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dseehafer

Germany's 'almost' aircraft carriers: Part 1: Jade and Elbe

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Greetings all,

 

   Most people know that Germany never had an operational Aircraft Carrier (though they did have a few catapult ships). Most people have heard of Graf Zeppelin, the only German carrier to reach an advanced stage of construction. But most people do not know just how many carriers Germany had planned. Before we can talk about any of these carriers we must first understand why Germany felt she needed carriers at all, and for what purpose they were needed....

   In the years leading up to WWII Germany's primary potential enemies were France and Poland (Germany was hoping to avoid war with Great Britain), of those two France was the only nation who possessed a sizeable navy. France needed a big navy, 3/4 of all of France's resources are imported by Sea. If France cannot defend her sea-lanes, she cannot survive for long in a major conflict. Germany needed specialized ships to hunt and destroy French shipping. Indeed Graf Zeppelin (and her unfinished sister) were designed to fulfill this very purpose, to hunt French shipping. They were quite literally designed to be commerce raiding Aircraft carriers. They had all the tools necessary for the job, a whopping 35kn top speed, the surface-firepower of a cruiser to be used against commerce vessels, a handful of fighters and bombers to defend herself against large enemy warships and France's only small aircraft carrier Bearn, and a catapult launching system that allowed her to launch planes in any sea condition, any wind, and any direction.

    However, France fell a lot quicker than Germany had though and Great Britain had somehow been convinced to declare war on Germany, much to Hitler's dismay. With France out of the picture, Graf Zeppelin found herself without a purpose and so construction was halted. Graf Zeppelin found a new lease on life when construction was resumed in March 1942. Why the sudden change of heart? Germany had observed how Bismarck was crippled by carrier aircraft and how Tirpitz's hunt for Convoy PQ12 had to be canceled when she came under torpedo attack from carrier aircraft. Germany saw how much of a threat carriers were to her capital ships and decided the only way to protect her capital ships was with carriers of her own. In this way, any capital ship escorted by a carrier would be theoretically protected against enemy carriers. Now Germany needed as many carriers as possible, and fast! Several ships of all walks of life were chosen for conversion. Work on several designs was started but all were soon halted and canceled after Hitler's famous hissy fit after the failure of the Battle of the Barents Sea.

 

Now, let us take a look at these little-known carriers!

 

 

First, we shall look at Jade and Elbe. Jade and Elbe were the names given to the sister ocean-liners Gneisenau and Potsdam which were to be converted to carriers. Gneisenau and Potsdam had a third sister, Scharnhorst, but at the outbreak of war she was in Japanese waters and was sold to Japan after it was realized that she would be unable to safely return to Germany. They say great minds think alike, and in this case, that saying holds true for Japan also decided to convert Scharnhorst into a carrier and she was actually finished as the Shinyo!

 

Gneisenau

Image result for Gneisenau ocean liner

 

 

Potsdam

Image result for potsdam ocean liner

 

 

Scharnhorst

Related image

 

 

Shinyo (ex-Scharnhorst)

Image result for shinyo aircraft carrier

 

 

 

   The Jade-class conversions were to have been 203m (666') long overall, 8.9m (29' 2") deep, and 27m (88' 6") wide at the flight-deck (which would have been 186m (610') long). At full load they would have weighed 23,500t. They would have been propelled to a maximum speed of 21kn by experimental high-pressure Deschimag electro-steam turbines producing 26,000 horsepower through 2 screws. Wind tunnel tests showed that the conversions would have been unstable so torpedo bulges were added to improve stability and also to provide some defense against torpedoes. For protection, her armored flight deck would have been 20mm thick, her hangar walls would have been 10-15mm thick and her torpedo bulges were to have been filled with concrete as makeshift belt armor. Her hull was divided into 12 watertight compartments and featured a double bottom. She was to have one large 148m x 18m (486' x 59') hangar, serviced by two 6.5t elevators. The ship's planned aircraft complement consisted of 24 planes, 12 Bf109s and 12 Ju87s. Two steam-powered catapults at her bow were responsible for putting the planes in the air. These catapults could launch 16 aircraft in a matter of 8 minutes before requiring an hour to recharge. As designed her weaponry was to have consisted of 4x2 105mm Sk C/33, 5x2 37mm Sk C/30 and 8x4 20mm C/38. The ships would have had a range of 9,000 nautical miles at 19kn and would have been manned by 900 officers and men.

