AVG-30 (later CVE-30) USS Charger at anchor, May 12, 1942. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 12 (Modified). Photo: NHHC
American and British Escort Aircraft Carriers
Text: Jean Lafitte
The smallest aircraft carriers were referred to as escort carriers. They were typically converted from vessels for other purposes and primarily provided protection to numerous supply convoys. Aircraft from their decks also took off for reconnaissance flights, amphibious operations support, and operated in coordination with large aircraft carriers, especially in the Pacific. They also played a significant role in anti-submarine warfare.
Due to their construction method, which usually involved conversion from existing sufficiently large ships, a large number of escort aircraft carriers could be built during World War II, and many of them continued to serve in the post-war period.
British Aircraft Carriers
The British Royal Navy experienced a shortage of aircraft carriers early in the war. At the outset, they had ships that had been converted during World War I. HMS Argus, which was built in 1914 and modified into an aircraft carrier towards the end of World War I, was reactivated from reserve, but her role was primarily for transport or escorting convoys. HMS Furious was also converted into an aircraft carrier during World War I, and in the 1920s, sister ships HMS Glorious and HMS Courageous were similarly modified. Another conversion, this time from the battleship Almirante Cochrane originally ordered by Chile, resulted in HMS Eagle. Although HMS Hermes was built from the beginning as an aircraft carrier, it was still based on the design of a light cruiser.
The first British ship designed from the outset as an aircraft carrier was HMS Ark Royal. Six more British aircraft carriers were based on her design, with the only difference being the requirement for armor on the sides of the hull and flight and hangar decks. The armor plates for these carriers were supplied by Vítkovice Ironworks in then Czechoslovakia. This way, HMS Illustrious, Victorious, Formidable, and Indomitable were created. Two more were built during the war and entered service in 1944. The extensive use of armor became a characteristic of British ships, and their durability was especially evident during their service in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. However, given the small number of aircraft carriers in the early years of the war, the losses for the Royal Navy were significant. HMS Courageous was sunk by U-27 on September 17, 1939, while sister ship HMS Glorious was sunk by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the Norwegian campaign on June 8, 1940. HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle were both sunk by German submarines. The first was lost to U-81 on November 13, 1941, and the second to U-73 on August 1, 1942. HMS Hermes was sunk on April 9, 1942, near Ceylon after being hit by dozens of Japanese dive bombers.
Even without these losses, all British aircraft carriers would not have been able to protect convoys adequately, especially given the high risk of submarine torpedo attacks during convoy voyages. The number of convoys required a swift response. Aircraft taking off from the mainland could only provide air protection up to a certain distance from the shores of Canada and the British Isles. Coastal Command aircraft also conducted reconnaissance over a large part of the Atlantic and later in the North Sea. Convoy routes along the northern route to the Soviet Union were constantly at risk of being detected by aerial reconnaissance and targeted by German bombers or torpedo planes because the routes were limited by the ice boundary and, in the winter months, led too close to Norway's North Cape. These convoy routes were easily reachable by Luftwaffe aircraft and too far for British aircraft from the Orkney Islands. The Soviet Naval Air Forces did not have enough resources to protect convoys since they had to primarily defend Soviet ports.
HMS Ark Royal was the first British carrier built for the purpose from the beginning. Armour steel plates were supplied by then Czechoslovak Vítkovice Steel company. Photo: NHHC
CAM (Catapult Aircraft Merchant Ship)
A quick solution was found in the form of CAM ships. Several merchant vessels were equipped with catapults that allowed aircraft to take off. However, each of these "catapults" was risky because they often led to the loss of the aircraft, as pilots usually had no choice but to land on the sea. In most cases, Hawker Hurricane aircraft borrowed from the RAF were used. Some ships could carry up to four of them. The launch was done from a metal structure on the bow, and rockets provided the energy for the catapult. These modified ships were called CAM (Catapult Aircraft Merchant Ship), and a total of eight privately-owned ships were converted, with two of them being sunk. Additionally, 27 ships of the Ministry of War Transport were converted, with ten of them being sunk. Although this solution may seem desperate at first glance, Hurricanes or “Catafighters,” as the modified Hurricanes were called for this role, achieved successes. The first success came on April 26, 1942, when a Hurricane from SS Empire Morn (convoy QP 12), piloted by F/O J. B. Kendal, chased away a Blohm & Voss BV 138 and shot down a Junkers Ju 88A-4 “4D+IT” from III./KG 30. Unfortunately, Kendal was killed during the subsequent sea landing. Another successful engagement occurred on May 26, 1942, over convoy PQ 16 when Pilot P/O Hay, launched from SS Empire Lawrence, shot down two Heinkel He 111s. However, his Hurricane was shot down by Heinkel's defensive fire. Some sources suggest that it was "friendly" fire from the American ship Carlton. Given the massive attacks by both submarines and the Luftwaffe, it's not surprising that this happened, as convoy PQ 16 was under constant threat. The pilot was injured but was rescued by the escort destroyer HMS Volunteer. Among the seven ships sunk out of a total of 36, SS Empire Lawrence was one of them. So, Hay may have been fortunate that he was rescued by HMS Volunteer, which was not among the sunken ships. The opportunity to reach a land base was utilized by F/O A. H. Burr on September 18, 1942, launched from SS Empire Morn. He first shot down two Heinkel He 111s and then headed for a Russian airfield. F/O N. Taylor shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor on November 1, 1942, after taking off from SS Empire Heath as part of convoy HG 91. The last success of Hurricane catapult fighters occurred on the same day when F/O P. J. R. Flynn shot down a Fw 200.
