The development of the aircraft carrier for the United States Navy was largely guided by the terms of the 1921 Washington Treaty. The Royal Navy, which had truly pioneered the concept, already had constructed or was constructing a number of smaller carriers, which in the long run really hurt the development of the Fleet Air Arm. The status of the USN and IJN were different however, as neither power had invested any significant tonnage to aircraft carriers at the time of the signing of the Treaty. The IJN had the Hosho and the USN had the Langley CV1, which were both used basically as experiments and indoctrination, rather than as operational carriers. Both Pacific powers likewise wished to save capital ship hulls from scrapping, so both were granted two carriers over the established displacement in the Treaty, Lexington CV2 and Saratoga CV3 for the USN and Kaga and Akagi for the IJN. The small "training" carriers and the oversized conversions of battlecruisers and a battleship (Kaga) formed the training and operational base of the fleets of both powers throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.
For the USN the Ranger was its first attempt to build a carrier from the keel up. To cram as many ships into the allowable tonnage of the Washington and London Treaties as possible, the USN pared the ship’s displacement to a bare minimum. It was determined that they could build five carriers of this size with the allowable tonnage left. In this design speed was sacrificed and protection was minimal in order to magnify one characteristic of Ranger CV4. That trait was maximum size of the air wing, and that became a characteristic that USN aircraft carriers have emphasized to the present day. Nonetheless, the Ranger was a failed design, as too much was attempted on too small a displacement. The next USN design was different. The Yorktown Class of 20,000-tons was a beautiful blend of speed with some protection, coupled with a large air wing. The only other carriers in the running for the best prewar carrier design were the Japanese Shokaku and Zuikaku, although RN devotees will undoubtedly advance the HMS Ark Royal as an almost perfect design. However, even with their near perfect blend of characteristics, the Yorktown design still did not have all of the characteristics that the USN wanted in a carrier. Operating under overall tonnage constraints as well, after the Yorktown CV5 and Enterprise CV6 there was only enough tonnage left over for one much smaller carrier, which almost seemed to mix Ranger and Yorktown characteristics. This became Wasp CV7.
The 1935 London Treaty contained a clause that if one of the signatories to the Washington Treaty and 1930 London Treaty failed to ratify the new document, then none of the signatories would be bound. When Japan refused to enter into the 1935 Treaty, the artificial restrictions, which had hamstrung warship design for the previous 14 years disappeared and navies throughout the world could add many items to their wishing lists. With the ending of treaty constraints, Congress approved the construction of a further 40,000-tons for aircraft carriers. The first carrier was a slightly modified Yorktown design, which became Hornet CV8, however for CV9, it was decided to rework the previous design to see if more could be squeezed out of it.
For the USN one of the prime items was new, larger more capable aircraft carrier. As good as the Yorktown design had been, it still did not have all of the characteristics sought by the navy. Now with no treaty restrictions to hamper and contain the design, the admirals could get the ship that they really wanted. However, even though there were no longer treaty restraints, there was another urgent constraint that impacted the design of new carriers and that was time. With the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and then China and militant Germany stirring in Europe, War Clouds were gathering and the USN needed to expand its capabilities quickly. Events overtook the design process. After war broke out in Europe in September 1939 and the situation in the Pacific deteriorated, Congress finally woke up and greatly expanded naval construction in 1940. CV9 was a beneficiary of the loosened purse strings.
Because of the need for a quick development of new carriers, the 20,000-ton Yorktown design was used as a baseline to which other desired features were added to substantially modify the smaller design. In 1939 work began on this new design. She was given a larger hull and flight deck to operate even more aircraft. A deck side elevator was added to the two-centerline elevators to increase the operational tempo of flight operations. This was first tried with Wasp CV7 and had proven to be successful. With two deck elevators and the side elevator aircraft could be cycled through the operational pattern much faster, making the new design capable of concentrating larger strike packages. As a result of the success of the side elevator the designers dispensed with a centerline elevator amidships, which had weakened the lightly armored hangar deck. When the preceding Yorktown was designed the navy was still operating biplanes. As newer monoplane designs joined the carriers, they generally were larger than the biplanes they replaced. This reduced the total number of aircraft that could be carried. A larger hull with a longer flight deck was needed. Additionally the navy wanted the design to accommodate another fighter squadron, bringing up total capacity to five squadrons.
