JAPANESE BATTLESHIPS

Battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy,
Dai Nippon Teikoku Kaigun-no Senkan,

皇國の興廃この一戦にあり、

各員一層奮励努力せよ。

Kōkoku no kōhai kono issen ni ari.

Kakuin issō funrei doryoku seyo.

The fate of the empire rests upon this one battle.

Let every man do his utmost.

Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō, 東郷 平八郎 (1848-1934), Battle of Tsushima, 27 May 1905; signal may have been written by Commander Saneyuki Akiyama, on Tōgōís staff [note].

Armored Ships  
Azuma
Confederate Sphinx/Stonewall,
bought by Shogun, turned over
to Emperor, 1869, as Kōtetsu,
renamed 1871, stricken 1888
Ryūjō
purchased by Prince Kumamoto,
turned over to Emperor, 1870,
stricked 1898
Fuso
ordered 1875, Battle of Yalu
River, stricken 1908-1911
Kongō
Hiei
Heien
captured Chinese gunboat
P'ing-yüan, sunk by mine
off Port Arthur, 1904
Chin'en
surrendered Chinese
Chen-yüan, Battle of Tsushima,
stricken 1911
Pre-Dreadnoughts  
Fuji
1894 program, Russo-Japanese
War, stricken 1922
Yashima
1894 program, Russo-Japanese
War, sunk by mine, 1904
Shikishima
ordered 1895, Russo-Japanese
War, stricken 1923
Hatsuse
ordered 1895, Russo-Japanese
War, sunk by mine, 1904
Asahi
ordered 1896-7, Russo-Japanese
War, disarmed 1923
Mikasa
ordered 1896-7, Admiral Tōgō's
flagship, Russo-Japanese War,
memorial at Yokosuka 1926
Iwami
Russian Orel,
surrendered at Tsushima,
stricken 1922
Minoshima
Russian Admiral Seniavin,
surrendered at Tsushima,
stricken 1928
Okinoshima
Russian General Admiral
Graf Apraksin
, surrendered
at Tsushima, stricken 1922
Iki
Russian Imperator Nikolai I,
surrendered at Tsushima,
stricken 1915
Hizen
Russian Retvisan,
raised from Port Arthur,
stricken 1923
Sagami
Russian Peresviet,
raised from Port Arthur;
returned to Russia, 1916,
sunk by mine off Port Said, 1917
Suo
Russian Pobieda,
raised from Port Arthur,
disarmed 1922
Tango
Russian Poltava,
raised from Port Arthur;
returned to Russia, 1916,
as Tchesma in White Sea
Kashima
1903 program, stricken 1923
Katori
1903 program, stricken 1923
Satsuma
1903 program, first battleship
built in Japan, stricken 1923
Aki
1903 program, stricken 1923
Dreadnoughts  
Kawachi
1907 program, sunk by
explosion, 1918
Settsu
1907 program, stricken 1923
Kongō
1910 program, last Japanese
battleship built by Britain,
sunk by submarine Sealion,
21 November 1944
Hiei
1910 program, sunk Battle of
Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942
Kirishima
1910 program, sunk Battle of
Guadalcanal, 15 November 1942
Haruna
1910 program, sunk at Kure,
28 July 1945
Fuso
1911 program, sunk Battle of
Surigao Strait (Battle for Leyte Gulf),
25 October 1944
Yamashiro
1911 program, sunk Battle of
Surigao Strait (Battle for Leyte Gulf),
25 October 1944
Ise
1914 program, sunk near Kure,
28 July 1945
Hyuga
1914 program, sunk at Kure,
24 July 1945
Nagato
1916 program, surrendered 1945,
sunk at atom bomb test,
Bikini Atoll, 29 July 1946
Mutsu
1916 program, sunk Hiroshima
Bay by explosion, 8 June 1943
Super-Dreadnoughts  
Yamato
1937 program, sunk Battle of
Okinawa, 7 April 1945
Musashi
1937 program, sunk Battle of
Subiyan Sea (Battle for Leyte Gulf),
24 October 1944
Shinano
1937 program, completing
as aircraft carrier, sunk by
submarine Archerfish,
29 November 1944
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Japanese Imperial government acquired some ships that had previously been purchased by the Shoguns and by others. Ships were ordered directly starting in 1875. The few ships thus acquired, more cruisers than battleships, had to make do in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Battle of the Yalu River (17 September 1894), the first naval battle since the Battle of Lissa between Italy and Austria in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866. Although the results were satisfactory enough, Japan realized that modern battleships would be needed for a European enemy, like Russia.

