The Independence-class was a group of light aircraft carriers whose design found considerable interest after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. The attack thrust the United States into formal war with Japan, Italy and Germany so any war-making goods were not high on the American agenda. Built atop the hulls of existing cruiser warships, the types lacked the performance and capabilities of their larger, purpose-built fleet carrier brethren but were quicker and less costly to build. Cleveland-class cruisers were selected for the conversion work which resulted in a fleet of nine light carriers based on the standard Independence design. The lead ship became USS Independence (CVL-22).
USS Cowpens (CVL-25) was one of the sisters in the class and saw her keel laid down on November 17th, 1941. She was launched to sea on January 17th, 1943 and formally commissioned on May 28th of that year. Cowpens was formed from the remains of USS Huntington (CL-77), laid down as a Cleveland-class cruiser but completed as a light carrier. New York Shipbuilding Company managed the work and the warship was named after the town of Cowpens, South Carolina. She was affectionately referred to as "The Mighty Moo".
As completed, USS Cowpens displaced 11,000 tons and featured a length of 622.5 feet, a beam of 71.5 feet and a draught of 26 feet. Her installed power was 4 x boilers with 4 x General Electric turbines developing 100,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts. She could make headway at 32 knots in ideal conditions and ranged out to 15,000 miles. The island superstructure was offset to starboard and fitted ahead of midships. The flight deck was set atop the existing hull of the Cleveland-class cruiser with the cruiser's origins being clearly visible, particularly at the pointed hull which extended from under the flight deck bow. The flight deck was of a simple, traditional "north-to-south" arrangement with hangar elevators managing the stock of onboard aircraft - mainly Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters.
Internally, the vessel was crewed by 1,569 personnel. Its air wing totaled 30 aircraft by design but this was pushed to 34 in wartime service. Point defense was through a network of 26 x 40mm Bofors automatic cannons spread about the ship's design to cover nearly every approach. Armor protection ranged up to 5 inches at the belt and 3 inches along the main deck.
For her wartime service, Cowpens took part in several of the major Pacific Theater campaigns of World War 2 (1939-1945). During 1943 she was a participant in the Marshall Islands and this was followed, in 1944, with additional action in the Marshalls as well as a commitment in the Marianas and the Philippines. In early 1945, her aircraft were in play during the Lingayen Gulf landings before supporting the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations later that spring.
For June of 1945, she was sent to San Francisco for a much needed overhaul before rejoining forces attacking Wake Island. Next came operations against the Japanese mainland including Tokyo itself. With the Japanese surrender of August 1945, USS Cowpens became the first American aircraft carrier to enter Tokyo Harbor and its troops were the first to set boots on Japanese soil. Following the cessation of major combat activities, she was used in various runs to and from the war front, brining veterans back stateside in what became "Operation Magic Carpet".
Like many other USN vessels after the war USS Cowpens was set in reserve, this during December of 1946. She was decommissioned on January 13th, 1947 and then reclassified as an "aircraft transport" on May 15th, 1959 (to serve as USS Cowpens (AVT-1)). She operated in this role until retired for good. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on November 1st, 1959 and her stripped hulk sold for scrapping in 1960.
For her time on the water, USS Cowpens and her crews were the recipient of now fewer than 12 Battle Stars - no doubt signifying the important of her and her sisters. World War 2 was the first true carrier war and vessels like The Mighty Moo were in high demand.