Cold War: USS Saipan (CVL-48)

USS Saipan
USS Saipan (CVL-48), 1950s. US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Light Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
  • Laid Down: July 10, 1944
  • Launched: July 8, 1945
  • Commissioned: July 14, 1946
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, 1976

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 14,500 tons
  • Length: 684 ft.
  • Beam: 76.8 ft. (waterline)
  • Draft: 28 ft.
  • Propulsion: Geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 1,721 men

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Armament:

  • 10 × quadruple 40 mm guns


  • 42-50 aircraft

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Design & Construction:

In 1941, with World War II underway in Europe and growing tensions with Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became increasingly worried that the US Navy did not anticipate any new carriers joining the fleet until 1944.  To remedy the situation, he ordered the General Board to examine whether any of the light cruisers then being built could be converted into carriers to reinforce the service's Lexington- and Yorktown-class ships.  Though the initial report recommended against such conversions, Roosevelt pressed the issue and a design to utilize several Cleveland-class light cruiser hulls then under construction was developed.  Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 and the US entry into the conflict, the US Navy moved to accelerate the construction of the new Essex-class fleet carriers and approved the conversion of several cruisers into light carriers.

Dubbed the Independence-class, the nine carriers that resulted from the program possessed narrow and short flight decks as a result of their light cruiser hulls.  Limited in their capabilities, the primary advantage of the class was the speed with which they could be completed.  Anticipating combat losses among the Independence-class ships, the US Navy moved forward with an improved light carrier design.  Though intended as carriers from the outset, the design of what became the Saipan-class drew heavily from the hull shape and machinery used in the Baltimore-class heavy cruisers.  This allowed for a wider and longer flight deck and improved seakeeping.  Other benefits included a higher speed, better hull subdivision, as well as stronger armor and enhanced anti-aircraft defenses.  As the new class was larger, it was capable of carrying a more sizable air group than its predecessors.  

The lead ship of class, USS Saipan (CVL-48), was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Company (Camden, NJ) on July 10, 1944.  Named for the recently fought Battle of Saipan, construction moved forward over the next year and the carrier slid down the ways on July 8, 1945, with Harriet McCormack, wife of House Majority Leader John W. McCormack, serving as sponsor.  As workers moved to complete Saipan, the war ended.  As a result, it was commissioned into the peacetime US Navy on July 14, 1946, with Captain John G. Crommelin in command.    

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Early Service:

Completing shakedown operations, Saipan received an assignment to train new pilots off Pensacola, FL.  Remaining in this role from September 1946 through April 1947, it then was transferred north to Norfolk.  Following exercises in the Caribbean, Saipan joined the Operational Development Force in December.  Tasked with assessing experimental equipment and developing new tactics, the force reported to the commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet.  Working with ODF, Saipan primarily focused on crafting operational practices for using new jet aircraft at sea as well as electronic instrument evaluation.  After brief break from this duty in February 1948 to transport a delegation to Venezuela, the carrier resumed its operations off the Virginia Capes.

Made flagship of Carrier Division 17 on April 17, Saipan steamed north Quonset Point, RI to embark Fighter Squadron 17A.  Over the course of the next three days, the entirety of the squadron qualified in the FH-1 Phantom.  This made it the first fully-qualified, carrier-based jet fighter squadron in the US Navy.  Relieved of flagship duties in June, Saipan underwent an overhaul at Norfolk the following month.  Returning to service with ODF, the carrier embarked a pair of Sikorsky XHJS and three Piasecki HRP-1 helicopters in December and sailed north to Greenland to aid in the rescue of eleven airmen who had become stranded.  Arriving offshore on the 28th, it remained on station until the men were rescued.  After a stop in Norfolk, Saipan proceeded south Guantanamo Bay where it conducted exercises for two months before rejoining ODF.

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Mediterranean to the Far East:

The spring and summer of 1949 saw Saipan continue duty with ODF as well as conduct reservist training cruises north to Canada while also carrier qualifying Royal Canadian Navy pilots.  After another year of operating off the Virginia coast, the carrier received orders to assume the post of flagship of Carrier Division 14 with the US Sixth Fleet.  Sailing for the Mediterranean, Saipan remained abroad for three months before steaming back to Norfolk.  Rejoining the US Second Fleet, it spent the next two years in the Atlantic and Caribbean.  In October 1953, Saipan was directed to sail for the Far East to aid in supporting the truce that had recently ended the Korean War.  