The six pre-Droughtnoughts that were then built in Britain gave Japan the fleet necessary to meet Russia in 1904. Victory was no foregone conclusion, since these six Japanese battleships (with an ex-Chinese one thrown in), did not outnumber the Russian squadron in Port Arthur. The Russians lost one ship to mines, but the Japanese lost two. When the Russians finally came out in force, however, it was only in an attempt to flee to Vladivostok. In the following Battle of the Yellow Sea, 10 August 1904, although there were no decisive losses, the Russians were hurt enough to return to Port Arthur, except for the Tsessarevitch, which headed for a neutral Chinese port and was interned for the duration of the War. The remaining battleships were finally defeated by the Japanese Army, which bombarded them from land and then took Port Arthur, which surrendered on 2 January 1905.

With the Russian Baltic Fleet of eleven battleships on its way, the Japanese would still have no superiority, only the obvious advantage of fresh and reconditioned ships against a force weary and rundown from eight months at sea. There were other advantages too, however, and the Battle of Tsushima, 27-28 May 1905, turned out to be one of the more decisive naval battles in history, with most of the Russian fleet, including all the battleships, either sunk or captured. The Japanese can hardly be blamed for regarding themselves as protected by the gods; and the spectacle, before many international observers, of a non-European race, not long before living in mediaeval and nearly Tibetan isolation, with an arguably inferior force, annihilating the fleet of a European Great Power which had once humbled Napoleon Bonaparte, electrified the world -- noticed as much in Egypt and India as in London and Paris. Theodore Roosevelt paid the ultimate complement of the Era:  the Japanese were the "Anglo-Saxons of the Orient."

The British now could congratulate themselves on the wisdom of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1902; but as Britain was drawn into alliance with France and Russia against Germany, Japan soon found herself on the same side as her former enemy and one of the Allies in World War I, with a destroyer group operating in the Mediterranean Sea. Only China was left to bully, as Japanese policy and behavior became increasingly ugly and brutal. Nevertheless, this was soon held in relative check, as the "better angels" of the Japanese nature were encouraged by the Allied victory in World War I, which evidently meant that democracy and liberal society were good, and successful, things.

Unfortunately, democracy and liberal society seemed increasingly in trouble as the years went on. To many, the Depression meant that only some kind of totalitarianism, Communist or Fascist, would be able to apply the needed medicine. Japan, with basically a Prussian constitution, but a semi-divine Emperor who believed in the British ideal of ruling by the advice of his ministers, became increasingly dominated by the Army, itself formed on Prussian principles. The Navy, with its British role model and its more cosmopolitan experience, although co-equal to the Army, nevertheless did not have troops on the ground. Admirals in the Japanese government tended to get assassinated, and finally the Army decided, since it wouldn't obey civilian ministers anyway, that General Tojo would be the best Prime Minister.

With war already underway in China since 1937, Japan, which had smarted under a racist snub from its erstwhile Allies at Versailles, ironically fell in with overtly racist Germany and its fellow Fascist Italy. The United States, and especially Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a special romantic soft spot in his heart for China (and well informed about Japanese atrocities in China, which had even been protested by German diplomats), began making essentially war-like moves against Japan, like a scrap metal and then oil boycott. In retrospect, it is clear that the oil boycott meant war, since Japan would have to seize foreign oil fields (in Indonesia) or be rendered helpless in the face of any American demands.

Only the fast Japanese battleships, the reconstructed battle cruisers Kongō, Haruna, Hiei, and Kirishima, played any significant combat role in World War II. Most were sunk in futile throws late in the War, like the Battle for Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944), or in harbor, where American planes found them in 1945. An annihilation much like Tsushima was now visited on the Japanese themselves. The gods forsook their protection of Japan. The battleship Nagato even joined its late foe, U.S. carrier Saratoga, as a subject of atomic testing.

