It happens every time. Because of a huge industrial base the United States can out build any other nation in warships. So many get in the pipeline that their sheer numbers influence naval procurement programs years after the war has ended. The huge numbers of flush deck four stack destroyers built in response to World War One, prevented new procurement of far better destroyer designs for a decade. For politicians a destroyer is a destroyer, a gun is a gun, even when one gun is a .22 single shot and the other is a 20mm Vulcan gatling cannon. Why should the navy get new destroyers when they had over 200 of them freshly built and almost unused? History repeats itself for those that donít learn from history and it certainly seems that politicians are learning handicapped. The same train of events came into play at the end of World War Two. Every class of ship had built in tremendous numbers, so with some exceptions new designs came to a stop. This was true with aircraft carriers. So many Essex class carriers had been built, plus the three big Midway carriers, that their was no money for new designs, plus the situation had become more complex when the independent USAF was created as a separate service, clear of army control. Just as the pre-war RAF had been dominated by the Big Bomber Boys, so too with the shiny new USAF. Why spend money on the Army and Navy when the Air Force could win wars all alone with nuclear armed strategic bombers?
It is interesting that by 1945 the USN considered the Essex design to be outdated and definitely overloaded.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/stack. Those short hull Essex units also had their bow reworked to long hull configuration. 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 Oriskany was the first modernized 27A Essex to be commissioned in June 1950 but she was not sent to operate off Korea until September 1952. It is the Oriskany that is seen in the movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Essex was commissioned in her 27A appearance in January 1951 and immediately entered into air operation off of Korea as part of TF-77 from 1951-1953. The Essex would have been more appropriate for the movie as she was sending her Panthers over the Korean Peninsula, while the Oriskany was basking in the warm clime of the Mediterranean. Yorktown CVA-10 came out of her SCB-27A refit in January 1953 but only served in combat that September. Hornet CVA-12 was not recommissioned in her SCB 27A fit until September 1953. Randolph CVA-15 came out with a SCB 27A fit in July 1953 but served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Wasp CVA-18 was another earlier SCB 27A entrant with Essex but when she came back into service in October 1951 Wasp served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Another east coast 27A ship was Bennington CVA-20, which served in this fit from 1953 to 1954. Kearsarge CVA-33 was along with Essex, a SCB 27A ship that did see substantial service off Korea. In 1952 and 1953 she was with Essex in TF-77. Lake Champlain CVA-39 was the last numbered of the class to receive the SCB-27A fit. Commissioned in September 1952 she spent some time in 1953 with TF-77.
The SCB-27A redesign was not the only program placed into effect. The conversion of the first of the ships to SCB-27A specifications started in 1948. However, with the advent of the Korean War it was clear that the Navy would still need large numbers of Essex class carriers for actual and other possible combat operations. The three Midways were not enough and with them operating in the Mediterranean or Atlantic as a counter-balance to the Red Army, who would mind the Pacific? With the cancellation of the USS United States in another political fiasco created by listening to the big bomber guys of the USAF, there were no new hulls being constructed. The Forrestals were still years away. There was another certainty, which further required a new refit design beyond the SCB-27A for the Essex class. The new aircraft designs were still getting larger and heavier. Although the SCB 27A plan had strengthened the flight deck, it was not enough, and even though the elevators had been enlarged and strengthened, the location of the centerline elevators imposed constraints on their use by ever-larger aircraft. On the side elevator at least the tail of any aircraft could extend seaward beyond the edge of the elevator.