Drawing prepared by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for escort aircraft carriers of the Casablanca class. This plan, showing the ship’s starboard side, forward flight deck end, and stern, is dated April 13, 1944 and was approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg. Photo: NHHC
British Escort Aircraft Carriers
The need for a large number of carriers and the impracticality of CAM ships led to the idea of converting suitable merchant vessels into aircraft carriers. The expected lower speed of such ships was not a significant issue given their role in protecting convoys, as convoy speeds were always determined by the slowest ship. The conversion of the first escort aircraft carrier used the originally German merchant ship Hannover, which the British captured in the West Indies in March 1940. They renamed it Sindibad, then SS Empire Audacity. It was refitted and put into service as HMS Empire Audacity, with the conversion taking place in Clyde shipyards. The first landing on its deck was performed by a Grumman Martlet Mk.I from No. 802 Naval Air Squadron (FAA) on July 10, 1941. All six aircraft in its air group had to be stored on the flight deck because the expedited conversion to an escort carrier did not include a hangar deck. The Admiralty disliked its merchant name, so HMS Empire Audacity was renamed HMS Audacity on July 31, 1941.
The short operational service demonstrated the effectiveness of this solution. During the sailing of convoy OG 74, one of the Condors was shot down by a Martlet. The most significant engagements occurred during the voyage of convoy OG 76. Four Condors were shot down during an attack by KG40, and Eric “Winkle” Brown claimed his first aerial victory. One Martlet was lost. During the voyage of the convoy HG 76, about twelve submarines attacked, and HMS Audacity had only four Martlets to fend off the aerial attacks. They managed to shoot down two Condors. During an attack on U-131 Type IXc, one Martlet was shot down, and its pilot was killed, but the submarine could not submerge after the attack and was sunk by its crew after further damage from the convoy escort's gunfire. Subsequently, 47 men from U-131 were captured.
When HMS Audacity left the convoy on the night of December 21, 1941, a hasty signal from one merchant ship ignited a flare, revealing the silhouette to lurking submarines. Capturing an aircraft carrier was a valued prize for German submariners, and the mistake to reveal the silhouette led to reports of the sinking of an Illustrious-class carrier, which German propaganda duly exploited.
Other British Escort Aircraft Carriers have connections with those built in the United States, so let's cross the Atlantic westbound and look at the construction of the aircraft carriers in the USA.
US Navy Escort Aircraft Carriers
The largest production of escort aircraft carriers during the war unsurprisingly took place in shipyards in the United States. They built a total of 124 ships, 38 of them were delivered to the Royal Navy.
The Long Island Class
The first class of escort aircraft carriers produced in the USA was named after the first ship in the class, the Long Island. The basis for these carriers was the hulls and engines of standardized merchant ships Type C3 designed in the 1930s. Between 1939 and 1946, a total of 162 of these ships were built. For conversion, the MS Rio de la Plata and MS Mormacmaild were used. The first completed ship supplied to the British was named HMS Archer. It was 150 meters long, and its wooden flight deck was 120 meters long. It was powered by four diesel engines driving a single propeller. The maximum speed was 16.5 knots, equivalent to 30.6 km/h. The ship was equipped with one catapult and one elevator to the hangar. Its capacity was 15 aircraft with a combination of Grumman Martlet or Hawker Sea Hurricane and anti-submarine Fairey Swordfish or Grumman Avenger. The operational use of this vessel raised concerns in the Royal Navy due to its high rate of breakdowns. Eventually, HMS Archer was taken out of service and later returned to the USA. It underwent conversion into a merchant ship and continued sailing until the 1960s when it was scrapped in 1961 after a fire.
