The Essex-class conventionally-powered aircraft carrier was one of the most important surface combatants of the United States Navy (USN) during the World War 2 years (1939-1945). The class was originally to constitute some thirty-two total vessels but ended up becoming a group of twenty-four ships instead as eight were cancelled with the end of the war in 1945. All twenty-four survived their time at sea with four (Yorktown, Intrepid, Hornet, Lexington) seeing preservation.
Among their number was USS Leyte (CV-32) - originally to be commissioned as 'Crown Point' - and she was ordered in August of 1942 as part of the 'low-bow' subgroup. Constructed by the expert shipbuilders of Newport News Shipbuilding beginning in February of 1944, she was subsequently launched to sea in August of 1945 - what would become the last year of the war. She was not formally commissioned until April of 1946.
The warship was named after the "Battle of Leyte Gulf" (October 1944) of the Pacific Theater during World War 2.
The 'long-bow' descriptor was given to Essex-class carriers following a March 1943 structural revision that saw the hulls of the ships lengthened to include additional Anti-Aircraft (AA) defenses, improved survivability and ventilation, improved forward firing arcs - particularly important in the face of head-on attacks and reckless Kamikaze strikes - and installation of a second catapult device.
As built, Leyte was given a displacement of 27,100 tons (standard) and held a running length of 888 feet, a beam of 93 feet, and a draught of 28.6 feet. Power was from 8 x Boiler units feeding 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 150,000 horsepower used to drive 4 x Shafts under stern. This arrangement propelled the ship to speeds of 33 knots.
Her external arrangement followed the Essex-class standard: the island superstructure was seated to starboard, leaving the fore, aft, and port side sections of the flight deck completely unobstructed. Hangar elevators provided aircraft with the ability to be lowered or raised as needed and launch catapults aided platforms when launching. The flight deck was of a basic straight-through design. Unlike other Essex-class carriers, USS Leyte was not modified with more modern features such as an angled flight deck during the course of her operational service life.
Aboard was a complement of up to 3,448 personnel. Up to 100 aircraft could be carried and these made up of different makes and models to accomplish various mission roles. As the propeller age gave way to the rise of the jet, so too did the aircraft types fielded by Leyte change as a result.
Installed armament was purely self-defensive in nature: 4 x 5" guns in twin-gunned mountings, 4 x 5" guns in single-gunned mountings, 8 x 40mm Bofors AA guns in quadruple-gunned mountings, and 46 x 20mm Oerlikon AA guns in single-gunned mountings. Armor protection reached 4" at the belt with hangar decks protected over in up to 2.5". Armored decks were covered up to 1.5" in armor and the conning tower followed suit with 1.5" of protection.
Relatively well-armed and armored, the warship would still rely heavily on its combat aircraft load as well as accompanying ships of the fleet.
As Leyte arrived too late to see combat service in World War 2, she was operated in a peacetime manner for the beginning of her service at sea, making stops across South America and the Caribbean. Fleet exercises then followed before Leyte was called to battle duty for the Korean War (1950-1953). She began her tenure there in October of 1950 and, before the end, her warplanes accounted for nearly 4,000 combat missions against North Korean elements. She remained on station into January 1951 before returning stateside for an overhaul. For her exploits in the conflict, Leyte was awarded two Battle Stars.
In 1952, she was redesignated to "CVA-32" ('Attack Carrier') and returned stateside from Mediterranean waters in February 1953 to face deactivation. Her service life was extended in August and the warship was reclassified "CVS-32" ('Anti-Submarine Aircraft Carrier'). During her reconstruction, the warship suffered damage due to an explosion - claiming the lives of thirty-seven men and injuring a further twenty-eight.
With the work completed in January of 1954, she went on to serve as flagship of "CARDIV 18" worked her way into her new ASW role for the remainder of the decade - mainly taking place in Caribbean waters and along the American East Coast. Reclassified as "AVT-10" ('Aircraft Transport'), the vessel was formally decommissioned on May 15th, 1959, assigned to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for the foreseeable future and, from there, was given up for good and sold for scrap in September 1970 at Chesapeake, Virginia.