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Independence Class (CVL) light fleet aircraft carrier
The US Navy lost four aircraft carriers during 1942, leaving the Enterprise , CV-6, the lone aircraft carrier in the Pacific. The Navy needed carriers and with the first of the Essex class carriers not expected until early 1943, they didn't have many options. At this time, Cleveland class light cruisers were in various stages of construction at the New York Ship Building Corporation of Camden, New Jersey. In an emergency conversion program, nine of the finished cruiser hulls were completed as light aircraft carriers. All these light carriers joined the fleet in 1943, and only the Princeton, CVL-23, was lost, in 1944.
The slim cruiser hulls were fitted with partly open, unarmored hangars measuring 258 ft by 57.75 ft. The unarmored flight deck was wood planked, measuring 552 ft by 73 ft. The waterline belt was 1.5 - 5 inches, main bulkheads were 5 inches, and the main and lower decks had 3 inch and 2 inch armor respectively; side bulges were added to compensate for the top heaviness which had resulted from the conversion, thus reducing the hull's length-to-beam ratio to 8.4:1. The ships had only a small island with a low lattice mast, and exhaust fumes were discharged via four short cranked smokestacks suspended outside the starboard edge of the flight deck. Two internal lifts were provided, as was a type H-IVC catapult, to which a second was added in 1945. Eight arresting wires were fitted at the stern. The whole design contradicted every lesson learned so far: the hangar was too small, the workshops inadequate, and the accommodation for the ships' and aircraft crews miserable. However, the only features that really counted were the ships' complement of 45 aircraft and their ability to keep pace with the fast combat groups of battleships and destroyers, which was possible thanks to their powerful machinery. Used as transports, these ships could carry up to 100 aircraft. The result of this emergency program was that the CVLs found themselves in the 'no man's land' between the fast fleet carriers, with which they had high speed in common, and the somewhat smaller escort carriers, combining the disadvantages of both types.
The original intention was to equip these ships with four 5 in/38 single guns. However, as they operated mostly in conjunction with fast combat groups, defense against aircraft could be entrusted to their escort ships, while the CVLs' defenses could be limited to light AA, to combat low-flying aircraft. The two 5 inch guns installed on the first two vessels were removed after only six weeks.
Following a period in reserve after the war, Cabot, CVL-28, and Bataan, CVL-29, were slightly modified in the early 1950s, becoming 'hunter-killer carriers' and specializing in ASW. The hangar deck and flight deck were strengthened to take twenty heavy aircraft; two of the four smokestacks were removed to improve stability; and a light electronics mast was fitted between the two remaining stacks. Cabot served for six years in this role, while Bataan returned to the reserve fleet after just over three years.
These carriers were originally classified as CVs, but this designation was changed to CVL, a code especially introduced for them, during their construction. They usually operated with a CVLG group. Occasionally, however, there was only a Composite Squadron on board, i.e. a large, mixed squadron with up to 45 aircraft of different types, such as VFs, VSBs and VTBS. Sometimes the mission dictated that only fighter aircraft were carried, to defend the large fleet carriers while aircraft from the latter were engaged against enemy ships.
The Independence class carriers filled an important need and although they may have had their design shortfalls, they were fully capable warships and served with distinction.
Independence class aircraft carrier specifications
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