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The Golden Age of Aircraft Carriers

Discussion in 'World History' started by YNCS, Jun 16, 2006.

  1. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    We think of World War II in the Pacific as the "war of the carriers." Well, that's technically true. But keep in mind that only five carrier v. carrier battles were fought during the entire war. Moreover, there hasn't been another carrier-to-carrier battle since the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. That's over 60 years and another one doesn't look too likely anytime soon.

    The carrier versus carrier era lasted only 25 months (from the Coral Sea in May 1942 to the Philippine Sea in June 1944). Actually, the last carrier v. carrier combat that was anything like an even fight was in October 1942 (Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands). This was the last time an American carrier was sunk by carrier aircraft. In effect, the Golden Age of Aircraft Carriers lasted from May to October 1942. Five months, four battles. To be sure, there was a fifth carrier battle, which the Japanese lost, in mid-1944. But that one was called the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, which gives an idea of how lopsided it was.

    Carriers proved to be more useful against everything else. Attacks on enemy bases and ships and in support of amphibious landings composed the bulk of carrier activity throughout the war. Although land-based planes were more effective than carrier planes, the carriers could be moved quickly across the vast expanse of the Pacific. It was this mobility that made carriers less effective. They could not carry as much avgas and munitions as a land base could stockpile. Operating at sea caused more damage to planes and the shortage of space on a carrier made aircraft maintenance much more difficult. Despite these limitations, the aircraft carrier reigned supreme across the Pacific. The last American carrier lost in combat was a victim of land-based aircraft (USS Princeton (CVL 23) on 24 October 1944). As long as carriers stayed away from more numerous land-based aircraft, carriers could slug it out with anything they came up against.
     
  2. Adler17

    Adler17 Prussian Feldmarschall

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    Erm YNCS, the USS Bismarck Sea, CVE 95, was sunk by Kamikaze planes on February 25th 1945. This was the last allied carrier to be sunk.

    Adler
     
  3. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    He probably wasn't including escort carriers in that statement.
     
  4. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I probably wasn't. :p
     
  5. Adler17

    Adler17 Prussian Feldmarschall

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  6. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I didn't include the Bismarck Sea because the reference book I used, Robert Brown's Warship Losses of World War Two (New York: Sterling/Arms and Armour, 1990), lists losses by kamikaze in a different section than losses by other air attack. I didn't look in the kamikaze section when I looked for the last aircraft carrier lost by air action, since I knew that no fleet or light carriers were sunk by kamikaze.
     
  7. Knight-Dragon

    Knight-Dragon Unhidden Dragon Retired Moderator

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    Only superpowers and great powers can field aircraft carriers, and considering we never have a 'major' war since WW2, it's perhaps not too surprising...

    I have read a claim that major surface ships are now very vulnerable to subsonic missiles (of which the PRC has stashed thousands apparently). Is there any truth to this?
     
  8. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    Consider how much damage the Argentineans did to British ships during the Falklands War with Exocet missiles. The British kept their aircraft carriers well to the east of the Falklands, just to keep them out of range of the Exocet carrying planes. So the British believed that their ships were vulnerable to subsonic missiles. If anything, the problem has gotten worse in the past 20 years with new generations of cruise missiles being developed.
     
  9. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    Carriers are the ultimate in "projecting power", simply because they have such a large combat coverage area. In the thread on the Atlantic War I tried to pick up the importance of air recon a bit (not sure how successfully). Early in the war, the Germans would attack at night on the surface, or cruise on the surface while the batteries recharged. Air cover ended that, crippling the U-boat's mobility, and causing fatigue problems in the crew.

    Reconniasance is in many ways more important than the combat punch. Certainly US forces, and the helicopters on cruisers and destroyers reflect the need to "go and see."

    J
     
  10. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    YNCS, I think CIWS or AEGIS can take care of most ballistics inbound to a carrier. However, if you've read Red Storm Rising, there's a scene where the Ruskies overwhelm Nimitz's anti-air capabilties with like 50 missles, its pretty nasty. Other than that, I'm confident in the capabilities of CIWS, its a beastly system they got there
     
  11. AL_DA_GREAT

    AL_DA_GREAT amour absinthe révolution

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    The aircraft carrier is still a very usefull weapon. without it the Iraq war would have been more difficult for the Americans in the first week or so.
     