With changing tactics, thanks to the use of aircraft carriers, as developed by the Japanese Navy itself (in the Pearl Harbor strike), battleships were necessarily only in a secondary role, one for which, however, they were rarely used, since they were thought too valuable to risk, being held in reserve for the decisive surface battle that never did, and couldn't possibly, ever happen. Thus, the most power battleships ever build, the Yamato and Musashi, never fired a shot at any American surface ship larger than an escort carrier (CVE), while the battleship Kirishima, alone off Guadalcanal, had been destroyed by the detached American battleships South Dakota and Washington (15 November 1942). The only other time when American and Japanese battleships fired at each other was when old American ones sunk the old Japanese Fuso and Yamashiro in Surigao Strait (25 October 1944), during the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

With democracy and liberal society again in ascendency, a disarmed Japan threw itself into commerce with all the determination that it had earlier thrown itself into war. An international empire of automobiles, television sets, cameras, and multiple elecronic devices eventually carried the Japanese to conquests beyond only the wildest aspirations of their earlier imperalists. Yet, where in Britain a Sovereign Queen, a State religion (the Church of England), and various national symbols seem to pose no threat to freedom or democracy, Japan continues to live under the shadow of the crimes practiced in the name of the Emperor, the State religion (State Shintō), and various symbols. Thus, the sovereignty of the Emperor, his involvement with Shintō, and even an official flag and national anthem (Kimigaiyo), set off intense debate, recrimination, threats, violence, and soul searching. Officially, Japan is no longer an Empire (teikoku) but not yet a Republic (kyōwakoku) -- just "Japan" (Nihon). Neither the Japanese, nor their neighbors, are quite sure which "angels" still lurk in the nature of Japan.

Admiral Togo's flagship at Tsushima, the battleship Mikasa, became a war memorial at Yokosuka in 1926. After World War II, the Occupation Authorities required that it be disarmed and disabled as though it were a serious member of the Japanese military. It was subsequently restored to its pre-War appearance, with no less than the support and encouragement of American Admiral Chester Nimitz himself. Although only a minor tourist attraction, except for the Japanese, the Mikasa now has the extraordinary status of being the last of its kind, the last Pre-Dreadnought preserved above water anywhere in the world. Nimitz thus magnanimously understood that the Mikasa was a unqiue monument and artifact of military history and warranted the respect and attention of anyone with a concern for military science. Below, we see the Mikasa on 18 November 2009, in a picture taken by the author, in the characteristic dark gray of Japanese warships. A modern statue of Togo is visible in the foreground. The ship can be reached by a zig-zag walk through the streets of Yokosuka from the Yokosuka-Chuo train station on the Keihin Kyūkō Line.

The Battleship Kongô

The Pearl Harbor Strike Force

Dreadnought

The Treaty Cruisers

Advanced Japanese Destroyers of World War II

A Guadalcanal Chronology, 7 August 1942 - 6 March 1943

Bibliography

Zen and the Art of Divebombing, or The Dark Side of the Tao

Waterline Models

Philosophy of History, Military History

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1999, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Japanese Battleships, Note

Besides using Chinese characters and syllabic kana symbols, the Japanese can simply write in Chinese, with Japanese pronunciation. This is called kambun, 漢文, hànwén, or "Han writing."

In the Middle Ages, a good deal of serious Japanese literature was actually written in kambun. Other Japanese literature, such as the 11th century Tale of Genji, 源氏物語, Genji monogatari, was written entirely in kana. Such works were often written by women, as in this case by the Lady Murasaki Shikibu, because women were not expected to use, or know, Chinese characters.

Since the signal of Admiral Tōgō was, in a sense, serious literature, we also see it written in kambun, as:

皇國興廃一戦、各員一層奮励努力。

While Japanese inflections can be added, in speech, to a kambun text, this is not done with one common use of kambun today, which is in the vocalization of Buddhists texts, which are read or chanted for ritual purposes. Indeed, the pronuncation of kambun can be written in small kana characters next to the Chinese kanji. This can also be done in ordinary Japanese writing if certain characters are unsual, or have a non-standard pronuncation.

There is also always the question of how characters are going to be read. For instance, the character for "mountain," , can be read with the Japanese word for mountain, which is yama, called the kun reading, or with the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word, which can be san or zan, called the on reading -- the Mandarin word is shān. There can be more than one kun or on reading, with one or another prefered in particular words.

