Independence class

Design History
The Independence class light carriers was converted from Cleveland class light cruiser hulls, on an initiative originating with President Roosevelt. Realizing that the fleet needed carriers, and expecting completion of the first Essex class vessel no earlier than March 1944, Roosevelt in August 1941 proposed to convert cruiser hulls under construction into carriers. However, the peacetime construction standards did not let that proposal seem useful. Only with the attack on Pearl Harbor were such considerations thrown overboard.

Until then, Preliminary Design as the first agency to deal with new designs drew upon its design studies for small carriers, conducted during the 1930s, especially those related to the so-called flight deck cruiser. Alas, those conversions would have created a carrier far more elaborate than anything the President had envisaged, and in fact, would have ruined to idea of a quickly-produced flattop. Even more critical than that, the difficulties of a conversion, which would have to install aviation facilities on what was a very narrow hull, were considered so severe that the constructors handed the President a blunt “No, Sir” on October 13th, 1941.

A week later, the President rolled out the idea again, again being told that the idea was impossible because it would not save time; unless, BuShips reported, one would not attempt to do the best possible, but simply get something done to have a carrier in service. If the conversion were less ambitious, it might be performed more speedily.

As soon as there was the added impetus of the Pacific War, progress was remarkably swift. On January 3rd, 1942, BuShips began with the conversion planning. The cruiser hull’s main deck would become the carriers strength deck, with a hangar and flight deck structure superimposed upon it. Requirements necessitated, quite against the desires of the designers, the use of an island, which was CVE sized, to house minor control and navigation functions, and especially, allow surmounting radar. On the starboard side of the flight deck, four simple smoke exhausts were paired, with a small radar mast between the second and third funnel. It became home to the SK search sets, the island carrying at first a back-up SC-2, and later a height-finding SP. Two catapults (one in Independence, later refitted) would provide aircraft launching ease.

Indepence from starboard, 1944, showing stack supports.Since the added topweight could not be absorbed by the cruiser hull as was, a large blister was installed. Above the hull, between the two elevators, was the small hangar deck. In front of it, the CIC and radar plot were located, abaft, torpedo storage was provided. The original cruiser magazines were used for bomb and rocket storage.

Armament gave some cause for debate, but was quickly settled, for little option was available, at two 5” L/38, one on the bow and one astern, plus sixteen 40mm and sixteen 20mm guns. Armor was slight and torpedo defenses nonexistant.

The first order was placed on January 10th, 1942, for the conversion of the light cruiser Amsterdam. Since the usefulness of the new type seemed a given, four more cruisers already under construction were ordered converted, and later, four hulls not yet laid down redesignated carriers. Much of the design work was performed in cooperation with the building yards, and the first unit, Independence, commissioned on January 14th, 1943. All ships save San Jacinto were delivered in 1943.

Modification History
Only the Independence completed with the 5” gun mounts, the other ships receiving quadruple 40mm in the same position even before completion. Independence received these guns in a refit.

Nine Independence class carriers saw service during the war, all being used in the Fast Carrier Force. Their availability in the 1943 operations proved a considerable addition to the striking power of the fleet, and although the smaller flattops did not operate as well as the larger ships, the additional air groups they provided were valuable enough.

Independence class ships served through the Gilbert-Marshall, Marianas, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. For the most part, they played the role of small attack carriers, but by the time of Leyte, Independence had taken the role of a night carrier, providing radar-equipped fighters to the Fast Carrier Force.

It soon became evident that the small carrier could not adequately provide that service; night landings aboard the ship were extremely hazardous, and by March 1945, she had relinquished her role.

At Leyte Gulf, the only loss occured of a carrier of this class, when Princeton became a victim of her lack of protection against bombs, and of her above-water torpedo storage. A single bomb penetrated the flight deck aft and demolished the hangar and fully loaded planes there. Despite a valiant effort, a few hours later, a massive eruption thoroughly wrecked the carrier and the cruiser Birmingham alongside. Princeton was abandoned.

The service of the ships was otherwise unremarkable, if that term can be applied to a career full of operations. Independence was destroyed in the Bikini atom bomb tests in 1946. Cabot and Bataan were refitted for ASW postwar, the former being loaned to Spain; Langley and Belleau Wood served the French Navy as Lafayette and Bois Belleau respectively, and Monterey became a training carrier at Pensacola. San Jacinto and Cowpens were retained in reserve. All ships except Cabot were scrapped in due course; Cabot is awaiting disposal.

Ships in class:
CVL-22 Independence
CVL-23 Princeton
CVL-24 Belleau Wood
CVL-25 Cowpens
CVL-26 Monterey
CVL-27 Langley
CVL-28 Cabot
CVL-29 Bataan
CVL-30 San Jacinto

Standard: 11,495 tons
Full: 14,751 tons
Length: 189,64m / 622ft 6in
Beam: 33.74m / 109ft 2in
Draft (Full Load): 7,38m / 24ft 2 3/4"
Height: ???? / ????
Crew (Officers/Men): 140/1321
Endurance: 12,500nm at 15kn
Speed: 31.5 knots
Belt: 5 - 3 1/4in / 127mm - 80mm (in CVL-24 - 30 only)
Deck: 2" STS / 57mm STS
Barbettes: No barbette armor
Conning Tower: No conning tower armor
Armament and Equipment
(As designed):
Main: 2 x 127mm L/38 in single mounts, one on the bow, one on the stern
Secondary: None
AA: 16 x 40mm L/70 in twins, 16 x 20mm L/70 in single mounts
Aviation: 27 Aircraft

(Monterey, January 1945):
Main: None
AA: 26 x 40mm L/70, 8 x 20mm L/70 in single mounts
VF-29: 25 x F6F-5 Hellcat fighters
VT-29: 9 x TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers