US Carriers–Police Action in Korea II


Jockeying for position aboard the USS Philippine Sea are these Vought F4U Corsairs of VF-113. Once airborne these aircraft will provide support for UN forces.

But not all of the Essex class underwent the upgrade process. This batch included the Hancock, which entered the reserve in 1947; although it was reclassified during this period the carrier never re-entered service, being taken off the Navy List in 1966. The Bunker Hill would suffer a similar postwar career, although a period with the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego delayed its scrapping until 1973. In contrast, the USS Boxer had a second career, remaining in constant service throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Eventually no longer able to operate modern aircraft, the Boxer would be reclassified as an amphibious assault ship, LPH-4, for use by the USMC, for which purpose a range of helicopters was carried. The Boxer was finally removed from the Navy List in December 1969, going for breaking two years later. The USS Princeton was another of the class to be converted for amphibious operations, being redesignated as LPH-5 in May 1959. Prior to that the ship had operated in the Far East between 1945 and 1949. At the conclusion of this commission the Princeton was placed in reserve. However, this was short, as the carrier was recommissioned in 1950 for Korean War operations, these continuing until 1953, when the ship was laid up for conversion to ASW standard. A change of role to helicopter carrier followed, the Princeton remaining as such until 1962, when the vessel was entered into the Fleet Requirements And Modification Programme, FRAM II, also known as SBC-144. This programme saw the installation of an SQS-23 bow-mounted sonar, installation of a stem hawse pipe and bow anchor and modifications to the combat information centre. The Princeton resumed operational service from 1964 off Vietnam, which came to an end in 1968 when the carrier entered the reserve. The USS Princeton was struck off the Navy List in January 1970, being sold for scrap in 1973.

The USS Tarawa was commissioned in December 1945, too late to take part in Pacific operations. The role found for the Tarawa was to act as a training carrier, a role it fulfilled until October 1948. By June 1949 the carrier was in reserve, being reactivated in February 1951, initially as a training carrier, although the ship was later used in the attack role. The Tarawa underwent conversion to ASW standard during the first half of 1955, resuming its antisubmarine duties soon afterwards. In May 1960 the Tarawa was placed in reserve, being redesignated as an aircraft transport, AVT-12, soon afterwards. Never to sail again, the Tarawa was struck off the Navy List in January 1967, going for scrap the following year. The USS Valley Forge was the last Essex carrier to be launched in November 1945, being commissioned for service in November 1946. The Valley Forge was the first carrier to operate off Korea, from June 1950. Four tours of duty followed, although there was a gap between April and December 1952 when the Valley Forge was in the Puget Sound Yard for a much-needed refit, which resulted in the ship being reclassified as an attack carrier. Although the Valley Forge spent some time operating as an ASW carrier, she did not enter the FRAM II- SBC-144 programme until 1964, although by 1965 she was operating helicopters as LPH-8 off the coast of Vietnam. The Valley Forge was withdrawn and decommissioned in January 1970, being sold for scrap soon afterwards. The final ship of the Essex class was the USS Philippine Sea, which was commissioned in May 1946. War service off Korea started in 1950 and continued until the cease-fire in July 1953. In 1955 the Philippine Sea was reclassified as an ASW carrier, although she was placed in reserve during 1958. The Philippine Sea was struck from the Navy List in 1969, being sold for breaking up soon afterwards.

Even as the last of the Essex-class carriers was completing, a further three ships were being built–the Midway class of carriers. The decision to build these vessels had been as a result of the performance of the British carriers in the Far East, which had shaken off hits by 500 lb and 1,000 lb bombs, in contrast to their American contemporaries, which had suffered losses or extensive damage when struck by weapons of the same size. Originally it was decided by the Navy Board that they would be built within the lapsed limitations of the Washington Treaty, although eventually common sense prevailed and a better ship resulted. The need to incorporate extensive armour on the flight deck and the aircraft hangars meant that these were the biggest carriers built to date, with an overall length of 968 feet and a flight deck that was 113 feet across. The increased size of the class saw an increase in the number of aircraft carried, so that the air wing on paper could consist of a mix of seventy-three Grumman F6F Hellcats and Vought F4U Corsairs, together with sixty-four Curtiss SB2C Helldivers. To service the hungry beasts, the aircraft fuel bunkerage was increased to 350,000 US gallons, while the increased aircraft complement saw an increase in aircrew that brought the total ship’s crew close to 4,000 personnel. Much of the hull design and propulsion was based on the cancelled class of Montana battleships, and so the machinery was placed en echelon, while the compartments were subdivided as much as possible in the machinery spaces to reduce the possible areas of flooding. The armoured flight deck was equipped with two hydraulic catapults forward and three lifts, two inset in the main deck, with the third mounted on the port side. Although extensive armament was specified, it is highly unlikely that any of the class was ever fully equipped. Originally the class was to have numbered six vessels. However, the end of the war saw the last three cancelled. The name ship of the class, the USS Midway, was constructed at the Newport News Yard, the carrier being commissioned in September 1945. The Midway was followed down the slips by the third vessel, the USS Coral Sea, which was commissioned in October 1947. The second ship of the class, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, was built at the New York Naval Yard and commissioned in October 1945.

