Where were the Pacific Fleet Carriers on December 7, 1941?
USS LANGLEY (CV-1) - off Cavite, Philippines.
USS LEXINGTON (CV-2) - at sea having departed Pearl Harbor on December 5th to ferry Marine Corps aircraft to Midway.
USS SARATOGA (CV-3) - San Diego, California.
USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) - 200 miles south of Oahu enroute to Pearl Harbor after delivering Marine Corps aircraft to Wake Island. Originally, ENTERPRISE had intended to arrive in Pearl on December 6th, but weather delayed her.
Who cares where the carriers were on December 7, 1941?
The Japanese Navy cared. After two strikes on Oahu, and having not located the U.S. carriers, the Japanese withdrew to avoid being ambushed. The Japanese were capable of additional strikes on Pearl Harbor that could have caused severe damage.
The Japanese success was overwhelming, but it was not complete. They failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which by a stroke of luck, had been absent from the harbor. They neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II. American technological skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor (the USS Arizona (BB-39) considered too badly damaged to be salvaged, the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) raised and considered too old to be worth repairing, and the obsolete USS Utah (AG-16) considered not worth the effort). Most importantly, the shock and anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided nation and was translated into a wholehearted commitment to victory in World War II.
Naval Historical Center FAQ - Attack on Pearl Harbor
What happened to the Japanese Fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor?
They escaped for the moment. Every Japanese vessel that participated was destroyed during the war with the exception of the Destroyer USHIO.
Were any U.S. Ships at Pearl Harbor also at the signing of the Surrender in Tokyo Bay?
Yes. The battleship WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48) was sunk, raised, and repaired. She survived the entire war and was in Tokyo Bay to witness the Japanese capitulation.
Naming Naval Vessels
When the Continental Navy was founded in 1775, ship names were selected rather haphazardly. In 1819 Congress passed a law mandating that warships be named as follows:
"those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name." With minor modifications, this law still exists as 10 U.S.C. 7292.
In these days of sail, warships were classed by the numbers of guns carried. Those of 40 or more guns were of the first class. Those of 21 to 39 guns were second class, and those with 20 or fewer guns of the third class. The rule was that capital ships, the most powerful vessels in the fleet, would be named after the States.
As sail was replaced by steam the naming system became:
Battleships - Named after States, with one exception:
the Kearsage. The Kearsage was the Union vessel that defeated the Confederate raider Alabama in the Civil War. The Kearsage was held in such high regard that when she sank in 1894 the Navy obtained permission from Congress to name a new Battleship after her. The USS KEARSAGE (BB-5) was the only battleship not named after a State. The aircraft carrier KEARSAGE (CV-33), the third to bear that name, was launched in 1946 and decommissioned in 1970.
Cruisers - Named after Cities. The exception to this rule were the Battle Cruisers or Large Cruisers of the Alaska Class which were named after territories - Alaska, Guam and Hawaii. This makes some sense. A battle cruiser is somewhere between a battleship and a cruiser in strength. A territory is not a state, but it is more than just a city.
Destroyers - Named after famous naval leaders and heroes.
Submarines - Named after "fish and denizens of the deep."
Minesweepers - Named after birds (Turkey, Tern) or attributes (Adept, Agile, Bold).
This neat little system broke down with Aircraft Carriers.
Aircraft Carrier Names
Long before the Second World War, many were arguing aircraft carriers had replaced battleships as the new capital ship. These prophets were proved correct - during the war battleships primarily did shore bombardment and served as escorts for the carriers. The aircraft carrier was the main weapon used against the enemy fleet. In theory, State names should have been used for aircraft carriers since they had become the modern capitol ship.
The first aircraft carrier, the LANGLEY (CV-1), was named after an aviation pioneer.
The next two carriers, the LEXINGTON (CV-2) and the SARATOGA (CV-3), were built on unfinished battlecruiser hulls and kept the names selected for the cruisers. The carrier LEXINGTON was the fourth vessel to bear that name, and the SARATOGA the fifth. Note that these names fit the rule used for cruisers since Lexington and Saratoga are cities. However, I suspect they were primarily selected for their significance as Revolutionary War battles, and to carry forward two famous vessel names.
The fourth carrier, RANGER (CV-4), was the first designed and built from the keel up as a carrier and not converted from another type of hull or vessel. This was the sixth RANGER in the U.S. Navy, and carries forward this famous ship name.
The aircraft carriers of the Yorktown class continued and perhaps combined the trend that appears to be evolving in naming carriers. The YORKTOWN (CV-5) was named after a famous battle, and was the third vessel of that name in the U.S. fleet. The ENTERPRISE (CV-6) and HORNET (CV-8) are named after famous naval vessels from the Revolution, and were both the seventh vessels to bear their names.
The WASP (CV-7) was the eighth Navy ship to bear that name, the first being a famous a Revolutionary war vessel.
It appears the Navy tradition as of 1941 was to name carriers after American battles and famous Naval vessels.
The aircraft carriers in existence on December 7, 1941, were the LANGLEY, LEXINGTON, SARATOGA, RANGER, YORKTOWN, ENTERPRISE, HORNET and the WASP. Half were in the Pacific and half in the Atlantic.
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