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USS Essex (CV/CVA/CVS-9) was an aircraft carrier, the lead ship of the 24-ship built for the United States Navy during World War II. She was the fourth US Navy ship to bear the name. Commissioned in December 1942, Essex participated in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning the Presidential Unit Citation and 13 battle stars. Decommissioned shortly after the end of the war, she was modernized and recommissioned in the early 1950s as an attack carrier (CVA), and then eventually became an antisubmarine carrier (CVS). In her second career she served mainly in the Atlantic, playing a role in the Cuban missile crisis. She also participated in the Korean War, earning four battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation. She was the primary recovery carrier for the Apollo 7 space mission.

She was decommissioned for the last time in 1969 and sold for scrap in 1975.

Construction and Commissioning

Essex was laid down on 28 April 1941 by Newport News Shipbuildingmarker and Dry Dock Co., and launched on 31 July 1942, sponsored by Mrs. Artemus L. Gates, the wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. She was commissioned on 31 December 1942 with Captain Donald B. Duncan commanding.

Service history

World War II



Following her shakedown cruise, Essex steamed to the Pacific in May 1943 to begin a succession of victories which would bring her to Tokyo Baymarker. Departing from Pearl Harbormarker, she participated with Task Force 16 (TF 16) in carrier operations against Marcus Islandmarker (31 August 1943); was designated the flagship of TF 14 and struck Wake Islandmarker (5-6 October); participated in carrier operations during the Rabaulmarker strike (11 November 1943), along with and ; launched an attack with Task Group 50.3 (TG 50.3) against the Gilbert Islands where she also took part in her first amphibious assault, the landing on Tarawa Atollmarker (18–23 November). Refueling at sea, she cruised as flagship of TG 50.3 to attack Kwajalein (4 December). Her second amphibious assault delivered in company with TG 58.2 was against the Marshall Islandsmarker (29 January–2 February 1944).

Essex, in TG 58.2, now joined with TG 58.1 and TG 58.3 to constitute the Fast Carrier Task Force, to launch an attack against Trukmarker (17–18 February) during which eight Japanese ships were sunk. En route to the Mariana Islandsmarker to sever Japanese supply lines, the carrier force was detected and received a prolonged aerial attack which it repelled in a businesslike manner and then continued with the scheduled attack upon Saipanmarker, Tinianmarker and Guammarker (23 February).

After this operation, Essex proceeded to San Franciscomarker for her single wartime overhaul. Following her overhaul, Essex became the carrier for Air Group 15, the "Fabled Fifteen," commanded by the U.S. Navy's top ace of the war, David McCampbell. She then joined carriers and in TG 12.1 to strike Marcus Island (19–20 May) and Wake (23 May). She deployed with TF 58 to support the occupation of the Marianas (12 June–10 August); sortied with TG 38.3 to lead an attack against the Palau Islandsmarker (6–8 September), and Mindanaomarker (9–10 September) with enemy shipping as the main target, and remained in the area to support landings on Peleliumarker. On 2 October, she weathered a typhoon and four days later departed with TF 38 for the Ryukyusmarker.

For the remainder of 1944, she continued her frontline action, participating in strikes against Okinawamarker (10 October), and Formosamarker (12–14 October), covering the Leytemarker landings, taking part in the Battle for Leyte Gulfmarker (24–25 October), and continuing the search for enemy fleet units until 30 October, when she returned to Ulithimarker, Caroline Islandsmarker, for replenishment. She resumed the offensive and delivered attacks on Manilamarker and the northern Philippine Islandsmarker during November. On 25 November, for the first time in her far-ranging operations and destruction to the enemy, Essex received damage. A kamikaze hit the port edge of her flight deck landing among planes gassed for takeoff, causing extensive damage, killing 15, and wounding 44.

Following quick repairs, she operated with the task force off Leyte supporting the occupation of Mindoromarker (14–16 December). She rode out the typhoon of 18 December and made special search for survivors afterwards. With TG 38.3, she participated in the Lingayen Gulfmarker operations, launched strikes against Formosa, Sakishimamarker, Okinawa, and Luzon. Entering the South China Seamarker in search of enemy surface forces, the task force pounded shipping and conducted strikes on Formosa, the Chinamarker coast, Hainanmarker, and Hong Kongmarker. Essex withstood the onslaught of the third typhoon in four months (20–21 January 1945) before striking again at Formosa, Miyako-jimamarker and Okinawa (26 January–27 January).

For the remainder of the war, she operated with TF 58, conducting attacks against the Tokyomarker area (16-17, and 25 February) both to neutralize the enemy's air power before the landings on Iwo Jimamarker and to cripple the aircraft manufacturing industry. She sent support missions against Iwo Jima and neighboring islands, but from 23 March-28 May was employed primarily to support the conquest of Okinawa.

Essex being modernized, 1949.


In the closing days of the war, Essex took part in the final telling raids against the Japanese home islands (10 July–15 August). Following the surrender, she continued defensive combat air patrols until 3 September, when she was ordered to Bremerton, Washingtonmarker, for inactivation. On 9 January 1947, she was placed out of commission in reserve. Modernization endowed Essex with a new flight deck, and a streamlined island superstructure, on 16 January 1951 when recommissioned, with Captain A. W. Wheelock commanding.

Korean War

Essex after her SCB-27A modernization.