Not long after the Midway class had been launched, they were back in the hands of the shipyards for strengthening of the flight decks, so that the North American AJ Savage bomber could be operated. The opportunity was also taken to rearrange the armament slightly. Added to the ship’s arsenal at the same time was the Chance Vought Regulus I missile. The SSM-N-8A Regulus was the weapon deployed by the Navy from 1955 to 1964. Ten aircraft carriers were configured to carry and launch Regulus missiles, although only six ever actually launched one. The USS Princeton (CV-37) did not deploy operationally with the missile. However, it did conduct the first launch of a Regulus from a warship, while the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) also did not deploy this weapon but was involved in two demonstration launches. The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) and the USS Lexington (CV-16) each conducted one test launch. During a deployment, the USS Randolph (CV-15) deployed to the Mediterranean carrying three Regulus missiles, while the USS Hancock (CV-19) deployed to the Western Pacific with four missiles in 1955. The Lexington, Hancock, Shangri-La (CV-38) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) were involved in the development of the Regulus Assault Mission (RAM) concept. RAM converted the Regulus cruise missiles into an unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV, so that they could be launched from cruisers or submarines, and once in flight, guided to their targets by carrier-based pilots using remote-control equipment.

A further modification programme was instituted during the 1950s when all three vessels underwent SCB-110 modernisation, this adding angled decks, three C11 steam catapults, mirror landing systems, and other modifications that would allow them to operate the forthcoming heavier naval jets. The flight deck lifts were also reconfigured, the aft deck lift was removed and relocated to the starboard side and the fore deck was considerably enlarged to handle larger aircraft. In addition the original open bow was replaced by a hurricane bow that sealed the area off from foul weather. The island was also extended to improve accommodation, while the ships’ masts were altered: that of the Roosevelt, and later the Coral Sea, was a tapered pole, while that of the Midway was a lattice assembly. Mounted on these masts were the scanners for the latest suite of electronics, including the SPS-12, SPS-8A and SC-2 on the Roosevelt, while the Midway sported the SPS-43, SPS-12 and SPS-8A. All of these replaced the wartime and immediate post-war systems fitted initially. The internal aircraft fuel capacity was also increased, although to allow for all of these modifications much of the hull armour was removed, while the defensive armament was also reduced. Even with these weight reduction measures in place, the Roosevelt now displaced 51,000 tons standard and 63,400 tons deep load, the Midway being of a similar displacement.

The Coral Sea was also subject to modernisation, although this did not take place until November 1957. This programme was designated SCB-110A and was a far more extensive upgrade than that applied to the other two vessels. As well as the angled deck and hurricane bow, the Coral Sea had completely rearranged lifts, as the forward deck lift was deleted completely, being relocated on the starboard deck edge forward of the island. Another deck edge lift was located on the port side, far aft, to completely clear the flight deck. This change meant that Coral Sea had no centre-line lifts, two being to starboard with the other to port. As in the other ships of the class, three C11 steam catapults replaced the original hydraulic units, two mounted on the bow and the third on the forward edge of the landing deck. To cope with the increasing weight of naval aircraft, the arrester gear was upgraded to Mk 7 standard. To restore the carrier’s stability, bulges were added to the hull, although to compensate for this extra weight the hull armour was removed. The island was also modified, while the pole mast carried the scanners for the SPS-12, SPS-37 and SPS-8A radars. In common with the other two ships, further weight saving was needed to compensate, and so much of the defensive armament was removed. All of these periods in dock for modernisation meant that the Midway class missed the Korean War.

