The USS Independence (CVL-22) was a light carrier serving the US Navy during WWII and was the lead ship of her class. She was commissioned on 14 January 1943 under the command of Captain G.R. Fairlamb Jr.
Independence was built at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation Shipyard in Camden, New Jersey. She was originally laid down as a cruiser, to be named USS Amsterdam, on 1 May 1941. The new carrier was launched on 22 August, 1942.
The old saying "bigger is better" is definitely true of aircraft carriers as the Navy's early experiences with marine aviation clearly demonstrated. Nonetheless, although the attack on Pearl Harbor had been expected, the United States was still unprepared for a protracted conflict in December 1941. The conversion of cruiser hulls into small aircraft carriers was an emergency stop-gap measure undertaken in order to get as many carriers into the Pacific as soon as possible until the Essex-class vessels could enter service.
Despite their size limitation, Independence-class carriers were remarkably successful as well as long-lived; one of these carriers, the USS Cabot, served with the Spanish Navy until well into the 1980s.
Independence displaced over 14,750 tons when fully loaded, was 623 feet in length and 109 feet across the beam. She was powered by four steam turbines manufactured by General Electric. Total crew compliment was 1,569 officers, seamen and airmen and aviation support personnel. She was capable of carrying up to thirty aircraft.
Repairs and Upgrades
After the initial post-shakedown maintenance and repairs, Independence underwent repairs for battle damage at the naval base on Funafuti, west of the Solomon Islands in late November 1943; afterwards, she returned to San Francisco for permanent repairs, which kept her in the yard for the first half of 1944. During this time, the vessel received an additional catapult.
Independence underwent scheduled repairs and maintenance at Pearl Harbor for six weeks beginning at the end of January, 1945. Following her use as a target in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests in the summer of 1946, the radioactive hulk of the Independence was towed first to Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco, where it was subject to study prior to its disposal.
After shakedown trials and maintenance in the Caribbean, Independence headed for the Pacific war zone. Stopping in San Francisco and undergoing two weeks of training drills out of Pearl Harbor, the carrier reached Marcus Island halfway between Japan and Borneo on 1 September 1943. During combat in the Gilbert Islands in November, Independence took a torpedo strike on her starboard side that put her out of action until July 1944. When she returned to the fight in August 1944, she was based out of Eniwetok, and provided support for nighttime raids in preparation for the Philippines campaign.
As a prelude to the actual invasion, Independence operated with the Fast Carrier Task Force in September 1944 to "soften up" targets on the Philippines, conducting raids on Japanese bases on Okinawa and Formosa (present-day Taiwan).
As the real battle got underway in earnest a month later, Independence's air wing was instrumental in the sinking of the IJN Musashi, one of the largest battleships ever built and the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Returning from a scheduled maintenance period in March 1945, Independence and her crew participated in the invasion of Okinawa, the last island standing in the way of the Japanese mainland. In the final weeks, her air wing made strikes against targets on the Japanese home islands; afterward, her pilots continued reconnaissance over Japan, locating POW camps and supporting the occupation.
Between November 1945 and the end of January 1946, Independence functioned as a transport vessel during Operation Magic Carpet. She was then deactivated and designated as a test target for the atomic bomb tests that were carried out in July of that year. Following the tests, she was ultimately scuttled off the California coast and currently lies at the bottom near the Farallon Islands, twenty miles west of San Francisco.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Independence (CVL-22)
During a strike on the Gilbert Islands on 20 November 1943, a torpedo struck Independence on her starboard side resulting in serious damage that took over six months to repair.
The use of asbestos in the construction of oceangoing ships was mandated by law in the United States in the early 1930s, after a deadly fire aboard a luxury liner resulted in enormous loss of life. If asbestos becomes worn it can become "friable", meaning that the fibers can break off and enter the atmosphere, where they can be inhaled or ingested by sailors and dockworkers, leading to mesothelioma.
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Friedman, Norman. United States Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).