For kambun, since it is properly in Chinese, the on readings are used. Thus, Admiral Tōgō's signal can be read thus:

Kōkoku kōhai issen, kakuin issō funrei doryoku.

Each word there represents two Chinese characters, which, when it is a semantic unit, is called a "binome" or "digraph," which will properly have its own entry in a Chinese or Japanese dictionary. Thus, 皇國, kōkoku, is "empire" or, literally, "emperor country." 興廃, kōhai, translated "fate" is literally, "success/decay."

Return to Text

U.S. Battle Cruisers & Aircraft Carrier Names

On this page I was originally interested in the way that the names of the aircraft carriers of the United States Navy derived from those of four battle cruisers of the 1916 program -- the Lexington and Saratoga because they were finished as carriers, the Ranger and
U.S. 1916 Battle Cruisers
with Aircraft Carriers of the Same Name
original ship subsequent ship(s)
Lexington CC-1, CV-2CV-16
Constellation CC-2cancelledCVA-64
Saratoga CC-3, CV-3CVA-60
Ranger CC-4cancelledCV-4 & CVA-61
Constitution CC-5cancelled "Old Ironsides"
United States CC-6cancelledCVA-58cancelled
Constellation because the names were bestowed on later ships. The small, slow Ranger of World War II (CV-4) was not considered suitable for fleet action in the Pacific, but the later Ranger (CVA-61) and the Constellation (CVA-64) were among the first original post-World War II carriers, the massive (60,000+ ton) Forrestal class.

This treatment did not list the names of all American carriers, but this struck me, where the names of all American battleships can be found here, as a deficiency; and it has now been corrected. Except for the Langley (CV-1) and the light carriers (CVL), built on cruiser hulls, and the Escort carriers (CVE), all the carriers (fleet carriers) of the United States Navy are here. Under the light carriers is also some information about the Task Forces at the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, and about naming of carriers lost in battle.

The Lexington and the Saratoga began the tradition of naming aircraft carriers after battles. And the Ranger and the Constellation established the precedent of naming aircraft carriers after classic ships of the early United States Navy. While the Yorktown (CV-5) would continue with a battle name, the Enterprise (CV-6), Wasp (CV-7), Hornet (CV-8), and then Essex (CV-9) would continue with the classic names. The latter names would be much more like those of the Royal Navy, whose naming traditions the United States Navy otherwise did not observe.

While more recent aircraft carriers have come to carry the names of Presidents and (inappropriately) other politicians, for whom no more than destroyers would previously have been used, "Enterprise" will occur again for CVN-80, both under the influence of the Enterprise of World War II and the nuclear Enterprise (CVN-65), but probably also because of the starship Enterprise of the Star Trek shows and movies, which have helped keep the name in public consciousness. Since the Enterprise (CV-6) of World War II fought in every major battle, while the other fleet carriers of its generation were all sunk, it was very distinguished in its own right.

The fate of the names of the other two battle cruisers is interesting in itself. No subsequent ship has been named the Constitution because the old wooden frigate Constitution, "Old Ironsides," berthed in Boston harbor, has been maintained since 1931 in Commission as an active ship of the United States Navy. There cannot be two commissioned ships with the same name at the same time. Waved onto the Constitution with other tourists in 2009, I noticed a young officer standing by the gangway. I asked him if he was the Officer of the Deck -- someone who should be there in a Commissioned ship. He was. Barring any accident, the name will thus not be available for the foreseeable future.

The United States is a different case. A large carrier (CVA-58) of that name was actually laid down in 1949 but then cancelled. This was to be a very large ship (66,000+ tons) so that it could carry aircraft large enough to deliver atomic bombs, which at the time were still relatively large and heavy. The AJ "Savage" (later designated the A-2), a twin propeller bomber, could operate off of the Midway class carriers, but an even larger plane was required and envisioned at the time. However, the United States was almost immediately cancelled, as the Air Force was given the job of handling nuclear warfare.

The Navy, of course, would later become an important part of the nuclear strike force with guided missile submarines. No United States was ever laid down again, perhaps because of ambivalence over the propriety of naming a single ship after the entire country. Nevertheless, something of the sort did happen when CVA-66 was laid down as the America in 1961. Needless to say, neither United States nor America was in conformity with the other naming traditions.