Only two other carrier vessels entered service in the immediate post-war period, these being two light carriers that were loosely based on the preceding Independence class. The hull was based on that of the Baltimore-class cruisers, upon which was mounted a hangar deck, above which was the flight deck, stressed to accommodate aircraft weighing up to nine tons. This deck was longer and wider than that of the Independence class, having a wider section aft to allow for easier aircraft movement. Two lifts were fitted, one each fore and aft, although they were more widely spaced than those of the earlier Independences. Two catapults were fitted at the bow end, these being staggered instead of the diverging ones in previous escort carrier designs. Forward of the island was a heavy-duty crane that could be used for the transfer of stores. It was also capable of dipping into the forward lift area. The island design was borrowed from the Commencement Bay class, having a heavy mast above, while a second mast was located aft of the island. Mounted on these masts were the initial radar fit scanners, which included the SP and SK-2 fitted to the Saipan, and the SR-2 installed on the USS Wright. Both vessels were fitted with Mk 29 fire-control radar sets, while the projected air group was intended to be twelve Grumman Avengers plus two full squadrons of fighters, either Grumman F6F Hellcats or Chance Vought F4U Corsairs.

Only two ships of the Saipan class were ordered, the name ship and the USS Wright. The former was commissioned in July 1946, while the latter was accepted in February 1947. After the initial shake-down cruise, the Saipan undertook eight months of pilot training, later joining the Operational Development Force based at Norfolk, Virginia, in December 1947. The purpose of this force was to gain experience in operating jet aircraft from aircraft carriers. In May 1948 the Saipan undertook the first operational deployment of jet aircraft, in this case the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom. This deployment ended in the early 1950s as the Saipan was redeployed for training duties, although the carrier was placed in the reserve in October 1957. In May 1959 the Saipan was redesignated as an aircraft transport, remaining as such until 1963, when it was slated for conversion to a command ship, being designated CC-3. By 1966 the vessel had left the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company at Mobile, and was ready for service, although by this time it had been redesignated as the AGMR-2 USS Arlington. The greater majority of the conversion work was hidden from sight, and so the only visible signs were the high aerials mounted along the flight deck. The Arlington undertook communication and relay duties during the Vietnam conflict, being deactivated in 1967 and sold for scrap three years later. The USS Wright followed a similar operating pattern to the Saipan during its early years, being mainly engaged in training pilots. In June 1952 the carrier was reconfigured for ASW duties operating with hunter killer forces in the Atlantic, although she returned to training duties soon afterwards. In May 1955 the Wright was assigned to TG.7.3, which was tasked with undertaking nuclear tests in the Pacific under the codename Operation Wigwam. The Wright was decommissioned into the reserve in March 1956 at Puget Sound. As with the Saipan, the carrier was redesignated as an aircraft transport in May 1959, although it was moved into Puget Sound Dockyard in March 1962 for conversion to command ship status.

Redesignated CC-2, the conversion included extensive alterations to enable the ship to function as a fully equipped mobile command post for top-echelon commands and their staff that would enable them to act on the strategic direction of area or world-wide military operations. Facilities were built into the ship for global communications and rapid, automatic exchange, processing, storage and the display of command data. A portion of the former hangar deck space was utilised for special-command spaces and the extensive electronics equipment needed, while a major portion of the flight deck was utilised for the mounting of specially designed communications antenna arrays. In addition, facilities were provided to enable the vessel to operate three helicopters. In its new guise, the Wright was recommissioned in May 1963 and undertook duties across the world. The ship remained in commission until deactivated in May 1970, although it remained on the Navy List until December 1977, being sold for scrap in 1980.

While the US Navy was trying to retain its two ocean carrier fleets plus the manpower and aircraft to operate them, changes were taking place half a world away that would bring the carrier forces to the fore once again. In a move that would have been noticed by the United States government in quieter times, the leadership of Russia officially declared war on Japan on 9 August 1945, close to the war’s end, even though America and Russia had signed an agreement to that effect earlier that year. What the rest of the Allies had failed to notice was that the Russian influence had spread across Eastern Europe, courtesy of the Soviet invasion of Germany. It would be this startling spread of communism, a great theory but ruined by people, that would alarm the nations of the West. By 10 August the Red Army had occupied the northern part of the Korean peninsula, and on 26 August halted at the 38th Parallel for three weeks to await the arrival of US forces from the south. Even as the Russians were moving into their positions, the Americans were having doubts that the Soviets would honour their part of the Joint Commission agreement, the American-sponsored Korean occupation agreement. The dividing line across Korea had been decided in July when two of the American Commission officers, Colonel Dean Rusk and Colonel Charles H. Bonesteel III, had split the peninsula at the 38th Parallel after concluding that the US Korean Zone of Occupation had to have a minimum of two ports, and that the capital of Korea should be in the area of responsibility of the American forces.

