Korean War: USS Antietam (CV-36)

USS Antietam (CV-36), 1953. US Naval History & Heritage Command

Entering service in 1945, USS Antietam (CV-36) was one of over twenty Essex-class aircraft carriers built for the US Navy during World War II (1939-1945). Though arriving in the Pacific too late to see combat, the carrier would see extensive action during the Korean War (1950-1953). In the years after the conflict, Antietam became the first American carrier to receive an angled flight deck and later spent five years training pilots in the waters off Pensacola, FL.

  

A New Design

Conceived in the 1920s and early 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were intended to meet the limitations laid out by the Washington Naval Treaty. This placed restrictions on the tonnage of various types of vessels as well as installed a ceiling on each signatory’s overall tonnage. This system was further extended by the 1930 London Naval Treaty. As the global situation began to deteriorate, Japan and Italy departed the treaty structure in 1936.

With the collapse of this system, the US Navy commenced efforts to design a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which utilized the lessons learned from the Yorktown-class. The resulting product was longer and wider as well as utilized a deck-edge elevator system. This had been employed earlier on USS Wasp (CV-7). In addition to embarking a larger air group, the new class carried a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament.

Construction began on the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), on April 28, 1941.

Becoming the Standard

With the US entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Essex-class soon became the US Navy's standard design for fleet carriers. The initial four ships after Essex followed the type's original design.

In early 1943, the US Navy ordered multiple alterations to improve future vessels. The most visible of these changes was the lengthening the bow to a clipper design which permitted the addition of two quadruple 40 mm mounts. Other alterations included moving the combat information center below the armored deck, enhanced ventilation and aviation fuel systems, a second catapult on the flight deck, and an additional fire control director. Colloquially known as the "long-hull" Essex-class or Ticonderoga-class by some, the US Navy made no distinction between these and the earlier Essex-class ships.

Construction

The first ship to move forward with the revised Essex-class design was USS Hancock (CV-14) which was later re-named Ticonderoga. It was followed by additional carriers including USS Antietam (CV-36).  Laid down on March 15, 1943, construction on Antietam commenced at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Named for the Civil War Battle of Antietam, the new carrier entered the water on August 20, 1944 with Eleanor Tydings, wife of Maryland Senator Millard Tydings, serving as sponsor. Construction rapidly advanced and Antietam entered commission on January 28, 1945, with Captain James R. Tague in command.

 

USS Antietam (CV-36) - Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: March 15, 1943
  • Launched: August 20, 1944
  • Commissioned: January 28, 1945
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, 1974

Specifications:

  • Displacement: 27,100 tons
  • Length: 888 ft.
  • Beam: 93 ft. (waterline)
  • Draft: 28 ft., 7 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 3,448 men

Armament:

  • 4 × twin 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 4 × single 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 8 × quadruple 40 mm 56 caliber guns
  • 46 × single 20 mm 78 caliber guns

Aircraft:

  • 90-100 aircraft

World War II

Departing Philadelphia in early March, Antietam shifted south to Hampton Roads and commenced shakedown operations. Steaming along the East Coast and in the Caribbean until April, the carrier then returned to Philadelphia for an overhaul.

Leaving on May 19, Antietam began its voyage to the Pacific to join in the campaign against Japan. Stopping briefly in San Diego, it then turned west for Pearl Harbor.  Reaching Hawaiian waters, Antietam spent the better part of the next two months conducting training in the area. On August 12, the carrier left port bound for Eniwetok Atoll which had been captured the previous year.  Three days later, word arrived of the cessation of hostilities and Japan's impending surrender.  

Occupation

Arriving at Eniwetok on August 19, Antietam sailed with USS Cabot (CVL-28) three days later to support the occupation of Japan. Following a brief stop at Guam for repairs, the carrier received new orders directing it to patrol along the Chinese coast in the vicinity of Shanghai. Largely operating in the Yellow Sea, Antietam remained in the Far East for most the next three years. During this time, its aircraft patrolled over Korea, Manchuria, and northern China as well as conducted reconnaissance of operations during the Chinese Civil War. In early 1949, Antietam completed its deployment and steamed for the United States.  Arriving at Alameda, CA, it was decommissioned on June 21, 1949 and placed in reserve.

Korean War

Antietam's inactivity proved short as the carrier was re-commissioned on January 17, 1951 due to the outbreak of the Korean War. Conducting shakedown and training along the California coast, the carrier made a voyage to and from Pearl Harbor before departing for the Far East on September 8.

Joining Task Force 77 later that fall, Antietam's aircraft began mounting attacks in support of United Nations forces. 

Typical operations included interdiction of railroad and highway targets, providing combat air patrols, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine patrols. Making four cruises during its deployment, the carrier generally would resupply at Yokosuka. Completing its final cruise on March 21, 1952, Antietam's air group flew nearly 6,000 sorties during its time off the Korean Coast. Earning two battle stars for its efforts, the carrier returned to the United States where it was briefly placed in reserve.   

A Groundbreaking Change

Ordered to the New York Naval Shipyard that summer, Antietam entered dry dock that September for a major alteration. This saw the addition of a sponson on the port side which permitted the installation of an angled flight deck. The first carrier to possess a true angled flight deck, this new feature permitted aircraft that missed landings to take off again without hitting aircraft further forward on the flight deck. It also greatly increased the efficiency of the launch and recovery cycle. 

Re-designated an attack carrier (CVA-36) in October, Antietam rejoined the fleet in December. Operating from Quonset Point, RI, the carrier was a platform for numerous tests involving the angled flight deck.  These included operations and testing with pilots from the Royal Navy. The result from the testing on Antietam confirmed thoughts on the superiority of the angled flight deck and it would become a standard feature of carriers moving forward.

The addition of an angled flight deck became a key element of the SCB-125 upgrade given to many Essex-class carriers during the mid/late-1950s. 

Later Service

Re-designated an anti-submarine carrier in August 1953, Antietam continued to serve in the Atlantic. Ordered to join the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean in January 1955, it cruised in those waters until early that spring. Returning to the Atlantic, Antietam made a goodwill voyage to Europe in October 1956 and took part in NATO exercises.  During this time the carrier ran aground off Brest, France but was refloated without damage.

While abroad, it was ordered to the Mediterranean during the Suez Crisis and aided in the evacuation of Americans from Alexandria, Egypt. Moving west, Antietam then conducted anti-submarine training exercises with the Italian Navy. Returning to Rhode Island, the carrier resumed peacetime training operations. On April 21, 1957, Antietam received an assignment to serve as a training carrier for new naval aviators at Naval Air Station Pensacola.  

Training Carrier

Home ported at Mayport, FL as its draft was too deep to enter Pensacola harbor, Antietam spent the next five years educating young pilots. In addition, the carrier served as a test platform for a variety of new equipment, such as the Bell automatic landing system, as well as embarked US Naval Academy midshipmen each summer for training cruises. In 1959, following dredging at Pensacola, the carrier shifted its home port. 

In 1961, Antietam twice provided humanitarian relief in the wakes of Hurricanes Carla and Hattie.  For the latter, the carrier transported medical supplies and personnel to the British Honduras (Belize) to provide aid after the hurricane devastated the region. On October 23, 1962, Antietam was relieved as Pensacola's training ship by USS Lexington (CV-16). Steaming to Philadelphia, the carrier was placed in reserve and decommissioned on May 8, 1963. In reserve for eleven years, Antietam was sold for scrap on February 28, 1974.