  12. Simon Darkshade

    Simon Darkshade Mysterious City of Gold

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    Carriers have changed in their role from an ASuW to a multirole combatant, with an emphasis on strike warfare, to the detriment of the other Cold War main crowns of AAW and ASW.

    There was almost a carrier strike in the Falklands, but the Argie 25th of May couldn't get enough speed up to launch her Skyhawks.
    The Brits did have worries with Exocet, as it cut through their unarmoured ships without great difficulty; using RN Exocets against the General Belgrano was discounted because of her belt.

    Certainly, however, the Falklands showed the utility and utter necessity of the carrier, and the folly of the 1966 decision to cancel CVA-01.

    Phalanx CIWS is an aging to obsolescent technology, being replaced with the far more capable RAM 21 round launcher. I am still a supporter of medium calibre CIWS, in greater than current numbers - 30-40mm provides a good rate of fire and size of shell to disrupt and destroy incoming sub and supersonic ASMs. There needs to be a good inner defence, given the limitations of modern passive defences.

    AEGIS is good, very good. It is designed to deal with a mass attack, and most combatants are either equipped with it, or interface. However, a CVBG/CSG would have a bit of trouble with a persistent multi vector threat; multiple raids, and multiple sub launched ASMs bleeding their escorts dry; the ships can only have their VLS cells replenished in port.

    But, in such a scenario of high intensity warfare with a sophisticated opponent, the USN would be proactive, rather than reactive.
     
  13. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    I Love that book. It's gotten pretty dated, but the naval/air war and the tank war in Germany are textbooks of how to write combat.

    J
     
  14. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    I disagree. What the British really needed in the Falklands was airborn Radar. A single AWACS or Hawkeye would have made an enormous difference.

    J
     
  15. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    well thats one issue the RN has, they dont have a carrier-born airborne radar platform like the hawkeye.

    BTW, what was CVA-01, a light carrier? ( my ship designations arent exactly up to par, id beter work on that)
     
  16. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    CVA-01, which would have been named Queen Elizabeth, was to be 54,500 tons standard displacement, 60,000 tons full load. She would have been capable of handling E2 Hawkeyes or similar size AWACS aircraft. Certainly she could have carried Gannet AEW.3s, like the smaller Ark Royal and Hermes carried.

    BTW, CVA stands for Aircraft Carrier Attack. While smaller than contemporary American designs like the John F. Kennedy and America (approximately 82,000 tons full load), Queen Elizabeth would have been rated as a large (attack) carrier.
     
  17. joycem10

    joycem10 Deity

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    Wasnt there some controversy about Reagan denying the UK use of AWACS and sat recon after a direct request by Thatcher?
     
  18. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    AWACS E-3s would have been at their extreme range operating out of Ascension Island. Wideawake Field on Ascension was overfilled with transports, bombers and refueling aircraft (Hercules, Vulcans and Victors) during the war. So trying to put enough E-3s on Wideawake to give any sort of meaningful coverage would have been almost impossible.

    Ascension was 4000 nautical miles from the Falklands. Putting one Vulcan bomber over Stanley to bomb the airstrip required 17 air-to-air refuelings by Victors. Over half of the Victors just refuelled other Victors. AWACS E-3s would have required similar refueling to be able to loiter near the Falklands.
     
  19. Simon Darkshade

    Simon Darkshade Mysterious City of Gold

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    Yep, the RN missed AEWC, and the only way to get them down in the South Atlantic would have been via fixed wing aircraft operating off a full size CV.
    Having a fleet carrier would have also probably deterred the Argies from making a play in the first place; if anything, being able to put Phantoms and Bucs into action would have been even more of an aerial victory than Sea Harriers.

    Having the birds is one thing, but they need a base to operate from in a useful manner; the extreme range was one factor that limited the utility of the Black Buck strikes.
     
  20. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I don't know. One of the main reason the Junta invaded the Falklands was to take the populace's mind off the the dismal state of the Argentinean economy. They needed to do something, and a foreign adventure, especially for something so tied up in national pride as the Malvinas, was the obvious choice.

    Of course, in real life, the Argies didn't believe that the Brits would respond the way they did. The Junta thought there would be a couple of nasty diplomatic notes and maybe a protest in the UN, and then the Thatcher government would accept the fait accompli. The Junta could read Jane's as well as anyone else. They knew the Brits couldn't do a credible force projection 8,000 miles away.
     

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