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World War II: USS Wasp (CV-7)

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World War II: USS Wasp (CV-7)

USS Wasp, October 1940

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Wasp - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Fore River Shipyard
  • Laid Down: April 1, 1936
  • Launched: April 4, 1939
  • Commissioned: April 25, 1940
  • Fate: Sunk September 15, 1942

USS Wasp - Specifications

  • Displacement: 19,423 tons
  • Length: 741 ft., 3 in.
  • Beam: 109 ft.
  • Draft: 20 ft.
  • Propulsion: 2 × Parsons steam turbines, 6 × boilers at 565 psi, 2 × shafts
  • Speed: 29.5 knots
  • Range: 14,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,167 men

USS Wasp - Armament:

Guns

  • 8 × 5 in./.38 cal guns
  • 16 × 1.1 in./.75 cal anti-aircraft guns 24 × .50 in. machine guns

    Aircraft

  • up to 100 aircraft

  • USS Wasp - Design & Construction:

    In the wake of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, the world's leading sea powers were restricted in the size and total tonnage of warships they were permitted to build and deploy. Under the treaty's initial terms, the United States was allotted 135,000 for aircraft carriers. With the construction of USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6), the US Navy found itself with 15,000 tons remaining in its allowance. Rather than permit this to go unused, they ordered a new carrier built that possessed approximately three-quarters the displacement of Enterprise.

    Though still a sizable ship, efforts were made to save weight to meet the treaty's restrictions. As a result, the new ship, dubbed USS Wasp (CV-7), lacked much of its larger sibling's armor and torpedo protection. Wasp also incorporated less powerful machinery which reduced the carrier's displacement, but at a cost of around three knots of speed. Laid down at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA on April 1, 1936, Wasp was launched three years later on April 4, 1939. The first American carrier to possess a deck edge aircraft elevator, Wasp was commissioned on April 25, 1940, with Captain John W. Reeves in command.

    USS Wasp - Prewar Service:

    Departing Boston in June, Wasp conducted testing and carrier qualifications through the summer before finishing its last sea trials in September. Assigned to Carrier Division 3, in October 1940, Wasp embarked US Army Air Corps ,P-40 fighters for flight testing. These efforts showed that land-based fighters could fly from a carrier. Through the remainder of the year and into 1941, Wasp largely operated in the Caribbean where it participated in a variety of training exercises. Returning to Norfolk, VA in March, the carrier aided a sinking lumber schooner en route.

    While at Norfolk, Wasp was fitted with the new CXAM-1 radar. After a brief return to the Caribbean and service off Rhode Island, the carrier received orders to sail for Bermuda. With World War II raging, Wasp operated from Grassy Bay and conducted neutrality patrols in the western Atlantic Ocean. Returning to Norfolk in July, Wasp embarked US Army Air Forces fighters for delivery to Iceland. Delivering the aircraft on August 6, the carrier remained in the Atlantic conducting flight operations until arriving at Trinidad in early September.

    USS Wasp - World War II in the Atlantic:

    Though the United States remained technically neutral, the US Navy was directed to destroy German and Italian warships that threatened Allied convoys. Aiding in convoy escort duties through the fall, Wasp was at Grassy Bay when news arrived of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. With the United States' formal entry into the conflict, Wasp conducted a patrol into the Caribbean before returning to Norfolk for a refit. Departing the yard on January 14, 1942, the carrier accidently collided with USS Stack forcing it to return to Norfolk.

    Sailing a week later, Wasp joined Task Force 39 en route to Britain. Arriving at Glasgow, the ship was tasked with ferrying Supermarine Spitfire fighters to the beleaguered island of Malta as part of Operation Calendar. Successfully delivering the aircraft in late April, Wasp carried another load of Spitfires to the island in May during Operation Bowery. For this second mission, it was accompanied by the carrier HMS Eagle. With the loss of USS Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, the US Navy decided to transfer Wasp to the Pacific to aid in combating the Japanese.

    USS Wasp - World War II in the Pacific:

    After a brief refit at Norfolk, Wasp sailed for the Panama Canal on May 31 with Captain Forrest Sherman in command. Pausing at San Diego, the carrier embarked an air group of F4F Wildcat fighters, SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and TBF Avenger torpedo bombers. In the wake of the victory at the Battle of Midway in early June, Allied forces elected to go on the offensive in early August by striking at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. To aid this operation, Wasp sailed with Enterprise and USS Saratoga (CV-3) to provide air support for the invasion forces.

    As American troops went ashore on August 7, aircraft from Wasp struck targets around the Solomons including Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo. Attacking the seaplane base at Tanambogo, aviators from Wasp destroyed twenty-two Japanese aircraft. Fighters and bombers from Wasp continued to engage the enemy until late on August 8 when Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher ordered the carriers to withdraw. A controversial decision, it effectively stripped the invasion troops of their air cover. Later that month, Fletcher ordered Wasp south to refuel leading the carrier to miss the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. In the fighting, Enterprise was damaged leaving Wasp and USS Hornet (CV-8) as the US Navy's only operational carriers in the Pacific.

    USS Wasp - Sinking

    Mid-September found Wasp sailing with Hornet and the battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) to provide an escort for transports carrying the 7th Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal. At 2:44 PM on September 15, Wasp was conducting flight operations when six torpedoes were spotted in the water. Fired by the Japanese submarine I-19, three struck Wasp despite the carrier turning hard to starboard. Lacking sufficient torpedo protection, the carrier took severe damage as all struck fuel tanks and ammunition supplies. Of the other three torpedoes, one hit the destroyer USS O'Brien while another struck North Carolina.

    Aboard Wasp, the crew desperately attempted to control the spreading fires but damage to the ship's water mains prevented them from having success. Additional explosions occurred twenty-four minutes after the attack making the situation worse. Seeing no alternative, Sherman ordered Wasp abandoned at 3:20 PM. The survivors were taken off by nearby destroyers and cruisers. In the course of the attack and attempts to fight the fires, 193 men were killed. A burning hulk, Wasp was finished off by torpedoes from the destroyer USS Lansdowne and sunk by the bow at 9:00 PM.

    Selected Sources

  • DANFS: USS Wasp (CV-7)
  • Military Factory: USS Wasp (CV-7)
  • Hull Number: CV-7

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