The Original Aircraft Carriers of the Pacific Fleet
For the United States to succeed in its defense of the Pacific, it needed a powerful fighting force and a lot of determination. The nation’s response to the December 7th, 1941 attack proved that it wouldn’t roll over for the Japanese, but there was still the question of exactly how large a setback the destruction at Pearl Harbor actually was.
Though damaged, the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet proved strong enough to enter into a war with the Japanese, and much of that resilience was due to the fact that all three aircraft carriers happened to miss the December 7th attack.
Today, none of the three original aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet is still float, though their memory and their efforts are forever enshrined in exhibits and museums around the nation, including the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor.
Launched in April of 1925, the Saratoga (CV-3) was in San Diego on December 7, 1941. After arriving at Pearl Harbor a week later, she immediately joined Task Force 14 in the attempt to relieve Wake Island from Japanese pressure. The attempt, delayed due to bad weather and the need for refueling, was unsuccessful, and Wake Island fell to the Japanese on December 23, 1941.
Though she survived a torpedo hit in January of 1942, she didn’t return to battle until the start of the Guadalcanal Campaign in August of that year. During this series of conflicts, Saratoga’s aircraft were responsible for sinking the Japanese carrier Ryujo. Shortly after, another torpedo took her out of service until January of 1943.
In 1945, she joined the Battle of Iwo Jima as a night fighter carrier, but after being struck by kamikaze craft, she was forced to retire to the United States. After repairs, she was deemed too obsolete and was modified into a training carrier.
After the war, the Saratoga was used as a target ship during nuclear weapons testing in July of 1946, and sank during the second test.
The USS Enterprise (CV-6) was recorded as having taken part in more major actions against Japan than any other American vessel. Though she wasn’t moored at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, she returned there the following evening, her screening aircraft fired on my anti-aircraft defenses as the Pearl Harbor diligently prepared for a return Japanese attack.
On December 9th, after resupplying, the Enterprise patrolled the Hawaiian coast and, on the 10th, was responsible for sinking the Japanese submarine I-70. Over the following months, the Enterprise took part in raids on Kwajalein and other locations in the Marshall Islands. In April of 1942, she escorted the USS Hornet on the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
Though the Enterprise missed the Battle of the Coral Sea, she was present for the Battle of Midway, the turning point of the war. She continued her presence in the Pacific, taking part in the Battles of the Philippine Sea, the Leyte Gulf, and Makin.
After the war, she was decommissioned in February of 1947 after being deemed unnecessary among newer, more advanced carriers. In July of 1958, after numerous attempts were made to purchase her for use as a museum ship, she was sold for scrap.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Lexington (CV-2) was ferrying fighter craft to Midway Island, a mission that was aborted so she could return to the harbor within a week. After returning to Pearl Harbor for refueling, she was sent to the Marshall Islands in an attempt to divert Japanese attention from the US effort to relieve Wake Island. This mission was cancelled, and Lexington was rerouted to join the relief force led by the USS Saratoga.
Seventeen years after being launched, the USS Lexington took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea. This would be her last battle. On May 8, 1942, 19 Japanese D3A dive bombers attacked her. Two bombs struck, the first detonating in an ammunition locker, killing the crew manning a 5” AA gun. The second explosion didn't cause as much damage, but it killed several additional men.
Within hours, another explosion caused fires to spread across the hangar and severed power across the ship. Unable to save her, the destroyer USS Phelps (DD-360) scuttled her after 2,770 of her crew evacuated.