenger. Six weeks later, this plane began coming off the production line.

Undergoing its baptism of fire at the Battle of Midway, it gradually replaced the Douglas Devastator and 'has now become almost an all-purpose plane for the fleet.

The Avenger is a speedy, strongly protected, rugged aircraft capable of delivering a torpedo attack at sea or a heavy bomb load on land targets. Since it was first put into service, its defensive armament and auxiliary equipment have been improved. A new model introducing other improvements is almost ready for volume production.

No aviation field has been more critical to the Navy than long-range reconnaissance and patrol. After two years of war, the Consolidated Catalina flying boat remains in active service. It has proved useful in performing such varied tasks as night bombing patrol, rescues, anti-submarine warfare, and dive bombing.

Since Pearl Harbor, the Catalina has been supplemented by the Martin Mariner, a larger plane, which has likewise proved versatile in this field.

The Navy has increasingly used land-based patrol airplanes because of the greater speed and range of newly developed models of this type and their greater defensive ability compared with seaplanes.

Their superior offensive and defensive power make them more valuable in anti-submarine warfare, combat reconnaissance photography, and patrol. With more land bases becoming available, it has been possible to utilize them effectively for extended over-water operations.

Two principal types of land-based patrol planes are now in service with the Navy—the four-engine Consolidated Liberator and the two-engine Vega Ventura. The Navy's version of the Liberator is an extremely useful plane for fast, long-range reconnaissance, search, and tracking.

A new version will soon be available with more powerful defensive armament and greater offensive strength. The Ventura is a powerfully armed aircraft that carries a heavy bomb load. It has proved a powerful weapon, particularly in the war against the submarine.

Two other land-based bombers—the Lockheed Hudson and the Douglas Havoc—have seen limited service with the Navy. A third—the North American Mitchell—is used by Marine air squadrons.

The principal plane used by the Navy for scout observation work during the war was the Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher. A newer aircraft in this field, now in service, is the Curtiss Seagull.

The field of air transport has been enormously expanded since the beginning of the war. The Naval Air Transport Service now operates, directly or through a contract with private airlines, more than 70,000 miles of scheduled flights to all parts of the globe, helping maintain the Navy's extended supply lines.

Thus far, standard-type transport planes have been used. In December 1943, however, the Martin Mars, the world's largest flying boat, was accepted by the Navy after exhaustive tests which proved its ability to carry heavy loads at long range.

Manufacture of the Mars, under a prime contract with the Navy, is now underway. The first production plane of this type recently entered actual service as a cargo carrier.


The tremendous increase in the number of fighting ships and the global nature of the war required the acquisition of a commensurately large fleet of auxiliaries.

These ships were obtained by construction, conversion of standard Maritime Commission commercial hulls, and acquiring and converting commercial vessels. Many modifications of standard Maritime Commission types have been accomplished under the supervision of the Maritime Commission.

Essential vessels produced under the auxiliary program during 1943 took part in actual landing operations, consisting of attack transports, attack cargo vessels, and general headquarters ships. The demand for repair ships of standard and special types, which increased many-fold during 1943, was met by new construction and conversion.


Patrol Craft

As previously stated, patrol vessels were necessary for a properly balanced Navy. The first group of patrol craft, whose design was developed before the war, was completed in the spring of 1942, and more than 600 vessels of this type were completed in 1943.

Motor torpedo boats (employed to good advantage in several different theaters) were produced at intervals per military requirements. The classification "Patrol Craft" includes the 110-foot sub-chaser and the 136-, 173- and 184-foot steel vessels.

The greatest emphasis on this type of ship prevailed before and during the German submarine offensive off our Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean.


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