With the advent of heavier-than-air flight, the aircraft carrier has become a decisive weapon at sea. The effectiveness of large aircraft carriers was demonstrated early in the war, when dozens of Japanese fighters and bombers, launched from aircraft carriers, decimated the U.S Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in late 1941. In May of 1942, aircraft from Japanese and U.S carriers battled at the Coral Sea, the first naval conflict where the opposing ships did not make contact. This battle resulted in the sinking of the Lexington. The Japanese Navy also took heavy losses, most notably at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. There they lost four carriers and hundreds of airplanes—its naval power declined steadily after that. By contrast, ship production in the U.S accelerated dramatically in 1944 and 1945, when dozens of aircraft carriers (and other ships) were completed. Most came too late to make a major difference in the war, and many ships on order were cancelled at the end of the war in mid-1945.
I suppose you could quibble about the Langley, as she was technically an AVP (aircraft transport) at the time of her sinking, but since she was our first carrier, I’ll allow it.
What I’ve always found interesting is that the Essex class carriers were not an “ideal” design, but rather a mass production adaptation of existing design. And yet, not one was lost. They featured a sound basic design and extremely well trained damage control parties. Many, such as the Franklin, suffered damage that should have seen them lost, but instead they survived where earlier carriers didn’t.
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