World War II: USS Saratoga (CV-3)

USS Saratoga (CV-3)
USS Saratoga (CV-3), late 1930s.

US Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Saratoga (CV-3) was an American aircraft carrier that saw extensive service during World War II (1939-1945). Originally conceived as a battlecruiser, Saratoga was selected for conversion to an aircraft carrier following the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty. Entering service in 1927, it was the US Navy's first large carrier. With the beginning of World War II, Saratoga took part in many of the campaigns in the Pacific and sustained major damage on several occasions. With the end of the conflict, it was selected for disposal and was sunk during the Operation Crossroads atomic testing at Bikini Atoll.


Originally conceived as part of a large building program in 1916, USS Saratoga was intended to be a Lexington-class battlecruiser mounting eight 16" guns and sixteen 6" guns. Authorized along with the South Dakota-class battleships as part of the Naval Act of 1916, the US Navy called for the six ships of the Lexington-class to be capable of 33.25 knots, a speed which had previously only been attainable by destroyers and other smaller craft.

With the American entry into World War I in April 1917, construction of the new battlecruisers was repeatedly postponed as shipyards were called upon to produce destroyers and submarine chasers to combat the German U-boat threat and escort convoys. During this time, the final design of the Lexington-class continued to evolve and engineers worked to design a power plant capable of achieving the desired speed.  


With the end of the war and a final design approved, construction moved forward on the new battlecruisers. Work on Saratoga commenced on September 25, 1920 when the new ship was laid down at New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, NJ. The ship's name derived from the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolution which played a key role in securing the alliance with France. Construction was halted in early 1922 following the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty which limited naval armaments.

Though the ship could not be completed as a battlecruiser, the treaty did allow for two capital ships, then under construction, to be converted into aircraft carriers. As a result, the US Navy elected to complete Saratoga and USS Lexington (CV-2) in this fashion. Work on Saratoga soon resumed and the hull was launched on April 7, 1925 with Olive D. Wilbur, wife of Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur, serving as sponsor.

Hull of aircraft carrier USS Saratoga after launching, port side view.
USS Saratoga (CV-3) shortly after its lauch in 1925. US Naval History and Heritage Command


As converted battlecruisers, the two ships possessed superior anti-torpedo protection than future purpose-built carriers, but were slower and had narrower flight decks. Capable of carrying over ninety aircraft, they also possessed eight 8" guns mounted in four twin turrets for anti-ship defense. This was the largest size gun permitted by the treaty. The flight deck featured two hydraulically powered elevators as well as a 155' F Mk II catapult. Intended for launching seaplanes, the catapult was seldom used during active operations.

Re-designated CV-3, Saratoga was commissioned on November 16, 1927, with Captain Harry E. Yarnell in command, and became the US Navy's second carrier after USS Langley (CV-1). Its sister, Lexington, joined the fleet a month later. Departing Philadelphia on January 8, 1928, future admiral Marc Mitscher landed the first aircraft on board three days later.

USS Saratoga (CV-3)


  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, NJ
  • Laid Down: September 25, 1920
  • Launched: April 7, 1925
  • Commissioned: November 16, 1927
  • Fate: Sunk as part of Operation Crossroads, July 25, 1946


  • Displacement: 38,746 tons
  • Length: 880 ft.
  • Beam: 106 ft.
  • Draft: 24 ft., 3
  • Propulsion: 16 × boilers, geared turbines and electric drive, 4 × screws
  • Speed: 34.99 knots
  • Range: 10,000 nautical miles at 10 knots
  • Complement: 2,122 men

Armament (as built)

  • 4 × twin 8-in. guns, 12 × single 5-in. guns

Aircraft (as built)

  • 91 aircraft

Interwar Years

Ordered to the Pacific, Saratoga transported of force of Marines to Nicaragua before transiting the Panama Canal and arriving at San Pedro, CA on February 21. For the remainder of the year, the carrier remained in the area testing systems and machinery. In January 1929, Saratoga took part in Fleet Problem IX during which it mounted a simulated attack on the Panama Canal.

Starboard side view of aircraft carrier USS Saratoga.
USS Saratoga (CV-3) underway in January 1928. US Naval History and Heritage Command

Largely serving in the Pacific, Saratoga spent much of the 1930s taking part in exercises and developing strategies and tactics for naval aviation. These saw Saratoga and Lexington repeatedly show the increasing importance of aviation in naval warfare. One exercise in 1938 saw the carrier's air group mount a successful attack on Pearl Harbor from the north. The Japanese would use a similar approach during their attack on the base three years later at the start of World War II.

World War II Begins

Entering Bremerton Navy Yard on October 14, 1940, Saratoga had its anti-aircraft defenses enhanced as well as received the new RCA CXAM-1 radar. Returning to San Diego from a brief refit when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the carrier was ordered to carry US Marine Corps fighters to Wake Island. With the Battle of Wake Island raging, Saratoga arrived at Pearl Harbor on December 15, but was unable to reach Wake Island before the garrison was overrun.

