The USS Essex (CV-9) was an aircraft carrier serving in the US Navy and the lead ship of her class. The fourth US naval vessel to bear the name, Essex was commissioned on the last day of 1942 under the command of Captain Donald B. Duncan. The Essex- class was the mainstay of the US Navy during WWII, designed and ordered in response to increased tensions with Tokyo in the late 1930s.
The lead vessel of this class was ordered in July 1940. Her keel was laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company in April 1941 and the completed carrier was launched on 31 July 1942. As built, Essex displaced over 36,000 when fully loaded and measured 872 feet in length at the time of her launch. Her four steam turbines were manufactured by Westinghouse, and the eight boilers were a product of Babcock & Wilcox. Her initial crew compliment consisted of 160 officers, 2170 seamen and 870 pilots and aviation support personnel.
Repairs and Upgrades
Aircraft carriers are complex and expensive vessels to maintain. Over her 31-year career, Essex underwent numerous refits and modifications in order to keep up with advanced in aircraft development and combat technology.
Essex underwent only one overhaul during WWII, at the Hunter's Point facility near San Francisco in the spring of 1944. She was made part of the reserve fleet in Bremerton, Washington between 1947 and 1951. During this time she received a new flight deck and island superstructure in order to accommodate new jet aircraft then coming into service.
Essex underwent repairs for fire damage sustained as the result of an accident during the Korean War on 16 September 1951; the work was carried out at the Yokosuka Naval Base.
In July of 1955, Essex returned to Bremerton for an SCB-125 Modernization. Taking over nine months, the modifications included a new angled flight deck, an enclosed "hurricane" bow and a relocation of her aft elevator.
In 1960, Essex was converted for anti-submarine warfare. Early in 1962, she entered the Brooklyn Navy yard for an overhaul and repair for weather-related damage.
After spending the remainder of the decade on routine and diplomatic missions in Europe and the Mediterranean, she was decommissioned in June 1969 and sold to a shipbreaker six years later.
Essex sailed to the Pacific combat zone in the spring of 1943. Initially serving with Task Force 14, she was eventually assigned to the Fast Carrier Task Force, participating in nearly every major campaign leading to the ultimate defeat of the Japanese Empire.
During the Korean Conflict, Essex was deployed twice in addition to a postwar Peace Patrol starting in December 1955. She returned to the Far East once more before being transferred to the Atlantic in 1957. During her last decade, she served primarily in the Mediterranean and off Europe, participating in NATO exercises and fulfilling the Navy's diplomatic functions.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Essex (CV-9)
The asbestos materials used throughout a vessel, including bulkheads, fuel storage facilities and engine rooms were damaged in combat or when heavy weather or accidents affecting the ship's structure occurred. On 2 October 1944, Essex rode out a typhoon off Palau. On 25 November, serious damage occurred to the port edge of the flight deck in addition to 59 casualties when the vessel was struck by a kamikaze suicide plane.
During the Korean conflict, an F2H Banshee jet fighter crashed on the forward flight deck on return from a combat mission, resulting in an explosion that killed seven crewmen. While on a diplomatic mission to Europe in late 1961, Essex nearly ran aground while attempting to navigate the Elbe River in West Germany. During her return voyage to the States in January 1962, the vessel encountered a severe storm in the North Atlantic, which caused serious structural damage.
Using asbestos-containing materials in the construction of naval ships was mandated by law in the US in the early 1930s, after a deadly fire on a cruise ship killed 137 passengers and crew. When asbestos-containing material is worn or damaged it becomes "friable", which means that individual fibers can break off and enter the air, allowing them to be inhaled or ingested by sailors and repair workers, increasing the odds of developing mesothelioma.
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Friedman, Norman. US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)
Streb, Richard. Life and Death Aboard the USS Essex.(Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 1999)