The 5-inch/38 DP gun had been developed and this was worked into the design. To maximize deck space for aircraft operations, these twin mounts were worked into a four turret arrangement at the ends of the island with two in front and two aft of the islands with gun mounts two and three in superfiring positions. These provided surface defense of eight guns to starboard but to provide the same defense to port four additional open gun single mounts were incorporated into galleries off the port side. Those four guns along with the two twin superfiring mounts would provide an eight gun defense in that direction. It was determined that he two lower twin mounts would be unable to fire effectively to port because of their location and blast damage to the deck. To provide medium and short range AA defense, the new CV9 would be equipped with four quadruple 1.1-inch guns and up to forty .50 machine guns. The new design also changed the machinery arrangement. The older arrangement had been to place all of the engine rooms together and all of the boiler rooms together. This was more efficient for saving weight and allowing the plant to fit in a smaller space. However, the propulsion plant was subject to a lucky hit. If a torpedo struck an engine room, they were all likely to flood, rendering the ship dead in the water. The CV9 design alternated boiler and engine rooms. This arrangement got away from placing all of the eggs in one basket. By spacing out the engine and boiler rooms, the ship would still have steam if hit in an engine room. The price to be paid for this arrangement was a heavier plant and the need for more space within the hull. This in turn required a larger hull.
If you have ever seen the series "Military Blunders" on the history channel, you may have seen an episode in which the program classified the Essex Class carrier as a blunder because it did not have an armored flight deck. The program, probably produced in Britain, lavished praise on the Royal Navy armored deck carriers and savaged the Essex design. Of course the program never mentioned aircraft capacity or operational cycle rates in its presentation. In reality an armored flight deck was seriously considered for the CV9 design but was rejected because it would severely reduce the number or aircraft that could be carried. The Illustrious Class carriers might have had an armored flight deck but because of this they only carried a complement of 36 aircraft on a displacement of 23,000-tons. USN brass was adamant that they would not sacrifice massive strike power for the protection afforded by an armored flight deck. Instead the hangar deck was made an armored deck of 2.5-inches, with another 1.5-inch armored deck further down.
There has been an interesting contrast between the operational abilities between the British armored deck carriers and the wooden deck USN carriers in Pacific operations in spring 1945. "Task Group 58.1, composed of two U.S. Navy Essex-class carriers (each of 27,000 tons standard displacement) and two Independence-class light carriers (each of 10,600 tons standard displacement) carried about 280 aircraft. Of that total, about half were strike aircraft (dive-bombers and torpedo bombers). Task Group 57.2, composed of three of the Royal Navy’s Illustrious-class carriers (each of 23,000 tons standard displacement) and one Implacable-class carrier (which was about a thousand tons larger than the Illustrious), carried about 235 aircraft. Of that total, approximately sixty-five were strike aircraft." (American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles, at page 198) In other words, with a total displacement of 75,200 tons the USN force marshaled more than twice the number of attack platforms, the ship killers, than the 93,000 tons of RN carriers. The equations equaled 537 tons per strike craft for the USN and 1,430 tons per strike craft for the RN.
Another benefit of the USN design was the open hangar configuration. Except for the trunking underneath the island, the hangar had roll up doors ringing it. These could be opened for ventilation and this also allowed aircraft to be warmed up on the hangar deck. They could be warmed up there and would be ready for flight after a quick trip up the elevator. That would not be possible in an armored box design, as exhaust fumes and fuel vapor would create an extensive risk to the ship and crew. The USN arrangement was capable of a much greater cyclical operations rate than that of their British cousins. This allowed for much greater strike concentration. The huge number of aircraft that could be packaged into a single strike, reduced the loss rate as they would overwhelm defenders. There was a greater loss rate on smaller strikes as defenders would take on smaller numbers and could concentrate fire on the attacking aircraft. Compounded over a campaign and the very large USN air complements could continue to fight long after air groups were reduced to combat ineffectiveness through attrition.