Pre-War U.S. Aircraft Carriers
namecommfate
Ranger CV-41934training, scrapped
Yorktown CV-51937sunk at Midway
Enterprise CV-61938scrapped after War
Wasp CV-71940sunk off Guadalcanal
Hornet CV-81941sunk at Santa Cruz
Meanwhile, many carriers had been built. In the arms revival of the 1930's, as the Japanese were building the Soryu and others, the United States built a comparable number of carriers from scratch -- "comm" at right is for the date of commissioning, when the ship is completed and put into service -- with some, just in time for the War.

The Ranger was never considered suitable for fleet action in the Pacific and, operating in the Atlantic, was given some combat duties and was used for training and ferrying aircraft. The Wasp was somewhat smaller than the others, perhaps for reasons of economy.

All the names here were from classic ships, except the battle name of the Yorktown. Since the Essex Class carriers were not available until 1943, these and the earlier ships carried the burden of the War for more than a year. With the Lexington lost at the Battle of the Coral Sea, only the Saratoga and the Enterprise survived until the end of the War. With the Saratoga sometimes knocked out of action, there were times when the Enterprise was the only operatonal carrier in the Pacific. That and its presence in most of the naval battles secured its fame. But the Enterprise was scrapped after the War, while the Saratoga was scuttled after figuring in one of the atomic bomb tests.

U.S. Aircraft Carriers, War Construction
namekeelcomm
Essex Class
Essex CV-94/194112/1942
Bon Homme Richard,
then Yorktown CV-10
12/194112/1942
Intrepid CV-11; Museum, NYC12/19418/1943
Kearsarge,
then Hornet CV-12
8/194211/1943
Franklin CV-1312/19421/1944
Ticonderoga Class
Hancock, then
Ticonderoga CV-14
2/19435/1944
Randolf CV-154/194310/1944
Cabot,
then Lexington CV-16
7/19412/1943
Bunker Hill CV-179/19415/1943
Oriskany,
then Wasp CV-18
3/194211/1943
Ticondergoa,
then Hancock CV-19
1/19434/1944
Bennington CV-2012/19428/1944
Boxer CV-219/19434/1945
Light Carriers, CVL-22 to CVL-30
The ships designed for wartime construction were the Essex and closely related Ticonderoga classes -- the Ticonderogas were slightly longer and are not always considered a separate class. These ended up supplying the numbers and constituting the forces in the fleet actions of 1943, 1944, and 1945, in ever increasing masses.

Task Force 38 at Leyte Gulf consisted of four Task Groups, with nine CVs and nine CVLs. When Pearl Harbor had been attacked with six carriers, the power of the United States to field eighteen all at once was astonishing. And when the Japanese put about 360 aircraft over Pearl Harbor, we might see Task Force 38 pushing a thousand planes, all with greater capabilities than any of the earlier Japanese aircraft.

There is a gap in the numbers here, from CV-22 to CV-30, at which I've broken the list into two columns. These were the numbers used for the light carriers (CVL), which were built on hulls previously designed for cruisers. The ships, which previously had the cruiser names of cities, were all given appropriate carriers names.

This device allowed for the speeded-up production of new, fast carriers for the fleet. But it was a makeshift business, and so, unlike the proper Essex ships, none of them were preserved after the War.
Bon Homme
Richard
CV-31
2/194311/1944
Crown Point,
then Leyte CV-32
2/19444/1946
Kearsarge CV-333/19443/1946
Oriskany Class
Oriskany CV-345/19449/1950
Reprisal CV-357/1944cancelled
Antietam CV-363/19431/1945
Valley Forge,
then Princeton
CV-37
9/194311/1945
Shangri La CV-381/19439/1944
Lake Champlain
CV-39
3/19436/1945
Tarawa CV-403/19445/1945

Meanwhile, what we see with all the names are a mixture of battle names, classic ships -- like the Bon Homme Richard of John Paul Jones himself -- a few historical individuals, like Benjamin Franklin for the Franklin (CV-13), and then ships that are renamed for those lost earlier in the War, beginning with a new Yorktown (CV-10). Of course, that bumped the Bon Homme Richard, which was bestowed anew on CV-31.

