Twenty-four Essex-class aircraft carriers were built by the United States Navy (USN) to serve in World War 2 (1939-1945). In the conflict, the aircraft carrier quickly became the dominant figure of the fighting in the Pacific and no one national power outputted more such vessels than the United States thanks to its powerful industrial base. The class claimed USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) as one of her number and the warship was laid down by New York Naval Shipyard on February 1st, 1943, launched on April 29th, 1944 and formally commissioned for service on November 26th, 1944.
As built, the vessel showcased an overall length of 872 feet, a beam of 147.5 feet and a draught of 34.1 feet. Displacement was 27,100 tons under standard loads and 36,380 tons under full loads. Power was from 8 x Boiler units feeding 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 150,000 used to drive 4 x Shafts under the stern. Maximum speed in ideal conditions reached 33 knots and range was out to 20,000 nautical miles.
Aboard was a crew of 2,600 personnel. The air wing consisted of up to 100 combat aircraft. Three hangar elevators were used to ferry aircraft from below deck to the flightdeck and vice-versa. Armor protection reached 4" at the belt with 4" at the bulkheads and 2.5" at the steering gear.
USS Bon Homme Richard's late arrival into World War 2 restricted her overall involvement in the conflict to the later-year campaigns of the Pacific War. She left the American east coast in March of 1945 and arrived at Pearl to begin formal operations in April of that year. As part of Task Force 38 (TF38), she was present at the Battle of Okinawa during early June (the island would be taken on June 22nd) to which her aircraft were used actively in this portion of the campaign, fighters providing air cover and bombers hitting their marks on the ground. The Empire of Japan capitulated in August leading to the formal end of World War 2. After some time in Japanese mainland and Pacific waters, she transported troops home during the after-war period and was ultimately placed in inactive status until decommissioned on January 9th, 1947. For her limited service in World War 2, the warship was awarded 1 Battle Star.
Fortunes for the ship quickly changed when elements of the communist North Korean regime invaded the South in June of 1950, prompting the USN to place Bon Homme Richard back into service. This occurred on January 15th, 1951 and she served with Task Force 77 (TF77) for a time. On October 1st, 1952, she was reclassified with the hull number "CVA-31" (from CV-31). She remained part of the war effort until December of 1952, her warplanes providing the usual lethality-from-above, to which point she returned to home waters in San Francisco for January of 1953. For her service in the Korean War, the warship was awarded 1 Navy Unit Citation.
The warship was, again, placed out of commission, this on May 15th, 1953, but the move was to set the vessel aside for modernization in the Cold War period. Many of the Essex-class carriers remaining in service were given one or both types of modernization packages, "SCB-27" or "SCB-125" - USS Bon Homme Richard was given both.
The former involved reinforcement of the vessel's deck and its accompanying facilities to accommodate larger, heavier jet-powered combat aircraft. The hangar elevators, launching systems and retrieval gear were all addressed as a result. The Anti-Aircraft (AA) suite was updated for the better and the island superstructure completely redesigned to better affect operations. Armor protection was improved as was air-fuel storage space. All of the work served to increase the warship's displacement by as much as 20% which, in turn, reduced maximum speed by about 2 knots.
The latter modernization effort added the modern angled flightdeck and improved seakeeping as well as flight operations. Other work included revisions to the arresting gear, landing system and elevators.
The work on Bon Homme Richard spanned from mid-1953 until October of 1955 (two years was typical for the Essex-class conversions) and she was recommissioned for service on September 6th, 1955. In August of 1956, she began her tour of several with the 7th Fleet which lasted into 1966.
By this point in history, the Vietnam War had been ongoing since 1955 and American involvement only grew during the 1960s. As such, Bon Homme Richard was placed back into an active warzone where she would undertake five total deployments in the new conflict. By now her aircraft stable was a healthy collection of jet-powered warplanes armed with missiles, guns, rockets and bombs. This powerful force was used in Combat Air Patrols (CAPs), interception and bombing/strike duties when called upon. Her commitment to the war arrived in 1970 and, once back in home waters, she was decommissioned a third time on July 2nd, 1971. For her service in the Vietnam War, the warship was awarded 2 Navy Unit Citations (one was eventually replaced with a Presidential Unit Citation).
USS Bon Homme Richard then lay in mothballs for some two decades before her fate was officially sealed - the World War 2, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran was stripped of her military usefulness and the hull sold for scrapping in March of 1992.