The USS Wasp (CV-7) was a conventionally aircraft carrier in service with the United States Navy during World War 2. She was classified as a "light" fleet aircraft carrier and was completed with light armor protection but could ferry, launch and recover over 70 aircraft of various types. She participated in Allied actions in Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific waters before ultimately meeting her end at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the fall of 1942. As such, she led a short operation tenure with the USN but her contributions to the early phases of the war for America could not be more recognized.
The Washington Naval Treaty and Its Limitations
The Washington Naval Treaty was a global pact signed by the world powers of the time - the United States, the United Kingdom, the Empire of Japan, France and Italy - in an attempt to head off another arms race that beget World War 1 (1914-1918). The ball was already rolling on ever more powerful ships in the inventories of the United States, Britain and Japan and another arms race was seemingly in the works. The idea was to limit the overall tonnage of warships as well as their inherent weaponry. The treaty was signed in February 1922 and modified as the London Naval Treaty in 1930 and, again, in 1936. Each of the participating five nations were assigned tonnage limitations for their capital warships and aircraft carriers - the United States and Britain were each limited to 525,000 tons while Japan was given 315,000 of tonnage. France and Italy each accepted 175,000 tonnage limitations. Germany, having been labeled the sole responsible party for World War 1, was already saddled by the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
Regardless, nations went to work behind the scenes to create powerful navies of the new age. The Empire of Japan bypassed the naval treaty's limitations and ultimately excluded their participation in the treaty altogether. Similarly, the German Navy was being reborn as Adolf Hitler rose to power, first as Chancellor of Germany, then as its dictator. The Empire of Japan ultimately fielded their impressive IJN Yamato battleship and Germany, their KMS Bismarck - both to make their own unique splash in the upcoming world war.
The USS Wasp
As such, the United States commissioned a new light fleet carrier to be built on speed and light armor protection but within the remaining tonnage limitations as stipulated by the Washington Naval Treaty. The result was the USS Wasp of 14,700 tons. The USS Wasp was laid down on April 1st, 1936 at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was launched on April 4th, 1939 and formally commissioned on April 25th, 1940 with Captain John Reeves at the helm.
Dimensions and Machinery
When she was launched, the USS Wasp displaced upwards of 14,900 tons, just within the allowable limit of the Washington Naval Treaty. She featured a running length of 688 feet with a beam reaching out to 80 feet, 9 inches. Her draught was 20 feet. Dimensionally, the USS Wasp was one of the smaller carriers of the US Navy. Her machinery consisted of 6 x boilers feeding 2 x Parsons steam turbines powering 2 x propeller shafts developing 70,000 shaft horsepower. This allowed for a top speed of nearly 30 knots with a range of approximately 14,000 miles. The vessel was normally crewed by as many as 1,800 enlisted sailors and naval officers but this value easily ballooned to 2,100 during wartime.
USS Wasp Design
Externally, the design of the USS Wasp was quite conventional by any standard. The island superstructure was offset to the starboard side and centered at amidships. A distinct feature of the island was its rather tall smoke exhaust funnel. All communications arrays and main defensive armament was centered at or near the superstructure to keep the flight deck as open as possible. The flight deck itself was a flat rectangular shape from bow to stern.
Offensively, the USS Wasp managed 75 to 80 aircraft of various types to include fighters (30), dive bombers (36) and torpedo bombers (14). Each played a distinct role in operations ranging from fleet protection, reconnaissance, bomber escort, anti-ship assaults and the like. Three powered elevators serviced the flight deck and four hydraulic catapults helped to send aircraft aloft and recover incoming flights. Aircraft could be launched from the two catapults atop the flight deck or the two catapults installed on the hangar deck.
Defensive Armament and Systems
Defensively, the USS Wasp was completed with CXAM-1 radar - the first such production surface radar installed on any US Navy ships. Defensive-minded armament consisted of 8 x 5" (130mm)/38 caliber main guns for dealing with enemy surface ships. Anti-aircraft aircraft protection began with the 16 x 1.1" (28mm)/75 caliber cannons which were further backed by no less than 24 x 0.50 caliber (12.7mm) heavy machine guns. Beyond fleet support vessels and aircraft cover, these weapons served as the last line of defense for the carrier crew from attacks delivered by enemy torpedo planes and dive bombers. Armor protection ran at 102mm (4 inches) at her belt while the flight deck and lower decks were allotted 38mm (1.5 inches) of armor plating. All told, the USS Wasp was completed with very little armor protection and even less protection from underwater torpedo attack.