 

Elbe as designed

ZiVCOgc.png?1

 

 

1eb8f241d69a2a72dba853c062d8bd60--crossword-puzzle.jpg

 

 

 

Conversion work on Jade/Gneisenu never started but work on Elbe/Potsdam had progressed as far as removing the passenger fittings before work was halted (only 2 months after work began) on Feb/2/1943. Jade spent the rest of her life as a troop-ship until being sunk by a mine on May/2/1943. Elbe was converted into a Barracks ship and survived the war to be handed over to the British as a war prize. The British put her into commission as a troopship before selling her to Pakistan who finally scrapped her in 1976.

 

A 3d model of Elbe

1/1800 KM CVE Elbe[1942] 3d printed Computer software render

 

 

 

Stay tuned for part 2 featuring another little-known German carrier design!

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@dseehafer A very well written and informative post, I found it an interesting and good read, will be eagerly awaiting the second part.

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If you're curious as to how the German and Japanese designs differed and how they stacked up against each other, feel free to take a peek at my other thread - 

 

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*Wonders just what capital ship Germany intended for her to escorting with a top speed of just 21kn...* :cap_hmm:

 

Oh well, better a slow carrier than no carrier. Amirite?

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32 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

If you're curious as to how the German and Japanese designs differed and how they stacked up against each other, feel free to take a peek at my other thread - 

 

 

Was gonna' say; someone posted a thread about basicly; 'You suck at CV design! At least the Japanese made one that works!' Guess that was you then, dseehafer!

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35 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

If you're curious as to how the German and Japanese designs differed and how they stacked up against each other, feel free to take a peek at my other thread - 

 

Thanks for the thread link :p, will just look into it.

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Very informative article OP.  Very good.  Just one thing. You state Britain was "somehow convinced" to declare war on Germany.  ????   It did not take a lot of convincing after Hitler had gobbled up the democratic countries of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and then attacked the democratic country of Poland. With the attack on Poland (who posed absolutely no threat to Germany) and all the attempts at appeasing Hitler during the 1930's failed,,, England came to her senses and realized she had another Napoleon on her hands......only this guy Hitler was a hundred times worse. I know this thread is about German carriers but that statement regarding Great Britain just hit me smack in the face.  Somehow convinced?????  Carry on.

Edited by dmckay

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4 minutes ago, dmckay said:

Very informative article OP.  Very good.  Just one thing. You state Britain was "somehow convinced" to declare war on Germany.  ????   It did not take a lot of convincing after Hitler had gobbled up the democratic countries of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and then attacked the democratic country of Poland. With the attack on Poland (who posed absolutely no threat to Germany) and all the attempts at appeasing Hitler during the 1930's failed,,, England came to her senses and realized she had another Napoleon on her hands......only this guy Hitler was a hundred times worse. I know this thread is about German carriers but that statement regarding Great Britain just hit me smack in the face.  Somehow convinced?????  Carry on.

 

I was being sarcastic, good sir. ;)

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1 minute ago, dseehafer said:

 

I was being sarcastic, good sir. ;)

My sincere apologies for not picking up on that. 

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1 hour ago, dmckay said:

My sincere apologies for not picking up on that. 

 

NP

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That mast though on Elbe.

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42 minutes ago, Doomlock said:

That mast though on Elbe.

 

Same mast that is on most WWII German warships...