Although that Bon Homme Richard was then commissioned in time for the War, we immediately begin to find ships that were not. The Oriskany, which in effect was the third version of the Essex design, was not commissioned until 1950; and it would be alone of its kind.

One entirely whimsical ship name was the Shangri La (or Shangri-La, CV-38), named after the fictional Tibetan monastery of the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, by James Hilton. This came up because reporters asked President Roosevelt where the bombers of Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, 18 April 1942, had come from. Keeping their true origin a secret (from the Hornet, CV-8), Roosevelt jokingly answered "Shangri La." CV-38 meant that American aircraft actually could fly against Japan from "Shangri La," and they did.

namecommstruck
Post-War U.S. Aircraft Carriers
Midway Class
Midway CVB-419/19451997, Museum, San Diego
Franklin D. Roosevelt CVB-4210/19451977
Coral Sea CVB-4310/19471990
CVB-44cancelled
Valley Forge CV-4511/19461970
Iwo Jima CV-46cancelled
Philippine Sea CV-475/19461969
Saipan Class
Saipan CVL-48, AVT-6, CC-3, then Arlington, AGMR-27/19461975
Wright CVL-49, AVT-7, CC-22/19471977
CV-50-55cancelled
CVB-56-57cancelled
United States CVA-58cancelled
The major innovation in American design would be the next class, the Midways (CVBs, "battle" carriers). These would be substantially larger (45,000 vs. 27,100 tons) than any version of the Essex Class; and they would have an armored flight deck. The armored deck was nothing new in carrier design. The British had several of them, and rather preferred the protection after their experience of war in the Mediterranean, with the land based aircraft of the Italians and the Germans pretty much constantly nearby. However, an armored deck was heavier, which meant the deck should be lower, which meant there was less room below to store aircraft.

The American theory in the Pacific was to use the roomy carriers for lots of planes, which would then keep the Japanese away from bombing the carriers, and the lack of armor wouldn't matter. This actually worked out rarther well. And once the numbers were available, only one fleet carrier was lost, the Princeton (CVL-23), and only one Essex Class ship came anywhere near to being lost, the Franklin (CV-13).

The Japanese had also tried to move up to an armored deck. But they could only build one, the Taiho, and it ended up sinking at the Battle of the Philippine Sea from an explosion that resulted from a submarine torpedo hit, when the fumes of poorly refined aviation fuel were ignited. So it was really impossible to tell whether the Taiho could have been a successful design. The size of the Midways meant that you could have lots of planes and an armored flight deck.

None of the Midways were ready for the War. The Midway herself missed it by a month. With this reality looming, three more Midways (CVB-44,56,57) were cancelled before names had even been assigned to them. In the same way, nine more Ticonderoga Class carriers had been planned, but only two were completed (nowhere near in time for the War), and six were cancelled before names had been assigned -- leaving the poor Iwo Jima (CV-46) as an orphaned battle name, along with the earlier Reprisal (CV-35), both of which were cancelled while under construction, after their keels had been laid.

Anticipating that the wartime light carriers would be scrapped (or lost in combat, although only one was), a new class of CVLs was planned; but only two, the Saipan (CVL-48) and the Wright (CVL-49) were completed, and others were never even assigned hull numbers. The CVL's are of interest since, like the original CVL's they were built on cruiser hulls. However, the hulls were built from keel up for the carriers, and their design was based on Baltimore (CA-68) heavily cruisers, not the earlier light cruisers.

The names that figure in this late group of ships are almost entirely battle names, but with one stand-out exception. The death of President Roosevelt led to CVB-42 being named after him. This began the tradition of naming carriers after Presidents, although at first it began slowly. We don't get another such name until the John F. Kennedy (CVA-67), with the obvious connection to Roosevelt that they both died in office. Before long, however, this particular scruple was overcome, and since then we've had eight carriers named after Preisdents, with "John F. Kennedy" about to be recycled in CVN-79. Also, the ancient tradition of not naming ships after the living was also set aside, and we still had an ex-President, George H.W. Bush, as the living eponym of the George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), although he has since died.