At the Potsdam Conference held during July and August 1945, the Allies had decided to divide Korea, without consulting the Korean people, in contravention of the Cairo Conference, which had stated that Korea would become a free and independent country, free from outside control. On 8 September 1945, Lieutenant-General John R. Hodge arrived in Inchon to accept the surrender of Japanese forces south of the 38th Parallel. Appointed as military governor, General Hodge controlled South Korea via the United States Army Military Government in Korea between 1945 and 1948. As governor, General Hodge established control by restoring to power the key Japanese colonial administrators and their Korean and police collaborators, as the USAMGIK refused to recognise the provisional government of the short-lived People’s Republic of Korea (PRK), since he suspected it was a communist organisation. These policies contradicted the notion of Korean sovereignty, and so they provoked civil insurrections and guerrilla warfare.

From December 1945 Korea was administered by a Joint American and Russian Commission, as had been agreed at the 1945 Moscow Conference, although the Koreans were excluded from these talks. The commission decided that the country would become independent after a five-year trusteeship. This news was not received well by the population, which openly revolted. In the south of the country some protested, while others armed themselves with weapons liberated from the Japanese occupation forces. In order to take the sting out of these actions, the USAMGIK banned strikes on 8 December 1945, this being followed by the outlawing of the PRK Revolutionary Government and the PRK People’s Committees four days later. Continued unrest saw a strike by railway workers in Pusan on 23 September 1946, this being followed by civil disorder that spread throughout the country. On 1 October 1946, Korean police shot three students in the Daegu Uprising, and as a result of this action protesters made a counter-attack, during which thirty-eight policemen were killed. This was followed on 3 October when approximately 10,000 protesters attacked the Yeongcheon police station, killing three policemen and injuring a further forty. Elsewhere in Korea some twenty landlords and pro-Japanese South Korean officials were killed, in the light of which the USAMGIK was left with no option but to declare martial law.

In response to all this civil unrest, the Representative Democratic Council, led by the nationalist Syngman Rhee, would make clear its opposition to the Soviet-American trusteeship of Korea, rightly arguing that after thirty-five years of Japanese colonial rule most Koreans opposed further foreign occupation. To stop the country descending into a civil war, the USAMGIK decided to scrap the five-year trusteeship agreed upon in Moscow, and to invoke the 31 March 1948 United Nations election deadline that was intended to achieve an anti-communist civil government in the American Zone of Occupation. The proposed national general elections were first opposed and then boycotted by the Russians, who insisted that the Americans should honour the trusteeship agreed to during the Moscow Conference. The resultant anti-communist South Korean government would issue a national political constitution on 17 July 1948, elect a president, the American-educated Syngman Rhee, three days later, and establish the Republic of South Korea on 15 August 1948. In the Russian Korean Zone of Occupation, the USSR established a communist North Korean government led by Kim Il-Sung. In reply, President Rhee’s regime expelled all communists from southern national politics. As nationalists, albeit of different hues, both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung were intent upon reunifying Korea under their own preferred political mantle.

As they were better armed, courtesy of the USSR, the North Koreans could and did escalate the continual border skirmishes and raids, and then looked to invade South Korea with proper provocation. During this period the American government assumed that all communists globally were controlled or directly influenced by Moscow, and so the US portrayed the border infractions in Korea as Soviet inspired. American troops were withdrawn from Korea in 1949, leaving behind an ill-equipped South Korean army. The Soviet Union had already left Korea in 1948, although its sponsored regime was well equipped. Under the guise of rebuffing a South Korean provocation raid, the North Korean Army (KPA) crossed the 38th Parallel behind an intensive artillery barrage on Sunday 25 June 1950. The KPA stated that the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) troops had crossed the border first, and that they would arrest and execute Rhee. Both Korean armies had continually harassed each other with skirmishes, and each had continually mounted raids across the 38th Parallel border. The United Nations Security Council immediately condemned the North Korean invasion of the Republic of South Korea, issuing UN Resolution 82, which called for an immediate withdrawal. The USSR had boycotted the UN Security Council meetings since January 1950, protesting that the Republic of China, Taiwan, and not the People’s Republic of China, had a permanent seat on the Council. In response, on 27 June, President Truman ordered American air and sea forces to assist the South Korean regime.

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