Korean War: USS Lake Champlain (CV-39)

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) at sea
USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) off Korea, July 1953. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Norfolk Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: March 15, 1943
  • Launched: November 2, 1944
  • Commissioned: June 3, 1945
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, 1972

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 27,100 tons
  • Length: 888 ft.
  • Beam: 93 ft. (waterline)
  • Draft: 28 ft., 7 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 3,448 men

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - Armament:

  • 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

Aircraft:

  • 90-100 aircraft

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - A New Design:

Planned in the 1920s and 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were designed to meet the tonnage constraints established by the Washington Naval Treaty. This placed limitations on the tonnage of various classes of vessels as well as installed a ceiling on each signatory’s overall tonnage. This approach was extended and revised by the 1930 London Naval Treaty. As the global situation worsened in the 1930s, Japan and Italy decided to depart the treaty system. With the failure of the agreement, the US Navy elected to advance efforts to create a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which incorporated the lessons learned from the Yorktown-class.

The resulting vessel was wider and longer as well as included a deck-edge elevator system. This had been utilized earlier on USS Wasp (CV-7). In addition to carrying a more sizable air group, the new design included a more powerful anti-aircraft armament. Construction began on the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), on April 28, 1941.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and US entry into World War II, the Essex-class soon became the US Navy's primary design for fleet carriers. The initial four vessels after Essex followed the class' original design. In early 1943, the US Navy made several alterations with goal of enhancing future vessels. The most noticeable of these changes was lengthening the bow to a clipper design which allowed for the mounting of two quadruple 40 mm mounts. Other changes saw the combat information center moved under the armored deck, improved ventilation and aviation fuel systems, a second catapult on the flight deck, and an additional fire control director. Called the "long-hull" Essex-class or Ticonderoga-class by some, the US Navy made no distinction between these and the earlier Essex-class ships.

USS Lake Champlain (CV-38) - Construction:

The first carrier to commence construction with the improved Essex-class design was USS Hancock (CV-14) which was later re-named Ticonderoga.  This was followed by a multitude of ships including USS Lake Champlain (CV-39).  Named for Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough's victory at Lake Champlain during the War of 1812, work began on March 15, 1943, at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

  Sliding down the ways on November 2, 1944, Mildred Austin, wife of Vermont Senator Warren Austin, served as sponsor.  Construction rapidly moved forward and Lake Champlain entered commission on June 3, 1945, with Captain Logan C. Ramsey in command. 

USS Lake Champlain (CV-38) - Early Service:

Completing shakedown operations along the East Coast, the carrier was ready for active service shortly after the war ended.  As a result, Lake Champlain's first assignment was to Operation Magic Carpet which saw it steaming across the Atlantic to return American servicemen from Europe.  In November 1945, the carrier set a trans-Atlantic speed record when it sailed from Cape Spartel, Morocco to Hampton Roads in 4 days, 8 hours, 51 minutes while maintaining a speed of 32.048 knots.  This record stood until 1952 when it was broken by the liner SS United States.

  As the US Navy downsized in the years after the war, Lake Champlain was moved into reserve status on February 17, 1947. 

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - Korean War:

With the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950, the carrier was reactivated and moved Newport News Shipbuilding for an SCB-27C modernization.  This saw major modifications to the carrier's island, removal of its twin 5" gun mounts, enhancements to internal and electronic systems, rearrangement of internal spaces, strengthening of the flight deck, as well as the installation of steam catapults.  Leaving the yard in September 1952, Lake Champlain, now designated an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-39), began a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean in November.  Returning the following month, it then departed for Korea on April 26, 1953.  Sailing via the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, it arrived at Yokosuka on June 9.  

Made flagship of Task Force 77, Lake Champlain commenced launching strikes against North Korean and Chinese forces.  In addition, its aircraft escorted US Air Force B-50 Superfortress bombers on raids against the enemy.  Lake Champlain continued to mount attacks and supported ground forces ashore until the signing of the truce on July 27.  Remaining in Korean waters until October, it left when USS (CV-33) arrived to take its place.  Departing, Lake Champlain touched at Singapore, Sri Lanka, Egypt, France, and Portugal on its way back to Mayport, FL.  Arriving home, the carrier began a series of peacetime training operations with NATO forces in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

 

USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) - Atlantic & NASA:          

As tensions in the Middle East spiked in April 1957, Lake Champlain raced to the eastern Mediterranean where it operated off Lebanon until the situation calmed.  Returning to Mayport in July, it was re-classified as an anti-submarine carrier (CVS-39) on August 1.  After briefly training on the East Coast, Lake Champlain departed for a deployment to the Mediterranean.  While there, it provided aid in October following devastating floods in Valencia, Spain.  Continuing to alternate between the East Coast and European waters, Lake Champlain's home port shifted to Quonset Point, RI in September 1958.  The next year saw the carrier move through the Caribbean and conduct a midshipmen training cruise to Nova Scotia. 

In May 1961, Lake Champlain sailed to serve as the primary recovery ship for the first manned spaceflight by an American.  Operating approximately 300 miles east of Cape Canaveral, the carrier's helicopters successfully recovered astronaut Alan Shepard and his Mercury capsule, Freedom 7, on May 5.  Resuming routine training operations during the next year, Lake Champlain then joined in the naval quarantine of Cuba during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  In November, the carrier left the Caribbean and returned to Rhode Island.  Overhauled in 1963, Lake Champlain provided aid to Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Flora in September.  The next year saw the ship continue peacetime duties as well as take part in exercises off Spain.

Though the US Navy desired to have Lake Champlain further modernized in 1966, this request was blocked by Secretary of the Navy Robert McNamara who believed that the anti-submarine carrier concept was ineffective.  In August 1965, the carrier again aided NASA by recovering Gemini 5 which splashed down in the Atlantic.  As Lake Champlain was not to be further modernized, it steamed for Philadelphia a short time later to prepare for deactivation.  Placed in the Reserve Fleet, the carrier was decommissioned on May 2, 1966.  Remaining in reserve, Lake Champlain was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1969 and sold for scrap three years later.

Selected Sources