World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)

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USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), 1945. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy, MA
  • Laid Down: September 15, 1941
  • Launched: December 7, 1942
  • Commissioned: May 24, 1943
  • Fate: Scrapped

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 27,100 tons
  • Length: 872 ft.
  • Beam: 147 ft., 6 in.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 5 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Range: 20,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,600 men

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - 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

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Design & Construction

An Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) was laid down at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA on September 15, 1941 and named for the Battle of Bunker Hill fought during the American Revolution. Larger than earlier American aircraft carriers, such as USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise, the Essex-class was longer and wider as well as incorporated a deck-edge elevator system. This had been used previously on USS Wasp (CV-7). The new type typically carried an air group of 36 fighters, 36 dive bombers, and 18 torpedo planes. This included the F6F Hellcats, SB2C Helldivers, and TBF Avengers.

In addition to carrying a bigger air group, the class possessed a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament.

Work on Bunker Hill's hull continued into 1942 following the US entry into World War II. The ship slid down the ways on December 7 of that year, on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Pressing to complete the carrier, Fore River finished the vessel in the spring of 1943. Commissioned on May 24, Bunker Hill entered service with Captain J.J. Ballentine in command. After concluding trials and shakedown cruises, the carrier departed for Pearl Harbor where it joined Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's US Pacific Fleet. Sent west, it was assigned to Rear Admiral Alfred Montgomery's Task Force 50.3.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - In the Pacific

On November 11, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey directed TF 50.3 to join with Task Force 38 for a combined strike on the Japanese base at Rabaul. Launching from the Solomon Sea, aircraft from Bunker Hill, USS Essex, and USS Independence hit their targets and defeated a Japanese counterattack which resulted in the loss 35 enemy aircraft. With the conclusion of operations against Rabaul, Bunker Hill moved to the Gilbert Islands to provide cover for the invasion of Tarawa. As Allied forces began moving against the Bismarcks, the carrier shifted to that area and conducted strikes against Kavieng on New Ireland.

Bunker Hill followed these efforts with attacks in the Marshall Islands to support the invasion of Kwajalein in January-February 1944. With the capture of the island, the ship joined with other American carriers for a massive raid on Truk in late February.

Overseen by Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher, the attack resulted in the sinking of seven Japanese warships as well as several other vessels. Serving in Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force, Bunker Hill next conducted attacks on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Marianas before hitting targets in the Palau Islands on March 31 and April 1.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Battle of the Philippine Sea

After providing cover for General Douglas MacArthur's landings at Hollandia, New Guinea in late April, Bunker Hill's aircraft conducted a series of raids in the Caroline Islands. Steaming north, the Fast Carrier Task Force began attacks in support of the Allied invasion of Saipan. Operating near the Marianas, Bunker Hill took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19-20. On the first day of the fighting, the carrier was struck by a Japanese bomb which killed two and wounded eighty.

Remaining operational, Bunker Hill's aircraft contributed to the Allied victory which saw the Japanese lose three carriers and around 600 aircraft.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Later Operations

In September 1944, Bunker Hill struck targets in the Western Carolines before mounting a series of attacks on Luzon, Formosa, and Okinawa. With the conclusion of these operations, the carrier received orders to depart the war zone for an overhaul at Bremerton Naval Shipyard. Reaching Washington, Bunker Hill entered the yard and underwent routine maintenance as well as had its anti-aircraft defenses enhanced. Departing on January 24, 1945, it steamed west and rejoined Mitscher's forces for operations in the Western Pacific. After covering the landings on Iwo Jima in February, Bunker Hill took part in raids against the Japanese home islands. In March, the carrier and its consorts shifted southwest to aid in the Battle of Okinawa.

Steaming off the island on April 7, Bunker Hill's aircraft took part in defeating Operation Ten-Go and aided in sinking the battleship Yamato. While cruising near Okinawa on May 11, Bunker Hill was hit by a pair of A6M Zero kamikazes. These caused several explosions and gasoline fires which began to consume the ship and killed 346 sailors. Working valiantly, Bunker Hill's damage control parties were able to bring the fires under control and save the ship. Badly crippled, the carrier departed Okinawa and returned to Bremerton for repairs. Arriving, Bunker Hill was still in the yard when the war ended in August.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) - Final Years

Putting to sea in September, Bunker Hill served in Operation Magic Carpet which worked to return American servicemen home from overseas. Deactivated in January 1946, the carrier remained at Bremerton and was decommissioned on January 9, 1947. Though reclassified several times over the next two decades, Bunker Hill was kept in reserve. Removed from the Naval Vessel Register in November 1966, the carrier saw use as a stationary electronics test platform at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego until being sold for scrap in 1973. Along with USS Franklin (CV-13), which was also badly damaged late in the war, Bunker Hill was one of two Essex-class carriers that saw no active service with the postwar US Navy.

Selected Sources

 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)." ThoughtCo, May. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/uss-bunker-hill-cv-17-2361542. Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, May 8). World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/uss-bunker-hill-cv-17-2361542 Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/uss-bunker-hill-cv-17-2361542 (accessed November 23, 2017).