WWII: America's First True Aircraft Carrier

When people talk about the aircraft carriers of World War II, some names jump out right away.

Maybe the USS Enterprise (CV 6), both versions of the USS Yorktown (CV 5 and CV 10), or the USS Hornet (CV 8)?

But one carrier that was present at the start of World War II and survived throughout the war isn’t that well known. Meet America’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CV 4).

USS Ranger (CV 4) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1939. (US Navy photo)

The Ranger, like many pre-war American ship designs, was heavily influenced by the Washington Naval Treaty. This limited aircraft carriers to 27,000 tons per ship, and the United States Navy’s carrier force could have a total displacement of 135,000 tons. The conversion of the under-construction battle cruisers Lexington (then-CC 1) and Saratoga (then-CC 3) to CV 2 and CV 3 put them both at 33,000 tons.

As such, the Ranger was limited to 14,500 tons – and the U.S. wanted to cram as much as it could on this ship. She received eight 5-inch, 25-caliber guns, as well as a host of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. She also could carry around 75 aircraft.

Nine Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and five Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers are visible on the flight deck of USS Ranger (CV 4) prior to Operation Torch. Note Ranger´s distinctive stacks in the left foreground. (US Navy photo)

When World War II broke out, the USS Ranger was in the Atlantic as part of the Neutrality Patrol, along with the carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the Ranger was sent to patrol the South Atlantic. After returning for repairs, the Ranger then was tasked with delivering P-40 Warhawks to Africa. She made two runs in the spring and summer of 1942, delivering 140 of those planes – some of which were destined to reinforce the Flying Tigers.

In November of 1942, the Ranger took part in Operation Torch, launching 54 F4F Wildcats and 18 SBD Dauntless dive bombers. Her planes sank or damaged two French warships, and also gave the landings fighter cover.

After Torch, the Ranger was overhauled, then delivered 75 more P-40s — this time for the North African Theater of Operations. She carried out training missions during most of 1943, until she was attached to the Home Fleet.

A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3/-5 Dauntless of Bombing Squadron 41 (VB-41) on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4), at anchor in Placentia, Newfoundland. While operating with Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, in October 1943, aircraft from Ranger attacked German shipping on Norwegian coast (“Operation Leader”). This was the second of only two periods of combat for Ranger in Atlantic Theater. (US Navy photo)

In October, 1943, the USS Ranger joined the British Home Fleet, and carried out a number of strikes on German naval forces around Norway. After that, she again served as an aircraft ferry, delivering 76 P-38 Lightning fighters to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

After making that delivery, the Ranger finally went to the Pacific, where she was a training carrier until the end of the war. After the war, the USS Ranger was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

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