The USS Wasp (CV-7) was an aircraft carrier serving the United States Navy and the only vessel of her class. She was commissioned near the end of April 1940 under command of Captain J.W. Reeves Jr.
The keel of the Wasp was laid on the first day of April 1936 at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. Her launch took place exactly three years and three days later.
The design of Wasp would prove fatally compromised, a result of attempting to station a full-sized carrier air wing on a ship significantly smaller than a full-size carrier of her era. At the time of Wasp’s construction, the Navy was limited by an arms control treaty in the size and number of ships it could build, and carriers were to be no more than 15,000 tons displacement. At 741 feet long and 109 feet in beam, with a designed displacement of 14,700 tons, Wasp was three-quarters the size of the previous Yorktown class, but the Navy attempted to squeeze an entire air wing aboard her.
To make that possible without exceeding the tonnage limitation, Wasp had virtually no armor, and thus no protection from torpedoes. She was also under-powered; her engines consisted of two English-built Parsons steam turbines (the original company, C.A. Parsons, is now part of the Siemens AG conglomerate) and six boilers, products of Babcock & Wilcox, a North Carolina-based company that once supplied boilers to over half the ships in the US Navy. Wasp was the first carrier to be equipped with a deck-edge elevator, allowing aircraft to be stowed below decks.
Repairs and Upgrades
Following her commissioning, Wasp spent most of the summer of 1940 undergoing shakedown and qualification trials. At the end of August, she put into the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for repairs on her turbines, keeping her in drydock until the middle of September. During December of 1940, Wasp underwent maintenance at the Norfolk facility.
In March of 1941, after having passed through a heavy storm, Wasp returned to Norfolk once again to have her turbines repaired; other alterations included having portholes on Deck 3 welded over. Wasp also became one of fourteen vessels to have the RCA CXAM-1 Radar system installed. In May 1942, after extensive combat service in the Mediterranean, Wasp was ordered back to Norfolk for alterations and repairs in preparation for deployment to the Pacific.
Wasp underwent shakedown trials in the Caribbean during the spring and summer of 1940. For the next several months, she operated out of NOB Norfolk, carrying out routine missions and maneuvers in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Beginning in April 1941, Wasp was on regular patrol between the southern US Atlantic coast and Bermuda.
In July 1941, Wasp steamed northward with her battle group for the occupation of Iceland, a Danish protectorate at the time, since Denmark and Norway had been occupied by the Nazis. As hostilities between the US and Nazi Germany ratcheted up, Wasp was transferred to Placentia Bay in the fall of 1941.
With the formal entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, Wasp was ordered south to the Caribbean to monitor movement of Vichy (Nazi-sympathetic) French vessels out of Martinique. In January 1942, she departed for the United Kingdom. After a period of operation escorting convoys to the port of Archangel in the USSR, Wasp got underway for the Mediterranean, carrying Allied planes for Operation Bowery, the defense of Malta.
After a brief return to the States in June, Wasp departed for the Pacific. It was there, during the battle of Guadalcanal in September 1942, that Wasp was struck by three torpedoes fired by Japanese submarine I-19. Fatally stricken, she was abandoned and was later scuttled.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wasp (CV-7)
Combat and other types of damage can exacerbate the already serious asbestos exposure aboard naval vessels such as Wasp. In March 1942, Wasp collided with the destroyer USS Stack while en route to port in Norfolk. In September 1942 while on her way to Guadalcanal, Wasp was struck by three torpedoes on her starboard side near fuel storage compartments. The explosions and resulting gasoline fires were ultimately fatal.
Installing asbestos-containing materials in the construction of all ships was mandated by law in the US in the 1930s, after a fire at sea on the SS Morro Castle killed more than 100 people. Navy ships like Wasp installed asbestos insulation heavily, especially in engines and engine compartments, as well as in fireproofing in other parts of the ship. This insulation can become friable, meaning that individual asbestos fibers are able to enter the air, and inhalation or ingestion of these fibers can often lead to the development of mesothelioma.
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Friedman, Norman. U.S. 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).