(The bulk of the general history of the Essex Class is from the Review of the DML 1:700 scale USS Essex, (Click for DML Essex Review; Click for DML Randolph Review; Click for DML Hancock Review; Click for DML Bon Homme Richard Review; Click for DML Antietam Review), however, additional material was added from U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman, Aircraft Carriers 1914 to Present by Roger Chesneau, and Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press. Of course USS Princeton specific history is completely new.)
In the course of the greatest naval war in history, World War Two, in the Pacific the one class of warship that probably made the most impact in the victory of the USN over the IJN was the Essex Class aircraft carrier. Although submarine adherents will nominate the Gato/Balao Fleet boats for their extraordinary campaign of destruction of the Japanese merchant marine, that campaign denied the Japanese food, oil, rubber, coal, minerals, ore and every other sort of logistic requirement for mounting warfare. The seizure of Japanese controlled islands and maintenance of offensive operations was substantially aided by the submarine offensive but the backbone of the offense in the Pacific was the aircraft carrier. Of the US carriers it was the Essex Class that carried the allies to the shores of Japan. With 24 Essex Class completed of the 26 ships laid down, no fleet carrier has been built in such great numbers.
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 shipís 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 Navyís 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 the class name ship, 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. The original Essex and the earlier ships in the class were 872 feet in length, and were later to be called the Short-Hull Essex. As finished, the ships of the short-hull variant had a single quadruple 40mm mount on the forecastle underneath the front edge overhang of the flight deck. It was quickly discovered that this bow AA position was almost useless as its field of fire was extremely constricted because of the overhang of the flight deck. The solution was to lengthen the bow and cut back the forward edge of the flight deck. An additional sixteen feet was added to the design with a lengthened bow and a stern sponson for two quadruple Bofors mounts. Dramatically, the above water shape was completely changed. Gone was the rounded shape of the short-hull variant and in its place was a more dramatic and lengthier Clipper Bow cutwater upon which a squared off forecastle deck rested. By lengthening, widening and squaring off the forward tip of the bow, two quadruple Bofors could be fitted, rather than one and by lengthening the hull by 16 feet to 888-feet OA and reducing the forward edge of the flight deck by 11 feet, these mounts had a clear field of fire.
As constructed, the bulk of the Essex Class were in the long hull category. The 888-feet long-hull variant was found on Ticonderoga CV-14, Randolph CV-15, Hancock CV-19, Boxer CV-21, Antietam CV-36, Shangri-La CV-38, Lake Champlain CV-39 and the seven of the class completed after the war, Leyte CV-32, Kearsarge CV-33, Oriskany CV-34, Princeton CV-37, Tarawa CV-40, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. Because of the huge size of the Essex Class program, not all of the carriers could be built at once. Some carriers already approved with a designated hull number and name would have to wait in line until a slip of sufficient size was available. This would not happen until the launch of the ship already occupying the building slip.
It is interesting that by 1945 the USN considered the Essex design to be outdated and definitely overloaded. Even though the new Midway Class was considered a far superior design, when the big Midways entered service after the war with larger air wings than the Essex Class carriers, it was observed that aircraft could not be launched or recovered any more efficiently than they had been with the Essex Class. Although the Essex Class traces its ancestry to the Yorktown Class and was a prewar design, it provided an optimum platform for operations of the piston powered aircraft of the time. Although considered obsolescent in 1945, the members of the class had more than two decades and two wars ahead of them in which to serve. After the war the members of the Essex class participated in Operation Magic Carpet in the return of troops to the US. After this, most of the older members of the class were placed in reserve and mothballed. The newer units, most of which did not see operations in World War Two, were used for training pilots and for operations but were second fiddles for the Midways.
In spring 1950 the carrier force of the USN had atrophied to a shocking degree. In 1948 the navy had won appropriations for the USS United States, which would have been the first super-carrier. However, the bomber barons of the USAF had convinced Congress that carriers were obsolete. Any new war would quickly be won through nuclear weapons delivered by heavy strategic bombers. Instead of buying obsolete technology as represented by an aircraft carrier, the money would be better spent buying the cutting edge technology of the Convair B-36. That collective body of wise men, known as Congress, nodded their collective heads and the USS United States was cancelled in 1949 after having been laid down. So in late spring 1950, the USN operational carrier force was at 14 carriers. However, half of these could not be considered front line carriers. In the Atlantic were the three Midways and the Leyte CV-32. In the Pacific were the Boxer CV-21, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. The other seven operational carriers were three CVLs and four CVEs. All of that changed in the summer of 1950 as the North Korean Peopleís Army came rolling south and over-ran all of the peninsula except for a small enclave around the southeast port of Pusan. OOPS!