After a brief cruise in Hawaiian waters, she began the first of three tours in Far Eastern waters during the Koreanmarker War. She served as flagship for Carrier Division 1 and TF 77. She was the first carrier to launch F2H Banshees on combat missions; on 16 September 1951, one of these planes, damaged in combat, crashed into aircraft parked on the forward flight deck causing an explosion and fire which killed seven. After repairs at Yokosuka, she returned to frontline action on 3 October to launch strikes up to the Yalu River and provide close air support for U.N. troops. Her two deployments in the Korean War were from August 1951-March 1952 and July 1952-January 1953.

On 1 December 1953, she started her final tour of the war, sailing the China Sea with the Peace Patrol. From November 1954-June 1955, she engaged in training exercises, operated for three months with the 7th Fleet, assisted in the Tachen Islands evacuation, and engaged in air operations and fleet maneuvers off Okinawa.

Pacific Fleet

In July 1955, Essex entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyardmarker for repairs and extensive alterations. The SCB-125 modernization program included installation of an angled flight deck and an enclosed hurricane bow, as well as relocation of the aft elevator to the starboard deck edge. Modernization completed, she rejoined the Pacific Fleet in March 1956. For the next 14 months, the carrier operated off the West Coast, except for a six-month cruise with the 7th Fleet in the Far East. Ordered to join the Atlantic Fleet for the first time in her long career, she sailed from San Diegomarker on 21 June 1957, rounded Cape Hornmarker, and arrived in Mayport, Floridamarker on 1 August.

Atlantic and Mediterranean

F4D-1 Skyray approaches Essex during her last cruise as an attack carrier 1959–60.


In the fall of 1957, Essex participated as an anti-submarine carrier in the NATOmarker exercise Strikeback and in February 1958, deployed with the 6th Fleet until May when she shifted to the eastern Mediterraneanmarker. Alerted to the Middle East crisis on 14 July 1958, she sped to support the U.S. Peace Force landing in Beirutmarker, Lebanonmarker, launching reconnaissance and patrol missions until 20 August. Once again she was ordered to proceed to Asian waters, and transited the Suez Canalmarker to arrive in the Taiwanmarker operational area, where she joined TF 77 in conducting flight operations before rounding the Horn and proceeding back to Mayport.

Essex joined with the 2nd Fleet and Britishmarker ships in Atlantic exercises and with NATO forces in the eastern Mediterranean during the fall of 1959. In December she aided victims of a disastrous flood at Frejus, Francemarker.

In the spring of 1960, she was converted into an ASW Support Carrier and was thereafter homeported at Quonset Point, Rhode Islandmarker. Since that time she operated as the flagship of Carrier Division 18 and Antisubmarine Carrier Group Three. She conducted rescue and salvage operations off the New Jersey coast for a downed blimp; cruised with midshipmen, and was deployed on NATO and CENTO exercises that took her through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean. Ports of call included Karachi and the British Crown Colony of Aden. In November she joined the French navy in Operation "Jet Stream".

Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis

Essex in heavy seas, 1960.


In April 1961, Essex steamed out of Jacksonville, Florida on a two-week "routine training" cruise, purportedly to support the carrier qualification of a squadron of Navy pilots. 12 A4D-2 Skyhawk had been loaded aboard. The pilots were from attack squadron VA-34 Blue Blasters. The A4D-2Ns were armed with 20 mm cannon, and after several days at sea all their identifying markings were crudely obscured with flat gray paint. They began flying mysterious missions day and night with at least one returning bearing battle damage. Not generally known to Essex crew was that they had been tasked to provide air support to CIA-sponsored bombers during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion. The naval aviation part of the mission was aborted by President Kennedy at the last moment and the Essex crew sworn to secrecy.

Later in 1961, Essex completed a "People to People" cruise to Northern Europe with ports of call in Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Greenock, Scotland. During the Hamburg visit over one million visitors toured Essex. During her departure, Essex almost ran aground in the shallow Elbe River. On her return voyage to CONUS, she ran into a severe North Atlantic storm (January 1962) and suffered major structural damage. In early 1962, she went into drydock in the Brooklyn Navy Yardmarker for a major overhaul.

Essex had just finished her six-month long overhaul and was at Guantanamo Bay Naval Basemarker for sea trials when President John F. Kennedy placed a naval "quarantine" on Cuba in October 1962, in response to the discovered presence of Soviet missiles in that country (see Cuban Missile Crisis). (The word quarantine was used rather than blockade for reasons of international law—Kennedy reasoned that a blockade would be an act of war, and war had not been declared between the U.S. and Cuba.) Essex spent over a month in the Caribbean as one of the US Navy ships enforcing this "quarantine", returning home just before Thanksgiving.

Apollo missions

Essex was scheduled to be the prime recovery carrier for the ill fated Apollo 1 space mission. It was to pick up Apollo 1 astronauts north of Puerto Rico on 7 March 1967 after a 14-day spaceflight. However, the mission did not take place because on 27 January 1967, the Apollo 1 s crew was killed by a flash fire in their spacecraft on LC-34marker at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Stationmarker, Floridamarker.

Essex was the prime recovery carrier for the Apollo 7 mission. She recovered the Apollo 7 s crew on 2 October 1968 after a splashdown north of Puerto Rico.

Essex was the main vessel on which future Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong served during the Korean War.

Decommissioning and Disposal

Essex was decommissioned on 30 June 1969. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1973, and sold by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping on 1 June 1975.

See also



Notes

  1. Wyden (1979), pp.125–127, 130, 214, 240–241.
  2. Kennedy, Robert F. (1969)


References

  • Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1969. ISBN 978-0333103128.
  • Wyden, Peter. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ISBN 0671240064, ISBN 0224017543, ISBN 978-0671240066.


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