Carriers in Combat: The Air War at Sea

Carriers in Combat: The Air War at Sea

Carriers in Combat: The Air War at Sea

Carriers in Combat: The Air War at Sea

Synopsis

Since World War II, there has never been an engagement between carrier air groups, but flattops have been prominent and essential in every war, skirmish, or terrorist act that could be struck from planes at sea. Carriers have political boundaries. They range at will with planes that can be refueled in the air to strike targets thousands of miles inland. From the improvised wooden platforms of the early 20th century to today's nuclear-powered supercarriers, Hearn explores how combat experience of key individuals drove the development, technology, and tactics of carriers in the world's navies.

Excerpt

Lieutenant William H. Hessler, USN, wrote in the November 1945 issue of Proceedings: “The Fast Carrier Task Force has appeared so often in news dispatches, has become so commonplace in this war of unnumbered innovations, that its uniqueness tends to escape notice. It represents in fact a revolution in naval war, and more completely than did the invention of the submarine and torpedo. To an extent almost beyond belief, today’s naval war is different from that of World War I.” Had Hessler written his conclusion in 2005 instead of 1945, he would have closed by saying, “Today’s naval war is different from that of any other war.” Referring to the oceanic vastness, Hessler added, “The United States has built a fleet unlike any previous in history. It has devised its own stratagems—consistent, to be sure, with the unchanging principles of strategy—and has shaped its own tactics.” The marriage of aircraft and technology to carriers, and the restructuring of tactics, is perhaps the greatest naval achievement of the 20th century.

In 1914, when war broke out in Europe, the most powerful weapon on earth was the dreadnought, otherwise known as the battleship. The big gunships served as the keystone of every navy. For a while, some of them carried floatplanes. The first true aircraft carrier never made an appearance until the very end of World War I. Nobody in 1918 would have predicted that by 1943 battleships would be playing second fiddle to aircraft carriers. Today, the grand old battlewagons have become a venerable vestige of the past, replaced by missiles and mind-boggling technology compacted into 90-plane, 35-knot, 92,000-ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers manned by 6,300 men and women.

Unlike battleship, cruiser, and destroyer actions, there has never been a war in which a fleet aircraft carrier came face-to-face in battle with an enemy surface ship. Air power and surveillance made the difference. Since World War II, there has never been an engagement between carrier air groups, but flattops have been prominent and essential in every war, skirmish, or terrorist act that could be struck by planes from sea. Carriers have no political boundaries. They range at will with planes that can be refueled in the air to strike targets thousand of miles inland.

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