The design for the new carrier was finally approved on February 21, 1940 and USS Essex CV9 was ordered in July. However, more design work and modifications were made before the start of construction. In May three more of the class were ordered, followed by another four through Congressional action. Essex was laid down on April 28, 1941 in the same slip in which the Hornet CV8 had been launched the prior December. During construction the AA fit was changed in August 1941. Instead of 1.1-inch mounts, the new medium AA ordnance would be Bofors 40mm mounts with Oerlikon 20mm guns replacing the machine guns for close in defense. The design increased the Bofors from four to eight positions. Another substantial change in the design occurred in 1942 as the benefits of radar had been clearing revealed that fall. The Essex Class incorporated primary and backup radar systems. Originally, the Essex was scheduled for completion by March 1944. However, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, America mobilized and the Essex was placed on a high priority.
As construction progressed it became clear how desperately the USN needed its newest carrier. When she was launched on July 31, 1942, the USN had already lost two of its five front line carriers, as Lexington was lost at the Battle of Coral Sea and Yorktown at the Battle of Midway. That fall Hornet was lost, as well as Wasp that had just been transferred from the Atlantic. This left only Enterprise and Saratoga, and Sara spent far more time in drydock than at sea, repairing the repeated torpedo strikes she received, each time she became operational. By the end of 1942 the USN carrier situation was bleak, almost depleted of her prewar carriers; CV-1 Langley – sunk; CV-2 Lexington – sunk; CV-3 Saratoga – drydock queen; CV-4 Ranger in Atlantic as 2nd stringer; CV-5 Yorktown – sunk; CV-6 Enterprise – unbowed and taking on all comers; CV-7 Wasp – sunk; and CV-8 Hornet – sunk. Fortunately, the carrier force of the Japanese Navy had also been seriously depleted but until the Essex Class arrived, the IJN had the edge. On December 31, 1942, the USN received a delayed Christmas present, as USS Essex CV-9 was commissioned.
Of course the Essex was not ready for action immediately. She had to undergo a substantial shakedown period to break in the ship, meld the crew and further train the air group. By August 1943 the Essex was ready. She with Yorktown CV-10, 3rd of the class to be completed, formed TF15, along with the light carrier Independence, with battleship Indiana and other escorts. They left Hawaiian waters with the mission of striking Marcus Island. On August 31they were in position. The Japanese were caught by surprise and facilities were strafed by Hellcats and bombed by Avengers with 2,000-pound bombs and Dauntlesses with 1,000 pounders. The two Essex Class ships each launched two full deck load strikes and the Independence one. Three planes were lost with crew. In September TF15 made a strike at Tarawa to reduce defenses and obtain aerial photographs to prepare for amphibious invasion. This time it was composed of Essex, Lexington CV-16, 2nd of the class to be completed, and two light carriers, Princeton and Belleau Wood. This mission really was not successful as it only scored minimal damage on the Japanese and the photographic reconnaissance failed to reveal reefs and other obstructions that would substantially contribute to Marine losses in the invasion.
In the next month Essex as part of TF14 finally encountered substantial opposition. Essex, Yorktown, Independence and Belleau Wood went after Wake Island. Thirty Mitsubishi Zeros rose to defend the island and the Hellcats splashed most of them. The Japanese sent in two strikes at the carriers from the Marshall Islands but the CAP drove them off. The carriers lost twelve aircraft but six of the aircrew were rescued. In November 1943 Essex, Bunker Hill CV-17 (the only carrier with Helldivers at this time) and Independence were dispatched to Espiritu Santo to reinforce Admiral Halsey as TF50.3. On November 11 they struck Rabaul. Two Japanese destroyers were sunk and a light cruiser torpedoed. At Rabaul 68 Zeros rose in defense against 90 Hellcats but only six of the Japanese fighters were shot down. The Japanese launched 120 aircraft in a counterattack but no hits were achieved on the American carriers in a 46-minute attack.
