USS Essex (CV-9)
USS Essex (CV-9) in 1943, prior to any modernization
|Namesake:||USS Essex (1799)|
|Ordered:||3 July 1940|
|Builder:||Newport News Shipbuilding|
|Cost:||78 million USD|
|Laid down:||28 April 1941|
|Launched:||31 July 1942|
|Commissioned:||31 December 1942|
|Decommissioned:||9 January 1947|
|Recommissioned:||15 January 1951|
|Decommissioned:||30 June 1969|
|Struck:||1 June 1973|
|Homeport:||Quonset Point, Rhode Island|
|Motto:||E Navibus Pugnissima|
|Nickname(s):||Fightin'est Ship in The Fleet|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap in 1975|
|Class and type:||Essex-class aircraft carrier|
|Speed:||33 knots (61 km/h)|
|Range:||20,000 nautical miles (37,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)|
USS Essex (CV/CVA/CVS-9) was an aircraft carrier and the lead ship of the 24-ship Essex class 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 aircraft 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 Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. After the Pearl Harbor attack her building contract (along with the same for CV-10 and CV-12) was reworked. After an accelerated construction, she was 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.
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World War II
Following her builder's trials and shakedown cruise, which were both accelerated, Essex moved to the Pacific in May 1943 to begin a succession of victories which would bring her to Tokyo Bay. Departing from Pearl Harbor, she participated with Task Force 16 (TF 16) in carrier operations against Marcus Island. On 31 August 1943, she was designated the flagship of TF 14 and struck Wake Island on 5 to 6 October and participated in carrier operations during the Rabaul strike on 11 November along with USS Bunker Hill and USS Princeton. She then 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 during the Battle of Tarawa. While Refueling at sea, she cruised as flagship of TG 50.3 to attack Kwajalein on 4 December. Her second amphibious assault delivered in company with TG 58.2 was against the Marshall Islands on 29 January to 2 February 1944.
Essex, in TG 58.2, now joined with TG 58.1 and TG 58.3 to constitute Task Force 58, the "Fast Carrier Task Force", to launch an attack against Truk on 17 to 18 February 1944 during which eight Japanese ships were sunk. En route to the Mariana Islands to sever Japanese supply lines, the carrier force was detected and received a prolonged aerial attack which it repelled and then continued with the scheduled attack upon Saipan, Tinian and Guam on 23 February 1944.
After this operation, Essex proceeded to San Francisco 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 USS Wasp and USS San Jacinto in TG 12.1 to strike Marcus Island on 19 to 20 May 1944 and Wake on 23 May 1944. She deployed with TF 58 to support the occupation of the Marianas on 12 June to 10 August; sortied with TG 38.3 to lead an attack against the Palau Islands on 6 to 8 September, and Mindanao on 9 to 10 September with enemy shipping as the main target, and remained in the area to support landings on Peleliu. On 2 October, she weathered a typhoon and four days later departed with Task Force 38 (TF 38) for the Ryukyus.[note 1]
For the remainder of 1944, she continued her frontline action, participating in strikes against Okinawa on 1 October, and Formosa from the 1 to 14 October, covering the Leyte landings, taking part in the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 24 to 25 October, and continuing the search for enemy fleet units until 30 October, when she returned to Ulithi, Caroline Islands, for replenishment. She resumed the offensive and delivered attacks on Manila and the northern Philippine Islands 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 Mindoro on 14 to 16 December 1944. She rode out Typhoon Cobra and made special search for survivors afterwards. With TG 38.3, she participated in the Lingayen Gulf operations, launched strikes against Formosa, Sakishima, Okinawa, and Luzon. Entering the South China Sea in search of enemy surface forces, the task force pounded shipping and conducted strikes on Formosa, the China coast, Hainan, and Hong Kong. Essex withstood the onslaught of the third typhoon in four months on 20 to 21 January 1945 before striking again at Formosa, Miyako-jima and Okinawa on 26 to 27 January.
For the remainder of the war, she operated with TF 58, conducting attacks against the Tokyo area on 16 to 17, and 25 February 1945 to neutralize the enemy's air power before the landings on Iwo Jima and to cripple the aircraft manufacturing industry. She sent support missions against Iwo Jima and neighboring islands, but from 23 March to 28 May was employed primarily to support the conquest of Okinawa.
