The original "Big E", the USS Enterprise of World War 2 fame, became one of the most storied vessels of the war. By far a superior product of pre-war design, the vessel found itself through the toughness and determination of her commanders, crewmembers and airmen alike. By the end of the conflict, the USS Enterprise would earn some 20 battle Stars (for a total of 22 by the end of her career) and be the recipient of many more honors and awards by the end of World war 2. A conventionally-powered aircraft carrier, the Big E would appear from the beginning of American action in Pacific waters and hold the line until the United States Navy and Marine branches could fortify and catch up to the advancing Japanese Navy. The USS Enterprise would go down as the most well-known and remembered warship of the conflict, considering she made it through the entire war and played a pivotal part in many of the major confrontations.
The Enterprise was of the Yorktown-class of aircraft carriers made up of the USS Yorktown (CV 5), the USS Enterprise (CV 6) and the USS Hornet (CV 8). She was of traditional design for the time and sported a her superstructure to the starboard side. She held a compliment of 2,217 personnel and could field a total of 90 aircraft of various types including fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers. The vessel was powered by no fewer than 9 x Babcock and Wilcox boilers powering 4 x Parsons geared turbines and turning 4 x screws with an output of 120,000 shaft horsepower. The vessel could optimally achieve a top speed of 32 knots and offered an impressive range of up to 13,300 miles. A total of three aircraft elevators provided operational service for the dispensing of aircraft. This was augmented by a single hangar deck catapult and twin flight deck catapults, all three hydraulically-powered. Defense consisted of 8 x 5" single-mount cannons, 4 x 1.1" quadruple-mount cannons and 24 x 12.7mm heavy caliber anti-aircraft machine guns.
Fate played a pivotal role in the future path of the USS Enterprise and the United States of America for the mighty ship was not in port at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941. Upon the vessels return to Hawaii, the ship was immediately on the frontlines of the Pacific war by default, such was the result of the Japanese attack on the Harbor, rendering the American Pacific Fleet nearly non existence. In many ways, the failure of the Japanese to capitalize on the sinking of the American carriers would do her hopes of Pacific domination, for the American carriers would be the single greatest reason for the halt to Japanese advance throughout the Pacific Rim. Within the first week on the frontlines, the USS Enterprise was credited with the sinking of the first Japanese submarine - designated as I-170 - and undertook vital convoy protection operations in support of Allied forces. Several offensive actions netted promising results in the way of damaged enemy installations, warships, supply ships and aircraft for little damage to the Enterprise herself.
Enterprise's next big offering was in support of the fabled "Doolittle Raids", which saw several B-25 Mitchell medium bombers take off from the deck of the USS Hornet - that combination of medium bomber and aircraft carrier was a first in itself - with USS Enterprise providing support against enemy activity nearby. The attacks - though every B-25 was lost in the operation - provided America with a soul-searching morale boost and showcased to the Japanese Empire that her capital was not safe from the reach of American fury.
Failing to arrive in time for the Battle of Coral Sea, the Enterprise's next duty was the Battle of Midway. In the first major action of the global war for Enterprise, the Japanese Navy had sent no fewer than four aircraft carriers to assault the tiny island of Midway - this force included the Kaga and Akagi carriers. Of note in this operation was the fact that Japanese warplanners were unaware of the large US naval presence operating near the island (USS Yorktown also took part). Early in the battle, aircraft from Enterprise's deck had already put the Akagi and Kaga carriers out of commission with critical dive bombing attacks. By the end of the conflict, both sides suffered substantially, though Japanese forces were harder hit and furthermore, Enterprise remained untouched - at least for the moment.
After providing cover for the landings at Guadalcanal, Enterprise operated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands. Her luck officially ran out after taking on three direct hits resulting in over 77 deaths. Some time later, the ship took more direct hits near the Santa Cruz Islands, killing another 44 of her crew. By 1943, Enterprise was offered some much needed major repairs at Puget Sound with other newer American carriers coming online and finding their way to the frontlines.
Throughout late 1943 and early 1944, the Enterprise undertook part in a variety of combat operations. Most notably, she launched the first-ever night fighter attacks from her decks with tremendous results. This included the interception of bomber forces and assailing enemy ships with torpedoes. Additional action was seen at Truk, Marianas Islands, Guam and Saipan among others. The Enterprise was truly showing her mettle but it was in the great Battle of the Philippine Sea in late spring of 1944 that the USS Enterprise would unveil to the world the future of warfare.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea (sometimes referred to the "Marianas Turkey Shoot") was the greatest airborne confrontation of the Pacific, moreso for the fact that it involved just aircraft carriers and aircraft from both sides. Naval aviation forces form both sides butted heads in the skies in what would become the undoing for Japanese Naval air supremacy in the Rim. The resulting Japanese losses were catastrophic as the Hiyo, Taiho, and Shokaku aircraft carriers were lost in the battle along with some 426 aircraft. American losses proved light by relative comparison, though hardly numbers of celebration - 130 aircraft lost along with damaged ships - all this taking place in just an eight hour window.
From there, the mighty Big-E moved on to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima and finally Okinawa. She resolved, afflicted and endured as most mighty ships of lore often do - a credit to her trained crews, commanders and airmen. She kept her marine counterparts protected in support of the Iwo Jima landings and later Okinawa - which saw her take the brunt of a desperate kamikaze strike on her deck (the third such act against her and her crew), destroying one of her elevators (forward). The attack forced her out of action in what would be her last "hoorah" for she was sent to Puget Sound once more for repairs and remained there for the remainder of the war. She was used for a brief time afterwards to shuttle returning veterans home and as an ambassador on global tours.
The USS Enterprise was ordered in 1933, laid down in 1934 and first launched in 1936. She was officially commissioned in 1938 and saw decommissioning in 1947, to which she was to be set aside as a protected museum. Unfortunately for her former crew and airmen - and future Americans for that matter - this notion came to naught and she was sadly broken down and sold for scrapping by 1958. This did, however, open up the USS Enterprise name some decades later for the all-new and world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier named in her honor (CVN 65).
Beyond the 22 Battle Stars, the USS Enterprise of World War 2 fame was also distinguished by other awards including the Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy Unit Commendation; the American Defense Services Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, the Philippine Liberation Medal and the British Admiralty Pennant (a first for a non-Royal Navy vessel).
Arguably, the USS Enterprise single-handedly brought about the death of the battleship and queen of the seas. The arrival of carrier power on the high seas would forever change the face of war as these mobile platforms could react and engage to global situations at a moments notice. The many-gunned steel galleons woudl forever give way to the mosquito-like persistence of carrier air groups, harassing targets and inflicting calculated destruction on enemy surface and land targets with near impunity. At any rate, the age of the carrier was here to stay though her reign would be equally over by the advent of the ballistic missile submarine some decades later.