The next operation for TF50.3 was Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands with Tarawa as a prime objective. Their prime mission was to soften up Tarawa for the Marines. Essex pilots thought that they had silenced Japanese opposition until heavy Marine casualties proved otherwise. During the night of November 20 Mitsubishi Betty bombers made a torpedo attack and hit Independence, which was out of action for six months. In May 1944 Essex was part of TF58.6 with Wasp CV-18 and the light carrier San Jacinto, when she returned to Marcus Island for another raid. Bad weather and good Japanese defense limited damage to the Japanese facilities, so the three carriers moved to launch another raid on Wake Island. During this period the Japanese were gathering their forces, including six fleet carriers and three light carriers for an anticipated battle of annihilation of American forces, Operation A-Go. In 1941 Japanese naval aviators were the best in the world but almost all of those superb airmen were dead after a year and a half of constant fighting with no relief and only a trickle of replacements. The Japanese had the carriers and the planes for their plan but their aviators were just green rookies.
When Marines landed at Saipan in the Mariana Islands, the Japanese launched A-Go on June 15, 1944. The Japanese forces were spotted by submarines and Spruance in overall command made his plans to engage and destroy their carriers. The result was the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. Essex was now with TF58.4 with light carriers Cowpens and Langley. By now the USN had 15 fast carriers, plus 11 escort carriers ready to engage. It was a total fiasco for the Japanese as their naval aviation was shredded by Hellcats and carriers decimated by US submarines, Avengers, Dauntlesses and Helldivers. By the afternoon of June 19 the Japanese had lost 253 carrier planes against the loss of 29 USN aircraft. Just as bad were the losses of two big fleet carriers, Pearl Harbor veteran Shokaku and the new carrier Taiho. Just as night was falling a USN strike hit the retiring Japanese force. The light carrier Hiyo blew up, Junyo was torpedoed and light carriers Ryujo and Chiyoda damaged by near misses. Overall losses of the battle were 130 aircraft with 76 crewmen for the USN and 480 planes and three carriers for the IJN. Although the IJN retained a potent surface combat capability, the Battle of the Philippine Sea finished any pretense at Japanese naval aviation capability.
By August 1944 the fleet carriers of the USN, with Essex as part of TF38.3 with Lexington, Princeton and Langley, were rampaging throughout the central Pacific, meeting very little resistance. In a series of raids on the Philippines in September 893 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and 67 vessels sunk. As a result of this landings at the southern island of Mindanao were cancelled and landings at the central island of Leyte advanced. First Essex participated in drawing out the Japanese aviation assets on Formosa. This operation was overwhelmingly successful in ripping out the guts of Japanese aerial forces on the island. Essex was still with the same organization in TF38.3 for the landings at Leyte and the mission of that TF was to guard the northern approaches. This force came under heavy aerial attack from Luzon and Princeton was lost. Admiral Ozawa’s decoy carrier force also launched an attack of TF38.3 but Hellcats obliterated that effort. This was thought to be more land based attacks but finally a Helldiver from the Essex force spotted Ozawa’s carriers. Essex sped north with the rest of the fleet carriers and fast battleships. The carriers of the Japanese decoy force were repeatedly attacked on October 25, starting at 0710. First to arrive over the Japanese carriers was Air Group 15 from Essex. There were four Japanese carriers. Chitose sank at 0937, Zuikaku last of the Pearl Harbor veterans at 1414, Zuiho at 1526 and Chiyoda sinking under USN cruiser gunfire at 1655. Halsey turned south and rushed to engage the center Japanese force under Kurita but he had already vacated the area when the fast carriers finally made it back to their starting point. The Japanese did unveil one new tactic at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the kamikaze.