 

Image result for konigsberg cruiser

 

Related image

 

Related image

 

Image result for emden cruiser

 

Image result for schleswig holstein battleship

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So long as the Germans continued to insist on installing those catapults and needing the launch trollies for aircraft, their carriers were doomed to failure as operational ships.  One of the things everybody else did throughout the war was find ways to stuff more and more aircraft onto an existing carrier.

When you have a carrier that has to use the catapults for every launch, and can't even launch the full complement of planes when the number is relatively small, you are doing something wrong.  Those launch trollies were both typical of German over-engineering and too fragile and complex for use on a carrier.

me109tn1.jpg

This system is really close to absurd for a carrier.

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I've always been a) Anglocentric and b) dubious of the build up to fight France being a consideration.

In the Franco-Prussian War Prussia kicked the stuffing out of France despite France having total naval superiority. You might be able to win at sea, but you can definitely win on land. I'm also not quite sure to what extent France could be starved into submission, she has a land border with Spain to import through, and the bulk of her colonies were in North Africa and the Far East - both of which are better served by the Mediterranean. I cannot see a German force surviving the Med given a total lack of basing options, general French superiority and the Gibraltar chokepoint. The UK needed material from Canada and the US, France - probably wanted it.

 

Is Potsdam's flight deck not flat? Or is that just perspective? I'd say perspective but Elbe is the same.

 

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Just now, mofton said:

I've always been a) Anglocentric and b) dubious of the build up to fight France being a consideration.

In the Franco-Prussian War Prussia kicked the stuffing out of France despite France having total naval superiority. You might be able to win at sea, but you can definitely win on land. I'm also not quite sure to what extent France could be starved into submission, she has a land border with Spain to import through, and the bulk of her colonies were in North Africa and the Far East - both of which are better served by the Mediterranean. I cannot see a German force surviving the Med given a total lack of basing options, general French superiority and the Gibraltar chokepoint. The UK needed material from Canada and the US, France - probably wanted it.

 

Is Potsdam's flight deck not flat? Or is that just perspective? I'd say perspective but Elbe is the same.

 

You need to remember that WW2 Spain was not friendly with France and was very much in debt with Germany in a lot of things. I don't think the country that sent an entire Infantry division to fight in the eastern front would have helped France - Blue Division

Edited by Jumarka

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1 hour ago, mofton said:

I've always been a) Anglocentric and b) dubious of the build up to fight France being a consideration.

In the Franco-Prussian War Prussia kicked the stuffing out of France despite France having total naval superiority. You might be able to win at sea, but you can definitely win on land. I'm also not quite sure to what extent France could be starved into submission, she has a land border with Spain to import through, and the bulk of her colonies were in North Africa and the Far East - both of which are better served by the Mediterranean. I cannot see a German force surviving the Med given a total lack of basing options, general French superiority and the Gibraltar chokepoint. The UK needed material from Canada and the US, France - probably wanted it.

 

Is Potsdam's flight deck not flat? Or is that just perspective? I'd say perspective but Elbe is the same.

 

 

No, it's not flat. Good eye. She was a cruiser liner conversion, she inherited all of the curvy "sexy" lines thereof. That is to say that her original deck-line as a liner was not flat and the Germans, I guess, didn't feel that they needed to correct/flatten it.

 

Edit: I made the mistake of labeling the 3d image as Potsdam. The ship is actually Elbe (converted from the ocean liner Potsdam) I fixed it now.

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39 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

Same mast that is on most WWII German warships...

No no, not the pole mast of the superstructure, the mast attached to the funnel.

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3 hours ago, Murotsu said:

So long as the Germans continued to insist on installing those catapults and needing the launch trollies for aircraft, their carriers were doomed to failure as operational ships.  One of the things everybody else did throughout the war was find ways to stuff more and more aircraft onto an existing carrier.

When you have a carrier that has to use the catapults for every launch, and can't even launch the full complement of planes when the number is relatively small, you are doing something wrong.  Those launch trollies were both typical of German over-engineering and too fragile and complex for use on a carrier.

me109tn1.jpg

This system is really close to absurd for a carrier.