Which brings us back to the United States (CVA-58), which was the Navy's hope to be part of the nuclear deterrent. But the Air Force was going to have nuclear bombers, not the Navy. The United States was cancelled early in 1949, and there would not be a new carrier commissioned until the Forrestal in 1955. What the carriers were going to be for had to be rethought, and the new thinking, from then to now, was that they were needed to project American power around the world wherever necessary. By then there were also jets planes, so whole new technologies were being invented.

namecommstruck
Forrestal Class
Forrestal CVA-5919551993
Saratoga CVA-6019561994
Ranger CVA-6119572004
Independence CVA-6219592004
Kitty Hawk Class
Kitty Hawk CVA-631961reserve
Constellation CVA-6419612003
Enterprise Class
Enterprise CVAN-6519612017
America CVA-6619651996
John F. Kennedy Class
John F. Kennedy, CVA-6719682009
Nimitz Class
Nimitz CVN-681975active
Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN-691977
Carl Vinson CVN-701982
Theodore Roosevelt CVN-711986
Abraham Lincoln CVN-721989
George Washington CVN-731992
John C. Stennis CVN-741995
Harry S. Truman CVN-751998
Ronald Reagan CVN-762003
George H.W. Bush CVN-772009
Gerald R. Ford Class
Gerald R. Ford CVN-782017active
John F. Kennedy CVN-79launched
Enterprise CVN-80planned
The names of the Forrestal and subsequent ships are a very mixed bag. We seem to have a reluctance to name American military ships after actual military men. Instead we get politicians and bureaucrats. Subsequent carriers have been named for Presidents, for Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz (CVN-68), and for two United States Congressmen -- the Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the John C. Stennis (CVN-74). The Carl Vinson was launched and chistened in 1980, while Vinson (1883-1981) was still alive.

In previous tradition, nothing larger than a destroyer would have been named for a Congressman, and no modern ship had been named after a living person. This extraordinary and perhaps unseemly exception was due to the political role, influence, and longevity that Vinson had on military, and especially naval, budget and policy matters in Congress (1914-1965). One might be tempted to see it as a partisan monument from a Democrat President from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, to a Democrat Congressman from Georgia; but the name was actually assigned by Richard Nixon, probably as part of his "Southern strategy."

It will be hard in the future to explain why a capital warship should have been named after a politician who never served in the military, led American forces in battle, or represented more than a Congressional district in either war or peace.

The closest that previous naming had gotten to this was the Forrestal (CVA-59), named after James Forrestal, who had been Under-Secretary of the Navy, 1940-1944, Secretary of the Navy, 1944-1947, and the first Secretary of Defense, 1947-1949. Forrestal's wartime role for the Navy and then his tragic suicide would have motivated this, but the departure it represented does seem to have established a dangerous precedent.

Now we have also had capital ships named for Senators John C. Stennis (1901-1995) and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983 -- the nuclear ballistic missile submarine, SSBN-730), both just because of their political influence, like Vinson, on behalf of the military.

While Britain has named many capital ships after great admirals (Anson, Rodney, Hood, Nelson, etc.), no such tributes, except with destroyers, exist in the United States Navy to Farragut (DDG-99), George Dewey (DD-349, DDG-105), Bill Halsey (DDG-97) or Raymond Spruance (DD-963) -- the Nimitz is the exception -- while instead we have monuments to civilian officials and politicians -- leaving about them a sense of political payoff. What did Carl Vinson, or even James Forrestal, ever say or do, let alone in the heat of battle, to compare in inspiration, or danger, to, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

The newest aircraft carriers are named after Presidents again, the first one for, at the time of launch, a still living, though ill, ex-President, Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush was at least a wartime leader, though not otherwise what many would think of as a particularly successful or inspirational President. Even as Presidents have replaced Liberty on the coinage, now they displace genuine war heroes on warships -- although at least they do represent the Nation better than Congressmen distinguished only for getting money to the military. Such men should have been content with destroyer names.

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Bibliography

Dreadnought

United States Battleships and Other Ships Named After States

The Treaty Cruisers

A Guadalcanal Chronology, 7 August 1942 - 6 March 1943

Naval Aircraft Designations of Japan and the United States

Waterline Models

Philosophy of History, Military History

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2022 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

In Memoriam

Marty Ehrlich

My wife's late father, Marty Ehrlich (d. 1996), was on Guadalcanal at the time of the October 13/14 bombardment as a naval mine expert. One 14 inch shell detonated so close to him that the shock ruptured his diaphram. He had to be evacuated off the island. He recovered completely, but then volunteered to do his mine work on submarines! He spent the latter part of the War on submarine missions out of Fremantle in Western Australia. See the role this may have played in the loss of the destroyer Amagiri.