The second ship of this class (but the first one completed) was designated for the US Navy, named USS Long Island, and initially marked as AVG-1, then ACV-1, and finally CVE-1. Since she entered service before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, she could be used for testing, which later helped in organizing aircraft operations on CVE-class ships. Shortly after the Japanese attack, she was transferred with reinforcements to the Pacific. When she arrived in San Francisco on June 5, she immediately joined Admiral William S. Pye’s Task Force One (TF 1), which consisted of seven battleships, providing the air cover. TF 1’s task was to protect the US West Coast and potentially reinforce Admiral Chester Nimitz's forces during the Battle of Midway. Another important mission was the transport of nineteen Wildcats and Dauntlesses to Henderson Field during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Although she received the designation of an aircraft carrier, USS Long Island served the entire war as a transport ship and was eventually converted into a passenger ship.
Henry J. Kaiser presents President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a model of the escort carriers that he was constructing at Vancouver, Washington, on March 18, 1943. Kaiser built 50 of these Casablanca class carriers in 1943–44. Photo: NHHC
The Avenger Class
Following the two ships of the Long Island class, there were four similar vessels referred to as the Avenger class. All of them were again conversions from C3-type cargo ships constructed by the Dry Sun Shipbuilding Company and Ch. Pennsylvania Shipbuilding Company. The parameters of these ships were similar to the previous class. Three of them were delivered to the Royal Navy as HMS Avenger, HMS Biter, and HMS Dasher. The fourth ship remained in the service with the United States Navy as the USS Charger.
British ships were extensively used for convoy escort duties, especially to the USSR. Their most significant action was their participation in Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. All three Avenger-class ships were part of this operation. HMS Avenger was sunk west of Gibraltar on November 15, 1942, by the German submarine U-155 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Adolf Piening. A total of 516 crew members lost their lives in the sinking.
HMS Dasher sank due to an unexplained explosion near the Firth of Clyde base on March 27, 1943. One of the possible explanations was a mishap involving one of the aircraft on board, leading to the ignition of gasoline fumes from leaking tanks. The loss of 379 out of 528 crew members was a tragedy, despite the swift assistance from other ships. Many sailors managed to escape the ship but succumbed to hypothermia or burns suffered during the fire.
HMS Biter was returned to the US Navy in April 1945. After undergoing repairs, it was loaned to the French Navy and renamed Dixmude (D97). From 1945 to 1949, it participated in several campaigns in French Indochina, primarily operating Douglas Dauntless aircraft as part of Flotille 3FB.
The fourth ship of the Avenger class, USS Charger (CVE-30), served throughout the war in Chesapeake Bay as a training ship for pilots and carrier flight deck crews. After the war, it was converted into a passenger ship named Fairsea and mainly transported migrants to Australia. Notably, the Gibb family, including future Bee Gees members Barry, Maurice, and Robin, arrived in Australia on its deck, as did the parents of Kylie Minogue.
USS Long Island under conversion at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. Yard, April 1, 1941. She had received the name Long Island on March 31, 1941. Note flight deck under construction and temporary retention of her neutrality MKGS open. Lighter YC-301 is in left background. Photo: NHHC
The Sangamon Class
Previous ships were constructed based on standardized C3 merchant ships, which were characterized by a propulsion system consisting of four diesel engines driving a single shaft and one propeller. This configuration limited their performance, which was not ideal for the operation expected from aircraft carriers. Merchant ships typically sail at an economical speed, whereas military vessels often require maximum speed. This disparity led to the mentioned high failure rate. The four aircraft carriers of the Sangamon class were built based on standardized T3 tankers, derived from the Cimarron class (T3-S2-A1). They were powered by four boilers driving two steam turbines and two propellers. This design allowed these ships to achieve speeds of up to 18 knots (33 km/h). Their larger tanker hulls, with a length of 169 meters, enabled them to carry up to 32 aircraft in various combinations according to operational needs. Two flight deck elevators and one catapult facilitated flight operations.
