World War II: USS Ranger (CV-4)

USS Ranger (CV-4) at sea.
USS Ranger (CV-4). Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Commissioned in 1934, USS Ranger (CV-4) was the US Navy's first purpose-built aircraft carrier. Though relatively small, Ranger helped pioneer several design features that were incorporated in the later Yorktown-class carriers. At it was too slow to operate with its larger successors in the Pacific, Ranger saw extensive service in the Atlantic during World War II. This included supporting the Operation Torch landings in North Africa and conducting attacks on German shipping in Norway. Moved into a training role in 1944, Ranger was decommissioned and scrapped after the war.

Design & Development

In the 1920s, the US Navy commenced the construction of its first three aircraft carriers. These efforts, which produced USS Langley (CV-1), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3), all involved the conversion of existing hulls into carriers. As work on these ships progressed, the US Navy began designing its first purpose-built carrier.

These efforts were constrained by the limits imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty which capped both the size of individual ships and the total tonnage. With the completion of Lexington and Saratoga, the US Navy had 69,000 tons remaining which could be assigned to aircraft carriers. As such, the US Navy intended for the new design to displace 13,800 tons per ship so that five carriers could be constructed. Despite these intentions, only one ship of the new class would actually be built. 

Dubbed USS Ranger (CV-4), the new carrier's name hearkened back to the sloop of war commanded by Commodore John Paul Jones during the American Revolution. Laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company on September 26, 1931, the carrier's initial design called for an unobstructed flight deck with no island and six funnels, three to side, that were hinged to fold horizontally during air operations. Aircraft were housed below on a semi-open hangar deck and brought to the flight deck via three elevators. Though smaller than Lexington and Saratoga, Ranger's purpose-built design led to an aircraft capacity that was only marginally less than its predecessors. The carrier's reduced size did present certain challenges as its narrow hull required the use of geared turbines for propulsion. 

Hull of USS Ranger sliding down the ways into the war.
Launch of USS Ranger (CV-4) at Newport News, Virginia, February 25, 1933.  US Naval History and Heritage Command


As work on Ranger progressed, alterations to the design occurred including the addition of an island superstructure on the starboard side of the flight deck. The ship's defensive armament consisted of eight 5-inch guns and forty .50-inch machine guns. Sliding down the ways on February 25, 1933, Ranger was sponsored by First Lady Lou H. Hoover.

Over the next year, work continued and the carrier was completed. Commissioned on June 4, 1934 at the Norfolk Navy Yard with Captain Arthur L. Bristol in command, Ranger commenced shakedown exercises off the Virginia Capes before beginning air operations on June 21. The first landing on the new carrier was conducted by Lieutenant Commander A.C. Davis flying a Vought SBU-1. Further training for Ranger's air group was conducted in August.

USS Ranger (CV-4)


  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company
  • Laid Down: September 26, 1931
  • Launched: February 25, 1933
  • Commissioned: June 4, 1934
  • Fate: Scrapped


  • Displacement: 14,576 tons
  • Length: 730 ft.
  • Beam: 109 ft., 5 in.
  • Draft: 22 ft., 4.875 in.
  • Propulsion: 6 × boilers, 2 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 2 × shafts
  • Speed: 29.3 knots
  • Range: 12,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,461 men


  • 8 × 5 in./25 cal anti-aircraft guns
  • 40 × .50 in. machine guns


  • 76-86 aircraft

Interwar Years

Later in August, Ranger departed on an extended shakedown cruise to South America which included port calls at Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo. Returning to Norfolk, VA, the carrier conducted operations locally before receiving orders for the Pacific in April 1935. Passing through the Panama Canal, Ranger arrived at San Diego, CA on the 15th.

Remaining in the Pacific for the next four years, the carrier took part in fleet maneuvers and war games as far west as Hawaii and as far south as Callao, Peru while also experimenting with cold weather operations off Alaska. In January 1939, Ranger departed California and sailed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to participate in winter fleet maneuvers. With the completion of these exercises, it steamed to Norfolk where it arrived in late April.

Aircraft carrier USS Ranger at sea with empty flight deck.
USS Ranger (CV-4) at sea, 1930s. US Naval History and Heritage Command 

Operating along the East Coast through the summer of 1939, Ranger was assigned to the Neutrality Patrol that fall following the outbreak of World War II in Europe. The initial responsibility of this force was to track warlike operations of combatant forces in the Western Hemisphere. Patrolling between Bermuda and Argentia, Newfoundland, Ranger's seakeeping ability was found lacking as it proved difficult to conduct operations in heavy weather.