There were probably not many people in World War II who endured the horrors both of Guadalcanal on land and of submarines at sea. But he survived, and went on to get a Ph.D. in physics at the University of California at Berkeley, in the company of some of the great physicists of the 20th Century. And where my wife was born. An extraordinary life.

He was very good at telling stories about his adventures, but was not one for writing them down. I often thought about running a tape recorder when visiting with him, but never got around to doing it. Thus is a great deal of history lost. Museums with "oral history" projects can't get to everyone, and I should have known better than to let the opporunity pass. As it is, who knows what living memory remains today of the shells from the Kongō and Haruna detonating at Henderson Field?

I must reflect that I knew Beirut before the Lebanese Civil War, and that I walked among the ruins of Palmyra years before some of the best preserved were destroyed by the savage forces of ISIS. My own life has definitely had its features, and I try and perserve some of that here.

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Bibliography

Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Roger Chesneau, Naval Institute Press, 1984

At Dawn We Slept, the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, Gordon W. Prange, Penguin Books, 1981

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The Battleship Yamato, Anatomy of the Ship, Janusz Skulski, Naval Institute Press, 1988

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British Battleships, Oscar Parkes, Seeling Service & Co. Limited, 1973

Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul, The United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, John Miller, Jr., Historical Division, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1984

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Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942-August 1942, the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume IV, Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, 1975

Disaster in the Pacific, New Light on the Battle of Savo Island, Denis and Peggy Warner with Sadao Seno, Naval Institute Press, 1992

A Glorious Way to Die, The Kamikaze Mission of the Battleship Yamato, April 1945, Russell Spurr, Newmarket Press, New York, 1981

Guadalcanal Remembered, Herbert Christian Merillat, Dodd, Meade & Company, New York, 1982

Guadalcanal, The Carrier Battles, Carrier Operations in the Solomons, August-October, 1942, Eric Hammel, Crown Publishing, Inc., New York, 1987

Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, The United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, John Miller, Jr., Historical Division, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1949, 1983

Jane's Fighting Ships, 1906-7, edited by Fred T. Jane, David & Charles Reprints, 1970

Jane's Fighting Ships, 1931, edited by Fred T. Jane, Arco Publishing Company, Inc. New York, 1973

Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, René J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1970, 1979

Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings, World War II, Donald W. Thorpe, Aero Publishers, Inc., Fallbrook, California, 1968

Japanese Navy Air Force Camouflage and Markings, World War II, Donald W. Thorpe, Aero Publishers, Inc., Fallbrook, California, 1977

Japanese Warships of World War II, Anthony J. Watts, Doubleday & Company Inc., 1973

Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, David C. Evans & Mark R. Pettie, Naval Institute Press, 1997

Neptune's Inferno, The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, James D. Hornfischer, Bantam Books, 2011

The Rape of Nanking, the Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, Iris Chang, BasicBooks, 1997

The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan, S.L. Mayer, A.J. Barker, Ronald Heiferman, Ian V. Hogg, John Grayson Kirk, William J. Koenig, & Antony Preston, The Military Press, Crown Publishers, Bison Books, 1976, 1984

The Rising Sun, John Toland, Bantam Books, 1971

Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, Barbara W. Tuchman, Bantam Books, 1971, 1972

The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942-February 1943, the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume V, Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, 1975

Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Dorr Carpener and Normal Polmar, Naval Institute Press, 1986

U.S. Warships of World War II, Paul H. Silverstone, Ian Allan Ltd., 1977

Victory in Papua, The United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Samuel Milner, Historical Division, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1985

Warriors of the Rising Sun, a History of the Japanese Military, Robert B. Edgerton, Westview Press, 1997

Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945, Hansgeorg Jentschura, Dieter Jung, and Peter Michel, translated by Antony Preston and J.D. Brown, Naval Institute Press, 1970

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Philosophy of History, Military History

Philosophy of History

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