Essex Class

Overview

Country: United States

The Essex was developed from the Yorktown class of aircraft carrier. However the new designs were unencumbered with size limitations brought about by international naval treaties. They were planned to carry a larger number of aircraft. They, together with their Midway and Ticonderoga Class carriers formed the majority of the United States late war carrier fleet. It is not appropriate here to give details of their illustrious wartime career.

With the rapid rundown after the Second World War many were quickly placed in the reserve. However as it became clear that the threat of a new war was looming – the Cold War - Essex Class aircraft carriers were put through a series of major modification programmes and formed the backbone of the post war US naval carrier forces through to the end of the Vietnam War. Many of the other Essex Class carriers were re-designated and used in other roles such as ASW.

On 4 June 1947 approval was given for Project 27A by which Essex-class carriers were modernized to be able to handle aircraft up to 40,000 pounds and included the installation of two catapults, and a strengthening the flight deck cleared of guns, increased elevator capacity and adding special provisions for jet aircraft such as blast deflectors.

The re-commissioned USS Essex was the first of the modernized carriers to go into combat. On 23 August 1951 she was off Korea and became the first carrier to launch F2H Banshee twinjet fighters on combat missions.

On 1 February 1952 an improved Project 27C was approved. Under this upgraded modification programme more powerful arresting gear, higher performance catapults, and a replacement of the number three centerline elevator with a deck-edge type of greater capacity were all introduced.

The USS Lexington was involved with the 7th Fleet off Taiwan in 1958, and was again on standby for the Laotian crisis of 1959. Essex Class carriers, including the USS Lexington, were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Essex Class carriers were also heavily involved in the Vietnam War with many undertaking several cruises in the South China Sea.

As the late 1960s and early 1970s dawned a programme of withdrawal from service and decommissioning began. This was a combination of budget cuts together with the vessels reaching the end of their ‘life’.

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