World War II: USS Enterprise (CV-6)

War Horse of the Pacific

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during World War II
USS Enterprise (CV-6) during World War II. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

The USS Enterprise (CV-6) was an American aircraft carrier during World War II that earned 20 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation.


In the period after World War I, the US Navy began experimenting with different designs for aircraft carriers. A new class of warship, its first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), was built from a converted collier and utilized a flush deck design (no island). This initial vessel was followed by USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3) which were constructed using large hulls that had been intended for battlecruisers. Sizable carriers, these vessels had air groups numbering around 80 aircraft and large islands. Late in the 1920s, design work moved forward on the US Navy's first purpose-built carrier, USS Ranger (CV-4). Though less than half the displacement of Lexington and Saratoga, Ranger's more efficient use of space allowed it to carry a similar number of aircraft. As these early carriers commenced service, the US Navy and the Naval War College conducted several tests and war games through which they hoped to determine the ideal carrier design.

These studies concluded that speed and torpedo protection were of significant importance and that a large air group was necessary as it provided greater operational flexibility. They also found that carriers utilizing islands had enhanced control over their air groups, were better able to clear exhaust smoke, and could direct their defensive armament more effectively. Testing at sea also found that larger carriers were more capable of operating in difficult weather conditions than smaller vessels such as Ranger. Though the US Navy originally preferred a design displacing around 27,000 tons, due to the restrictions imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty, it instead was forced to choose one that provided the desired characteristics but only weighed approximately 20,000 tons. Carrying an air group of around 90 aircraft, this design offered a maximum speed 32.5 knots.

Ordered by the US Navy in 1933, USS Enterprise was the second of three Yorktown-class aircraft carriers. Laid down on July 16, 1934 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, work moved forward on the carrier's hull. On October 3, 1936, Enterprise was launched with Lulie Swanson, wife of Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson, serving as sponsor. Over the next two years, workers completed the vessel and on May 12, 1938 it was commissioned with Captain N.H. White in command. For its defense, Enterprise possessed an armament centered on eight 5" guns and four 1.1" quad guns. This defensive armament would be enlarged and enhanced several times during the carrier's long career.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company
  • Laid Down: July 16, 1934
  • Launched: October 3, 1936
  • Commissioned: May 12, 1938
  • Fate: Scrapped in 1958


  • Displacement: 25,500 tons
  • Length: 824 ft., 9 in.
  • Beam: 109 ft., 6 in.
  • Draft: 25 ft., 11.5 in.
  • Propulsion: 4 × Parsons geared steam turbines, 9 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 32.5 knots
  • Range: 14,380 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,217 men

Armament (as built):

  • 8 × single 5 in. guns
  • 4 × quad 1.1 in. guns
  • 24 × .50 caliber machine gunsAircraft
  • 90 aircraft

USS Enterprise (CV-6) - Prewar Operations:

Departing the Chesapeake Bay, Enterprise embarked on a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic which saw it make port at Rio de Janreiro, Brazil. Returning north, it later conducted operations in the Caribbean and off the East Coast. In April 1939, Enterprise received orders to join the US Pacific fleet at San Diego. Transiting the Panama Canal, it soon reached its new home port. In May 1940, with tensions with Japan rising, Enterprise and the fleet moved to their forward base at Pearl Harbor, HI. Over the next year, the carrier conducted training operations and transported aircraft to US bases around the Pacific. On November 28, 1941, it sailed for Wake Island to deliver aircraft to the island's garrison.

Pearl Harbor

Near Hawaii on Dec. 7, Enterprise launched 18 SBD Dauntless dive bombers and sent them to Pearl Harbor. These arrived over Pearl Harbor as the Japanese were conducting their surprise attack against the US fleet. Enterprise's aircraft immediately joined in the defense of the base and many were lost. Later in the day, the carrier launched a flight of six F4F Wildcat fighters. These arrived over Pearl Harbor and four were lost to friendly anti-aircraft fire. After a fruitless search for the Japanese fleet, Enterprise entered Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8. Sailing the next morning, it patrolled west of Hawaii and its aircraft sank the Japanese submarine I-70.

Early War Operations

In late December, Enterprise continued patrols near Hawaii while other US carriers unsuccessfully attempted to relieve Wake Island. In early 1942, the carrier escorted convoys to Samoa as well as conducted raids against the Marshall and Marcus Islands. Joining with USS Hornet in April, Enterprise provided cover for the other carrier as it carried Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle's force of B-25 Mitchell bombers towards Japan. Launched on April 18, the Doolittle Raid saw the American planes strike targets in Japan before proceeding west to China. Steaming east, the two carriers arrived back at Pearl Harbor later that month. On April 30, Enterprise sailed to reinforce the carriers USS Yorktown and USS Lexington in the Coral Sea. This mission was aborted as the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought before Enterprise arrived.

