Aircraft Carriers in WWII
Many of World War II’s greatest battles were fought at sea, making naval technologies crucial to all sides. Many kinds of ships, such as battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers, had been used in previous wars, but the global nature of World War II made naval battles especially important. These vessels ranged from heavily armed warships to numerous support craft such as fuel ships and troop landing boats. Of all the ships used in the war, aircraft carriers were the largest. Thus, how and why were aircraft carriers so effective in World War II, specifically how was it more effective than a battleship, and how did both Japan and the US utilize this revolution in technology? An aircraft carrier is a ship whose primary purpose is to bring airplanes closer to distant battle areas. Since most World War II aircraft had a range of just a few hundred miles, it was necessary to bring the aircraft to the battlefront, and using a ship to do so made a lot of sense in the Pacific, where much of the fighting took place on islands and along coastal areas. The first true aircraft carriers were built by the Japanese in the 1920’s. Japan remained an innovator in aircraft carrier design and construction during the years leading to World War II, operating nine aircraft carriers by 1941. Their largest carriers of the war were the Akagi and Kaga, each capable of launching over 90 aircraft (doc. Navy), only 25% of these planes were fighters, which intercepted enemy search planes and air strikes and escorted the dive bombers and torpedo bombers on strike missions. The remaining 75% of the air wing were dive bombers and torpedo bombers (doc. Hughes 102). The Allies, however, also had extremely effective carriers. British ships, such as the Ark Royal and the Eagle, and American ships, such as Yorktown and Enterprise, each carried 100 aircraft or more (doc. Navy). The largest aircraft carriers, such as The Enterprise, were over 800 feet (245 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide, and carried almost 3,000 crew members (doc. Navy). A World War II fleet aircraft carrier was a complex social network. Some officers and men executed tasks which were required on all warships, while others did jobs specific to the task of operating the planes from the carriers. These included, aviation machinists and electricians who serviced the planes in the hangars below deck, the aviation ordnance teams responsible for arming the aircraft, the catapults and flight deck officers, and the landing signal officer-who was usually a trained aviator, stood mainly on the deck using colored paddles to guide pilots attempting to land. Until 1943 the navy accepted no draftees (doc. Grant 313), so all crew members were volunteers, many going to sea to avoid being drafted into the army. The first aircraft carriers had evolved from ordinary naval ships, which were fitted with landing strips built on to their decks. By World War II, however, most aircraft carriers were designed for this purpose from the beginning. Small aircraft were usually stored below the deck and taken to the landing strip on elevators. Because the strip was short, a catapult (usually a piston-type device driven by steam from the ship’s boilers) helped launch the craft into the air. U.S carriers used a hook on the bottom of the plane to catch a wire, strung across the deck, which helped bring the plane to a halt. A central control tower located to the side of the landing strip housed advanced radio communication and radar equipment used to keep in touch with aviators and track both friendly and enemy craft. “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech to congress on December 8, 1941.The aircraft carrier allowed the Japanese Navy to successfully attack Pearl Harbor, a feat believed impossible at that time. Before Pearl Harbor, many naval tacticians...
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