World War II: USS Essex (CV-9)

USS Essex (CV-9), 1945. hotograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Essex (CV-9) was an aircraft carrier built for the US Navy and the lead ship of its class. Entering service in late 1942, Essex was larger than previous American carriers and its design would be utilized in the 24 ships of its class. Essex served in the Pacific during World War II, and took part in many of the conflict's major campaigns. Modernized after the war, it later saw combat in the Korean War. Essex remained in commission until 1969 and one of its final missions was the recovery of the Apollo 7 spacecraft in 1968.

Design & Construction

Designed in the 1920s and early 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were built to conform to the limitations set forth by the Washington Naval Treaty. This agreement placed restrictions on the tonnage of various types of warships as well as limited each signatory’s overall tonnage. These types of restrictions were affirmed through the 1930 London Naval Treaty.

As global tensions increased, Japan and Italy left the agreement in 1936. With the collapse of the treaty system, the US Navy began developing a design for a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which incorporated the lessons learned from the Yorktown-class. The resulting design was longer and wider as well as incorporated a deck-edge elevator system. This had been used previously on USS Wasp (CV-7).

In addition to carrying a larger air group, the new class possessed a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament. With the passage of the Naval Expansion Act on May 17, 1938, the US Navy moved forward with the construction of two new carriers. The first, USS Hornet (CV-8), was built to the Yorktown-class standard while the second, USS Essex (CV-9), was to be constructed using the new design.

While work quickly commenced on Hornet, Essex and two additional vessels of its class, were not formally ordered until July 3, 1940. Assigned to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, construction of Essex commenced on April 28, 1941. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II that December, work intensified on the new carrier. Launched on July 31, 1942, Essex completed fitting out and entered commission on December 31 with Captain Donald B. Duncan in command.

USS Essex (CV-9)


  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company
  • Laid Down: April 28, 1941
  • Launched: July 31, 1942
  • Commissioned: December 31, 1942
  • 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


  • 90-100 aircraft

Journey to the Pacific

After spending the spring of 1943 conducting shakedown and training cruises, Essex departed for the Pacific in May. After a brief stop at Pearl Harbor, the carrier joined Task Force 16 for attacks against Marcus Island before becoming the flagship of Task Force 14. Striking Wake Island and Rabaul that fall, Essex sailed with Task Group 50.3 in November to aid in the invasion of Tarawa.

Moving to the Marshalls, it supported Allied forces during the Battle of Kwajalein in January-February 1944. Later in February, Essex joined Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58. This formation mounted a series of hugely successful raids against the Japanese anchorage at Truk on February 17-18. Steaming north, Mitscher's carriers then launched several attacks against Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Marianas. Completing this operation, Essex departed TF58 and sailed to San Francisco for an overhaul.

Photo of USS Essex at Hampton Roads
USS Essex (CV-9), February 1, 1943 at Hampton Roads, VA.  US Navy

Fast Carrier Task Force

Embarking Air Group Fifteen, led by future US Navy top-scorer Commander David McCampbell, Essex conducted raids against Marcus and Wake Islands before rejoining TF58, also known as the Fast Carrier Task Force, for the invasion of the Marianas. Supporting American forces as they attacked Saipan in mid-June, the carrier's aircraft took part in the pivotal Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19-20.

With the conclusion of the campaign in the Marianas, Essex shifted south to aid in Allied operations against Peleliu in September. After weathering a typhoon in October, the carrier mounted attacks on the Okinawa and Formosa before steaming south to provide cover for the landings on Leyte in the Philippines. Operating off the Philippines in late October, Essex participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf which saw American aircraft sink four Japanese carriers.

Final Campaigns

After replenishing at Ulithi, Essex attacked Manila and other parts of Luzon in November. On November 25, the carrier sustained its first wartime damage when a kamikaze struck the port side of the flight deck. Making repairs, Essex remained at the front and its aircraft conducted strikes across Mindoro during December. In January 1945, the carrier supported Allied landings at Lingayen Gulf as well as launched a series of strikes against Japanese positions in the Philippine Sea including Okinawa, Formosa, Sakishima, and Hong Kong.

Photo of USS Essex being hit by a kamikaze.
USS Essex (CV-9) hit by a kamikaze on November 25, 1944. Naval History and Heritage Command

In February, the Fast Carrier Task Force moved north and attacked the area around Tokyo before aiding in the invasion of Iwo Jima. In March, Essex sailed west and began operations to support the landings on Okinawa. The carrier remained on station near the island until late May. In the war's final weeks, Essex and other American carriers conducted strikes against the Japanese home islands. With the war's end on September 2, Essex received orders to sail for Bremerton, WA. Arriving, the carrier was deactivated and placed in reserve on January 9, 1947.

Korean War

After a brief time in reserve, Essex commenced a modernization program to better allow it to take the US Navy's jet aircraft and improve its overall effectiveness. This saw the addition of a new flight deck and an altered island. Re-commissioned on January 16, 1951, Essex began shakedown maneuvers off Hawaii before steaming west to take part in the Korean War. Serving as the flagship of Carrier Division 1 and Task Force 77, the carrier debuted the McDonnell F2H Banshee.

Conducting strikes and support missions for United Nations forces, Essex's aircraft attacked across the peninsula and as far north as the Yalu River. That September, the carrier sustained damage when one its Banshees crashed into other aircraft on deck. Returning to service after brief repairs, Essex conducted a total of three tours during the conflict. With the end of the war, it remained in the region and took part in the Peace Patrol and evacuation of the Tachen Islands.

Later Assignments

Returning to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1955, Essex began a massive SCB-125 modernization program which included the installation of an angled flight deck, elevator relocations, and installation of a hurricane bow. Joining the US Pacific Fleet in March 1956, Essex largely operated in American waters until being shifted to the Atlantic. After NATO exercises in 1958, it redeployed to the Mediterranean with the US Sixth Fleet.

Photo of USS Essex at sea.
USS Essex (CV-9), 1956.  Public Domain

That July, ​Essex supported the US Peace Force in Lebanon. Departing the Mediterranean in early 1960, the carrier steamed to Rhode Island where it underwent a conversion to an anti-submarine warfare support carrier. Through the remainder of the year, Essex conducted a variety of training missions as the flagship of Carrier Division 18 and Antisubmarine Carrier Group 3. The ship also took part in NATO and CENTO exercises which took it to the Indian Ocean.

In April 1961, unmarked aircraft from Essex flew reconnaissance and escort missions over Cuba during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Later that year, the carrier conducted a goodwill tour of Europe with port calls in the Netherlands, West Germany, and Scotland. Following a refit at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1962, Essex received orders to enforce the naval quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On station for a month, the carrier aided in preventing additional Soviet materials from reaching the island. The next four years saw the carrier fulfill peacetime duties. This proved a quiet period until November 1966, when Essex collided with the submarine USS Nautilus. Though both vessels were damaged, they were able to safely make port.

Two years later, Essex served as the recovery platform for Apollo 7. Steaming north of Puerto Rico, its helicopters recovered the capsule as well as astronauts Walter M. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham. Increasingly old, the US Navy elected to retire Essex in 1969. Decommissioned on June 30, it was removed from the Navy Vessel Register on June 1, 1973. Briefly held in mothballs, Essex was sold for scrap in 1975.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Essex (CV-9)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 29). World War II: USS Essex (CV-9). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Essex (CV-9)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).