Someone asked me recently why so many prewar and WWII photos of Omaha class light cruisers don't show their floatplanes in place. While his perception may be correct, still there are plenty of photos of this class as a whole displaying their pair of scouting aircraft. Please correct my impression if wrong, but beginning in the mid-1920s, these former scout cruisers were equipped with a pair each of five progressively more modern floatplane types, the last of which took me by surprise:
Vought OU (mid to late 1920s)
Vought O2U Corsair (late 1920s to early mid-1930s)
Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 (early mid- to late mid-1930s, depending on the ship)
Curtiss SOC Seagull (mid-1930s to late 1942)
Vought OS2U Kingfisher (late 1942 to war's end OR whenever float planes were removed from this class of CLs)
One caveat before we continue: some of the photos from the interwar period identifying the biplanes aboard these ships as Vought O2Us may be incorrect. They may be instead Berliner-Joyce OJ-2s. Either the photos or mine eyes just aren't sharp enough for me to say one way or the other. And replacements, to be sure, took place on a ship by ship basis, with appreciable overlap during this time span. Any additional help on this progression will be appreciated.
A very good place to start is Larry Neilson's "USS Marblehead
: Escape from the Jaws of Death".
This site devoted to CL 12, has with one or two exceptions good textual information, decent photos, and helpful linkers. One error is the incorrect--and inexplicable--description of the original
Omaha class having only ten 6-inch/53cal guns instead of the actual twelve such guns. Eventually all ten Omaha class light cruisers would lose the pair of lower casemated 6-inch guns aft, half of the ships before the war, and the other half during. These casemates were mounted low on prominent, projecting sponsons, making them adversely subject to green seas. Thus after such modification, these cruisers did mount ten 6-inch guns (Detroit
, CL 8, lost another pair near war's end). And I would add another essential book to the bibliography: John P. Bracken's From the Bridge of the Marblehead
, today difficult to find.
The Neilson site has four photographs displaying the various floatplanes on Marblehead
. The top one (1944) and the ninth one down (1943) show Vought OS2U Kingfishers. The fifth one down, an earlier photo, but in this instance embellished with artwork to show her battle damage, reveals a Curtiss SOC Seagull on the starboard side, its wings folded back. The tenth photo down, likely taken in the early or mid-1930s but used in a wartime recruiting poster, shows either a Vought O2U Corsair or Berliner-Joyce OJ-2.
Now for the other cruisers, using photos accessed from linkers in the Neilson site. First of all, the location of the floatplanes aboard ship: they were aft, between stack No. 4 and the mainmast. Here are a couple of photos (NH 97971 and 19-N-40594) of Omaha
(CL 4) readily showing the location of the floatplane catapults without their planes.
A photo (NH 97979) of Milwaukee
(CL 5) shows--I THINK--a pair of Berliner-Joyce OJ-2s, so its estimated date of the early 1930s is likely wrong, and should be at least early mid-1930s.
A photo (NH 100515) in the late 1920s shows an O2U-1 Corsair being hoisted aboard Cincinnati
Three photos of this cruiser in March 1944 (19-N-62458, 19-N-62459, 19-N-64188) reveal a pair of OS2U Kingfishers.
A pair of OS2U Kingfishers are also shown aboard Raleigh
(CL 7) in May 1944 (19-N-66399)
The month previous, the port side of Detroit
(CL 8) displays a Kingfisher (19-N-63759).
(CL 9) catapults a Vought O2U Corsair in a late 1920s photo (NH 100457).
A decade later, she has a pair of SOC Seagulls (80-G-1023013).
And well before war's end the SOCs had been replaced by a pair of OS2Us (note how they're tucked into the ship on their inwardly turned catapults)(NH 50203).
A nice color photo (C-627) of Concord
(CL 10) off Balboa, CZ, in early January 1943, already shows Kingfishers aboard.
(CL 11) entering Pearl Harbor in 1939 displays SOCs (NH 82489), but four years later, she has OS2Us (19-N-44436).
In October 1942, Marblehead
(CL 12), the damage she had sustained earlier that year as a unit of the Asiatic Fleet now repaired, prepares to catapult a Kingfisher (19-N-34910, 19-N-34914).
She still has her OS2Us a year and a half later (NH 98035)
IF the date estimated is correct, Memphis
(CL 13) still has her Vought OU aircraft aboard in late 1929 (NH 46209).
But they have been replaced by a pair of Vought O2U Corsairs as of May 1933 (80-G-455864).
Which may have been still there a year later, or have been replaced by a brace of Berliner-Joyce OJ-2s (NH 640).
By early 1942, these have in turn been replaced by Curtiss SOCs, one of which is shown being recovered and then hoisted back onto its catapult (80-G-21927, 80-G-21925)
Admittedly, this essay has been rather light on photos of Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 floatplanes, but such aircraft assigned to Concord
, including a couple of whoops! incidents, may be seen at:
I'm going to end in a question. Given that at first glance the Curtiss SOC would appear to be the perfect scouting/spotting aircraft for the Omaha class light cruisers, which with their slender beam might have found floatplanes with folding wings a more comfortable match, why were the SOCs replaced so early and preferentially by Vought OS2Us, whose wings could not
be folded back? It wasn't that the SOC was overly heavy for the derrick attached to the base of the mainmast, because the OS2U was heavier yet.
A poignant reminder is to be had with this photo from USS Philadelphia
(CL 41), which as late as August 1944 clearly has her SOC Seagulls still aboard, long after the much older Omaha class units received their OS2U Kingfishers. Note that in the middle distance, Omaha
(CL 4) does not have floatplanes on board, either because they were previously removed or because they're presently absent on a mission (80-G-256278).