All four of these constructed ships served in the US Navy: CVE-26 USS Sangamon, CVE-27 USS Suwannee, CVE-28 USS Chenango, and CVE-29 USS Santee retained their names from the tankers from which they were converted. USS Sangamon initiated its service in the Atlantic during the first combat action of the USA in the west, which was securing the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942. Later she operated mainly in the Pacific. Initially, she spent eight months in the Solomon Islands area during the Guadalcanal campaign, and in November 1943, she supported the landings on Tarawa. On January 25, 1944, during the Battle of the Marshall Islands, one of the returning aircraft crashed upon landing, causing a fire that killed seven crew members. In June 1944, USS Sangamon participated in the Battle of the Marianas. The next phase of the American offensive was the Philippines. Before landing in Leyte Gulf on October 20, her aircraft attacked Japanese airfields, supporting the American landing, before being hit by a Japanese bomb, although the damage was not significant. The ship then participated in the subsequent battles in Leyte Gulf as part of Task Unit 77.4.3, also known as Taffy 1.
Moored at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, on June 2, 1942, shortly before she sortied with Task Force ONE under Vice Admiral William S. Pye. Photo: NHHC
At the end of January 1945, USS Sangamon left the shipyard where she underwent modernization, including upgrades to its aircraft handling and weaponry systems. After leaving the shipyard, she headed towards Japan and participated in the Battle of Okinawa. From March 21 onwards, she supported American amphibious operations and attacks on nearby Japanese airfields around Okinawa. During this time, the ship came under attack by kamikaze pilots. One of them managed to bypass the ship's anti-aircraft defenses and crashed into the flight deck, causing significant damage and killing at least eleven crew members. The damaged ship was subsequently withdrawn to the United States for repairs, although these repairs were not completed due to the war’s end.
Similarly, to the others, USS Suwannee (CVE-27) began her military operations by participating in the North African landings during Operation Torch. Afterward, she moved to the Pacific. For the following seven months, she provided air escort for transport and supply ships, supporting the Marines on Guadalcanal, as well as forces occupying other islands in the Solomon Islands. She also operated as part of the air support group, with her aircraft bombing Tarawa. In 1944, she took part in actions at Roi and Namur islands in the northern part of the Kwajalein Atoll, and her planes conducted anti-submarine patrols. She was involved in campaigns at Palau islands and supported the battles at Hollandia by transporting replacement aircraft for larger carriers. It also supported the invasions of the Marianas and participated in campaigns against Saipan and Guam. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, on June 19, 1944, one of her aircraft attacked and sank the Japanese submarine I-184.
Flight deck of USS Suwannee (CVE-27) 90 minutes after a Japanese suicide plane’s bomb had ripped a hole in it. Hole is patched and ship is ready to land aircraft. Note that only four wires, instead of eight, are being used. All landings were made without mishap. Photo: NHHC
In the battles of Leyte, USS Suwannee faced kamikaze attacks. Although the ship’s anti-aircraft fire hit the attacking plane, it still crashed into the flight deck at 08:04, causing a hole approximately three meters in diameter. The bomb carried by the attacking aircraft exploded between the flight and hangar decks. However, within two hours, the flight deck was temporarily repaired, allowing to resume the flight operations. The following day, the ship had to confront more Kamikaze attacks. One Zero aircraft crashed into the flight deck at 12:40, simultaneously hitting a torpedo bomber that was being prepared for takeoff. Both aircraft exploded, as did nine others in the vicinity. A fire burned for several hours before being brought under control. During these two days, USS Suwannee suffered 107 casualties and 160 wounded. At the beginning of 1945, repairs were carried out, and then she participated in operations around Okinawa.
USS Chenango (ACV-28) managed to complete several months of service as an oil tanker before her conversion. She sailed across the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific to Honolulu. AO-31 Chenango was located in the port of Aruba when a German submarine shelled one of the refineries on the island. In her role as an aircraft carrier, her first action was Operation Torch, during which she transported 77 Warhawks from the 33rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces. After repairs of the damage caused by a hurricane, the ship was sent to the Pacific. In January 1943, she provided air cover for supply convoys heading to the Solomon Islands. In July 1943, she was reclassified as CVE-28 and during the following months underwent the reconstruction. Over the next two years, she participated in many major Pacific War campaigns, including invasions of Tarawa, Roi-Namur, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Aitape, Hollandia, Pagan, Guam, Morotai, Leyte, and Okinawa. She also provided support during the final offensive against Japan.
