Tuesday, October 28, 2008

USS Wasp (CV-7)

Figure 1: USS Wasp’s (CV-7) starboard bow, December 27, 1940. Image #80-G-463431. Courtesy National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Lt. David McCampbell, Landing Signal Officer, bringing in planes aboard USS Wasp (CV-7) circa late 1941 or early 1942. McCampbell later became the Navy's top-scoring "ace" in World War II. Behind him is the Assistant Landing Signal Officer, Ensign George E. "Doc" Savage. In the catwalk in the lower center are Len Ford (enlisted man) and Lt. Hawley Russell. Caption details were provided by Captain David McCampbell, USN (Ret.), in 1982. Official U.S. Navy photo, now in the collection of the National Archives. Image #80-G-K-687(Color). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Wasp (CV-7) off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, on 8 January 1942, following overhaul. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives (# 19-N-27320). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: A Spitfire Mk.Vc being loaded aboard USS Wasp (CV-7) at Port Glasgow, Scotland, in April 1942, at the start of Operation Calender. Note some F4F Wildcat fighters parked on deck, with their wings folded—Wasp carried twelve Wildcats during the two aircraft ferrying missions she carried out with the Royal Navy to augment the dwindling defenses of Malta (Operation Calender, in April, and Operation Bowery, in May 1942). USN photo, taken from “Skies of Fire,” by Alfred Price. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: A Spitfire Mk.Vc about to start its run off USS Wasp. The aircraft that had taken off ahead of it is visible above its starboard wing. Already the lift is on its way down to the hangar to pick up the next fighter. USN photo, taken from “Skies of Fire,” by Alfred Price. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: Neg No. OCR-11886 — US Navy's aircraft carrier Wasp ferries British aircraft to Malta. One of the first photographs showing the carrier en route to the British Mediterranean Stronghold. Signalman on the bridge of the Wasp on the alert for any signals from escort ships of approaching enemy ships or planes. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: USS Wasp (CV-7) entering Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 26 May 1942. An escorting destroyer is in the background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (photo # 80-G-12240). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8: USS Wasp (CV-7) in port in June 1942, with a motor launch coming alongside. Probably taken in San Diego Harbor, California. Planes on deck, some with wings folded, include SB2U scout bombers and F4F-4 fighters. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (photo # 80-G-K-447). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 9: USS Wasp (CV-7) burning and listing after she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-19, on 15 September 1942, while operating in the southwestern Pacific in support of forces on Guadalcanal. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (photo # 80-G-16331). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 10: USS O’Brien (DD-415) is torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-19 during the Guadalcanal Campaign, 15 September 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7), torpedoed a few minutes earlier, is burning in the left distance. O'Brien was hit in the extreme bow, but "whipping" from the torpedo explosion caused serious damage to her hull amidships, leading to her loss on 19 October 1942, while she was en route back to the United States for repairs. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (photo # 80-G-457818). Click on photograph for larger image.

USS Wasp (CV-7) was a 14,700-ton aircraft carrier that was built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 25 April 1940. Wasp was approximately 741 feet long and 80 feet wide, had a top speed of 29.5 knots, and had a crew of 2,367 officers and men. The ship was armed with eight 5-inch guns, 16 1.1-inch guns, 16 .50-caliber machine guns, and carried roughly 80 aircraft.

Wasp spent the first two years of her life in the Atlantic, taking part in naval exercises, neutrality enforcement patrols, and various other escort duties. In April and May 1942, Wasp assisted the British Home Fleet in the North Atlantic and twice entered the Mediterranean to deliver vital Royal Air Force aircraft to the besieged island of Malta.

Wasp then was sent to the Pacific in June 1942 to reinforce US Naval forces after the massive carrier battles at Coral Sea and Midway. Wasp was also sent there to prepare for offensive operations in the South Pacific. In early August 1942, she participated in the invasion of Guadalcanal. Wasp then fought desperately to help hold that vital island in the face of determined Japanese efforts to recapture it.

But on 15 September 1942, Wasp’s luck ran out. While steaming to the south of Guadalcanal, the carrier was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-19. Wasp was hit by two torpedoes, which, unfortunately, exploded next to the ship’s gas tanks and magazines. Huge, fiery blasts ripped through the forward part of the ship. The intense fires set off enormous amounts of ammunition, bombs, and gasoline. The water mains located in the forward part of the ship were destroyed because of the explosions, making it impossible to fight the spreading flames. Wasp began listing to starboard between 10 and 15 degrees as the ship gradually came to a halt. With fires spreading rapidly throughout the ship and with the carrier’s list increasing, Wasp’s skipper, the famous Captain Forrest P. Sherman, realized that the situation was hopeless. After consulting with his executive officer, Commander Fred C. Dickey, and with the uncontrollable fires quickly spreading towards the rear of the carrier, Captain Sherman saw that the only option left was to abandon ship. At 1520, the order was given and all of the badly injured men were lowered into rafts or rubber boats. The men had to leave from the aft section of the ship because the fires were too intense at the forward end. The whole process was very orderly and there was no panic. Many men, though, refused to leave the ship until all of the wounded had made it off. But after 40 minutes, at 1600, almost everyone was off the ship. Everyone that is, except Captain Sherman. He made sure no one was left on deck, in the gun galleries, or in the aft aircraft hangers. Once he was convinced everyone had left, he slid down one of the lifelines on the fantail and lowered himself into the sea, the last man to leave the stricken carrier.

The ships that were escorting Wasp rescued 1,946 members of her crew, including Captain Sherman. Although burning fiercely from stem to stern, Wasp was built so well that she still refused to go down. The destroyer USS Lansdowne (DD-486) was given the task of firing five torpedoes into the sinking ship. Three of them hit and still Wasp did not sink. For a while, the carrier was literally a burning torch upon the water. Eventually, though, the massive damage sustained by the ship finally took its toll. At 2100, Wasp finally slid beneath the waves bow first.

USS Wasp received two battle stars for her service during World War II. The interesting thing about this ship was that it proved, once again, that carriers could sustain an amazing amount of punishment and still remain afloat. It basically took five torpedoes (two Japanese and three American) to finally sink Wasp, even after the ship was totally devastated by massive fires. American aircraft carriers were built tough and could take a beating, qualities that would serve them well in the coming months of the Pacific war.