World War II: USS Cowpens (CVL-25)

USS Cowpens (CVL-25), July 1943. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
  • Laid Down: November 17, 1941
  • Launched: January 17, 1943
  • Commissioned: May 28, 1943
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, 1960

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 11,000 tons 
  • Length: 622 ft., 6 in.
  • Beam: 109 ft. 2 in.
  • Draft: 26 ft.
  • Propulsion: Four boilers powering 4 General Electric turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 32 knots
  • Complement: 1,569 men

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Armament

  • 26 × Bofors 40 mm guns
  • 10 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons


  • 30-45 aircraft

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Design:

With World War II ongoing in Europe and rising troubles with Japan, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt became concerned about the fact that the US Navy did not anticipate any new aircraft carriers to join the fleet before 1944.  As a result, in 1941 he ordered the General Board to look into the possibility of whether any of the cruisers then being built could be converted to carriers to reinforce the service's Lexington- and Yorktown-class ships.  Answering on October 13, the General Board reported that while such alterations were possible, the level of compromise required would badly reduce their effectiveness.  As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt refused to let the issue drop and asked the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) to conduct a second study.

Presenting the results on October 25, BuShips stated that such conversions were possible and, while the ships would have limited capabilities relative to existing fleet carriers, could be finished much sooner.  Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 and US entry into World War II, the US Navy responded by accelerating the construction of the new Essex-class fleet carriers and moving to convert several Cleveland-class light cruisers, then under construction, into light carriers.  As conversion plans were finished, they showed more potential than originally hoped.  

Incorporating narrow and short flight and hangar decks, the new Independence-class required blisters to be added to the cruiser hulls to help offset the increase in weight topside.  Maintaining their original cruiser speed of 30+ knots, the class was dramatically faster than other types of light and escort carriers which allowed them to operate with the US Navy's larger fleet carriers.  Due to their smaller size, the Independence-class ships' air groups often numbered around 30 aircraft.  While intended to be a balanced mix of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers, by 1944 air groups were often fighter heavy.

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Construction:

The fourth ship of the new class, USS Cowpens (CV-25) was laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Huntington (CL-77) at New York Shipbuilding Corporation (Camden, NJ), on November 17, 1941.  Designated for conversion to an aircraft carrier and renamed Cowpens after the American Revolution battle of the same name, it slid down the ways on January 17, 1943, with the daughter of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, acting as sponsor.  Construction continued and it entered commission on May 28, 1943 with Captain R.P. McConnell in command.  Conducting shakedown and training operations, Cowpens was re-designated CVL-25 on July 15 to distinguish it as a light carrier.  On August 29, the carrier departed Philadelphia for the Pacific. 

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Entering the Fight:

Reaching Pearl Harbor on September 19, Cowpens operated in Hawaiian waters until sailing south as part of Task Force 14.  After conducting strikes against Wake Island in early October, the carrier returned to port to prepare for attacks in the Central Pacific.  Putting to sea, Cowpens then raided Mili in late November before supporting American forces during the Battle of Makin.  After conducting attacks on Kwajalein and Wotje in early December, the carrier returned to Pearl Harbor.  Assigned to TF 58 (Fast Carrier Task Force), Cowpens departed for the Marshall Islands in January and aided in the invasion of Kwajalein.  The following month, it participated in a devastating series of strikes on the Japanese fleet anchorage at Truk.  

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Island Hopping:

Moving on, TF 58 attacked the Marianas before commencing a series of raids in the western Caroline Islands.  Concluding this mission on April 1, Cowpens received orders to support General Douglas MacArthur's landings at Hollandia, New Guinea later that month.  Turning north after this effort, the carrier struck Truk, Satawan, and Ponape before making port at Majuro.  Following several weeks of training, Cowpens steamed north to take part in operations against the Japanese in the Marianas.  Arriving in the islands in early June, the carrier helped cover the landings on Saipan before participating in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19-20.  In the wake of the battle, Cowpens returned to Pearl Harbor for an overhaul.

Rejoining TF 58 in mid-August, Cowpens launched pre-invasion attacks against Peleliu, before covering the landings on Morotai.  Late September and early October saw the carrier participate in raids against Luzon, Okinawa, and Formosa.  During the attack on Formosa, Cowpens aided in covering the withdrawal of the cruisers USS Canberra (CA-70) and USS Houston (CL-81) which had sustained torpedo hits from Japanese aircraft.  En route to Ulithi with Vice Admiral John S. McCain's Task Group 38.1 (Hornet, Wasp, Hancock, and Monterey), Cowpens and its consorts were recalled in late October to take part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  Remaining in the Philippines through December, it conducted operations against Luzon and weathered Typhoon Cobra.

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) - Later Actions:

Following repairs after the storm, Cowpens returned to Luzon and aided in the landings at Lingayen Gulf in early January.  Completing this duty, it joined other carriers in launching a series of raids against Formosa, Indochina, Hong Kong, and Okinawa.  In February, Cowpens began attacks against the home islands of Japan as well as supported troops ashore during the invasion of Iwo Jima.  After further raids against Japan and Okinawa, Cowpens left the fleet and steamed for San Francisco to receive an extended overhaul.  Emerging from the yard on June 13, the carrier attacked Wake Island a week later before reaching Leyte.  Rendezvousing with TF 58, Cowpens moved north and resumed strikes on Japan.

Cowpens' aircraft remained engaged in this duty until the end of the hostilities on August 15.  The first American carrier to enter Tokyo Bay, it remained in position until the occupation landings began on August 30.  During this time, Cowpens' air group flew reconnaissance missions over Japan looking for prisoner of war camps and airfields as well as aided in securing Yokosuka airfield and liberating prisoners near Niigata.  With the formal Japanese surrender on September 2, the carrier remained in the area until commencing Operation Magic Carpet voyages in November.  These saw Cowpens assist in returning American service men back to the United States.  

Completing Magic Carpet duty in January 1946, Cowpens moved into reserve status at Mare Island that December.  Kept in mothballs for the next thirteen years, the carrier was re-designated as an aircraft transport (AVT-1) on May 15, 1959.  This new status proved brief as the US Navy elected to strike Cowpens from the Naval Vessel Register on November 1.  This done, the carrier was then sold for scrap in 1960.   

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Cowpens (CVL-25)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). World War II: USS Cowpens (CVL-25). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Cowpens (CVL-25)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).