NB: The node Starship Enterprise covers fictional Star Trek vessels, while Ophie's writeup briefly describes all the U.S. Navy ships named Enterprise, and gives details about the eighth Enterprise, CV-65, a nuclear aircraft carrier launched in 1960. The following writeup is about the seventh Enterprise, which was the U.S. Navy's sixth aircraft carrier, launched in 1936.

“The Big E": the most decorated ship of World War II

On December 7, 1941, patrols from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) encountered squadrons of Japanese planes involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. From then until May 14, 1945, when a kamikaze hit destroyed her forward elevator, “the Big E” was involved in nearly every major carrier battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The Enterprise earned twenty (20) battle stars, more than any other ship.

Under American carrier doctrine, aircraft constituted the fleet's shield and sword: guns and armor were sacrificed to maximize space for aircraft and aviation fuel. The Yorktown class, which included “the Big E”, reflected this doctrine. With the addition of better torpedo armor and more anti-aircraft guns, this design proved sound in battle throughout the course of World War II.

With a displacement of 19,800 tons, the pre-WII designed Enterprise was smaller and faster than a battleship of the period, such as USS North Carolina (BB-55) (35,000 tons) the battleship which frequently guarded Enterprise in the Pacific. The Essex class of aircraft carriers were about the size of North Carolina, but they were guarded by gargantuan Iowa class battleships (45,000 tons). Of course, all of these WWII-era steamships would be dwarfed by Enterprise’s nuclear-powered 1960 namesake, CVN-65, with a displacement of 85,600 tons.

Enterprise escorted USS Hornet (CV-8) on Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, and thus missed the Battle of Coral Sea, May 7-8, 1942, in which USS Lexington was sunk and USS Yorktown (CV-5) was damaged. However, Enterprise and Hornet managed to get close enough to be sited by Japanese scouts, giving the Japanese command the impression that all of the United States’ carriers were in the South Pacific.

Since the Japanese believed they had sunk Yorktown, they assumed that their invasion of Midway Island would be opposed by one carrier or no carriers at all. In fact, Yorktown was hastily patched up and participated with Enterprise and Hornet in the greatest carrier clash in history: the Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942). Aircraft from the Enterprise destroyed three Japanese fleet carriers on a single day (June 4), a performance unmatched by any other ship in the war.

In August, Enterprise was moved from defense of Hawaii to the support of the invasion of the Solomon Islands. Following Marine landings on August 7 and 8, 1942, the two navies were locked in a standoff. Land-based aircraft from the island of Rabaul made it impossible for the U.S. Navy to patrol waters north of Guadalcanal, but Enterprise , Saratoga and Wasp ruled the ocean to the southeast. On August 24, 1942, when the Wasp was away refueling, the Japanese attacked with the light carrier Ryujo and fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Japanese lost Ryujo, and Enterprise was severely damaged. However, the Americans had lost only 30 planes and aircrew, compared to over 70 experienced aircrews lost by the Japanese, never to be replaced.

By October, Enterprise was back in the Solomons, just in time for the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, October 26, 1942. Wasp and Saratoga had taken torpedo hits in the summer, leaving only two American aircraft carriers in theater. Enterprise and Hornet faced off against Shokaku , Zuikaku, Zuiho and Junyo. The American carriers were both severely damaged, and Hornet had to be scuttled. Two Japanese carriers were damaged, but more significantly, the cumulative effect of aircrew losses at Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz left the Japanese Navy without experienced naval aviators.

Thus, Enterprise was, from October until December 1942, when Saratoga returned from repairs, the only Allied carrier in the Pacific. The carrier’s hangar deck bore the banner: “Enterprise v. Japan”. However, the real measure of Enterprise’s victory was that throughout the rest of the Guadalcanal campaign, no Japanese carrier could come forward to challenge her: all their planes and men were gone.

Enterprise was overhauled in 1943 and supported operations for the rest of the war, until taking severe damage from a kamikaze attack on May 14, 1945. She was repaired, and served after the war transporting troops home from Europe. She was placed in reserve in 1946. There were several efforts to have her preserved as a museum, but all failed for lack of funding. The seventh Enterprise was finally scrapped in 1960, and that same year an enormous nuclear carrier became the eighth USS Enterprise.



See also:

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships: http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/carriers/cv6.htm

Photo: USS Enterprise hit by kamikaze: http://www.hazegray.org/navhist/carriers/images/usa/cv6-3.jpg

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