Returning to Hawaii, it remained in the area until being hit by a torpedo fired by I-6 on January 11, 1942. Sustaining boiler damage, Saratoga returned to Pearl Harbor where temporary repairs were made and its 8" guns removed. Leaving Hawaii, Saratoga sailed for Bremerton where further repairs took place and modern batteries of 5" anti-aircraft guns installed.

Emerging from the yard on May 22, Saratoga steamed south to San Diego to begin training its air group. Shortly after arriving, it was ordered to Pearl Harbor to take part in the Battle of Midway. Unable to sail until June 1, it did not arrive in the battle area until June 9. Once there, it embarked Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, whose flagship, USS Yorktown (CV-5) had been lost in the fighting. After briefly operating with USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) the carrier returned to Hawaii and began ferrying aircraft to the garrison on Midway.

On July 7, Saratoga received orders to move to the Southwest Pacific to aid in Allied operations in the Solomon Islands. Arriving late in the month, it began conducting airs strikes in preparation for the invasion of Guadalcanal. On August 7, Saratoga's aircraft provided air cover as the 1st Marine Division opened the Battle of Guadalcanal.

In the Solomons

Though the campaign had just begun, Saratoga and the other carriers were withdrawn on August 8 to refuel and replenish aircraft losses. On August 24, Saratoga and Enterprise returned to the fray and engaged the Japanese at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. In the fighting, Allied aircraft sank the light carrier Ryujo and damaged the seaplane tender Chitose, while Enterprise was hit by three bombs. Protected by cloud cover, Saratoga escaped the battle unscathed.

This luck did not hold and a week after the battle the carrier was struck by a torpedo fired by I-26 which caused a variety of electrical issues. After making temporary repairs at Tonga, Saratoga sailed to Pearl Harbor to be dry docked. It did not return to the Southwest Pacific until arriving at Nouméa in early December. Through 1943, Saratoga operated around the Solomons supporting Allied operations against Bougainville and Buka. During this time, it operated for periods with HMS Victorious and the light carrier USS Princeton (CVL-23). On November 5, Saratoga's aircraft conducted strikes against the Japanese base at Rabaul, New Britain.

Inflicting heavy damage, they returned six days later to attack again. Sailing with Princeton, Saratoga took part in the Gilbert Islands offensive in November. Striking Nauru, they escorted troop ships to Tarawa and provided air cover over the island. In need of an overhaul, Saratoga was withdrawn on November 30 and directed to proceed to San Francisco. Arriving in early December, the carrier spent a month in the yard which saw additional anti-aircraft guns added.

To the Indian Ocean

Arriving at Pearl Harbor on January 7, 1944, Saratoga joined with Princeton and USS Langley (CVL-27) for attacks in the Marshall Islands. After attacking Wotje and Taroa at the end of the month, the carriers began raids against Eniwetok in February. Remaining in the area, they supported the Marines during the Battle of Eniwetok later the month.

On March 4, Saratoga departed the Pacific with orders to join the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. Sailing around Australia, the carrier reached Ceylon on March 31. Joining with the carrier HMS Illustrious and four battleships, Saratoga took part in successful raids against Sebang and Surabaya in April and May. Ordered back to Bremerton for an overhaul, Saratoga entered port on June 10.

Aerial view of aircraft carrier USS Saratoga with camouflage paint.
USS Saratoga (CV-3) in Puget Sound after a refit, September 1944. US Naval History and Heritage Command

With work complete, Saratoga returned to Pearl Harbor in September and began operations with USS Ranger (CV-4) to train night fighting squadrons for the US Navy. The carrier remained in the area conducting training exercises until January 1945 when it was ordered to join USS Enterprise in support of the invasion of Iwo Jima. After training exercises in the Marianas, the two carriers joined in mounting diversionary attacks against the Japanese home islands.

Refueling on February 18, Saratoga was detached with three destroyers the next day and directed to launch night patrols over Iwo Jima and nuisance attacks against Chi-chi Jima. Around 5:00 PM on February 21, a Japanese air attack struck the carrier. Hit by six bombs, Saratoga's forward flight deck was badly damaged. By 8:15 PM the fires were under control and the carrier was sent to Bremerton for repairs.

Final Missions

These took until May 22 to complete and it was not until June that Saratoga arrived at Pearl Harbor to commence training its air group. It remained in Hawaiian waters until the war's end in September. One of only three prewar carriers (along with Enterprise and Ranger) to survive the conflict, Saratoga was ordered to take part in Operation Magic Carpet. This saw the carrier carry 29,204 American serviceman home from the Pacific. Already obsolete due to the arrival of numerous Essex-class carriers during the war, Saratoga was deemed surplus to requirements after the peace.

As a result, Saratoga was assigned to Operation Crossroads in 1946. This operation called for the testing of atomic bombs at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On July 1, the carrier survived Test Able which saw a bomb air burst over the assembled ships. Having sustained only minor damage, the carrier was sunk following the underwater detonation of Test Baker on July 25. In recent years, the wreck of Saratoga has become a popular scuba diving destination.


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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Saratoga (CV-3)." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War II: USS Saratoga (CV-3). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Saratoga (CV-3)." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).