Staff Writer (Updated: 4/15/2013):
All of the vessels carrying the Yorktown name were named after the 1781 Battle of Yorktown which transpired during the American Revolution, a combined French-American force defeating the British led by famous General Lord Cornwallis. The Yorktown Campaign became the final major land-based engagement of the war and ensured American independence from there-on. USS Yorktown (CV-5) led the three-strong Yorktown-class of aircraft carriers that included the USS Enterprise (CV-5) and USS Hornet (CV-8).
As built, CV-5 was given a running length of 825 feet with a beam measuring 109 feet, 6 inches. She fielded a draught of 25 feet, 11.5 inches and displaced under full load at 26,000 tons (20,000 light). Power was by way of 9 x Babcock & Wilcox boiler systems feeding 4 x Parsons geared turbines driving 120,000 shaft horsepower to 4 x screws. This supplied the vessel with a top speed of 33 knots in ideal conditions with an overall range of 12,500 nautical miles. The vessel was populated by 2,217 personnel at the time of American involvement in World War 2 (1941).
The USS Yorktown carried a conventional arrangement fitting an island superstructure to the starboard side just ahead of amidships. The flight deck took up most of the surface area of the hull and included a stern, amidships and bow area. All crew quarters, mess hall, offices, engineering and systems sections were kept below decks as was a full service hangar faculty. The island superstructure was home to the command bridge, various systems offices, communications, radar ad smoke funnel. A crane was identified aft of the island superstructure.
As built, the USS Yorktown was outfitted with a collection of weaponry intended to fend off airstrikes. Primary armament was 8 x 5" /38 caliber guns in single barrel mountings while secondary armament included 4 x 1.1" /75 caliber guns in quadruple mountings. Air defense was further bolstered by 24 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine guns. During her February refit of 1942, the 8 x 5", 4 x 1.1" and 24 x 0.50 caliber guns were all retained. The only difference was the addition of 24 x 20mm Oerlikon cannons which further broadened her self-defense prowess.
As an aircraft carrier, the primary offensive reach of the USS Yorktown was its collection of fighting aircraft. The inventory was usually made up of a collection of various types numbering, collectively, as many as 90. Types included fighters, torpedo bombers and dive bombers. The former was used to counter the threat posed by enemy fighters whilst the latter two were used to directly contact enemy vessels. Dive bombers could also be used against land-based targets as required. Aircraft were launched from the flight deck via 2 x hydraulically-powered catapults while a third catapult was fitted to the lower hangar deck. In all, she could launch three combat-ready warplanes at once. The flight deck was serviced by three hangar elevators.
Despite fighting raging in Europe since September of 1939, the United States did not formally enter World War 2 until the Japanese surprise attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. With the advantage given to the Japanese Navy, a tactical victory was met with a strategic defeat for, of all the bombs dropped and the lives lost, the American carrier fleet was still intact which kept the American Navy in play across the Pacific Theater for the foreseeable future. At the time of the attack, the USS Yorktown joined the USS Ranger (CV-4) and USS Wasp (CV-7) in the Atlantic while the Pacific was home to the USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2 and the USS Saratoga (CV-3). After taking on additional anti-aircraft weaponry USS Yorktown left Norfolk and reached San Diego by the end of December 1941, further strengthening the Pacific fleet. She was named as flagship of "Task Force 17" (TF17).
The USS Yorktown participated in both the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, the former a defining naval engagement in the Pacific Theater and the latter resulting in the loss of the Yorktown proper. The Battle of Coral Sea (May 4th - May 8th, 1942) marked the first-ever carrier-versus-carrier battle and saw a combined American-Australian force repel the intended Japanese invasion of Port Moresby, delivering the Japanese Navy their first major loss of the war. The battle cost the USS Lexington aircraft carrier which was sunk by Japanese warplanes. The IJN Shokaku was decidedly damaged about her flight deck by aircraft from Yorktown in the fighting. Despite a Japanese tactical victory, in which short-term mission objectives were secured through the amount of Allied losses inflicted, the battle proved an Allied strategic victory in that the invasion of Port Moresby was repelled and the USS Yorktown survived despite suffering heavy damage.
USN codebreakers now discovered the Japanese intent to take Midway Island and sent a large force in that direction that included four aircraft carriers. The American defense proved stout throughout the Battle of Midway (June 4th - June 7th, 1942) and, while losses were initially heavy, three of the four Japanese carriers were eventually sunk (Akagi, Kaga and Soryu). Hiryu remained and sent an attack wave at Yorktown which was partially contained though three bombs found their marks damaging the already-damaged Yorktown even further. Taking on water and slowed to a crawl with fires raging aboard, a report of another Japanese wave came in, forcing yet another final stand of the Yorktown crew and airmen. Two enemy torpedoes found their mark into the side of the Yorktown, proving the final deathblow - the order to abandon ship was given and supporting vessels jumped into action.
Despite an attempt to salvage the still-floating ship during a lull in the fighting, an unnoticed Japanese submarine, I-168, placed two more torpedoes into the stricken American ship. Any further salvage attempt was formally abandoned as the vessel took on more water, listing and showing her belly before sinking by the stern. Such ended the relatively short career of the USS Hornet (CV-5), her wreck not discovered until decades later when, on May 19th, 1998, she was located by famed oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard of Titanic fame.
Despite the loss of the Yorktown, Midway Island was saved from a Japanese invasion and the American presence on the chain continued as an important buffer between the Hawaiian Islands and the Japanese sphere of influence in the Pacific Theater. The battle went down in history as a decisive American victory and proved a decisive blow to both Japanese naval prestige and Japanese naval power.