First army P-40 fighter to take off from USS Chenango (CVE-28), to fly shore for combat operations in Morocco, about November 10, 1942. Note U. S. flag markings, and bridge from catapult behind the plane. Photo: NHHC
The Bogue Class
This “mass-production” class of escort carriers was again constructed based on C3-S-A1 and C3-S-A2 transport ships. Initially, 22 ships were ordered, half of which served in the US Navy: CVE-9 USS Bogue (ex-Steel Advocate), CVE-11 USS Card, CVE-12 USS Copahee, CVE-13 USS Core, CVE-16 USS Nassau, CVE-18 USS Altamaha, CVE-20 USS Barnes, CVE-21 USS Block Island, CVE-23 USS Breton, CVE-25 USS Croatan, and CVE-31 USS Prince William. The British Royal Navy received the other half, which they designated as the Attacker class. Here is a list of these ships, including their original names, sometimes with the names of the original transport ships:
HMS Battler (ex CVE-6 Altamaha; ex-Mormacmail)
HMS Attacker (ex CVE-7 Barnes; ex-Steel Artisan)
HMS Hunter (ex CVE-8 Block Island; ex-Mormacpenn)
HMS Chaser (CVE-10 Breton)
HMS Fencer (ex CVE-14 Croatan)
HMS Stalker (ex CVE-15 Hamlin)
HMS Pursuer (ex CVE-17 St. George)
HMS Striker (ex CVE-19 Prince William)
HMS Searcher (ex AVG-22)
HMS Ravager (ex AVG-24)
HMS Tracker (ex BAVG-6).
ACV-16 (later CVE-16) USS Nassau underway in December of 1942. This photograph has been retouched by wartime censors to hide radar and other antennas on the ship’s mast. Photo: NHHC
Due to the British Navy’s satisfaction with these, they ordered more vessels of the same specifications, sometimes referred to as the Ruler class:
HMS Slinger (ex CVE-32 Chatham)
HMS Atheling (ex CVE-33 Glacier)
HMS Emperor (ex CVE-34 Pybus)
HMS Ameer (ex CVE-35 Baffins)
HMS Begum (ex CVE-36 Bolinas)
HMS Trumpeter (CVE-37 Bastian)
HMS Empress (ex CVE-38 Carnegie)
HMS Khedive (ex CVE-39 Cordova)
HMS Speaker (ex CVE-40 Delgada)
HMS Nabob (ex CVE-41 Edisto)
HMS Premier (ex CVE-42 Estero)
HMS Shah (ex CVE-43 Jamaica)
HMS Patroller (ex CVE-44 Keweenaw)
HMS Rajah (ex CVE-45 Prince)
HMS Ranee (ex CVE-46 Niantic)
HMS Trouncer (ex CVE-47 Perdido)
HMS Thane (ex CVE-48 Sunset)
HMS Queen (ex CVE-49 St. Andrews)
HMS Ruler (ex CVE-50 St. Joseph)
HMS Arbiter (ex CVE-51 St. Simon)
HMS Smiter (ex CVE-52 Vermillion)
HMS Puncher (CVE-53 ex Willapa)
HMS Reaper (CVE-54 Winjah).
Given the large number of ships, we will focus on those with a connection to the “Wilder Cat” model kit, which was a Limited edition focused on the FM-2 Wildcat, a type typical for the use on these ships.
The camouflage scheme “J” included in the model kit instructions represents the Wildcat Mk.VI, which took off from the HMS Pursuer’s deck in August 1944. The ship primarily served as an escort for convoys but also participated in several offensive operations. The Royal Navy had a continuous concern about the German battleship Tirpitz, hidden in Altenfjord, Norway. On April 3, 1944, during Operation Tungsten, aircraft from HMS Pursuer provided fighter support for the main airstrike. Convoys were organized not only by the Allies during World War II, but also by the German Navy, especially in the intricate coastal waters of Norway. On April 26, 1944, Wildcats from No 882 Squadron participated in a successful attack on a German convoy near Bodo in northern Norway. Bombs hit all four supply ships and one of the five escorting vessels. Three supply ships were set ablaze, and the largest ran aground. While the attack was underway, other aircraft penetrated the port of Bodo, where one supply ship was bombed and set on fire amidst other vessels. Subsequently, HMS Pursuer was damaged by a storm and had to undergo repairs which took a month.