In November Essex was involved in air attacks on the main island of Luzon. On November 22, 1944 a kamikaze found her. This was the first significant damage sustained by the Essex. The crashed into the port side killing 15 and wounding 44. However, within 30 minutes the fires had been extinguished and flight operations resumed. In 1945 Essex was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima. In March she was part of TF58.3 with Bunker Hill, Hancock, Bataan and Cabot for the operation against Okinawa. On April 7 TF58.1 and TF58.3 launched 280 aircraft on the battleship Yamato, which succumbed to the massive USN aerial onslaught. As operations shifted to the softening of the main Japanese islands, the aircraft of the Essex damaged the Nagato and sank the small carrier, Kaiyo. Compared to most fleet carriers, USS Essex had only received minimal damage during the war, just that one kamikaze hit in November 1944. With the end of the war, she continued to serve until January 9, 1947 when she was placed in reserve. During the war Essex was known as the "Fightin’est Ship in the Fleet", although veterans of CV-6 may disagree, and later she adopted the nickname of "The Oldest and the Boldest" when she came out of reserve to fight in two more wars but that is another story. (Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau; American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles; The Essex Aircraft Carriers, 1996, by Andrew Faltum; Essex-Class Carriers, 1988, by Alan Raven)
The Dragon Essex
Last Friday, as I arrived home, I found a large box awaiting me. I looked at the return address and I thought I knew what would be inside but I wasn't sure. The box was from Dragon Models Ltd (DML) and I thought that it was the new model of the USS Essex CV-9 but the shipping container was larger than I would expect for a 1:700 scale model. I quickly opened the shipping container to discover that it was indeed the Essex but it was packaged in a large attractive box, far larger than the old Hasegawa release of the class. I thought that it may be packaged with a somewhat oversize box but I was wrong! As I opened the Dragon Essex box it was obvious that this was not just boxed air, as the contents inside seemed to cram almost every spare centimeter of box space. This kit was overflowing with parts and features.
The box lid states that the kit contains 520 parts. I haven’t counted the parts but I believe them. Remember guys, this is a 1:700 kit. How many kits in that scale have parts counts in excess of 500? Why does the Dragon Essex have so many parts? Two reasons jump out, the kit is very comprehensive and Dragon packs a ship’s load of options into this kit. Before you start building this kit, plan how you want to build it and with which options. The kit is USS Essex as she appeared in 1943 or 1944, so that decision of which year impacts camouflage and some parts decisions. Dragon includes a lower hull, so you have to decide whether to build it as traditional waterline or full hull. Dragon provides a hangar deck with the kit and the hull has all hangar doors open. The rolling hangar doors are separate pieces. So your next decision is whether you will build the Essex with hangar doors open or closed. Although it would be nice to have the hangar door detail on the hull sides, I think more modelers will probably opt for the open hangar appearance. Dragon provides optional flight decks. One is clear plastic and the other is the traditional solid opaque deck. Some modelers may want to display most of the aircraft in the hangar with wings folded and being maintained by the ground crews. Others will want to build the kit in the traditional manner with aircraft on the opaque deck with maybe a few on elevators or visible on the hangar deck through the hangar openings. Some parts are provided in optional formats. This kit comes with its own brass photo-etch fret! Deck pyramid antennae are found as solid plastic pieces and also as folding brass structures on the enclosed fret. The side elevator has optional parts. There is one solid piece with the support structure underneath as part of the piece and an optional flat elevator where you add brass parts for a delicate and intricate support structure. Some radars are found in plastic and in brass. The F6F Hellcats and TBF Avengers come with separate wings, so you chose to build them with wings extended for flight or folded for storage. Aircraft decals feature 144 national insignia, 72 with the red outline used for a portion of 1943 and 72 with the more common blue outline. As to which parts to use, Dragon leaves that to you. Boiling it down to its essence, this is an amazing 1:700 kit.
