United States NavySuper Carriers of The Cold War

Evolution to the Super Carrier

In the ten years following World War II the US Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet consisted of ships of the Essex Class (which fought in that war) and ships of the Midway Class (which were built during WW2 but not commissioned until between September 1945 and October 1947).

As jet aircraft became available to the fleet in the early 1950’s (including the Korean War) the Navy realized that it would need larger carriers of a fundamentally different design to handle the requirements of launching and recovering large numbers of jet fighters and attack aircraft.

The new carrier’s design requirements (incorporated into the Forrestal class) included steam catapults, a larger flight deck and a bigger hangar bay, both to support more numerous and more operationally powerful aircraft. A key feature of the larger flight deck was the inclusion of the angle deck, allowing for simultaneous launching and recovery operations. The Forrestal class was the first class of carrier that included the angle deck as part of its original design. These features plus the huge size of the Forrestal class gave them the unofficial designation of “Super Carrier.”

Earlier classes of US carriers (WW2 Essex Class and post-war Midway Class) were modernized in the 1950’s to include the angle deck. Many of these modernized Essex and Midway carriers

played a major role in the US Navy’s air operations during the Vietnam War, as did ships of the Forrestal class.

USS Forrestal CV-59

BuilderOrderedLaid DownLaunchedCommissionedDecommissioned
Newport News Shipbuilding7/12/19517/12/195212/11/195410/1/19559/11/1993

For nearly forty years the Forrestal Class served with the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Fleets. This class carried approximately 85 fighter, attack, airborne early warning aircraft and ASW aircraft providing a wide range of mission capabilities.

In the summer of 1967, while operating in the Tonkin Gulf, the Forrestal was conducting air strikes against targets in North Vietnam. On July 27 a flight deck fire broke out when a rocket installed on an F4 Phantom accidentally fired into an fully armed and fueled A4 Skyhawk. The resulting inferno killed 134 Navy personnel, injured 161, and destroyed 21 aircraft. The Forrestal disaster required the Navy to significantly improve their procedures and training for fire fighting and weapons & fuel handling.

Enterprise CVN-65

BuilderOrderedLaid DownLaunchedCommissionedDecommissioned
Newport News Shipbuilding11/15/19572/4/19589/24/196011/25/19612/3/2017

The Enterprise was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, leading the way for the fleet of Nimitz class carriers that are the foundation of today’s Navy.

The Enterprise suffered a disastrous flight deck fire off the coast of Hawaii in 1969, similar to the Forrestal fire. The damage to the Enterprise was severe with 27 personnel killed, 314 injured and 15 aircraft destroyed. Although the damage was horrific, it was not as catastrophic as the Forrestal fire, from which lessons were learned that lessened the damage to the Enterprise.

The Enterprise’s operational and combat history included (but is not limited to) the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, No-Fly Zones over Bosnia and Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom (The Second Iraq War).

USS Kitty Hawk CV-63

BuilderOrderedLaid DownLaunchedCommissionedDecommissioned
New York Shipbuilding (Camden)10/1/195512/27/19565/21/196011/25/19615/12/2009

The Kitty Hawk Class was an improvement over the Forrestal Class mainly in aircraft elevator location as well as surface-to-air missile defense, radar and other improved electronic systems.

Much of the Kitty Hawk’s service life was spent with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet covering the Pacific and Indian Oceans, serving as the Fleet’s flagship.

The Kitty Hawk made numerous combat deployments to Southeast Asia and Vietnam from 1965 to 1972, in the process earning the Presidential Unit Citation and Navy Unit Meritorious Commendation.

Kitty Hawk’s final combat missions included Operation Southern Watch (controlling Iraqi airspace following the 1991 Persian Gulf War) and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

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US Naval Super Carriers Of the Cold War


Bill Starr

I am a US Navy aviation veteran (AZ2 rating) who served in VAW-110, NAS North Island from 1969 to 1971.

One thought on “United States NavySuper Carriers of The Cold War

  1. What about the USS midway that underwent a major overhaul in the late 1960s, and had the newest steam catapults (mark 13,mod 0) at the time of recommissioning, and extra wide angle deck…

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