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More cruisers, more floatplanes, more photos: Part I

February 28 2012 at 2:22 AM
Nelson Lawry  (no login)


Response to Floatplanes on board Omaha class light cruisers: a photo essay

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the use of floatplanes on cruisers, and how they coped. The use of scout floatplanes markedly diminished upon the perfection of long-range search radar, although they continued to be useful means for gunfire spotting--i.e., island bombardment--and in the rescue of Allied airmen. Until the significant advance in radar technology, however, such floatplanes were used for reconnaissance, supplementing the larger flying boats with substantially longer range. The downside, as always, was the presence aboard of high octane avgas, which doomed more than one treaty tinclad, whose aircraft were stowed and fuel was stored amidships.

To address this problem against the backdrop of American cruiser evolution, I'll provide a little information on the matter from two warship modeling sites. [I'm not a modeler, but admire the skills they bring to their avocation, and the care exercised to get things right is its own pursuit of the truth.]

First a review by Steve Backer on the model of USS Huntington (CL 107), a Fargo class light cruiser beginning construction during the war, but becoming operational postwar.

http://www.steelnavy.com/NikoHuntington.htm

"All of the cruisers with which the US Navy fought World War Two were pre-war designs. If you look at the various classes, they can be divided between two generations. The first generation ships were composed exclusively of heavy cruisers, starting with the Pensacola class and ending with the New Orleans class. Although the classes did vary significantly in appearance, armor plans, and other arrangements, all of the first generation cruisers were characterized by a large aircraft hangar in the amidships superstructure and a tapered stern. The second generation of pre-war designs were characterized by a squared stern and a hangar inside the hull at the stern. The Brooklyn, Wichita, Cleveland, and Baltimore classes were all pre-war designs. Only the Atlanta class falls outside of these design characteristics." [And little surprise, because the Atlantas were antiaircraft light cruisers, sometimes designated as CLAA, and with a length overall of 541 feet--compared with the Clevelands, the two St. Louis class, nearly all of the Brooklyns, and Wichita (CA 45) at 608 feet overall--they did not carry floatplanes.]

Next, "Baltimore Class Heavy Cruiser", from Tom's Model Works

http://www.steelnavy.com/Toms700BaltimorePE.htm

"With the construction of the USS Wichita the USN had maximized the fighting value of the 10,000-ton standard Treaty Cruiser. All heavy cruisers built by the USN had to displace no more than 10,000-tons standard to be in compliance with the Washington Treaty of 1922 and London Treaty of 1930. All of the American heavy cruisers built under the provisions of the two treaties, except Wichita, suffered one serious design defect, placement of catapults amidships. Time after time the placement of the catapults, aircraft, and hangars amidships were contributing factors in the loss or serious damage to in action for the USN Treaty Cruisers. The aircraft and their fuel were easily ignited by shell or torpedo strikes, creating an inferno amidships. The Brooklyn class light cruiser developed the remedy to this threat by placing the catapult and aircraft hangar aft. Although this posed its own risks, this was a far better placement than having the fire hazard amidships. Since the Wichita hull was based on the Brooklyn hull, her aircraft were aft as well."

To keep the preceding class distinctions clear, the Brooklyn, St. Louis, and Cleveland classes were light cruisers--fifteen, fifteen, and twelve 6-inch guns, respectively--while the single-ship Wichita class and the 14-ship Baltimore class were heavy cruisers, all with nine 8-inch guns.

I have been concerned with two overlapping issues: (i) Did the USN preferentially assign the folding-wing Curtiss SOC Seagull to those modern cruisers with squared sterns--although the sailors aboard such vessels had an even saltier term for these hindquarters, the correct nautical description is a "wide transom"--concomitantly shifting the only other useful floatplane available, the Vought OS2U Kingfisher, to cruisers lacking this feature? It should be added that the SOC was available in finite numbers, which of course normal wastage reduced even further (e.g., between them in the early weeks of the war, Houston {CA 30} and Pensacola {CA 24} suffered the loss of four, and Houston's one surviving SOC, flown to Broome by Lieut. Jack Lamade, remained in Australia as a utility aircraft; a few others never made it out of the Philippines). (ii) What practices and compromises were put into place to permit floatplane operations on the Omaha class light cruisers, with their decidedly confined area between the fourth funnel and the mainmast?

I'm nowhere near the National Archives, so I'm not able to discover the truth at the level of stated policy. Once again I'll attempt to ferret out partial truths about such practices using available photographs. The convenient thing about the photos available is that some of them provide answers to both questions at the same time. So, as the reader looks at each of these photos, for starters, he should at all times be cognizant of aircraft type as much as possible and the position of the plane on the catapult.

First, two photos that will couple the folding-wing design of the Curtiss SOC Seagull with the wide transom, or square stern, aspect of the many cruisers that owed their design to Brooklyn and her sisters. That wide transom was all about the aircraft hangar, now displaced aft from its far more vulnerable and dangerous location midships, where volatile and explosive aviation gasoline and incoming enemy ordnance could combine to do their lethal worst.

This aspect is exemplified in an image (NH 81262) of Brooklyn (CL 40) herself in 1939, showing the broad transom she and her many sisters, half-sisters, and cousins are famous for. Note the single aircraft crane aft of, but otherwise between the two catapults. Just forward of the crane, straddled by the catapults, lay the large hatch into the aircraft hangar below.