The next measure undertaken to overcome the deficiencies of the SCB-27A was designated SCB-27C. This design incorporated all of the measures undertaken by SCB-27A but further enhanced them and added new modifications, which further improved the ability of the Essex class to operate the larger aircraft. The flight decks were strengthened even further and to compensate for the extra top weight carried high on the ship, added bulges to the hull sides. The SCB-27A had a beam of 101-feet but the SCB-27C further increased the beam to 103-feet. Instead of the hydraulic H-8 catapult, which could handle 20-ton aircraft, new C-11 steam catapults were added with greater weight capacity than the H-8. The aft elevator was eliminated from its centerline position and moved to the starboard side of the hull aft of the island. Now this elevator, as well as the port side elevator would allow use of larger aircraft be the simple expedient of having the tail of the aircraft being moved overhang the deck edge. Stronger arrestor wire systems were added that could cope with the heavier aircraft with higher landing speeds of jets. The first three carriers to get this treatment were Intrepid CV-11, Ticonderoga CV-14 and Hancock CV-19, which received their SCB-27C refits from 1951 and 1954. A second batch of three, which received a further refinement of SCB-27C, included Lexington CV-16, Bon Homme Richard CV-31 and Shangri-La CV-38 from 1952 to 1955. The SCB-27C had an axial deck, just as the SCB-27A design. In 1952 the ships of the Essex class were separated in their designations. SCB-27A and unmodified members of the class were given the anti-submarine designation, AVS. SCB-27C fit ships were given the attack carrier designation of CVA, indicating their role of operating tactical attack aircraft and were further redesignated as the Ticonderoga Class.
Yet there would be a third refit design prepared for the Essex class. Now with the armistice signed in Korea, 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, even those that had received the SCB-27A or were receiving the SCB 27C refits. Jet aircraft were increasing in size and weight and the old WWII axial deck design was at the upper limit of their deck capability to operate jets. The higher landing speeds of jets greatly restricted the ability of the class to land and launch aircraft simultaneously, raising the flight operation cycle time. The British had come up with the idea of an angled deck to give a carrier the ability to take off and land jets simultaneously. So the USN decided to take a look at the concept by adding an angled deck to one of the Essex class. Rather than pick one that had just finished their SBC-27A conversion or add it to one of the ships then undergoing their SCB-27C conversion, the USS Antietam CV-36, little changed from her World War Two configuration was chosen for this experiment. In May 1952 Antietam was sent into the dockyard for addition of an angled deck. She was out of the dock by January 1953 and started taking testing the angled deck. When she finished her conversion there were a series of triangular support braces underneath the angled deck and she still carried the original tripod mast. Subsequent to this the triangular supports were covered over by fairing and a pole mainmast replaced the tripod.
The experiment was a success, so all of the SCB 27A and SCB 27C Essex
class carriers were reworked in another modification known as SCB-125, which
added an angled deck, enclosed Hurricane bow, a larger port side folding deck
elevator, bulges, new C-11 catapults for the SCB-27A ships as the SCB-27C ships
were already in the process of being fitted with the newer model, increasing the
length of the centerline forward elevator by adding a delta shaped extension to
the forward edge to accommodate the new delta shaped aircraft just coming into
service, adding the improved arrestor wires but halving their number and other
refinements. The ships receiving the SCB-27C conversion were just out of the
yards from their SCB-27C conversion but were still the first to receive the new
SCB-125 refit. The Lexington, Bon
Homme Richard and Shangri-La
were still in the yard completing their SCB-27C conversions so additional time
was allocated to also incorporate the further changes of SCB-125. The Ticonderoga,
Intrepid and Hancock
had already operated for a short period of time in their SCB-27C appearance and
were taken back to the yard to add the SCB-125 refit from 1955 to 1957. The
SCB-27A ships were also sent back for rework to SCB-125 standards between 1954
and 1957. (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)
Ships & Co SCB-125 Ticonderoga
The SCB-125 angled deck Essex, which was the fit modeled by Revell in 1957, which was a very advanced kit for the time. Up until now the only SCB-125 fit Essex kit has been the old Jim Shirley resin kit. Long out of production and commanding very high prices on E-Bay during their infrequent appearances at the auction site. That time has come to an end as Ships & Co now has a new 1:700 scale SCB-125 Essex available. The kit comes with resin parts and decal sheet. There is no photo-etch or aircraft and the decal sheet is not specifically designed for this kit and lacks flight deck numbers and names for the stern.