This issue had been identified earlier and helped contribute to the design of the later Yorktown-class carriers. Continuing with the Neutrality Patrol through 1940, the carrier's air group was one of the first to receive the new Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter that December. In In late 1941, Ranger was returning to Norfolk from a patrol to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7.

World War II Begins

Departing Norfolk two weeks later, Ranger conducted a patrol of the South Atlantic before entering dry dock in March 1942. Undergoing repairs, the carrier also received the new RCA CXAM-1 radar. Deemed too slow to keep up with newer carriers, such as USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6), in Pacific, Ranger remained in the Atlantic to support operations against Germany. With the completion of repairs, Ranger sailed on April 22 to deliver a force of sixty-eight P-40 Warhawks to Accra, Gold Coast.

Returning to Quonset Point, RI in late May, the carrier conducted a patrol to Argentia before delivering a second cargo of P-40s to Accra in July. Both shipments of P-40s were destined for China where they were to serve with the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers). With the completion of this mission, Ranger operated off Norfolk before joining four new Sangamon-class escort carriers (Sangamon, Suwannee, Chenango, and Santee) at Bermuda.

Single-engine diver bomber about to land on aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
SBD Dauntless dive bomber landing on USS Ranger (CV-4), June 1942. US Naval History and Heritage Command

Operation Torch

Leading this carrier force, Ranger provided air superiority for the Operation Torch landings in Vichy-ruled French Morocco in November 1942. Early on November 8, Ranger began launching aircraft from a position approximately 30 miles northwest of Casablanca. While F4F Wildcats strafed Vichy airfields, SBD Dauntless dive bombers struck at Vichy naval vessels.

In three days of operations, Ranger launched 496 sorties which resulted in the destruction of around 85 enemy aircraft (15 in the air, approx. 70 on the ground), the sinking of the battleship Jean Bart, severe damage to the destroyer leader Albatros, and attacks on the cruiser Primaugut. With the fall of Casablanca to American forces on November 11, the carrier departed for Norfolk the next day. Arriving, Ranger underwent an overhaul from December 16, 1942 to February 7, 1943.

F4F Wildcat fighter taking off from aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
US Navy F4F Wildcats take off from USS Ranger (CV-4) during the invasion of North Africa. US Naval History and Heritage Command

With the Home Fleet

Departing the yard, Ranger carried a load of P-40s to Africa for use by the 58th Fighter Group before spending much of the summer of 1943 conducting pilot training off the New England coast. Crossing the Atlantic in late August, the carrier joined the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. Putting out on October 2 as part of Operation Leader, Ranger and a combined Anglo-American force moved towards Norway with the goal of attacking German shipping around Vestfjorden.

Avoiding detection, Ranger began launching aircraft on October 4. Striking a short time later, the aircraft sank two merchant vessels in Bodo roadstead and damaged several more. Though located by three German aircraft, the carrier's combat air patrol downed two and chased off the third. A second strike succeeded in sinking a freighter and a smaller coastal vessel. Returning to Scapa Flow, Ranger commenced patrols to Iceland with the British Second Battle Squadron. These continued until late November when the carrier detached and sailed for Boston, MA.

Later Career

Too slow to operate with the fast carrier forces in the Pacific, Ranger was designated as a training carrier and ordered to operate out of Quonset Point on January 3, 1944. These duties were interrupted in April when it transported a cargo of P-38 Lightning to Casablanca. While in Morocco, it embarked several damaged aircraft as well as numerous passengers for transport to New York.

Aircraft carrier USS Ranger in camouflage paint at sea.
USS Ranger (CV-4) off Hampton Roads, VA, July 1944. US Naval History and Heritage Command

After arriving in New York, Ranger steamed to Norfolk for an overhaul. Though Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King favored a massive overhaul to bring the carrier on par with its contemporaries, he was discouraged in following through by his staff who pointed out that the project would draw resources away from new construction. As a result, the project was limited to strengthening the flight deck, installation of new catapults, and improving the ship's radar systems.

With the completion of the overhaul, Ranger sailed for San Diego where it embarked Night Fighting Squadron 102 before pressing on to Pearl Harbor. From August to October, it conducted night carrier flight training operations in Hawaiian waters before returning to California to serve as a training carrier. Operating from San Diego, Ranger spent the remainder of the war training naval aviators off the California coast.

With the end of the war in September, it transited the Panama Canal and made stops at New Orleans, LA, Pensacola, FL, and Norfolk before reaching the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on November 19. After a brief overhaul, Ranger resumed operations on the East Coast until being decommissioned on October 18, 1946. The carrier was sold for scrap the following January.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Ranger (CV-4)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). World War II: USS Ranger (CV-4). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Ranger (CV-4)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).