[linked image]


Coupled with the hangar space aboard American cruisers was the nature of the Curtiss SOC Seagull. Here is a shot (19-N-30725) of four of them stowed on both aircraft catapults, out of the way, each with its outboard wing pair folded back, while Quincy (CA 39) was in the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn. [The superimposed character within the white circle marks the location of the 5-inch/25 drill gun.]

[linked image]


Floatplanes whose wings could not be so folded either could not be accomodated at all in the shipboard hangar, or fewer of them could be, thus requiring some to be stowed on exposed spaces when the weather turned sour.

In attempting to ascertain what floatplanes were carried by the various classes of cruisers during the war, one will find that although the answer is by no means straightforward, a pattern of sorts does emerge.

A. The Brooklyn Class Light Cruisers

Most of this class, as expected, were equipped with SOC floatplanes during most of the war, almost certainly to take best advantage of the hangar space. For example, Philadelphia (CL 41) was equipped with such aircraft in 1939 (NH 81196) and late 1942 (80-G-470060). And as seen as the last image in my first essay, they were still aboard during the invasion of southern France in August 1944 (80-G-256278).

[linked image]

[linked image]

[linked image]


Her sister Savannah (CL 42) displayed SOCs in early 1943 (NH 97958) and after repair and modernization in early September 1944 (NH 97955).

[linked image]

[linked image]


Honolulu (CL 48), after being torpedoed at the battle of Kolombangara in mid-July 1943, a month later showed off both a stubby replacement bow and an SOC floatplane (80-G-259466).

[linked image]


Sister Nashville (CL 43), however, had a pair of Vought OS2U Kingfishers in October 1944 (80-G-374940)

[linked image]


B. The Wichita Class Heavy Cruiser

In the midst of the Brooklyns came the one-of-a-kind heavy cruiser Wichita (CA 45), built on a nearly identical 608-foot overall hull with the same broad transom. This ship was equipped with SOC Seagulls in both the Atlantic in April 1942 (80-G-21010) and the Pacific in May 1944 (NH 90428).

[linked image]

[linked image]


C. The St. Louis Class Light Cruisers

Thereafter arrived this two-ship class of light cruisers, continuing much the same length and design as the Brooklyn class. Here is Helena (CL 50) with a brace of SOC Seagulls in 1943 (NH 95814).

[linked image]


D. The Cleveland Class Light Cruisers

Many ships of this class were built, to the same length and similar transom design as their predecessors. In late 1942, Cleveland (CL 55) carried a pair of Curtiss SO3C Seamews (pejoratively nicknamed "Seacows") (NH 55173), but in March 1944, in line with the policy to remove the failed aircraft from first line service and replace it with its reliable predecessor, she had at least one SOC Seagull on board (and note the large hatch between the catapults over the aircraft hangar) (NH 98058).

[linked image]

[linked image]


Sister Montpelier (CL 57) may have gotten Seagull floatplanes from the start, as such were evident at Efate in April 1943, with one on the water (80-G-384393), and at Saipan 14 months later (NH 98085).

[linked image]

[linked image]


On the other hand, the higher hull numbers of this class displayed OS2U Kingfishers not long into their service, e.g., Mobile (CL 63) in October 1943 (NH 98166), and the new Vincennes (CL 64) early in the following year (NH 48473). Back home in California by August 1945, the latter ship carried a pair of the new Curtiss SC-1 Seahawks (NH 98189).

[linked image]

[linked image]

[linked image]


E. The Baltimore Class Heavy Cruisers

There exists no photographic evidence I can find in this exploratory effort that the modern heavy cruisers of this class, which at last strayed from the Brooklyn class light cruisers in having a length overall of 673+ feet--but did not stray from that wide transom--were ever equipped with SOCs, as were so many of their lighter cousins. Along with the Clevelands, however, they did carry SO3C Seamews during 1943.

Baltimore (CA 68) displayed OS2Us at Mare Island in October 1944. Note that each floatplane had its own crane (NH 91462, NH 91464). These dual cranes interfered with the field of fire of the AA guns positioned between them (NH 91457). With newer construction, the design reverted to a single aircraft crane, with the AA gun tubs outboard of it.

[linked image]

[linked image]

[linked image]


Boston (CA 69) was carrying Curtiss SO3C Seamews in October 1943, but likely briefly (NH 92449), as she had a standard Vought OS2U Kingfisher six months later (80-G-283564).

[linked image]

[linked image]


Finally, here is USS Canberra (CA 70) with a brace of float monoplanes in October 1944 (80-G-284472). Although officially the SO3Cs should have been long gone by then, the nose looks like a Seamew, while the tail looks like a Kingfisher. I'm just not sure. Anyone?

[linked image]


I conclude there exists preliminary evidence that within the constraints of the diminishing availability in the number of SOCs as new cruiser construction progressed and as a function of cruiser type, there was an effort to apportion floatplanes in a manner best suited to their stowage aboard ship. Part II in this essay will explore floatplane type and spotting aboard in the older treaty heavy cruisers, and will return to the question of OS2U stowage and launching on the Omaha class light cruisers.

Nelson


    
This message has been edited by Visje1981 on Feb 28, 2012 5:41 PM


 
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