The Ships & Co 1:700 scale Ticonderoga hull is certainly large and includes a full hangar deck. In fact the hangar deck looked just like the one provided with the numerous Dragon Essex class kits. A quick comparison with one of the Dragon models shows that the hangar deck is identical but with all internal bulkheads already in place fore and aft. The Ships & Co Ticonderoga also had the same waterline length as a Dragon long hull Essex. Since the Dragon is slightly larger than 1:700 scale, the Ships & Co Ticongeroga is as well as slightly larger than scale. However, most importantly, the Ticonderoga is wider, portraying the increase width of the SCB-125 design. The Dragon long-hull models have an incorrect cutwater profile but of course on of the most significant visual distinctions of the SCB-125 was the fully enclosed Hurricane bow, which gave greater strength to the bow flight deck as it extended all the way to the flight deck. In comparison with photographs of the Ticonderoga, the bow cutwater profile and front view on the model appears to match the photographs. One early feature one the early fit ships was a third anchor on the cutwater, placed lower than the hull side hawse anchors. This was removed by the early 1960s. The centerline cutwater anchor hawse is present on the kit.
One nice thing about and USN WWII or prewar carrier design is the presence of plenty of hull side detail. With the open hangar concept and ranks of roller door openings the Essex design presents plenty of this detail. For the rolling hangar doors, the Ticonderoga has the starboard hangar doors in an open position, as are the aft port doors. The port forward doors are portrayed as closed with hangar door segments scribed in the resin. The resin is thin at these locations so can be easily opened with a hobby knife if desired. There are certainly a multitude of features left over from their World War Two appearance, such as the external fuel lines, the bulk of the rolling hangar door positions, the port elevator location and side supports, and the semi-circular quarterdeck. However, in keeping with the sweeping nature of the refit, there are a huge number of significant changes to the hull. The two largest are the Hurricane bow with its row of port holes at the level just below the flight deck and the angled deck to port.
All sponsons are cast integral to the hull. The two largest are of course the sponsons that support the angled deck outboard of the hull proper, or more properly enclose the actul strength braces that support the deck. Four other smaller sponsons are on the port side and five sponsons are found to starboard. After adding the flight deck support sponsons side galleries at hangar deck level were minimal on the port. However, the starboard side still has abundant inset galleries and the exterior of the hangar bulkheads have a lot of cast on detail. There are some access doors, a good number of equipment boxes and a generous portion of piping. Other hull side details include a few portholes at the bow, vertical strakes and thin catwalks. The aft face of the hangar, overlooking the quarterdeck has to access doors, while the small quaterdeck has the usual chocks and bollard detail.
The hull casting also provides interior hangar bulkhead detail. Ships & Co cast this detail integral with the hull, so unlike the Dragon or Trumpeter plastic Essex models, the modeler doesnít need to worry about fit of the interior hangar deck or in the case of Trumpeter hangar deck bulkheads. This alone will save a lot of time in assembly and eliminates the need to fill and sand unsightly seams. Not only does Ships & Co include stack flue trunking but also internal strakes, supports, roller door fittings, lockers and other fittings. Of course this detail will be concealed once the flight deck is attached, unless you cut out the hangar doors to portray them in an up position or have the bow centerline elevator in a down position. Of course the interior of the hangar can be seen through the port and starboard deck edge elevator openings. Even with this some of this detail will not be seen but it is nice to know it is there in case one of the IPMS ship judges is a proctologist and comes to the show with the tools of his trade.
When I first look at the catapult placement, I thought there was an error. The starting positions of the catapults were not parallel, as the port catapult started aft of the starboard catapult. Unlike the ix of catapults found in WWII Essex class ships, the SCB-125 had two identical C-11 cats. Quickly looking at the bow deck section, I noticed that the port cat ended before the starboard cat, so they were of equal length. Another quick check of photographs of SCB-125 ships did confirm that the catapults were staggered just as Ships & Co showed. Gallery treatment for this piece is similar to that on the piece just aft of it. There was a narrow catwalk on the forward portion of the port side and wide galleries to starboard. The starboard galleries are marred by solid aztec steps. I just wish Ships & Co hadnít even bothered including solid steps. It would have been far better to have clean galleries ready for the addition of photo-etch inclined ladders. As it is, youíll have to cut them out, which take a little time and patience. The forward portion of the flight deck is the smallest and has the forward end of the staggered catapults and the forward half of the cutout for the centerline elevator with its delta shaped forward extension.