All of the high-flown promises and prognostications of the USAF proved to be a steaming pyramid of manure. Strategic bombers were worthless in this conflict and tactical air support was golden. Those three Essex class ships in the Pacific were the first source of effective tactical air support for the besieged forces in Pusan. The USN already had a plan to modernize the Essex class and the Oriskany was the test bed. This fit, known as SCB-27A added a bulge to the waterline, strengthened the flight deck, installed more powerful catapults, installed more powerful aircraft and bomb lifts, removed the twin 5-inch/38 mounts and provided a new, much larger island. All of these changes were made to increase the ability of the ships to operate jet aircraft. Essex CV-9 and Wasp CV-18 had also started this refit in 1948. None of these ships were ready to respond to the crisis in Korea. There was a consensus that the invasion of South Korea was merely the opening round in a plan that would have the Red Army invade western Europe. Because of this belief the three best carriers of the Midway class were kept in the Mediterranean to guard against an attack that never came.
It was up to the old, unmodernized Essex carriers, little changed from World War Two, to bear the brunt of the fight in 1950 and 1951. However, three Essex class were not enough, so the navy rushed to the mothball fleet to sweep out the cobwebs, dust them off and press other members of the class into service. Princeton CV-37 was first off, reactivated in August 1950. Bon Homme Richard CV-31 was laid up in Bremerton and was reactivated in January 1951. Shangri-La CV-38 followed in May 1951 then Antietam CV-36 in June 1951. The Princeton was laid down on September 14, 1943 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched on July 8, 1945. She was commissioned on November 18, 1945and therefore did not see active service in World War Two. She was originally to be named Valley Forge but during construction was reassigned the name Princeton to commemorate the CVL of that name lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Completed without any 40mm sponsons on the starboard side, Princeton mounted 35 Oerlikon 20mm and 60 Bofor 40mm guns in 1945. As a new unit she continued to serve in the post-war navy.
In 1946 she served with TF-77 with the 7th Fleet in the Pacific. From 1947 to 1948 she served in the west Pacific and along the West Coast. In June 1948 Princeton was placed in reserve. When North Korea invaded South Korea, Princeton was the first of the mothballed Essex class to be scrapped off of the dockyard walls in August 1950 and brought back into service. Although Princeton had no 40mm sponsons on the starboard side of her hull in 1945, two were added under the island for her Korean tours. After her second activation Princeton made three tours off of Korea with TF-77. She still had all of her 5-inch guns, 56 40mm guns and no 20mm guns. Starting in December 1970 Princeton carried Air Group 19 with VF-191 with F9F-2 Panthers and VF-837 with F4U Corsairs. In October 1952 Princeton was designated as CVA-37. Air Group 15 was assigned in February 1953 for her third Korean tour. Now with the armistice signed, the navy could take a serious look at the future of the carrier. It was abundantly clear from their usefulness during the Korean War that the carrier would continue to be needed into the foreseeable future. However, the rapid development of jet aircraft imposed constraints on the existing Essex and Midway class carriers. Jet aircraft were increasing in size and weight and the old WWII designs were at the upper limit of their deck capability to operate jets. To operate these jets the USN chose to test the British idea of the angled deck with Antietam and with these successful tests, a number of the Essex Class were rebuilt with the angled deck. However, the Princeton was not one of these ships.
It was not only the Korean War that gave new life to the carrier and resurrected it from the money grabbing hands of the big bomber guys of the USAF. The Soviet Union embarked in a huge submarine building campaign in the 1950s. The USN knew how effective a strategic submarine campaign could be with their victorious campaign in the Pacific in World War Two. They also knew how difficult it could be to counter. In the Atlantic it took years to turn the tide against the German U-Boat campaign. It really was not until the wide spread employment of Escort Carriers that the corner was finally turned dramatically. However, in the 1950s the old CVEs would no longer make effective platforms. ASW aircraft were larger and heavier and couldnít be handled with the small deck CVEs. Also speed was needed for fleet coverage. The answer was at hand with the Essex Class. They had the speed and even the axial deck versions had the deck length and space for the ASW aircraft. Princeton was one of the class selected for this mission. With the finish of her missions off of Korea, Princeton was again given a new designation, that of CVS-37. The CVS was the new designation for anti-submarine aircraft carrier. By the start of 1954 she was back in dock for modification for CVS duties. She served in this capacity until 1959, when she was scheduled to be decommissioned but then gained new life when redesignated LPH-5, amphibious support ship. This was a natural change, given all of her experience in helicopter operations in her CVS capacity. In this capacity she made several tours in the Vietnam War until the end of 1968. Princeton was decommissioned on January 30, 1970 and broken up in September 1973. (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; U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History, 1983, by Norman Friedman, Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two, 2002, by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press)
The Dragon Princeton
The DML USS Princeton kit in 1:700 scale is the seventh of the Essex Class carrier kits, which I have seen from the company. The Princeton is in some ways a long hull version of the Korean War Bon Homme Richard kit with the modernized island of the Antietam kit, with of course the addition of new ASW aircraft. The box lists that over 400 parts are in the kit. There is that and more in the kit. As with other Essex kits from Dragon, a huge number of these are AA guns and other WWII fittings that will not be used in building the CVS-37 Princeton. Everybody is going to have a bumper crop of spare parts for other projects. 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 Princeton 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. In other Essex class kits Dragon provided optional flight decks, as with their previous kits. One was in clear plastic and the other is the traditional solid opaque deck. There is no clear deck in the Princeton kit. As in the past some parts come in plastic and photo-etch versions. It is always better to use the photo-etch version. Some radars are found in plastic and in brass.