 

 

1: As far as GZ is concerned, initially she wasn't entirely reliant on the catapults as her Feiselers could not be mounted on the trolleys and would have to take off normally. This changed when the Feiselers were swapped for Ju87s.

 

2: The catapults allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even when the carrier isn't moving (useful if you're parked in a Norwegian fjord), they allowed the carrier to launch aircraft in any direction and at any speed (none of this turning into the wind and increasing speed nonsense), they allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even in horrendous sea conditions (look at how many carrier air strikes on Tirpitz had to be canceled because the conditions were too rough), and they allowed her to launch and recover aircraft simultainiously. All of these are massively useful for use in the North Atlantic and for protecting capital ships and even commerce raiding (GZ's original job). The Launcher trollies were indeed clumsy and over-engineered, though. You (and by "you" I don't necessarily mean you personally) have to stop comparing German carrier designs to the carriers of other nations, of course, they'll pale in comparison. German carriers were not designed to meet the same requirements. You must look at the requirements they were designed for, doing so reveals that the catapult system was the best route for the Germans to take if they wished for carriers to be able to defend capital ships in any situation. Ranger, for example, is a superior carrier in the traditional sense over Graf Zeppelin in almost every way, but task Ranger with defending herself and her fleetmates while parked in a fjord and she's completely useless.

 

Edit: Elbe and Jade had an aircraft complement of 24 aircraft and her catapults are capable of launching 32 (some sources claim 36 aircraft) aircraft between them before needing to recharge. So there's no issue with being unable to launch as many planes as you have on a single charge.

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15 minutes ago, Doomlock said:

No no, not the pole mast of the superstructure, the mast attached to the funnel.

 

Oh.... I see.

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42 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

2: The catapults allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even when the carrier isn't moving (useful if you're parked in a Norwegian fjord), they allowed the carrier to launch aircraft in any direction and at any speed (none of this turning into the wind and increasing speed nonsense), and they allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even in horrendous sea conditions (look at how many air strikes on Tirpitz had to be canceled because the conditions were too rough).

The Norwegian Fjord is a useful environment, and potentially if you want to steam in X or Y direction, but the major weather constraint on carrier ops was landing rather than launching. Being able to launch your soft-undercarriage '109's is great, but in weather where other people won't be launching - you are sending those aircraft to destruction.

1 hour ago, Jumarka said:

You need to remember that WW2 Spain was not friendly with France and was very much in debt with Germany in a lot of things. I don't think the country that sent an entire Infantry division to fight in the eastern front would have helped France - Blue Division

Very good point, though Spain's staying out of WWII was noteworthy. There might be a route via Switzerland for the French, I'm honestly not sure - but the Med route seems pretty impervious to me. Sailing all the way around the UK, through Gib to hit those routes? Tricky.

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32 minutes ago, mofton said:

The Norwegian Fjord is a useful environment, and potentially if you want to steam in X or Y direction, but the major weather constraint on carrier ops was landing rather than launching. Being able to launch your soft-undercarriage '109's is great, but in weather where other people won't be launching - you are sending those aircraft to destruction.

 

 

 

Hmmm, I see your point. Will Edit.

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2 hours ago, dseehafer said:

 

 

1: As far as GZ is concerned, initially she wasn't entirely reliant on the catapults as her Feiselers could not be mounted on the trolleys and would have to take off normally. This changed when the Feiselers were swapped for Ju87s.

