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Escort aircraft carrier
The first escort carrier was HMS Audacity which was converted from a captured German merchant ship the MV Hannover and commissioned in July 1941. She was followed by Activity, Empire MacAlpine, Empire MacKendrick, Pretoria Castle, etc. Subsequently, Audacity became the model for later U.S. built escort carriers, the first example of which was the USS Long Island (AVG-1).
In US service, they were initially referred to as auxiliary aircraft escort vessels and then auxiliary aircraft carrier before the Navy settled on escort aircraft carrier. They were informally known as Jeep carriers and baby flat tops. Escort carriers were given the US Navy hull classification symbol CVE — this was said by their crews to stand for Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable.
Escort carriers were typically around 500 ft (150 m) long, not much more than half the length of the almost 900 ft (300 m) fleet carriers of the same era, but actually less than one-third of the size: a typical escort carrier displaced about 8,000 tons, as compared to almost 30,000 tons for a full-size fleet carrier. They had a single hydraulic catapult instead of the 2 present on medium and large carriers, but the system of tail hook and arresting cable was the same. The aircraft hangar ran only a third of the way under the flight deck and there was only one aircraft elevator. Procedures for launch and recovery were the same as on the big carriers. The islands of these ships were small and cramped, located well forward of the funnels (unlike on a normal-sized carrier where the funnels were integrated into the island).
The crew size was less than a third of that of a large carrier, but this was still a bigger complement than most naval vessels. It was large enough to justify the existence of facilities such as a permanent canteen or snack bar, called a gedunk bar, in addition to the mess. The bar was open at longer hours than the mess and sold several flavors of ice cream, along with cigarettes and other consumables. There were also several vending machines, which made a "gedunk" sound when operated.
They were developed at the behest of the United Kingdom to operate as part of a North Atlantic convoy escort rather than as part of a naval strike force. Many of the escort carriers produced were assigned to the Royal Navy for the duration of the war under the Lend-lease act. They supplemented and then replaced the converted merchant aircraft carriers which were put into service by the British and Dutch as an emergency measure until the escort carriers became available. They were used by the Royal Navy, to hunt submarines, for the interception of long range enemy aircraft, for patrols and scouting, and to ferry aircraft.
The ships sent to the Royal Navy were slightly modified, partly to suit the traditions of that service. Among other things the ice cream making machines were removed, since they were considered unnecessary luxuries on ships which served grog and other alcoholic beverages. The heavy duty washing machines of the laundry room were also removed since "all a British sailor needs to keep clean is a bucket and a bar of soap" (quoted from Warrilow).
Over 100 escort carriers were launched or converted during the war. Of these, six (HMS Nairana , HMS Campania, HMS Activity , HMS Pretoria Castle , HMS Vindex , and HMS Audacity ) were British conversions of merchant ships, the rest being new construction in the USA.
Following the war, this class of ship was retired, primarily because as the navies were reduced in size it was better to keep the larger and more useful fleet carriers in preference to them.
|Escort carrier||Fleet carrier|
|Length:||150 m||260 m|
|Beam:||20 m||28 m|
|Displacement:||7500 t||25,000 t|
|Aircraft:||30 or fewer||over 80|
|Speed:||19 knots (35 km/h)||33 knots (61 km/h)|
|Crew:||850||3000 and over|
Perhaps the finest moment for the escort carriers was the Battle of Leyte Gulf's Battle off Samar, where three escort carrier groups fended off the battleships of the Japanese Combined Fleet, allowing General Douglas MacArthur's Army to complete the liberation of Leyte. The hero of the battle was Clifton Sprague.
Just about every important class of ship or patrol boat from World War II can be found in a museum or in a port, somewhere in the United States, except for the escort carrier and the light carrier. There are no survivors from either type of ship: all were destroyed during the war or broken up in the decades following it. The last escort carrier, USS Gilbert Islands (CVE-107) was broken up for scrap starting in 1976.
See list of escort aircraft carriers of the United States Navy for a complete list.
- Galuppini, Gino. Le guide des porte-avions. Paris: Fernand Nathan, 1981
- Poolman, Kenneth. Escort carrier 1941-1945: An account of British Escort Carriers in Trade Protection. London: Ian Allan, 1972
- Warrilow, Betty. Nabob, the first Canadian-manned aircraft carrier. Owen Sound, Ont. : Escort Carriers Association, 1989.
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