During the D-Day landings in Normandy, she served as anti-submarine protection, and during Operation Dragoon, her aircraft once again provided air cover. After the war, she was returned to the United States and scrapped in 1946.
German Submarine Type IXC being attacked and sunk by USS Pope (DE-134), USS Chatelain (DE-149), USS Pillsbury (DE-133), and USS Flaherty (DE-135) assisted by aircraft of VC-58 from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) on April 9, 1944. Photo: NHHC
The Casablanca Class
The largest number of escort aircraft carriers built during World War II was the Casablanca class. What was specific about the construction of these ships was that, prior to the war, the average construction time for an aircraft carrier was about 38 months. However, due to the wartime effort, this time was shortened to 20 months. Then there was industrial magnate Henry J. Kaiser, who managed to reduce the construction time for cargo ships (Liberty ships) in his shipyards from over a year to less than 90 days. Kaiser pledged to build a fleet of 50 small aircraft carriers in less than two years! American naval authorities were initially skeptical and hesitant to approve the order. But the Allies desperately needed aircraft carriers to replace their initial wartime losses.
Kaiser managed to build them as quickly as planned, and any opposition against these vessels quickly vanished because they proved their utility in defending convoys and providing air support for amphibious operations. This allowed larger aircraft carriers to focus on offensive air operations. The construction of these ships was highly efficient. Unlike the aforementioned classes, they were powered by two Skinner Unaflow steam engines supplied by steam from four Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Each ship was driven by two propellers, achieving a speed of 19 knots (35 km/h). The vessels measured 156 meters in length, with a flight deck that was 144 meters long and featured one catapult and two elevators. The air groups typically consisted of around 27 aircraft, depending on the types and units. Given that 50 ships were built, let's focus on those relevant to the Eduard FM-2 kit.
Practice division formation and maneuver exercises in Hawaiian waters, January 13, 1944. Photographed from USS Manila Bay (CVE-61). Ships astern are: USS Coral Sea (CVE-57), USS Corregidor (CVE-58), USS Natoma Bay (CVE-62), and USS Nassau (CVE-16). These carriers all served in the Marshalls Operation a few weeks later. Photo: NHHC
CVE-60 USS Guadalcanal
This ship was essentially a hunter-killer, specifically designed for submarine warfare, and it spent its entire career in the Atlantic theater during World War II. German submarines, or U-boats, spent most of their time on the surface during the war because they couldn't remain submerged for more than approximately 72 hours due to the need to recharge their batteries and exchange air. In 1944, they were reluctant to surface during daylight hours for fear of being spotted by patrol planes from escort carriers. These carriers were effectively covering the entire Atlantic, making daytime attacks too risky. However, the pilots of the USS Guadalcanal devised new tactics: they launched their planes at sunset and only landed them at dawn.
Thanks to the Ultra system, which involved deciphering German messages, the Allies had access to the positions of submarines while they were refueling on the surface. On January 16, 1944, just before sunset, eight Avengers took off and quickly located three U-boats. They swiftly attacked with depth charges and successfully destroyed U-544.
During a second anti-submarine mission on April 8, one of the patrolling Avengers discovered U-515 recharging its batteries on the surface northwest of Madeira. The Avenger forced it to submerge by dropping depth charges. Throughout the night, four Avengers circled overhead, waiting for U-515 to surface again to recharge its batteries. It finally surfaced at 14:00, and a subsequent attack left only sixteen survivors out of a crew of sixty. Among the survivors was the commander, Werner Henke, who was captured but, sadly, was shot in June 1944 while attempting to escape from a secret interrogation center known as P.O. Box 1142 in Fort Hunt, Virginia.
USS Tripoli (CVE-64) during a cruise in Atlantic. Collection Richard M. Newman via Lyn McClain and NHHC
The third and perhaps most famous action involving USS Guadalcanal occurred on June 4, 1944, when a German submarine was detected off the coast of Río de Oro. One Wildcat from USS Guadalcanal joined a pair of TBM Avengers and another Wildcat that were already on patrol in the air. Through the combined efforts of aircraft and ships, the submarine was severely damaged, forcing it to surface. Both the ships and planes opened fire, and when it became clear that the submarine's crew was abandoning the damaged vessel, an eight-man team from the destroyer USS Pillsbury, led by Lieutenant Albert David, boarded U-505. They secured maps and codebooks, closed the sea strainers, deactivated demolition charges, and stopped the inflow of water, keeping the submarine afloat. Subsequently, U-505 was towed by USS Guadalcanal. Its engines were disconnected, and the propellers spun freely, powered by electric motors that provided the necessary energy to operate the pumps that kept the submarine on the surface. Despite the capture taking place near French Morocco, the decision was made to tow U-505 all the way to Bermuda, covering 1,700 nautical miles (3,150 km) due to concerns about potential German spies. The operation was kept secret until the end of the war, as it yielded valuable intelligence, and it was crucial to prevent the Germans from learning about it. Today, U-505 is part of the Museum of Science and Industry's exhibit in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to this capture, the last time the U.S. Navy had captured an enemy warship was in 1815.