Smaller Resin Parts
There are quite a number of smaller resin parts. The largest is the new island. The island is composed of a number of pieces, one of the largest of which is the massive stack. The detail cast onto the stack piece, including piping, platform supports, access doors, port holes, stack cap, mast base and starboard array arm. The part for the island base is mostly smooth sided with detail of access doors and portholes. Bridge levels are separate pieces with bridge windows deeply incised. There are more details on the starboard side than on the port side facing the flight deck. This makes sense because any fittings facing the flight deck would be vulnerable to damage as a result of deck incidents. To starboard the detail consists of piping at all levels and equipment boxes at two levels. A large box position juts seaward at a high level on the stack. There are also platform levels and a couple of narrow catwalks. The port side detail is limited to steam piping and vertical ladder, except for the most prominent item, the lower level of the bridge, which wraps around the narrow forward face of the island. Other smaller parts can be divided into larger structural parts and smaller fittings and equipment parts. All of these parts are cast on runners with the parts numbers. The largest structural parts are the three separate elevators. Both deck edge elevators and flat support girders underneath but a crucial absence is all of the steel support truces. This is a significant absence so photo-etch with these types of support trusses should be acquired from a third party source. Also on their runner are three small platforms with support bracing.
Another runner has but two parts. One is apparently for the base of the island, however this partís location is not shown in the instructions. It does have nice ribbing supports on the exterior face of the splinter shielding. The other prominent part is the escalator fitting underneath the starboard side of the island with very nice support ribbing. Two more runners provide additional platforms. One runner includes the kingpost for the crane and three platforms with the aft starboard platform cast with significant supports under the platform. The other platform runner has two more side platforms as well as the deck platform dividing the two levels of the aft exterior hangar bulkhead. Another runner contains the most prominent island details with the upper bridge level, aft platform with dome, aft director platform, and flight control position with slanting incised windows. Another runner has island side galleries and what appears to be a radar support platform on the forward port stack top level but its attachment location is not shown in the instructions. The mast, cross tree and centerline support for a starboard side lattice position for the upper island are found on another runner.
Equipment and fittings come cast on one sheet and six runners. The sheet has the two halves for the aircraft/boat crane. Lightly sand the parts to open up the voids. Since no photo-etch is included, Ships & Co should have also provided for the side elevator support trusses in this format but didnít. One runner has radar and a couple of platforms. There are two directors, one parabolic dish radar, a large rectangular array, a small oval array and two triangular platforms. Open lattice arrays would be better replaced with photo-etch. Two runners provide gun armament. The twin 5-inch/38 turrets of the WWII Essex are gone but the single open mounts are still present in side galleries. One runner provides for five 5-inch open mounts with four platforms. Another runner provides for two 3-inch mounts with four guns and four platforms. There are a number of problems. First the three-inch guns were twin positions, which replaced the quad Bofors on a one to one basis in the early 1950s. When Tico came out of her SCB-125 refit, she carried eight 5-inch/38 and eight 3-inch/50 with four twin mounts. The armament was placed in galleries with two 5-inch and one twin 3-inch mount in each quarter gallery. In 1972 Tico had dropped to only four 5-inch guns. Ships & Co has not provided enough guns for their appearance after initially leaving the yard from the SCB-125 refit. No gun locations are shown in the instructions to further compound the problem. Detail is very good on both types of armament. A small fittings runner has nine solid inclined ladders but ditch them and use photo-etch. Also included are two fittings for a starboard side island platform; braces for a lattice tower on the upper starboard island and what appears to be a T-shaped galley stack. Another small runner has a wonderful three piece Tilley that is toe-curling good, one ships boat and two quarterdeck flight deck support posts. The last runner has ten anchors in three patterns (apparently the Tico wants to play it safe sort of like wearing suspenders and a belt), eight carley rafts and a mystery part (#47) not found in assembly.
At long last the angled deck Essex is back and bolder and more beautiful than ever in the 1:700 scale incarnation of USS Ticonderoga CV-14 from Ships & Co. The all resin kit contains resin parts and a non-specific decal sheet. The kit is marred by poor instructions. Although final touches, such as photo-etch and aircraft, will need to be procured from a third-party source, the SCB-125 design is present in all her glory.