America Enters the War
The world was already becoming an unsettling place by the late 1930s. The Empire of Japan attacked sovereign nations and colonial possessions to secure the natural resources it needed and to expand its position and influence in the Pacific region. In Europe, Germany and Italy both adopted empirical attitudes all their and preceded to conquer neighboring countries and territories in Africa. The Untied States, having adopted a rather stout policy of isolationism following their bloody involvement in World War 1, stood on the sidelines under the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 thrust them into the fold.
USS Wasp Service
The USS Wasp was conducting varied operations in the Atlantic since its commissioning in 1940. She participated in exercises as required and was then utilized for enforcing America's position of neutrality in international waters. German U-boats had become active the Atlantic and were waging an open war against all vessels attempting to resupply the British mainland. After December 1941, the USS Wasp was being used in North Atlantic waters to support the British Home Fleet. Further on, she delivered much-needed aircraft to the British Royal Air Force stationed at Malta, this being shipments of the fabled Supermarine Spitfire fighter. Malta served as a strategic setting within the Mediterranean Theater as German supplies were ferried from Italy to North Africa in support of the German Afrika Corps actions there. Malta was heavily pummeled by Axis bombers in an attempt to lay waste to its use as an Allied base. However, the island held out and Axis shipping suffered greatly, ultimately leading to the German withdrawal of North Africa altogether.
It was not until June of 1942 that the USS Wasp was called to service in the Pacific Theater. Japanese progress was strong in the region but ultimately thwarted in several key engagements including the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. Wasp was arrived just after and was used to strengthen the US fleet after its losses were calculated. Her vital air arm was of particular note in a part of the world where battles would be mostly won or lost at sea. The Wasp was sent to refuel and would miss out on Allied actions in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons as a result. Afterwards, she was saddled with new fighter aircraft at Noumea (French New Caledonia) for delivery to US Marine elements at Guadalcanal.
In August of 1942, now steaming near Pearl Harbor, USS Wasp was enlisted to take part in the Allied amphibious landings at Guadalcanal as part of the Solomon Islands campaign. The battle raged from August 7th to February 9th of 1943. A combined force of American, Australian, New Zealand, British, Tongan and Fijian troops took part in the bloody engagement that pitted 60,000 Allies against 36,200 determined defenders. The battle resulted in only 1,000 of the enemy being captured. Allied air losses amounted to 615 aircraft while the Japanese lost up a hundred more than that. Each side lost dozens of ships in the process but the battle went down as an Allied victory in the grand scope of the war.
The Sinking of the USS Wasp and Aftermath
From then on, USS Wasp was utilized as a permanent fixture near Guadalcanal to help support the Allied hold in the region and to prevent it from falling to a Japanese counter-invasion. On September 15th, 1942, the USS Wasp was spotted by crew of a prowling Japanese submarine in the early part of the afternoon. Having delivered its aircraft from her decks, the Wasp was sailing south of Guadalcanal. Seizing the opportunity, the captain of IJN submarine I-19 sent six torpedoes towards the Wasp. Two of these torpedoes struck the Wasp low along her port side, dangerously close to stored aviation fuel. The third managed to find its way higher up the waterline near the vessels refueling system, causing major damage.
Such direct hits immediately caused the aviation fuel to ignite, consequently leading to incontrollable fires throughout her sub-decks. As fires raged and the damage was deemed irreversible, the captain of the USS Wasp gave the order for the crew to officially abandon ship. Survivors were picked up by other vessels and the destroyer USS Lansdowne was called in to sink the Wasp in full - a practice utilized by navies to avoid their vessel falling into enemy hands, or to be sunk at the hands of the enemy. Some 193 US personnel were killed in the submarine attack. The USS Wasp was officially struck from the Naval Register on September 15th, 1942, ending her promising tenure as a fleet carrier.
The sinking of the USS Wasp delivered vital experience to the United States Navy. Her damage control crews were not yet experienced enough to handle such an onboard disaster and it was the final direct torpedo hit that truly led to her sinking. She maintained several deficiencies in her inherent design and these shown painfully through on that September night - she was ill-prepared and not armored enough to survive such an attack.
The USS Wasp was awarded two Battle Stars for her service in World War 2 and was the recipient of the following honors: American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War 2 Victory Medal. The USS Wasp CV-7 was the eight United Sates Navy vessel to carry the "Wasp" name.
Interestingly, the USS Wasp was the only ship of her class.
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