Another German submarine was found by Avengers from USS Guadalcanal at dawn on April 10. U-68 was caught recharging its batteries 300 miles south of the Azores. Three Avengers attacked with depth charges and rockets, resulting in the destruction of U-68. Only one crew member, Hans Kastrup, survived.
USS White Plains steaming in San Diego Harbor, California, upon her return from the central Pacific on March 8, 1944. Photo: NHHC
CVE-61 USS Manila Bay
The USS Manila Bay conducted all of its operations exclusively in the Pacific theater. It was deployed in the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January 1944, and in March 1944, its aircraft were sent against Kavieng and the Bismarck Archipelago. In June 1944, after repairs, it returned to combat during the Marianas campaign, and in October, it provided air support during the attack on Leyte. In December 1944, planes launched from the USS Manila Bay played a similar role in supporting invasion convoys to Mindoro. On January 5, 1945, during the invasion of Lingayen Gulf, the USS Manila Bay was hit by two kamikazes, causing extensive damage and the loss of fourteen men. After urgent repairs, the ship conducted limited operations, returning to full action in May.
CVE-64 USS Tripoli
At the beginning of its service, the USS Tripoli operated in the Atlantic Ocean, primarily engaging German submarines. It was only in January 1945, as it became clear that the war in this theater was coming to an end, that it was transferred to the Pacific, where it remained until the war's conclusion. Nevertheless, its aircraft managed to claim the sinking of the U-513, as described in the instructions for the respective camouflage of this model kit.
USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73) straddled by Japanese shells and falling behind the rest of her task group during the battle off Samar, October 25, 1944. A Japanese cruiser is barely visible on the horizon at the right.
CVE-66 USS White Plains
This ship saw its first action in late May 1944 during the Marianas campaign. It conducted aerial and anti-submarine patrols, and in August 1944, it joined the naval forces preparing for the invasion of Palau, which began on September 15. In October, it participated in supporting the invasion of the Philippines, with its aircraft providing air support for ground troops while engaging in anti-submarine warfare. The USS White Plains also took part in the battles of Leyte and Samar. After repairs, it carried out transport duties between Kwajalein, Hollandia, Ulithi, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, and Pearl Harbor from January 1945 onward. It only returned to combat operations in April 1945 during the amphibious operation on Okinawa, where it dispatched two squadrons of Corsairs from a distance of 100 miles to establish an advanced airbase on the island.
CVE-73 USS Gambier Bay
The USS Gambier Bay, an escort carrier, was sunk during the Battle off Samar in the Leyte Gulf campaign. It played a crucial role in helping repel a much larger attacking Japanese fleet. This event made the USS Gambier Bay the only American aircraft carrier to be sunk by surface gunfire during World War II. It was named after Gambier Bay in the Admiralty Islands near Alaska, and its construction began at the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company in Vancouver, Washington, on November 22, 1943. Captain Hugh H. Goodwin was appointed as its first commanding officer on December 28 of the same year. The ship was referred to as a "bonus ship" because it was the 19th vessel delivered in 1943, even though the shipyard had initially planned to deliver only 16 ships by the end of that year. However, in September, the US Navy requested the shipyard to deliver at least two additional escort carriers. Kaiser initiated a campaign called "18 or more by '44," and ultimately, they delivered not 18 but 19 ships.
