After the abrogation of disarmament treaties by Japan in 1936, the U.S. took a realistic look at its naval strength. With the Naval Expansion Act of Congress passed on 17 May 1938, an increase of 40,000 tons in aircraft carriers was authorized. This permitted the building of Hornet and Essex, which became the lead ship of her class.
CV-9 was to be the prototype of the 27,000-ton (standard displacement) aircraft carrier, considerably larger than Enterprise, yet smaller than Saratoga (a battlecruiser converted to a carrier). The Navy ordered the first three of the new design, CV-9, CV-10 and CV-11, from Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock on 3 July 1940. These were to become known as Essex-class carriers. Under the terms of the Two-Ocean Navy Act, ten more of these carriers were programmed. Eight were ordered on 9 September, CV-12 through −15 from Newport News, and CV-16 through −19 from Bethlehem Steel's Fore River Shipyard; the last two, CV-20 and CV-21, were ordered eight days after Pearl Harbor from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Newport News respectively.
After the US declaration of war, Congress appropriated funds for nineteen more Essexes: six were ordered or scheduled from Brooklyn, five from the Norfolk Navy Yard, four from the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and two each from Fore River and Newport News. Ironically, only two of these were completed in time to see active WWII service.
The first eight hulls were originally assigned names from historic Navy ships (Essex, Bon Homme Richard, Intrepid, Kearsarge, Franklin, Hancock, Randolph, Cabot). Lexington was originally laid down as Cabot, but was renamed during construction after the original Lexington was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. Yorktown, originally to be named Bon Homme Richard, was renamed after the original Yorktown was lost at the Battle of Midway on 7 June 1942. Wasp's name was changed from Oriskany after the original Wasp was sunk in September 1942 in the South Pacific near Guadalcanal, and Hornet's name was changed from Kearsarge after the original Hornet was lost in October 1942 in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands. The erstwhile Valley Forge was renamed Princeton after the light carrier of that name was sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. The names of the Ticonderoga and the Hancock were swapped while they were under construction. The John Hancock life insurance company had offered to conduct a bond drive to raise money for the Hancock if that name was used for the carrier under construction in the company’s home state of Massachusetts.
At the conclusion of the war, the six ships ordered but never laid down (CV-50 through 55) were canceled. Of the nine still unfinished six were completed and two (Reprisal and Iwo Jima) scrapped; Oriskany was taken in hand for modification to an improved design, completing in 1950. In summary, during World War II and until its conclusion, the US Navy ordered 32 aircraft carriers of the Essex class, including the Ticonderoga subgroup, of which 26 were laid down and 24 actually commissioned.
Read more about this topic: Essex Class Aircraft Carrier
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