World War II: USS Independence (CVL-22)

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USS Independence (CVL-22), 1943. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
  • Laid Down: May 1, 1941
  • Launched: August 22, 1942
  • Commissioned: January 14, 1943
  • Fate: Sunk following nuclear weapons testing, 1951

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 14,751 tons (loaded)
  • Length: 623 ft.
  • Beam: 71.5 ft.
  • Draft: 25 ft.
  • Propulsion: Four boilers powering 4 General Electric turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 31 knots
  • Complement: 1,569 men

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Armament

  • 26 × Bofors 40 mm guns

Aircraft

  • 30-34 aircraft

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Design:

With World War II raging in Europe and tensions escalating with Japan, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt became increasingly concerned that the US Navy did not expect any new aircraft carriers to be completed prior to 1944.  As a result, in 1941 he directed the General Board to examine whether any of the cruisers then under construction could be converted to carriers to supplement the service's Lexington- and Yorktown-class ships.  Replying on October 13, the General Board stated that while such conversions were possible, the level of compromise required would severely limit their effectiveness.  As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt pushed the issue and requested the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) to conduct a second study.

Reporting back on October 25, BuShips stated that such conversions were possible and, while the ships would have lesser capabilities than existing fleet carriers, could be available for service much sooner.  With 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 drafted, they showed more potential than initially hoped.  

Possessing narrow and short flight and hangar decks, the new Independence-class required blisters be added to the cruiser hulls to help compensate for the increase in weight topside.  Retaining their original cruiser speed of 30+ knots, the type was significantly faster than other classes of light and escort carriers which permitted them to operate with the US Navy's larger fleet carriers.  Due to their size, the Independence-class ships' air groups normally numbered around 30 aircraft.  While intended to be a balanced mix of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers, by 1944 air groups were typically fighter heavy.

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Construction:

The lead ship of the new class, USS Independence (CV-22) was laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Amsterdam (CL-59) at New York Shipbuilding Corporation (Camden, NJ), on May 1, 1941.  Selected for conversion to an aircraft carrier and renamed Independence, it entered the water on August 22, 1942.  Work moved forward and it was commissioned on January 14, 1943 with Captain G.R. Fairlamb in command.  After conducting shakedown and training exercises in the Caribbean, Independence transited the Panama Canal and arrived at Pearl Harbor in July.

 A short time later, it was re-designated CVL-22 to recognize its status as a light carrier.

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Early Service:

Commencing training in Hawaiian waters, Independence then sailed with USS Essex (CV-9) and USS Yorktown (CV-10) to conduct a raid against Marcus Island.  Striking on September 1, it mounted a similar strike against Wake Island in early October.  Departing for the Southwest Pacific later in the month, Independence arrived at Espiritu Santo before mounting attacks against Rabaul.  In November, the carrier moved to support the invasion of Tarawa.  On November 20, while operating in the Gilberts, Independence came under attack from Japanese aircraft.  Though the carrier's gunners downed six, it sustained a torpedo hit on its starboard side.  Damaged, Independence made temporary repairs at Funafuti, before proceeding back to San Francisco.

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Campaigning in the Pacific:

Out of action for the first half of 1944, Independence finally returned to Pearl Harbor on July 3.  Beginning training for night operations while in Hawaii, the carrier continued this endeavor off Eniwetok in August.  Later that month, it sailed with Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's Task Force 38 to support the landings on Peleliu.  During this campaign, Independence's specially-training pilots provided night fighter cover for TF38.  Concluding operations around Peleliu, the carrier proceeded to mount raids in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Formosa.  Returning to the Philippines in late October, Independence's aircraft attacked Japanese warships in the Sibuyan Sea on the 24th during the opening phases of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  This action saw the Japanese battleship Musashi sunk.

On the night of October 26, Independence's night reconnaissance aircraft located Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's carriers and shadowed them until dawn.  Later that day, the carrier's planes joined in the larger American strike that destroyed four Japanese carriers.  After a brief rest at Ulithi following the battle, Independence resumed operations in support of Allied efforts in the Philippines.  In January 1945, it helped cover the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon before raiding through the South China Sea.  At the end of the month, Independence sailed for Pearl Harbor to make routine repairs.  

USS Independence (CVL-22) - Final Campaigns:

Rejoining combat operations on March 14, Independence sailed from Ulithi as part of the fleet bound for Okinawa.

 Launching pre-invasion raids on March 30-31, it then provided cover for the landings on the island on April 1.  Independence continued to operate off Okinawa through June 10 providing fighter cover for the Allied fleet and striking targets ashore.  After replenishing at Leyte, the carrier moved north and conducted attacks against the home islands of Japan.  With the cessation of hostilities on August 15, its aircraft continued to patrol Japanese airspace.  Departing Japanese waters on September 22, it traveled to San Francisco via Saipan and Guam.  

Refitted for service in Operation Magic Carpet, Independence spent November 1945 to January 1946 sailing the Pacific returning American servicemen to the United States.  That summer, the carrier was selected as a target ship for the Operation Crossroads atomic testing at Bikini Atoll.  Surviving the testing, Independence was towed to Kwajalein where it was decommissioned on August 28.  Returned to Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco, its radioactive hull was scuttled off the California coast on January 29, 1951.     

Selected Sources