USS Nehenta Bay on a cruise during 1944
CVE-74 USS Nehenta Bay
The USS Nehenta Bay’s encounter with Typhoon Cobra illustrates that ships can face severe weather as a significant adversary. An operation planned near Luzon on December 17, 1944, was greatly influenced by the weather. The barometer was falling, and Admiral William Halsey Jr. ordered a series of maneuvers, which eventually led his fleet into the heart of Typhoon Cobra. Wave heights were estimated to reach 18 meters, and after some time, it became clear to the USS Nehenta Bay's commander that maintaining the designated course was impossible, and an alternative course was chosen to protect the ship. The ship was tossed with rolls of up to 37°, a very dangerous situation for a carrier of its class. After changing course, the ship managed to reduce the rolls, but the crew still had to contend with wind speeds of up to 110 knots (176 km/h). When it was all over, the crew could begin assessing the damage. The ship itself emerged with only minor damage, losing three aircraft and one 20mm gun. Later, in early 1945, the ship encountered adverse weather while operating in the South China Sea. Waves as high as 9 meters damaged the structure on the bow, leading to the removal of the catapult. The ship then sailed to San Diego for major repairs. In May, with VC-8 aircraft on board, it joined Task Force 52.1 under Rear Admiral Calvin T. Durgin and supported American forces advancing on Okinawa.
CVE-75 USS Hoggatt Bay
The USS Hoggatt Bay achieved its first success on June 10, 1944. A Wildcat from USS Hoggatt Bay’s patrol spotted an oil slick approximately eight miles (13 km) west of the escort carrier. The destroyer USS Taylor of the Fletcher class was dispatched to investigate and soon detected strong sonar contact. It turned out to be the Japanese submarine Ro-111. USS Taylor dropped two depth charges, and at 15:41, the submarine surfaced 2,500 yards (2,300 m) ahead of the destroyer. It was quickly hit by the destroyer's guns and suffered heavy damage before diving again. After another series of depth charge attacks, two large underwater explosions were heard at 15:58, followed by a large air bubble rising to the surface, confirming the submarine's destruction. During another anti-submarine patrol on July 19, 1944, an aircraft from VC-14 spotted the Japanese submarine I-5. The escort destroyers USS Wyman and USS Reynolds dropped depth charges, which struck I-5, causing it to explode. During the third anti-submarine patrol on July 28, 1944, aircraft crews spotted a surfacing submarine. It was likely the Japanese I-55, located approximately 13 km to the right of USS Hoggatt Bay. USS Wyman and USS Reynolds hit the submarine, and a series of explosions were heard, creating an oil slick on the surface. USS Hoggatt Bay continued to participate in operations around the Philippines and Okinawa after the sinking of I-177 on the night of October 3, 1944.
Starboard bow aerial view of Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Savo Island (CVE-78) underway. Note disassembled aircraft on the flight deck, and camouflage paint scheme.
CVE-78 USS Savo Island
In 1944, the USS Savo Island took part in battles at Leyte and later amphibious operations on Mindanao. In 1945, it performed similar tasks during operations in Lingayen Gulf but did not participate in any major operations thereafter.
CVE-80 USS Petroff Bay
Like the aforementioned ships, the USS Petroff Bay participated in the closing battles in the Pacific. Its most dramatic moments came during the Battle of Leyte, and it played a significant role in the Battle of Iwo Jima. On February 18, military transport ships carrying Marines arrived off the coast, and the next day, they landed on Iwo Jima. During the battle, aircraft from USS Petroff Bay conducted 786 operational flights in support of ground forces. On March 8, 1945, USS Petroff Bay sailed to Ulithi, making a stop in Guam in the Marianas Islands along the way. VC-76 was deployed in Guam, replacing VC-93. Further details are provided in the aircraft assembly instructions.
The Commencement Bay class
Construction of these ships began on May 9, 1944, and although it progressed quickly, several months of testing were required before they were put into service. For this reason, most of the 19 ships ordered (out of a planned 35) had little to no operational service. Many were even canceled before completion.
Typical operation aboard an escort carrier, in this case the US Anzio on May 20, 1945.
Sunk Escort Carriers
CVE-56 USS Liscome Bay – sunk by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175 on November 24, 1943, near Butaritari (Makin).
CVE-73 USS Gambier Bay – as mentioned earlier, sunk on October 25, 1944, during the Battle off Samar.
CVE-63 USS St. Lo - sunk after a kamikaze attack on October 25, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte.
CVE-79 USS Ommaney Bay – sunk on January 4, 1945, after a kamikaze attack.
CVE-95 USS Bismarck Sea - sunk on February 21, 1945, after a kamikaze attack near Iwo Jima.
Explosion on USS ST. Lo (CVE-63) after she was hit be a Kamikaze of Samar on October 25, 1944.