In the closing days of the war, Essex took part in the final telling raids against the Japanese home islands on 10 July to 15 August 1945. Following the surrender of Japan, she continued defensive combat air patrols until 3 September, when she was ordered to Bremerton, Washington for inactivation. On 9 January 1947, she was placed decommissioned and placed in reserve. Modernization endowed Essex with a new flight deck, and a streamlined island superstructure on 16 January 1951, when she was recommissioned, with Captain A. W. Wheelock commanding.
After a brief cruise in Hawaiian waters, she began the first of three tours in Far Eastern waters during the Korean War. She served as flagship for Carrier Division 1 (CarDiv 1) and Task Force 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 in the East China Sea with what official U.S. Navy records describe as the "Peace Patrol". From November 1954 – June 1955, she engaged in training exercises, operated for three months with the United States Seventh Fleet, assisted in the Tachen Islands evacuation, and engaged in air operations and fleet maneuvers off Okinawa.
In July 1955, Essex entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 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 Diego on 21 June 1957, rounded Cape Horn, and arrived in Naval Station Mayport on 1 August.
Atlantic and Mediterranean
In the fall of 1957, Essex participated as an anti-submarine carrier in the NATO Exercise Strikeback and in February 1958, deployed with the 6th Fleet until May, when she shifted to the eastern Mediterranean. Alerted to the Middle East crisis on 14 July 1958, she sped to support the U.S. landings in Beirut, Lebanon, launching reconnaissance and patrol missions until 20 August. Once again, she was ordered to proceed to Asian waters, and transited the Suez Canal to arrive in the Taiwan 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 British 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 Fréjus, France.
In the spring of 1960, she was converted into an ASW Support Carrier and was thereafter homeported at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. 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
In April 1961, Essex steamed out of NS Mayport on a two-week "routine training" cruise, purportedly to support the carrier qualification of a squadron of Navy pilots. Twelve A4D-2 Skyhawks had been loaded aboard, the aircraft, pilots and support crews all from attack squadron VA-34. 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 John F. 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. 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 Yard for a major overhaul.
Essex had just finished her six-month-long overhaul and was at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base for sea trials when President 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.
While conducting replenishment exercises with NATO forces in November 1966, Essex collided with the submerged submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571). The submarine sustained extensive sail damage, returning to port unassisted. Aboard Essex, the hull was opened and the ship's speed indicator equipment was destroyed, but the carrier was still able to make port unassisted. Essex subsequently reported to the Boston Naval Shipyard for extensive overhaul and hull repairs.
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-34 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Decommissioning and disposal
Essex was decommissioned on 30 June 1969 at Boston Navy Yard. 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. Essex was scrapped at Kearny, New Jersey.
- Presidential Unit Citation
- Navy Unit Commendation
- Meritorious Unit Commendation
- Navy Expeditionary Medal (two awards)
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 13 battle stars
- World War II Victory Medal
- Navy Occupation Medal with "ASIA" clasp
- China Service Medal
- National Defense Service Medal with star (two awards)
- Korean Service Medal with four battle stars
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with two stars (three awards)
- Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
- Philippine Liberation Medal
- United Nations Service Medal
- TF 38 was actually the same formation as TF 58, the nomenclature being changed to reflect the rotation of command staffs employed by the Navy for efficiency in executing multiple operations; this rotation allowed constant front-line deployment of the ships and their crews while providing operational planning time at better-equipped, rear-area base facilities for the command structure not currently afloat.
- Essex (CV-9) iv.
- Wyden 1979, pp. 125–127,130,214,240–241.
- Kennedy 1969.
- Nautilus (SSN-571) iv.
- Hansen 2005.
- "Essex CVS-9". Navsource.org. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
- St. John, Philip A. (1999). USS Essex CV/CVA/CVS-9. Turner Publishing Company. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-56311-492-2.
- "Essex CVS-9". Naval Vessel Registry. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
- Streb, Richard W. (1999). Life and Death Aboard the USS Essex. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing. ISBN 978-0805946055.
- "Essex (CV-9) iv". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. 15 January 2015.
- Hansen, James R. (2005). First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-5751-0.
- Kennedy, Robert F. (1969). Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-333-10312-8.
- "Nautilus (SSN-571) iv". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. 27 May 2014.
- Wyden, Peter (1979). Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-24006-6.
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