End of an Era: AMERICA'S FOSSIL FUEL-BURNING Carriers

By Bonner, Kit | Sea Classics, August 2009 | Go to article overview

End of an Era: AMERICA'S FOSSIL FUEL-BURNING Carriers


Bonner, Kit, Sea Classics


The retirement of the last oil-burning carrier marks the end of one historic era and the beginning of another as our carriers become an all nuclear-powered fleet BY KIT BONNER

1946-1950: THE NEED TO DELIVER AN ATOMIC WEAPON TO TARGETS IN THE SOVIET UNION

The fact that the first two atomic weapons were delivered to their targets by a USAAF B-29 Superfortress was a huge selling point for the Air Force being the new primary guardian of the United States and its Allies. Many of the sacrifices of the Navy and Army during World War II were nearly forgotten in the wake of this fantastic achievement. The new enemy which had to be contained behind an "iron curtain as well as a bamboo curtain" had massive, well-equipped armed forces dedicated to the principle of Communism and the ultimate fear of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and comparable leaders in Red China. Besides, the only product of the communist-dominated nations was war and the machines that make war. On the other hand, the Western Allies were anxious to reenter the marketplace and considered further warfare as abhorrent. The 1939-1945 war virtually bankrupted the British Empire, and destroyed all of Europe not to mention a goodly portion of Southeast Asia, Japan, and China. Every attempt was made to avoid future war, yet this would prove impossible with the communist drive for world domination. This was their mandate before the Second World War, and the effort was redoubled after victory over fascism.

Atomic or nuclear weaponry could not be kept a secret for very long, and by the end of the 1940s, the Soviet Union possessed the technology to build nuclear weapons that could be delivered by B-29 "knock-offs." A few B-29s had landed in Soviet territory and were painstakingly dismembered for copying. Unknowingly, the Soviet system had achieved parity with the United States müitary, and the 45-yr-long "Cold War" had begun. Of course, much of the data to build the atomic weapons came by espionage.

The United States decided to test two nuclear weapons (A and B) in the Marshall Islands. The code name was Operation Crossroads and the test took place in July 1946. Seventy-six warships were anchored in Bikini Lagoon, and despite the explosions of the two weapons, most of the ships survived. The US Air Force had intimated that all would be on the bottom of the lagoon; however instead, the tests taught the Navy what to do to prevent wholesale nuclear damage. Nuclear warfare at sea would be difficult, but not impossible, thus there was still a definite need for the US Navy.

Of course, the US Navy did not have the time to lick its wounds - it needed a powerful "super-carrier" that could launch and recover large twinengine bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The advantage held by the Navy was its carrier mobility, yet the Air Force needed stationary bases and huge fuel tanks to hit targets within the Soviet Union. However, Gen. Curtis LeMay (head of the new Strategic Air Command) had no intention of sharing the role of national defender with a bunch of swabs. Convair, one of the nation's premier military aircraft designers and builders put forward a six-engine monster that was over twice the size of the B-29. It was named the Peacemaker, and when it took flight people from miles around knew that a B-36 had taken off. However, prior to the Peacemaker, the US Navy began working on a battle carrier simply known as CVB-41. In 1940, it was to be an armored deck version of the wartime Essex-class carrier.

MIDWAY-CLASS BAHLE CARRIER (CVB-41)

In 1940, the Navy Department began working up an .Essex-class variant with an armored flight deck. The British Navy had already experienced great success with their large armored-deck carriers by not losing them to dive bombing attacks from the Italian and German air forces in the Mediterranean. The US Navy's wooden flight deck Essex-class carrier would oertainly succumb to concentrated dive bombing attacks, and nearly did during the kamikaze attacks in the latter months of the Pacific War. …

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