With the various post-World War 1 naval treaties no longer enforceable thanks to the withdrawal of naval powers like Japan and Italy, the U.S. Navy looked to a new, larger class of aircraft carrier to supersede the earlier Yorktown-class which began appearing in the late 1930s. In June of 1939, a new specification was drawn up without the inherent design restrictions seen in previous decades and these would be based on lessons learned from the Yorktown series. The new group would showcase increased displacement, better armor protection, and improved defensive armament against air attacks. Additionally, internal space would be such that a greater amount of munitions and fuel could be carried for roughly the same number of aircraft - this meant more sorties available to commanders than previous seen.
The new class was recognized as the Essex-class and an order in 1940 called for eleven such vessels to be constructed (thirteen more followed during World War 2). USS Essex (CV-9) became the lead ship of this class and was ordered on July 3rd, 1940, laid down on April 28th, 1941, and launched on July 31st, 1942. By this time, the United States was at war against the Axis powers, namely Japan in the West and Germany in the East, and called upon many ship types in their march on the respective capitals. Essex was completed in a short twenty months and officially commissioned on December 31st, 1942. Her trials and evaluations were also hastened, such was the dire need for her aircraft-launching services.
Originally, the class was to number 32 but the change in fortunes during World War 2 meant that twenty-four were realized (the largest group of capital ships featured in the last century). Eight were cancelled with two of these already having begun their construction. Amazingly, none of the class were lost to enemy action during the war and many went on to serve into the next few decades. Four became floating museums (Yorktown, Intrepid, Hornet and Lexington).
As completed, USS Essex was given a traditional carrier arrangement - the flight deck was of a straightline design with the island superstructure to starboard. A trio of hangar elevators serviced the flight deck above and the hanger decks below - one fitted along the deck edge and the other two at centerline. She carried up to 80 aircraft of various types but this could be pushed to as many as 108. Displacement was 27,100 tons under standard load and 36,380 tons under full load. Measurements included a length of 872 feet, a beam of 147.5 feet and a draught of 34 feet. Her crew complement numbered 2,600 personnel.
The machinery aboard the massive ship consisted of 8 x boilers feeding 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 150,000 shaft horsepower to 4 x shafts. Maximum speed was 33 knots in ideal conditions with an operational range out to 20,000 nautical miles.
Armament, mainly defensive in nature, was led by 4 x 5" (127mm) /38 caliber twin-gunned turrets. This was aided by the installation of 4 x 5" guns in single-gunned turrets. 8 x 40mm /56 caliber quadruple-gunned turrets were also fitted as were 46 x 20mm /78 caliber guns. Armor protection ranged from 40mm at the hangar and bridge to 100mm at the belt and bulkheads. Well-armed and armored and fast while holding excellent range required of the vast distances of the Pacific Theater, USS Essex was the dawning of a new age of American carrier.
Essex was quickly rushed into service for May of 1943 at a time when the U.S. Navy had more or less recovered from the Pearl Harbor attack and was strengthening in number and developing better tactics to deal with the Japanese threat. As part of Task Force 16 (TF16), Essex was used in support of the Marcus Island attacks during August 1943 and went on to be named flagship of TF14 for the Wake Island campaign in early October. Then came sorties over Rabaul in November and the Gilbert Islands assault. During actions at Kwajalein in early December, Essex served as flagship of Task Group 50.3 (TG50.3). Service in the Marshall Islands theater then followed for late January into early February 1944.
As part of TG58.2, the Essex's warplanes were used in the assault on Truk during February 17th-18th which preceded actions against Saipan, Tinian and Guam days later. Following this, Essex was sent back stateside for a refit - her only refit action of the entire war - and formed with Air Group 15 (AG15). As part of TG12.1, she assailed Marcus Island and Wake island in mid-May and sailed to the Marianas for mid-June to mid-August. An assault on the Palau Islands followed in early September and she then joined TF38 sailing for Ryukus. From then on, her warplanes were seen in action against targets at Okinawa, Formosa and Leyte (Philippines) into October 1944. After taking on fresh stores at Caroline Islands, Essex formed part of the force used against Manila in the fight to retake the Philippines. A kamikaze strike damaged her along her portside on November 25th which claimed the lives of fifteen personnel and wounded some 44. However, in just three weeks she was repaired and sent back into action.
For 1945, she committed to actions against Lingayen, Formosa, Sakishima Gunto and Okinawa. As part of TF58, she was involved in the final attacks against the Japanese home islands before making up a part of the massive naval "show of force" residing in Tokyo Bay for the official Japanese surrender. Following the war, USS Essex was sent to Bremerton , Washington and decommissioned in January of 1947 while being held reserve status. At this time, some of her features were revised for the better including a more contoured island superstructure and a new flight deck. She was recommissioned in January of 1951 as America was now committed to the Korean War (1950-1953).
During the new war, USS Essex served as flagship to Carrier Division (CarDiv 1) as well as TF77. A crash landing by an F2H Banshee jet fighter sparked a large explosion along her forward section which claimed the lives of seven. She underwent repairs in Japan and was back on the front lines for October and was able to launch air strikes against enemy positions along the Yalu. She ended her tenure in Korea during January of 1953 and went onto serve in various patrols into 1955. During mid-1955, she was given much-needed attention in the way of revisions and repairs - a primary change being her new angled flight deck which considerably changed her appearance - certainly adding a more modern look. From here she undertook patrols in both Pacific and Atlantic waters.
Essex's warplanes supported the U.S. involvement in Beirut during July 1958, conducted joint NATO exercises in 1959 and assisted the French after massive flooding in Frejus. It was in early 1960 that Essex was converted to the new role of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). In 1961, her warplanes were involved in secret sorties during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cuban Missile Crisis then followed in 1962 to which Essex was part of the naval blockade there. In November of 1966, Essex was damaged after colliding with USS Nautilus, both receiving considerable damage which sent Essex to Boston for repair work. During October of 1968, she served as the recovery vessel for the Apollo 7 crew in Caribbean waters.
USS Essex completed her tour of the seas on June 30th, 1969 when she was decommissioned for a second time - this time for good. Her name was struck from the Naval Register in June of 1973 and her hulk stripped of any value and usefulness. She was unceremoniously sold off for scrap in June of 1975, bringing an end to her storied ocean-going career which covered both major oceans, many unit awards and thirteen Battle Stars for faithful service.