Staff Writer (Updated: 3/15/2015):
The USS Ranger was named for the American colonial fighting men who knew the habits of the enemy and could serve effectively serve as scouts and combatants behind enemy lines. Ranger was smaller than the USS Saratoga and USS Lexington but, having been constructed from scratch as a dedicated aircraft carrier, she was allowed engineering for maximum aircraft stowage. She displaced about 1/3 the tonnage of the larger ships but was able to carry almost the same complement of planes - 86 against 91 aircraft on the Saratoga and Lexington. She was 769 ft long (234.39m) and, from port to starboard, she measured 109.6ft (33.41m) while her draught would draw 22.5ft (6.86m) of water. She was slower than the Lexington-class, with a surface speed of 29.3kts (34mph), and had a range of 12,000 miles (19,312km). For air and sea defense she fielded 8 x 5-inch (130mm)/25 caliber Dual-Purpose (DP) cannons in single mountings and 40 x .50-inch (13mm) anti-aircraft machine guns placed in various positions around the flight deck. Her normal complement was 2,461 officers and men and, fully loaded, she weighed 17,859 tons. Ranger had six oil-fed boilers driving two steam turbines that delivered 53,500 shaft horsepower equating to 39,000kW connected to 2 shafts.
The smaller carrier concept, as outlined by the Navies General Board, included a speed of 29.4 knots and having a clear flight deck. The navigation and signal bridge was planned under the flight deck, well forward, with extensions beyond the ships side located at port and starboard. Secondary conning stations were to be located on the starboard side of the upper deck along with the aviation control station. The plotting station consisting of flag plot and the aviation intelligence offices and was to be installed on the island superstructure. During the planning stage consideration was given to aircraft elevators and an aft elevator would be used to expedite the re-spotting of aircraft. After the aircraft had landed on the flight deck, it sometimes became necessary to send it below deck from the aft (or stern) section of the deck.
Speed was most desirable in aircraft carriers to and from battle hotspots but speed also maintained its inherent drawbacks. The location of the general workshops aft was not practical and was recommended they be relocated forward. Experience on CV-2 and CV-3 had shown that it was impossible to do any precision work in these shops when a vessel was steaming full ahead at 22 knots. Night landings were also reviewed for Navy aircraft in attempts to make safe landings on carriers and broaden their reach in battle. Adequate illumination was the issue of the day to help enable pilots to make controlled landings while the ship maintained enough darkened conditions that would prevent disclosure of the carrier's location to patrolling enemy aircraft, submarines or surface ships. The technical difficulties of this project started a series of experiments consisting of several lighting arrangements aboard US carriers. These trials provided safe illumination for night landing but were less successful in maintaining darkened ship conditions. Different lights were tried - incandescent lights of low wattage were tested in different arrangements. Neon tubes that were colored white, green, red, blue or amber were tried but none were found to be a solution. As such, the problem of carrier night deck illumination was not satisfied at this time.
The final planning decisions required Ranger's fire control system be cut down, ammunition storage space reduced, and torpedo planes would be eliminated along with their torpedoes due to the lack of room for their storage. Dive bomber aircraft would be used instead and on-deck catapults were to be cancelled as were aircraft booms and safety nets. The arresting gear system was reduced. Ranger was originally planned as a 13,800-ton aircraft carrier under the Washington Naval Treaty but she exceeded this by some 700 tons with her final displacement being 17,500 tons at full load. A major change to the design was made in 1932 that added the island superstructure along the starboard side of the deck forward of the three hinged smoke stacks. The hull was 730 feet in length and her flight deck extended her overall length to 769 feet.
On September 26, 1931, Ranger's keel was officially laid. Seventeen months later, the ship was launched and she was subsequently commissioned on June 4th, 1934. The first aircraft landed on her deck - this on June 21st, 1934 - was a SBU-1 Biplane fighter piloted by LtCdr A.C. Davis. The Ranger also received Grumman J2F Duck Bi-Seaplanes. Ranger was more or less an experiment for the debate within the Navy Department as to whether carriers should be small or large based on the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. The US Navy saw that the Japanese Navy had produced small carriers and thoughts were that smaller US carriers could be used for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), airborne reconnaissance and destruction of enemy shore strong points. However, during operations throughout the 1930s, the outcome prevailed that the US Navy should focus on larger, faster carriers.
USS Ranger left Norfolk on June 21st, 1934 for her "shakedown" training cruise with her new crew and air wings. She cruised off the United States Virginia Capes and conducted standard drills for the crew and flight operations for her new squadrons. She continued south to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, South America. Here she showed the flag and continued training and drills. On October 4th, 1934, she steamed back to Norfolk for the standard dry dock repairs. On April 1st, 1935 she sailed for the Pacific through the Panama Canal and, six days later, and arrived in port at San Diego, California on 15th. San Diego was her first assigned port and, for the next four years, she patrolled up and down the West Coast as far north as Alaska, as far south as Callao, Peru and as far west as Hawaii.