The hangar deck also provides a good snug fit. Even if you are building the model with hangar doors closed, you’ll still need to fit that parts as it has the quarterdeck that will be seen no matter which way you choose to build the model. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall that Ray D. Bean, international man of mystery, charter member of the cabal of consultants, stated in a message that the hangar deck did not have much detail. Ray, if you didn’t post that, you have my apology for my faulty memory, however, if you did say that, than I disagree. I believe that the hangar deck has a significant amount of detail, from the deck pattern, to the fittings at the stern to the solid island base on the starboard side that features the stack trunking. I think that it is a very nicely done part that creates a strong desire to show it off with various aircraft in stowed positions. The forecastle piece has some nice detail, including anchor chain plates and anchor chain, open hawse and various fittings that appear to be closed chocks.
As I mentioned there are two decks. The clear plastic deck has a smooth featureless finish so as not to obscure the detail of the hangar deck below. Of course using this piece will emphasize the activity and detail of the hangar deck below. On the other hand the more traditional opaque deck is rife with detail. The deck detail is very minute and is outstanding. Deck planking is very finely done and does not appear to be oversize as commonly found in many kits. The deck detail even includes tie down strips with individual tie down positions. There are a series of small solid deck plates for the location of arrestor wires and a single catapult on the starboard side of the flight deck as was found in the early versions of the Essex Class. As tempting as it is to use the clear deck to display the fine hangar deck, it will be a very difficult choice not to use the highly detailed standard flight deck.
Sprues C and D
The parts to the island are found on three small sprues, E, F, and L. The main structure is found on sprue L and has a very nicely detailed island that is hollow and slips over a locator bar on the flight deck. Also included on this fret are the stern bulkhead, stack and four 5-inch/38 DP gun houses with side and rear doors & detail and open gun elevation slits. The island features standard doors, oval doors, piping, vertical ladders and portholes with eyebrows. Notches are in the island as locator positions for various decks and platforms. Because of the manner in which the parts are laid out on the fret, it seems to me that the Dragon Essex is probably the first of the Essex Class kits to come from Dragon. Maybe Cabal Meister Bean knows of the additional versions to come, but at this time I do not know but surely the series won’t end with the CV-9 early war short hulled Essex. OK Ray, spill the Bean! What other versions of the Essex Class will appear in the future from Dragon? On sprues E and F you’ll find a host of different island decks, platforms and other fittings, such as the tripod mast and stack cap. Almost every deck or platform has underside detail in the form of the supporting beams. The decks and islands are concentrated on sprue E with the Oerlikon galleries concentrated on sprue F. As with the hull galleries, many of these island galleries have detailed carley floats in place on the bottom surface.
There are two K sprues on which most of the armament is found. On these two frets are found another version of the 5-inch/38 DP twin gun mounts but the parts on the K frets are smooth sided and don’t appear to have the detail found on the gun houses on the L sprue. As far as the gun barrels for the twin mounts, they don’t appear to be quite right as they appear to have a raised ring near their muzzles. The four open single gun 5-inch/38 mounts feature fuse positions on the left side and the peculiar front grill work design. They are good effort with enough detail to satisfy most modelers but the separate gun barrels appear a might too short. Bofors mounts are fair and the Bofors guns have the recoil mechanisms but the barrels are on the heavy side. Each 20mm Oerlikon consists of two pieces, a separate barrel and a combined pedestal and gun shield. The guns themselves are oversize but do have shoulder rests. The combined pedestal/gun shield has a problem on the front of the shield. An injected plastic 20mm shield will never have the thinness of brass parts and that is true with these parts. Because these small parts are plastic, the shields are too thick but to complicate the process of thinning them down, each shield has a small hump on the lower outside face of the shield that should be removed, preferably by sanding, if you use the kit parts. These guns appear to be the only noticeable weakness in the kit. In large part they are overly large and thick because injected plastic parts can never achieve the same thinness as photo-etch or finely cast resin parts. Accordingly, Essex Class Maniacs may consider replacing them with resin and/or brass after market sets. Other parts found here are anchors, ships boats, radar arrays, signal lamps, binnacles, separate carley floats, gun directors and the smallest of the other fittings.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret