The Essex-class made up the most important aircraft carrier design for the United States Navy (USN) during World War 2 (1939-1945). Of the thirty-two ships planned, twenty-four were ultimately completed and many of the group operated well into the 1970s, showcasing just how critical the design would be heading throughout the Cold War period (1947-1991). One of the family became USS Antietam (CV-36) which arrived in 1945, though too late for operational combat service in the Second World War. It did, however, see considerable "time on station" during the Korean War (1950-1953), the first of several major "proxy wars" fought between the Soviet Union and the United States.
USS Antietam was built to the "long-hull" specification (as opposed to "short-hull") and saw her keel laid down on March 15th, 1943. She was launched on August 20th, 1944 and was formally commissioned for service on January 28th, 1945. As built, the warship displaced 27,100 tons (under standard load) and was given an overall length of 888 feet with a beam of 93 feet and a draught measuring 28.6 feet. Power was from 8 x boiler units feeding 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 150,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts under stern. With this, the vessel could make heady at 33 knots in ideal conditions. Aboard was a crew numbering around 3,450 personnel which included an air wing, security and many special role crewmen.
Up to 100 aircraft could be carried about her decks and in her hangar spaces. These consisted of fixed-wing, prop-driven designs capable of attack, defense and support though, in time, jet-powered types were supported outright. Hangar elevators provided the needed access to the decks below for rearming and refueling as well as repair and general maintenance. As a straight-line flight deck design, the carrier had a simple stern-to-bow runway for launching and retrieving aircraft with the island superstructure offset to the starboard side.
Armor protection ranged from 4" at the belt and 2.5" at the hangar deck to 1.5" at the protection decks and 1.5" at the conning tower. Installed armament was 4 x 5" guns in twin-gunned mountings, a further 4 x 5" guns in single-gunned mountings and 8 x 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns set about the edges of the ship. Additionally for aircraft defense the vessel was outfitted with 46 x 20mm Oerlikon guns.
Built at the American east coast in Philadelphia waters, USS Antietam followed tradition of the time and completed her shakedown cruise in Caribbean waters during March of 1945 before traversing the Panama Canal to reach the Pacific warzone (this during May-June). With the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire, the vessel was ordered to occupy Japanese / Chinese waters for the foreseeable future. With her services no longer needed in the massive post-war drawdown, she was decommissioned on June 21st, 1949.
Her retirement was short-lived for war broke out on the Korean Peninsula after the North, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded the democratic South backed by the United States. USS Antietam was reactivated for wartime service and was on station in Korean waters before the end of 1950. This would mark her only combat deployment of her entire ocean-going career. The warship used her warplanes in anger throughout her tour of duty which eventually covered some 6,000 sorties launched from her deck. Mission types ranged from attack and reconnaissance to maritime patrolling and night intruder missions. Her time in the war ended in March of 1952 at which point she relocated to Yokosuka, Japan.
From there she was made part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet and passed through the Panama Canal into Atlantic waters for August 1952. That December she was rebuilt as CVA-36 with an angled flight deck - the first such warship in naval history - and it was during this period that she was used as a showpiece to Allies to prove the viability and efficiency of an angled deck to the British Royal Navy. She was also a participant in various joint exercises with friendlies. In August of 1953, she became an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft carrier to help counter the threat posed by the growing Soviet Navy undersea force. From January 1955 onward, she sailed throughout the Mediterranean, ordered on station during the Suez Crisis of October 1956.
A period of training in home waters (near Pensacola, Florida) then greeted the mighty ship and her crews. In 1961 she was used for humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of two major hurricanes, Carla and Hattie. With more training under her belt, she was set in reserve for January 1963 and remained as such until May of 1973. Her name was struck from the Naval Register that year and in February of 1974 she was sold off for scrapping.
During her time at sea, the warship and her crews received several awards for their service: the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War 2 Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Medal (ASIA clasp), the China Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal (with Star), the Korean War Service Medal (2 x Battle Stars) and the United Nations Korea Medal.