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

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

An Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) entered service in 1943. Joining the US Pacific Fleet, it supported Allied efforts during the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. On May 11, 1945, Bunker Hill was severely damaged by two kamikazes while operating off Okinawa. Returning to the United States for repairs, the carrier would largely be inactive for the remainder of its career.

A New Design

Conceived in the 1920s and early 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were designed to conform to the restrictions set forth by the Washington Naval Treaty. This pact placed limitations on the tonnage of various types of warships as well as capped each signatory's overall tonnage. These types of restrictions were affirmed through the 1930 London Naval Treaty. As global tensions escalated, Japan and Italy left the treaty structure in 1936.

With the failure of the treaty system, the US Navy began creating a design for a new, larger class of aircraft carriers and one which used the experience gained from the Yorktown-class. The resulting vessel was wider and longer as well as incorporated a deck-edge elevator system. This had been employed earlier on USS Wasp (CV-7). The new class would typically carry 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 possessing a larger air group, the class featured a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament.


Designated the Essex-class, the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), was laid down in April 1941. This was followed by several additional carriers including USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) which 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. Work on Bunker Hill's hull continued into 1942 following the United States' entry into World War II.

Bunker Hill slid down the ways on December 7 of that year, on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mrs. Donald Boynton served as a sponsor. 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) - 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 90 to 100 aircraft

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, Essex, and USS Independence (CVL-22) hit their targets and defeated a Japanese counterattack which resulted in the loss of 35 enemy aircraft. With the conclusion of operations against Rabaul, Bunker Hill steamed 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.

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 that 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.

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.

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.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).