Transiting the Panama Canal, Saipan touched at Pearl Harbor before arriving at Yokosuka, Japan.  Taking station off the Korean coast, the carrier's aircraft flew surveillance and reconnaissance missions to assess Communist activity.  During the winter, Saipan provided air cover for a Japanese convey transporting Chinese prisoners of war to Taiwan.  After taking part in exercises in the Bonins in March 1954, the carrier ferried twenty-five AU-1 (ground attack) model Chance Vought Corsairs and five Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw helicopters to Indochina for transfer to the French who were engaged in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.  Completing this mission, Saipan delivered helicopters to US Air Force personnel in the Philippines before resuming its station off Korea.  Ordered home later that spring, the carrier departed Japan on May 25 and returned to Norfolk via the Suez Canal.

USS Saipan (CVL-48) - Transition:

That fall, Saipan steamed south on a mission of mercy following Hurricane Hazel.  Arriving off Haiti in mid-October, the carrier delivered a variety of humanitarian and medical aid to the ravaged country.  Departing on October 20, Saipan made port at Norfolk for an overhaul prior to operations in the Caribbean and a second stint as the training carrier at Pensacola.  In the fall of 1955, it again received orders to aid in hurricane relief and moved south to the Mexican coast.  Using its helicopters, Saipan assisted in evacuating civilians and distributed aid to the population around Tampico.  After several months at Pensacola, the carrier was directed to make for Bayonne, NJ for decommissioning on October 3, 1957.  Too small relative to the Essex-, Midway-, and new Forrestal-class fleet carriers, Saipan was placed in reserve.   

Reclassified AVT-6 (aircraft transport) on May 15, 1959, Saipan found new life in March 1963.  Transferred south to the Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company in Mobile, the carrier was slated to be converted into a command ship.  Initially re-designated CC-3, Saipan was instead re-classified as a major communications relay ship (AGMR-2) on September 1, 1964.  Seven months later, on April 8, 1965, the ship was renamed USS Arlington in recognition of one of the US Navy's first radio stations.  Re-commissioned on August 27, 1966, Arlington underwent fitting out and shakedown operations into the new year before taking part in exercises in the Bay of Biscay.  In the late spring of 1967, the ship made preparations to deploy to the Pacific to take part in the Vietnam War.       

USS Arlington (AGMR-2) - Vietnam & Apollo:

Sailing on July 7, 1967, Arlington passed through the Panama Canal and touched in Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines before taking up a station in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Making three patrols in the South China Sea that fall, the ship provided reliable communications handling for the fleet and supported combat operations in the region.  Additional patrols followed in early 1968 and Arlington also participated in exercises in the Sea of Japan as well as made port calls in Hong Kong and Sydney.  Remaining in the Far East for most of 1968, the ship sailed for Pearl Harbor in December and later played a support role in the recovery of Apollo 8.  Returning to the waters off Vietnam in January, it continued to operate in the region until April when it departed to aid in the recovery of Apollo 10.  

With this mission complete, Arlington sailed for Midway Atoll to provide communications support for a meeting between President Richard Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu on June 8, 1969.  Briefly resuming its mission off Vietnam on June 27, the ship was again withdrawn the following month to aid NASA.  Arriving at Johnston Island, Arlington embarked Nixon on July 24 and then supported the return of Apollo 11.  With the successful recovery of Neil Armstrong and his crew, Nixon transferred to USS Hornet (CV-12) to meet with the astronauts.  Departing the area, Arlington sailed for Hawaii before departing for the West Coast.  

Arriving at Long Beach, CA on August 29, Arlington then moved south to San Diego to begin the process of inactivation.  Decommissioned on January 14, 1970, the former carrier was stricken from the Navy List on August 15, 1975.  Briefly held, it was sold for scrap by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service on June 1, 1976.  

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Cold War: USS Saipan (CVL-48)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 25). Cold War: USS Saipan (CVL-48). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Cold War: USS Saipan (CVL-48)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).