28 September 2007

Some interesting history

I have watched Ken Burns latest documentary titled "The War". It is an amazing documentary, or at least what parts that I have been able to catch in between working. Watching a portion of it got me to think about some of the interesting events for the US Navy in Europe.
When you look at the US Fleet in the hours after the Pearl Harbor Attack you can see that the US fleet was left to this:
In Pearl was the battleships that had made up the various battle lines of the Pacific Fleet. All of them were sunk or heavily damaged. Coming home from delivery mission to Wake was the USS Enterprise, CV-6, Battle group. Going to Midway was the USS Lexington, CV-2, battle group. Scattered up and down the Western Seaboard for overhaul and refitting was the USS Saratoga Battle group.
On the Atlantic Side coming out of the Brooklyn and Philadelphia Naval Yards was the USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS Washington (BB-56). Respectfully, they had just finished being initially outfitted. Then scattered at either Norfolk Naval Station, Brooklyn Naval Yard, Philadelphia Naval Yard, Newport Naval Station; was the remains of the US Neutrality Patrol. USS New Mexico BB-40, USS Idaho BB-42, USS Mississippi BB-41, USS New York BB-34, USS Texas BB-35, USS Arkansas BB-33, USS Ranger CV-4, USS Wasp CV-5, USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Hornet CV-8, USS Long Island CVE-1. Except for the aircraft carriers all of those battleships were of pre-WW1 or completed during WW1. By the end of start of 1942 the only carriers left in the Atlantic was the Wasp, Ranger, Long Island.

The USS Wasp helped to escort the 6th Marines to Iceland and flew off US Army Air Force P-40's to Iceland in 1940. Then became part of the Neutrality Patrols on the US eastern seaboard. After the days after December 7th, the USS Wasp sailed south out of Norfolk Naval Yard with CVG-7 (CVG=Carrier Air Group). They went south to the Caribbean to make sure that the no Vichy French Naval Forces sortied to harass Allied Shipping. All of those ships were sighted tied up through out the rest of that December. After being refitted at Norfolk Naval Yard in the early part of 1942, the USS Wasp and the USS Washington departed with escorting destroyers and cruisers sailed to Scapa Flow which was the home of the British Home Fleet. Both ships were to help bolster the losses that the Royal Navy had suffered during the previous 3 years of war. It was at Scapa Flow that the USS Wasp would undertake one of her most important missions. She offloaded a portion of CVG-7 to the airfield at Scapa Flow, she only held on to VF-71 all of which were placed down on the hangar bay. She took on a number of Supermarine Spitfires Mark V's. The plan was that the Wasp was going to steam with a Royal Navy Convoy to with in range of the little island of Malta and deliver those Spitfires to the RAF contingent there. It was on the 20th of April that the USS Wasp, launched a combat air patrol of 11 F4F-3's early in the morning. with in minutes of the Spitfires were roaring down the flight deck and on the way to Malta. The force returned to Scapa Flow. However, those Spitfires she initially launched were decimated with in hours of their landing at Malta by the Italian and German Air Forces. So Prime Minister Churchill asked to use the Wasp to deliver another squadron of Spitfires to Malta. So she sailed again in May with another load of Spitfires.
It was during this delivery that a RCAF pilot named Jerry .A. Smith was awarded a pair of gold Naval Aviator Wings from Lt. David McCampbell who was the LSO that waved the Spitfire pilot back on board the USS Wasp. The plane returned to the ship after it was found out that Pilot Officer Smith found that his drop tank would not transfer fuel. It only took Smith two tries and he was able to land with only 6ft left on the deck. Unfortunately Smith disappeared a months later while flying over Malta.

With the damages to the US Pacific Carrier Fleet forced Adm. King to withdrawn the USS Wasp to the Pacific combat zone. While leaving Scapa Flow the crew of the Wasp heard over a German radio station that the ship had been sunk by the Luftwaffe during the second delivery mission.

The Yorktown patrolled the Eastern Seaboard and Caribbean from the spring of 1941 as part of the USS Neutrality patrol. Possible came under attack by a German U-boat off the coast of the Carolina's that summer of 1941. Then she laid into Norfolk Naval Base on the 2nd of December. Nine days after the events of Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown left for Pearl Harbor and to become part of Task Force 17 under the command of Rear Adm. Fletcher.