Battle of Midway

Returning to Pearl Harbor on May 26 after a feint towards Nauru and Banaba, Enterprise was quickly readied to block an anticipated enemy attack on Midway. Serving as Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance's flagship, Enterprise sailed with Hornet on May 28. Taking a position near Midway, the carriers were soon joined by Yorktown. At the Battle of Midway on June 4, aircraft from Enterprise sank the Japanese carriers Akagi and Kaga. They later contributed to the sinking of the carrier Hiryu. A stunning American victory, Midway saw the Japanese lose four carriers in exchange for Yorktown which was badly damaged in the fighting and later lost to a submarine attack. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on June 13, Enterprise began a month-long overhaul.

Southwest Pacific

Sailing on July 15, Enterprise joined Allied forces to support the invasion of Guadalcanal in early August. After covering the landings, Enterprise, along with USS Saratoga, took part in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on Aug. 24-25. Though the light Japanese carrier Ryujo was sunk, Enterprise took three bomb hits and was severely damaged. Returning to Pearl Harbor for repairs, the carrier was ready for sea by mid-October. Rejoining operations around the Solomons, Enterprise participated in the Battle of Santa Cruz on Oct. 25-27. Despite taking two bomb hits, Enterprise remained operational and took aboard many of Hornet's aircraft after that carrier was sunk. Making repairs while underway, Enterprise remained in the region and its aircraft took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November and the Battle of Rennell Island in January 1943. After operating from Espiritu Santo in the spring of 1943, Enterprise steamed for Pearl Harbor.


Arriving in port, Enterprise was presented with the Presidential Unit Citation by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Proceeding to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the carrier began an extensive overhaul which enhanced its defensive armament and saw the addition of an anti-torpedo blister to the hull. Joining the carriers of Task Force 58 that November, Enterprise took part in raids across the Pacific as well as introduced carrier-based night fighters to the Pacific. In February 1944, TF58 mounted as series of devastating attacks against Japanese warships and merchant vessels at Truk. Raiding through the spring, Enterprise provided air support for Allied landings at Hollandia, New Guinea in mid-April. Two months later, the carrier aided in attacks against the Marianas and covered the invasion of Saipan.

Philippine Sea & Leyte Gulf

Responding to the American landings in the Marianas, the Japanese dispatched a large force of five fleet and four light carriers to turn back the enemy. Taking part in the resulting Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19-20, Enterprise's aircraft aided in destroying over 600 Japanese aircraft and sinking three enemy carriers. Due to the lateness of the American attacks on the Japanese fleet, many aircraft returned home in darkness which greatly complicated their recovery. Remaining in the area until July 5, Enterprise aided operations ashore. After a brief overhaul at Pearl Harbor, the carrier commenced raids against the Volcano and Bonin Islands, as well as Yap, Ulithi, and Palau in late August and early September.

The following month saw Enterprise's aircraft hitting targets in Okinawa, Formosa, and the Philippines. After providing cover for General Douglas MacArthur's landings on Leyte on Oct. 20, Enterprise sailed for Ulithi but was recalled by Admiral William "Bull" Halsey due to reports that the Japanese were approaching. During the subsequent Battle of Leyte Gulf on Oct. 23-26, planes from Enterprise attacked each of the three main Japanese naval forces. Following the Allied victory, the carrier conducted raids in the area before returning to Pearl Harbor in early December.

Later Operations

Putting to sea on Christmas Eve, Enterprise carried the fleet's only air group that was capable of night operations. As a result, the carrier's designation was changed to CV(N)-6. After operating in the South China Sea, Enterprise joined TF58 in February 1945 and took part in attacks around Tokyo. Moving south, the carrier used its day-night capability to provide support for the US Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Returning to the Japanese coast in mid-March, Enterprise's aircraft attacked targets on Honshu, Kyushu, and in the Inland Sea. Arriving off Okinawa on April 5, it began air support operations for Allied forces fighting ashore. While off Okinawa, Enterprise was hit by two kamikazes, one on April 11 and the other on May 14. While the damage from first could be repaired at Ulithi, the damage from the second destroyed the carrier's forward elevator and required a return to Puget Sound.

Entering the yard on June 7, Enterprise was still there when the war ended in August. Fully repaired, the carrier sailed for Pearl Harbor that fall and returned to the US with 1,100 servicemen. Ordered to the Atlantic, Enterprise put into New York before proceeding to Boston to have additional berthing installed. Taking part in Operation Magic Carpet, Enterprise commenced a series of voyages to Europe to bring home American forces. At the conclusion of these activities, Enterprise had transported over 10,000 men back to the United States. As the carrier was smaller and dated relative to its newer consorts, it was deactivated at New York on Jan. 18, 1946 and fully decommissioned the following year. Over the next decade, attempts were made to preserve the "Big E" as a museum ship or memorial. Unfortunately, these efforts failed to raise enough money to buy the vessel from the US Navy and in 1958 it was sold for scrap. For its service in World War II, Enterprise received twenty battles stars, more than any other US warship. Its name was revived in 1961 with the commissioning of USS Enterprise (CVN-65).



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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Enterprise (CV-6)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: USS Enterprise (CV-6). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Enterprise (CV-6)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).