 

2: The catapults allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even when the carrier isn't moving (useful if you're parked in a Norwegian fjord), they allowed the carrier to launch aircraft in any direction and at any speed (none of this turning into the wind and increasing speed nonsense), they allowed the mothership to launch aircraft even in horrendous sea conditions (look at how many carrier air strikes on Tirpitz had to be canceled because the conditions were too rough), and they allowed her to launch and recover aircraft simultainiously. All of these are massively useful for use in the North Atlantic and for protecting capital ships and even commerce raiding (GZ's original job). The Launcher trollies were indeed clumsy and over-engineered, though. You have to stop comparing German carrier designs to the carriers of other nations, of course, they'll pale in comparison. German carriers were not designed to meet the same requirements. You must look at the requirements they were designed for, doing so reveals that the catapult system was the best route for the Germans to take if they wished for carriers to be able to defend capital ships in any situation. Ranger, for example, is a superior carrier in the traditional sense over Graf Zeppelin in almost every way, but task Ranger with defending herself and her fleetmates while parked in a fjord and she's completely useless.

 

Edit: Elbe and Jade had an aircraft complement of 24 aircraft and her catapults are capable of launching 32 (some sources claim 36 aircraft) aircraft between them before needing to recharge. So there's no issue with being unable to launch as many planes as you have on a single charge.

1.  So GZ wasn't but GZ was.  The whole trolley system and use of catapults as the primary, if not only means was a mistake.

2.  When GZ was designed and being constructed, Norwegian fjords weren't particularly on the KM's mind as a place to operate from.  The German military pre-war really had zero intention of invading Norway.  They saw more value in keeping Scandinavia neutral.  That whole operation was done on the fly as response to British and French operations in Scandinavia.  So, that reason doesn't really work.  As other nations demonstrated, carriers operating on their own weren't particularly constrained by wind.  Even if they had to turn into it, that was only very occasionally an issue.  If wind wasn't present, the ship could generate sufficient wind over the deck by its own speed.  One oddity of pre-war US carriers was they could launch or land aircraft over either end of the flight deck and had sufficient reverse speed to get wind over the deck for this.

The USN never expected carriers to operate from port.  That would have been viewed as a nearly insane requirement.  Why not just use a land based airfield instead?  Carriers were for generating air cover and air strikes at sea.  Aside from that, the Yorktown's had H2-1 catapults fitted and could launch from anchor.  This class is more contemporary with the Graf Zeppelin than the Ranger which was completed before the GZ was even laid down.

I'd say rough weather is an unreasonable concern too.  If seas are that rough, it's unlikely you can launch at all, catapult or no.  I know the USS Midway off Alaska in late 1983 was unable to launch due to rough weather and the Enterprise (I was on) was almost taking green water over the bow.  Cats didn't change they couldn't launch in some cases.

The trollies are a bigger issue too.  Since they have to follow rails in the deck, you can't pre-spot the strike on deck in its entirety.  You end up bringing planes up from the hanger as others launch.  Then there's the recovery of the trolley after each launch.  The ship carries only so many.  If any of these end up unusable while at sea it reduces the size of the strike you can launch even if planes are available.  So, the limiting factor could well be the number of trollies aboard the ship rather than the aircraft.  Setting the plane on the trolley is an added, and really unnecessary, step in the process compared to other nation's carrier ops.  This whole system just adds one more thing that can go wrong.

In any case, the US and Britain put catapults on their carriers.  These were sometimes used, and other times not.  Being flush with the flight deck they didn't interfere with rolling take offs, unlike GZ's raised ones.

 

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Very nice write-up.

 

And I like that you put these ships in their proper context. Outside-world constraints are a lot of times hugely important factors why things turn out the way they do.

 

Small nitpick: while it is correct that France was relying to a good deal (eg 3/4) on sealanes for commerce and supplies the same can be said about all major industrial nations in Europe. That is why Britain's sea power was such a problem. And the dependency on sea lanes isn't any different today - about 80% is a good ballpark figure.

 

Also, I know you are more in the KM camp but I would love to see something about Ausonia and the early trials. In fact these would have been the ones to pave the way. Operating a carrier fleet is much more than building a carrier. It is about new planes, capable crews, new tactics and lots of training and logistics programs. Without such foundation Germany was in a bad position to create and effective carrier force in WW2 so while GZ is a nice ship to look at - she wouldn't have been the ship she could have been if completed.

