As most WW2 aircraft had a range of just a few hundred miles, it was necessary to bring the warplanes to the battlefront. Aircraft carriers, or "runways at sea", were vital to the WW2 naval battles in the Pacific where much of the fighting took place on islands and coastal areas.
The largest WW2 aircraft carriers were capable of launching over 100 aircraft and measured up to 800 feet (245 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide. Aircraft Carriers played in major role in US conflicts during WW2 such as the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Facts about Aircraft Carriers
Aircraft carriers evolved from large naval ships or cruise liners, which were fitted with landing strips built on their decks. The first true aircraft carriers were developed by the Japanese in the 1920's. It should be remembered that aircraft design was still in its infancy - the Wright Brothers had only recently achieved the first powered and controlled flight of an airplane in 1903.
The Japanese continued to be the leading innovators, designers and constructors up to WW2, with the best trained and most efficient maintenance teams.
The first American fleet carriers, the USS Lexington and Saratoga, did not join the navy service until 1928 due to arms limitations following WW1
The invention of aircraft carriers changed the way naval battles were fought forever. Aircraft carriers allowed a naval force to launch warplanes from the sea without having to depend on land bases for staging aircraft operations.
The size of the ships were massive and carried almost 3,000 crewmembers. The largest WW2 aircraft carriers were capable of launching over 100 aircraft and measured up to 800 feet (245 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide.
The warships were "runways at sea" with a large flat area on the top deck that acted as the runway and landing strip for the airplanes. Many of the planes were stored below the top deck to keep the top deck clear for take-offs and landings. An elevator was used to bring up the stored planes to the top deck.
By the time WW2 broke out aircraft carriers were all purpose-built warships that generally carried three different types of warplanes - the Dive Bomber, the Torpedo Bomber and the fighter planes.
Dive bombers carried bombs that would be dropped on top of a ship or target. They would fly up high and then made a steep dive straight down on their target, drop their bombs and then pull out of the dive.
Torpedo bombers carried a single torpedo that would be dropped into the water and propelled itself to try and sink an enemy warship.
The fighter planes protected the carrier from attacking bombers, intercepted enemy search planes and escorted the dive bombers and torpedo bombers on strike missions. Fighters included the F4F Grumman Wildcat, F6F Grumman Hellcat and the F4U Vought Corsair
How did the planes take off? The planes had only a short distance for take-off from the top deck and needed a device to help to achieve the speed needed for the plane to take off. An aircraft catapult was the device used to launch aircraft from ships as a form of assisted take off. Pressurized steam powered the catapult at high speed along the top deck's catapult track towards the bow of the carrier so the plane could take off.
How did the planes land? Landing on an aircraft carrier was extremely hazardous. Each plane would have a tailhook installed at the end of the plane. When landing, the tail hook would catch on to a wire on the ship's landing strip which helped the plane to slow down and land on the short runway without running right off the end.
In 1940 Japan had 10 aircraft carriers in the Pacific compared to the US who had three. (Note: Germany and Italy had no carriers to fight with)
WW2: In the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese navy sent six aircraft carriers, with 423 warplanes, 3,400 miles across the northern Pacific without discovery to their final destination 230 miles north of Hawaii.
WW2: The invention of this type of warship made cities that were once considered safe, vulnerable to attacks from the air. The US response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor was the Doolittle Raid when the US launched B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in a daring, surprise attack against Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
WW2: The Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942) was the first aircraft carrier battle ever fought. At no point in the battle did the ships sight, make contact or fire at each other - all attacks were carried out by airplanes.
WW2 The Battle of Midway was a decisive victory and turning point for the US. During the battle four important Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, were destroyed enabling America to halt the Japanese advance in the Pacific
WW2: The Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944), known as "the greatest carrier battle of the war", was the largest naval battle of WW2 which eliminated the Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions.
Currently, 9 countries possess aircraft carriers, although the United States and Great Britain are the only naval forces that rely heavily on them. The US Navy currently has 12 aircraft carriers and the British Royal Navy has three.
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