With the end of World War Two, the US Navy no longer needed all of her fleet carriers. Of the pre-war carriers, only the Enterprise was retained to go into reserve. Most of the huge Essex class also went into reserve with only a few of the newer units on active duty with the Midway class heavy carriers. Even one carrier, the Oriskany was not completed and frozen in time. With the introduction of jet aircraft it became clear to the Admirals that the fleet carrier would have to be upgraded, as Congress certainly wasn't going to fund new ones and naval aviation was in the fight for its life with the Big Bomber Boys of the USAF. The first major modification to the Essex class carrier was the Ship Characteristic Board, SCB-27A.
The Oriskany (CV-34) was the initial ship to receive SCB-27A, as she was still incomplete and was finished to this standard. Essex CV-9 and Wasp CV-18 were right behind and started work on September 1, 1948. Essex was commissioned in 1951 as CVA-9 with the SCB-27A modifications. These included the landing of all deck twin 5-inch/38 turrets; replacing the old island and stack with a new combined design; installation of new H-8s catapults to launch the heavier jet aircraft; addition of jet blast deflectors on the flight deck; flight deck strengthening; installation of more powerful elevators; addition of a starboard side escalator underneath the island; removal of side armor and widening the beam to 101-feet; installation of higher capacity cranes; installation of a deck landing mirror; division of the hangar into two spaces by addition of fire-proof doors; increase in stowage capacity of aviation fuel; new stronger bomb lifts; replacement of 40mm Bofors with twin 3-inch guns; deletion of all 20mm Oerlikons; and other minor changes to increase the efficiency of the carriers in handling heavier jet aircraft. Other carriers to receive SCB-27A were Yorktown CV-10, Hornet CV-12, Randolph CV-15, Bennington CV-20, Kearsarge CV-33, and Lake Champlain CV-39. The bow of the SCB-27A ships were still open. Essex served two war tours off of Korea in her SCB-27A configuration. This cruise book is her first peace time tour 1953-1954 and features one big change in her aircraft component. One fighter squadron fields the new swept wing Grumman F9F-6 Cougar.
The first change that anyone would notice from the WW2 Essex is the replacement of the original island with the new combined island/stack. It seems that the photographs in this cruise book indicate that the new island was somewhat of a magnet for the carrier's aircraft.
Although all of the twin 5-inch/38 deck turrets were removed, the SCB-27A Essex still carried eight 5-inch/38 open mount guns in two gun platforms at each corner of the flight deck. As mentioned a new twin 3-inch AA gun mount replaced each of the previous quadruple 40mm Bofors mounts.
With the removal of the 20mm Oerlikons, there now was more gallery space. Even as early as 1953 the Essex was experimenting with unmanned aircraft.
Any carrier will operate with other ships. Some are escorts and then there is always the need for underway replenishment.
The very purpose of the aircraft carrier is air operations. It should come as no surprise that The Essex Epic, Third Far East Tour 1953-1954, features more photographs of the aircraft and air operations than the photographs of the ship itself.
The original contract for the XF9F2 Panther in 1946 had a clause for development of a swept wing version of the aircraft. However, the initial design effort went into the classic straight wing version, which flew in the Korean War, as Grumman thought that the low speed characteristics of a swept wing version was too poor. Then the MiG-15 appeared in November 1950 and the Soviet built aircraft, basically using the same Rolls-Royce engine as the Panther, was 100 miles an hour faster. Within a month of the MiG-15's appearance, the Navy and Grumman had entered into a new contract to convert the F9F-5 Panther to a swept wing version, which became the F9F-6 Cougar. For her far eastern cruise in 1953-1954 Essex had the new Cougars of Fighter Squadron 143.
The Grumman F9F-5 Panther was the most numerous of the Panther variants. Powered by a Pratt and Whitney J48 engine, a version of a Rolls-Royce engine, The F9F-5 was slightly longer than the F9F-4 and started going into service in November 1950. As they became available the F9F-5 Panthers replaced the earlier F9F-2 Panthers in navy fighter squadrons. The last F9F-5 was delivered in January 1953, as the F9F-6 Cougar was selected to replace all Grumman Panthers. However, there certainly were not enough Cougars to go around, so the Essex carried one squadron of F9F-6 Cougars and one squadron of F9F-5 Panthers of Fighter Squadron 123.
The forgotten jet of the Korean War was the F2H Banshee, nicknamed the Banjo. The Banshee served alongside the Panthers but did not get the publicity of the Grumman jet. This McDonnell twin engine jet served in various capacities, as a night fighter, as an all weather fighter and as a photographic bird. As such the Banjo was carried in fewer numbers than the standard day fighters, Panther or Cougar, but had greater flexibility. In 1953 the Essex carried two Banshee units, Fighter Squadron 23 and as part of Composite Squadron 3.
The Douglas AD Skyraider was an anachronism, a propeller driven aircraft in the age of jets. However, it was the radial Wright R-3350 Cyclone, which produced up to 2,800 hp, that made the Skyraider so valuable as a strike aircraft. This power plant was the most powerful piston engine put into a USN service aircraft and allowed the Able Dog to carry up to 8,000 pounds of ordnance. It is ironic that in the early jet age, jet designs came and went like the fall fashions but the big, burley Skyraider continued to fly on and on in service. For the 1953-1954 cruise Essex had one attack squadron of Skyraiders, Attack Squadron 55.
Two other units flew special variants of the Skyraider,. The AD-5Q Guppies of VC-11 Team Item provided airborne early warning, while the Skyraiders of VC-35 Detachment Item (VAN-25) provided night and all weather attack capability.
For air guard the Essex is still carrying the beautifully proportioned Sikorski H-5 Dragonfly helicopter. The detachment carried was HU-1 Unit 10.
Carrier aviation is one of the most dangerous jobs in the navy or any branch of the military. Even in peace time it is very hazardous and accidents can be common, especially in fielding new equipment. In looking through the 1953-1954 Essex cruise book, it seems that CVA-9 had more than her fair share of mishaps. I don't think present day carrier cruise books would feature this much emphasis on aircraft accidents. It is a different era. Aircraft accidents don't go well with a zero defects political environment. It is refreshing to see a candid look at aircraft mishaps that invariably accompany aircraft operations on a carrier. The last couple of photographs show two of the damaged aircraft being off-loaded to a barge.
The Essex Epic, Third Far East Tour 1953-1954 presents a very good look at the USS Essex CVA-9 after her first major modification SCB-27A. Although she still has her WW2 axial flight deck and open bow, her new island and other improvements for jet aircraft operation are the first major steps in the evolution of the Essex class aircraft carriers.