The USS Ranger (CV-4) was the first aircraft carrier for the US Navy to be specifically designed and built from the keel up. The previous three carriers were converted from existing ship designs and constituted the USS Langley, the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga - the Langley (CV-1) being a converted collier while the Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) were built from cancelled battle cruiser keels. In 1922, designs were requested by the United States Navy for an aircraft carrier having more speed and expanded storage for more aircraft than existing carriers in the fleet at the time. The USS Ranger had been planned to have a flat, unobstructed flight deck with no island superstructure and six smoke stacks (funnels) - three to each side - that were hinged to fold horizontally during air operations. An island superstructure was eventually added during construction. A pair of service cranes would facilitate the recovery of seaplanes. Construction was started in 1931 at the Norfolk Navy Yard with work being handled by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company for $2,160,000.
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.
USS Ranger departed San Diego on January 4th, 1939 for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for fleet operations in the Caribbean. After the exercises were completed, she steamed back to Norfolk, arriving on April 20th, 1939. Ranger was then assigned to cruise the eastern seaboard out of Norfolk and into the Caribbean Sea as her normal patrol station. In the fall of 1939, after total war in Europe had broken out, she commenced Neutrality Patrol operations out of Bermuda along the trade routes of the middle Atlantic and up the eastern seaboard to Newfoundland. She was found to be lacking in sea keeping ability for she could not operate aircraft along her decks in heavy weather conditions.
On December 7th, 1941, Ranger was returning to Norfolk from a patrol around Trinidad and Tobago when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Ranger arrived at Norfolk on December 8th where she was resupplied and took on normal scheduled personnel replacements. She sailed on the 21st for patrol in the South Atlantic and re-entered the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs on March 21th,1942. Ranger was one of fourteen US Navy ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 radar system and also took on the new Grumman Wildcat fighter squadrons to replace her outmoded SBD-1 biplanes. Ranger served as flagship of Rear Admiral A. B. Cook, Commander, Carriers, Atlantic Fleet. She was ordered to Quonset Point, Rhode Island and was loaded with sixty-eight US Army Curtiss P-40 Warhawk pursuit fighters along with their pilots and ground crews of the Army's 33d Pursuit Squadron. Ranger put to sea on April 22nd and made landfall on May 10th at Aeera on the Gold Coast of Africa where she launched the Army P-40 squadron. This was the first time US Army planes were launched from a carrier flight deck. She returned to Quonset Point, Rhode Island on May 28th, 1942, and was loaded with seventy-two more Army P-40 pursuit planes, again destined for Aeera, Africa, finally arriving there and launching aircraft on the 19th.
Upon returning to Norfolk, she trained with four escort carriers that had been converted from exiting tankers. The escorts had new crews and Ranger gave valuable training on all phases of carrier operations. The escorts were brought online to help in convoy protection in the Atlantic crossing from German Navy attacks. Ranger was the biggest aircraft carrier in Atlantic waters and was assigned four Sangomon-class escort carriers for defense - each fielding 25 to 34 aircraft. This task force was to provide air cover for the upcoming amphibious invasion of German-controlled French Morocco on November 8th, 1942. Ranger and her task force was 30 miles north of Casablanca and launched her aircraft at 0615 hours, attacking Rabat airdromes and destroying 21 enemy aircraft on the ground and strafing the French headquarters without any losses. Additional planes from Ranger's force destroyed another seven enemy planes on the Port Lyautey airfield while others strafed four French destroyers in Casablanca Harbor.
The operation lasted three days and Ranger's task force launched a total of 496 sorties in support of the three-pronged landing. The French destroyer Albatros was bombed twice on her forward deck area causing 300 casualties. The French cruiser Primaugut was attacked and damaged as she sorted from Casablanca Harbor. Aircraft dropped depth charges on two submarines and destroyed coastal defenses and anti-aircraft batteries. Ranger's pilots reported 21 light enemy tanks were attacked with many destroyed along with 86 military vehicles. Overall, Allied planes destroyed 70+ enemy planes on the ground and shot down 15 in aerial combat. Ranger's task force lost 16 aircraft. Casablanca surrendered to the Allied Forces on November 11th, 1942 to which Ranger departed the Moroccan coast the next day and steamed into Norfolk, Virginia on the 23rd.
Ranger stayed in the Norfolk Navy Yard for needed repairs and aircraft replacement from December 16th, 1942 to February 7th, 1943. Returning to her ferrying role, she was loaded with seventy-five P-40-L Army pursuit planes headed to Casablanca, Africa, arriving there on February 23th, 1943. Returning to Norfolk, she patrolled the East Coast of America and steamed with the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, Scotland on August 19th, helping to patrol the sea approaches to the British Isles. The new mission was to attack German shipping in Norwegian waters. On October 2nd, she sailed and attacked a small convoy, sinking two ships and damaging a pair of merchantmen in the process. Further combat sorties destroyed a freighter and damaged another two ships. Air combat shot down two German planes with three Ranger Wildcats lost. Ranger and her squadron returned to Scapa Flow on October 6th, 1943 and she patrolled with the Home Fleet once more before reaching Boston on December 4th, 1943.
Soon after her return she began training but soon was ordered to Staten Island, New York to pick up seventy-six P-38 fighter aircraft along with US Army and Navy and French Naval personnel. Casablanca, again, was the destination to which she arrived there on May 4th, 1944. After Ranger unloaded her inventory, damaged US Army aircraft were loaded aboard for stateside repairs. Also, a number of military passengers were taken aboard for their return to New York. Arriving at New York on May 16th, Ranger returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs and new equipment. The flight deck was strengthened for installation of a new catapult and the radar was upgraded. Arresting gear was installed that provided her with a capacity for night fighter interceptor training.
On July 11th, 1944 Ranger departed Norfolk for San Diego, arriving there July 25th. She received the men and aircraft of Night Fighting Squadron 102 and a thousand US Marines. Ranger trained in Hawaiian waters for the next three months, conducting night carrier training operations. On October 18th, Ranger departed Pearl Harbor for San Diego to train air groups and squadrons along the California coast until the end of the war. On September 30th, 1945 she steamed for New Orleans for Navy Day scheduled for October 19th to which she then headed for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on November 18th for an overhaul. She was decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on October 18th, 1946, struck from the Navy Register on October 29th, 1946 and sold for scrapping to Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania on January 28th, 1947.
During World War 2, US Ranger served mostly in escort carrier roles for convoy escort, aircraft transport and amphibious support for she lacked sufficient speed or capacity to operate as a fleet carrier during her tenure. Of the eight pre-war U.S. aircraft carriers, these being CV-1 through CV-8, USS Ranger was one of only three to survive all of World War 2. The others became the USS Enterprise and the USS Saratoga. The USS Ranger received two battle stars for her service in the grand conflict and most of her operations were centered in the Atlantic.