 

But nice article - I didn't know much more than the names of these projects (at least Elbe).

 

+1

Edited by lron_Dog_of_Jutland

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14 minutes ago, Murotsu said:

1.  So GZ wasn't but GZ was.  The whole trolley system and use of catapults as the primary, if not only means was a mistake.

2.  When GZ was designed and being constructed, Norwegian fjords weren't particularly on the KM's mind as a place to operate from.  The German military pre-war really had zero intention of invading Norway.  They saw more value in keeping Scandinavia neutral.  That whole operation was done on the fly as response to British and French operations in Scandinavia.  So, that reason doesn't really work.  As other nations demonstrated, carriers operating on their own weren't particularly constrained by wind.  Even if they had to turn into it, that was only very occasionally an issue.  If wind wasn't present, the ship could generate sufficient wind over the deck by its own speed.  One oddity of pre-war US carriers was they could launch or land aircraft over either end of the flight deck and had sufficient reverse speed to get wind over the deck for this.

The USN never expected carriers to operate from port.  That would have been viewed as a nearly insane requirement.  Why not just use a land based airfield instead?  Carriers were for generating air cover and air strikes at sea.  Aside from that, the Yorktown's had H2-1 catapults fitted and could launch from anchor.  This class is more contemporary with the Graf Zeppelin than the Ranger which was completed before the GZ was even laid down.

I'd say rough weather is an unreasonable concern too.  If seas are that rough, it's unlikely you can launch at all, catapult or no.  I know the USS Midway off Alaska in late 1983 was unable to launch due to rough weather and the Enterprise (I was on) was almost taking green water over the bow.  Cats didn't change they couldn't launch in some cases.

The trollies are a bigger issue too.  Since they have to follow rails in the deck, you can't pre-spot the strike on deck in its entirety.  You end up bringing planes up from the hanger as others launch.  Then there's the recovery of the trolley after each launch.  The ship carries only so many.  If any of these end up unusable while at sea it reduces the size of the strike you can launch even if planes are available.  So, the limiting factor could well be the number of trollies aboard the ship rather than the aircraft.  Setting the plane on the trolley is an added, and really unnecessary, step in the process compared to other nation's carrier ops.  This whole system just adds one more thing that can go wrong.

In any case, the US and Britain put catapults on their carriers.  These were sometimes used, and other times not.  Being flush with the flight deck they didn't interfere with rolling take offs, unlike GZ's raised ones.

 

 

The use of Fjords comes into play with Germanys mid-war carrier converts like Jade and Elbe since they would have taken advantage of the fjords. Same thing with GZ when construction was resumed in March 1942 (though you're right about Norwegian Fjords not being seen as a base of operations pre-war)

 

I used Ranger because she was the USN's big carrier in the Atlantic. So it would make more sense for her to be in a fjord than a Yorktown. She would have also been the only big American carrier that any operational German carrier would have had the possibility of running into (unless the Americans decide that the newfangled German carriers pose enough of a threat to warrant sending more carriers to the Atlantic). That's the reason I used Ranger as an example. I wasn't necessarily looking for a contemporary, rather I was looking for the most likely adversary. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say, the way i worded it may have been confusing.

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Okay.

Ranger historically was never fitted with catapults.  The USN decided she was too limited in future utility in late 1942 when they were going to install them.  But, had they been necessary she was to get two H2-1's like the Yorktown's had and escort carriers got.  These could launch 11,000 lbs. at 70 mph in 73 feet.  So, if stationary launching was necessary, the Ranger could have been modified to allow for it.

Ranger also had arresting gear fitted to allow bow or stern landings, so the flight deck could be operated in either direction.

As it was, being the oldest carrier in the US fleet by 1943, she wasn't worth the upgrading.  That's also the reason she remained in the Atlantic.  It was felt she was of inadequate capability for use in the Pacific.

Edited by Murotsu

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