When the United States Navy (USN) of World War 2 (1939-1945) required a vast fleet of budget-minded aircraft carriers for combat in the Pacific, it turned to a new type warship known as the "escort carrier". These were basic "flatop" vessels of dimensionally smaller size and displacement when compared to fleet carriers - which dictated their limited aircraft stables. Additionally their headway speed was slower and fewer self-defensive measures were installed to keep them light weight and expedite construction. The Casablanca-class of the USN became the largest in number of all aircraft carriers ever constructed - totaling fifty in all - and one of her design was USS St. Lo (CVE-63).
USS St. Lo began as a merchant ship design (Chapin Bay (AVG-63)) but finished off as a carrier. In April of 1943, she was given the name of USS Midway but, in October, she was once-again renamed, this time to USS St. Lo (USS Midway was used by another, larger carrier design instead). The warship was laid down by Kaiser Shipyards on January 23rd, 1943 and launched on August 17th, of that year. She was quickly trialed and proven and saw commissioning as soon as October 23rd, 1943.
St. Lo, and her sisters, were completed with relatively unobstructed flight decks and the major protrusion became the starboard-side-mounted island. Two elevators were used to transport aircraft from below deck to the upper deck and vice versa. There was a single catapult system for launching. The straight-through design of the flight deck meant that the deck had to be cleared of any awaiting aircraft before another could be accepted for landing. Up to twenty-eight warplanes of various makes and models were carried .
Dimensions included a length of 512.2 feet, a beam of 108 feet and a draught of 22.3 feet. Power was from 2 x Skinner Uni-Flow 5-cylinder (triple expansion) reciprocating steam-based engines fed by 4 x boiler units and developing 9,000 horsepower to drive 2 x Shafts. Maximum speed in ideal conditions was 19 knots and range was out to 10,240 nautical miles.
Aboard were 860 operating personnel and a further 50 to 55 made up the air crew. Armament, truly defensive in nature, comprised a single 5" /38 caliber Dual-Purpose (DP) gun with 16 x 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns and 20 x 20mm Oerlikon AA guns.
As most warships of the wartime period, USS St. Lo was pressed into action almost as soon as she and her crews were ready. This meant that she was already a veteran of several cross-Pacific voyages in support of Allied actions across the theater - namely Saipan, Eniwetok, Tinian and Morotai. In October of 1944 she participated (as part of "Taffy Three") in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23rd to 26th) which saw a combined Aussie-American force meet the Japanese Empire. The battle ended as a decisive Allied victory and cause such damage to the Japanese Navy so as to cripple the force moving forward. Some 300 Allied warships were involved against a force of about 67 IJN vessels including just one fleet carrier (three light carriers supported).
USS St. Lo was not fortunate in the events of the battle. After surviving an assault from Japanese surface warships, the vessel was the recipient of a key Kamikaze attack - the loaded warplane smashed into St. Lo's flight deck causing massive damage which set off awaiting bombs, machine gun / cannon ammunition and fuel stores. The resulting fire and explosions - culminating in a single massive detonation - doomed the ship for good. She went under in just one hour, taking 100 to 113 of her crew with her (some 434 were picked up by rescue ships).
St. Lo became the first Allied warship to fall victim to a Kamikaze attack on October 25th, 1944. For her service in the war, the ship was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Battle off Samar) and given four Battle Stars.