Although there are significant differences from the DML Essex, Hancock, Randolph and Bon Homme Richard kits, all three kits share some common parts. The Hancock is a late war long hull Essex and shares more common parts with the Randolph than with the Essex, which was a short hull Essex. The hulls of Bon Homme Richard, Essex and Lexington are short hulled members of the class. With the Princeton it is back to the long hull version, along with the Antietam. There are basically five major parts to the hull: the upper hull, the lower hull, the forecastle, the hangar deck, and the opaque flight deck. The main hull is one piece with reinforcing ribs at the bottom. Both the upper and lower hull pieces mate well together. If you assemble the kit as full hull, there will be a slight seam to fill but because the parts fit so well together, this will be fairly easy work. Dragon has crammed a lot of detail on the hull sides. Normally the sides of a hull can be rather featureless but not so with the DML Princeton. There are all sorts of strakes, piping, side ventilator grills, bilge pumping ports, not to mention the most attractive features, the numerous open hangar doors. If you are building your Princeton in waterline format, there is no base plate but with the support structure inside the hull, that piece is not necessary. You may consider using a pin-vice to drill out the portholes, which incidentally, have eyebrow detail. One note about the hull, on the starboard side forward the hull has a support structure/sponson that extends out from the hull. This was to support the outer end of a hangar catapult. However, Princeton never received a hangar catapult. The only members of the Essex Class to be fitted with this feature were the Yorktown, Intrepid, Hornet, Franklin, Bunker Hill and Wasp, all short hull members of the class. In reality the hangar deck catapult was infrequently used as the air currents along the hull and the lower level of the catapult compared to flight deck catapults, made their use much riskier for plane and pilot. Princeton was not given the outboard catapult support, so this feature would be an error on the hull. Of course it can be easily removed and the area where it was attached sanded smooth. The Princeton still has the same hanger openings of other DML Essex kits.
Sprue A Ė The Hangar Deck
B Sprues Ė Princeton Specific Parts
Normally there is only one sprue with a given letter but for the Dragon Princeton there are a number of B Sprues, all of which include parts used previously in the Antietam as angled deck test ship. Of course you will not use the bracing for the angled deck as Princeton was axial deck. 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 in a difference from Essex, two flight deck catapults that represented the final WWII catapult arrangement adopted for the class. With either one, it appears that the decks are slightly too short. When dry-fitted, the deck ends at the rear of the forward bow 40mm tubs. However, photographs and drawings indicate that it should end above the center-points of the gun positions with only the forward edge of the tubs projecting beyond deck edge. Dragon also provides separate deck edge and centerline elevators. Another B sprue provides a new unique funnel cap, pole mast new island superstructure for the 1954 ASW fit. There are also a series of what appears to be small deck edge positions. These are B17, B18, B19, and their placement is found in step 9 of the instructions.
Sprues C and D
These two sprues include the bulk of the smaller parts for the hull and flight deck. All of the optional rolling hangar doors are found here as well as various galleries, flat elevators and other fittings. If you have ever looked at photographs of Essex Class carriers during World War Two, you may have noticed that carly rafts were stored all over the place with a great many being lashed down on the underside of the different galleries. With the Dragon Princeton these carleys are molded on the bottom of many of the galleries, which reflects the great lengths that Dragon went to add extra detail and value to this kit. However, for her 1950s appearances most, if not all, of the rafts were no longer present, so it would have been better to have galleries without carley rafts underneath. Additionally, she carried no Oerlikons, so you will have to fill in the locator holes. Also the 40mm guns were gone in her CVS role, so youíll have to also fill in their locator holes. On these sprues youíll also find propellers, propeller shafts with support struts and rudder for the full hull version. Many of these smaller parts also have doors, ventilation grates, ready ammunition boxes, underside bracing and other detail built into the part. Deck fittings include the solid deck antennae, although I prefer the detail of the included brass assemblies. The shipís cranes are solid. You can paint the indented voids black but it is a fairly simple matter to open them up with a pin-vice and hobby knife. The solid side elevator with molded on support structure and separate end bays are also found here.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
On sprues E, G and M youíll 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, M with the 40mm side tubs concentrated on sprue G. any of these parts are not used, as no island platforms from M sprue are used and the 40mm sponsons are gone. As with the hull galleries, many of these island galleries have detailed carley floats in place on the bottom surface. New enclosed bridge parts for Princeton are found on the clear plastic aircraft sprue. During the Korean War tour, Princeton had the enclosed bridge after her first tour.
Frets M, N and P
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Bring on those subs! Your attack carriers wonít have to worry about those sneaky red subs with the USS Princeton CVS-37 clipping along at 32 knots with them. With the Dragon USS Princeton CVS-37 in 1:700 scale, youíll get the carrier and aircraft to successfully prosecute those back-stabbers.