The last fleet carrier on the Atlantic side was the USS Ranger, CV-4. She was the first purpose built carrier in the US. She was small when compared to the USS Lexington and Saratoga. Lessons learned from her being built lead to the improved Yorktown class carriers. She was just of the coast of the Eastern US Seaboard on the way home from a neutrality patrol off the windward islands when war was announced over both the military and civilian radio networks. The day after Pearl Harbor, while the President Roosevelt was making his "Day of Infamy" speech. The USS Ranger, was on loading supplies and war shots over night. She then went back underway on the 10th of December to patrol again along the Eastern Seaboard. She returned home and then entered Norfolk Naval Yard in late March 1942. After coming out in late April she proceed to deliver USAAF P-40's through out portions of Gold Coast of Africa and then patrolled South America to show the US Flag. In October the Ranger was joined by 4 brand-new carriers made from converted tankers. These were ships of the Swanee class. These ships provided air cover for the landings in North Africa as part of Operation Torch.

Some F4F's of VF-41 and SBD's of both VS-42 and VS-42 struck at dawn against the Vichy French naval forces at the port of Casablanca. VS-41 and VS-42 dropped bombs on the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart and other elements of the Vichy French naval units that made their home port in Casablanca. Meanwhile the F4F's mixed it up with elements of Vichy French Air Force as it left its base at Cazes. The rest of VS-42 and VS-41 along with VF-41 were trying to attack air base. Meanwhile the two squadrons VGF-26 and VGF-27 also flew the F4F tangled with the Vichy French. The Vichy French flew a local French Fighter called the Dewoitine D.520 and the export version of the USAAF's P-36 Hawk fighter also known as the Hawk 75 of which a small number had been delivered to the French before the fall of France in 1940. The French pilots that the US Navy pilots flew against where not conscripts rather they were experienced pilots and survivors of the battle for France in 1940. So it was a serious challenge and 5 US aircraft were lost to combat. Meanwhile about another 23 pilots of CVG-4 cracked up their aircraft during operational use. That was a serious attrition loss.
On the 8th of November 1942 the US Army landed in Morocco, by the 12th Casablanca had capitulated and two of the CVE's had been carrying both L-4's and P-40's of a USAAF fighter group had landed at the airfields around Casablanca that US Carrier Force started to make the return trip to the US.
Of another note is a battle between Vichy Naval Forces and the US Navy. It was the second time in 139yrs that French and US Naval forces had engaged each other. A naval gunnery battle erupted between the French Cruiser Primauguet and the battleship USS Massachusetts. Those two along with seven French destroyers and the cruiser engaged the Massachusetts and the US cruiser USS Augusta (which had onboard General G. S. Patton and his staff). In the period of about 2 hours the French task force had either been sunk or so heavily damaged that the ships were beached by their crews.
At the end of the Operation Torch Landings the USS Ranger and CVG-4 had shot down 15 enemy aircraft. Her SBD's had sunk two enemy submarines near the invasion fleet, heavily damaged or destroyed 86 enemy vehicles, destroyed 70 enemy aircraft on the ground, and destroyed numerous fixed positions that were holding up the advance of the 1st Army.
The USS Ranger, went into the yards yet again in December of 1942 and didn't leave the yards until late February of 1943. After which she proceeded yet again to the North African coast but with only a load of P-40's to be delivered to the USAAF units in North Africa. After returning home to she preformed ASW patrols from as far north Halifax to as far south as Key West. She also opened up her flight deck to pilots learning how to be naval aviators as well during this time period from March until August. When at the request of the Royal Navy that the US Navy donate a fleet carrier to the British Home Fleet. So the Ranger and air group four headed to the Home Fleet's home port of Scapa Flow. They arrived on the 19th of August and were immediately put to use patrolling the northern and southern approaches of the British Isles for Axis naval units whether that was S-boats and other surface shipping or U-boats. On the 4th of October the Ranger and her air group flew air strikes against German shipping in the Norwegian port of Bodo. They proceeded to sink 6 German ships and while ranging all over the waters around Bodo at the lost of only 3 planes. She returned to Scapa flow on the 6th of October. After which she returned to the US by that December. She was then tasked through out the rest of 1944 to operate in the Chesapeake Bay as a training carrier for new pilots.
So that was the experiences of the fleet carriers of the US Navy in the Atlantic. Most of the combat was seen in the opening months of the war and by 1943 the escort carrier or "Jeep Carrier" was coming into service to close the gap and they were being used in hunter-killer groups to hunt the German U-boats and protect convoys of men and supplies that would form the forces that would invade the French coast in June of 1944. Except for the Ranger, most of the fleet carriers would be sunk during the battles to secure the waters around Guadalcanal.

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