The Royal Navy introduced the aircraft carrier during World
War One. Although the type was new, many naval officers could envision the
operational possibilities of striking an enemy fleet from well beyond the
horizon. In the 1920s Japan and the United States also built small fledgling
carriers with the Hosho and Langley
as their first experiments in aircraft carriers. With the Washington Treaty of
1922 all three major naval powers moved some of their capital ship construction
into conversions for aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy did this in a small way
with a conversion of a slow battleship into HMS
Eagle and conversion of the hybrids, Furious,
Glorious and Courageous
into full aircraft carriers. These were all smaller and less capable ships than
the Japanese and American conversions. Japan converted an unfinished battleship
and battle cruiser into the Kaga and Akagi,
while the USN converted two unfinished battle cruisers into the Lexington
and Saratoga. All three powers still
had available tonnage for carrier construction for the rest of the decade but
this period was used for experimentation with the existing ships as they entered
By the mid 1930s aircraft types had made such a great leap in performance that all three powers built new carriers designed from the keel up as aircraft carriers. All three built up to their maximum tonnage allowed under the 1930 London Treaty. Of the three, Japan went a step further. Although no more carriers were allowed under the treaty, other types of warships could still be built. The Japanese Navy clearly foresaw the possibility if not probability of war with the United States and to a lesser extent Great Britain and also recognized the importance of the aircraft carrier. A number of hulls for new construction were started and slated for different types of ships, such as fast fleet oilers or seaplane tenders, but were also designed to be relatively quickly converted into light aircraft carriers. With the lapse of international treaties and the coming of World War Two, most of these ships were indeed converted into aircraft carriers.
At the start of World War Two the Royal Navy desperately needed additional carriers, for convoy protection as much as for fleet duty. CAM ships could provide one shot protection by catapulting a single fighter to counter German aircraft but that was unattractive duty as the plane had to ditch when in ran out of fuel and rescue of the pirate was problematical. The answer came with merchant ship conversion into a new type of carrier, the CVE. Usually these were slow with a limited air complement but they were crucial in swinging the Battle of the Atlantic towards allied victory. They could also be used in the Pacific but that huge arena of combat also demanded fast carriers. Attrition was high among the fleet carriers of the USN in 1942. Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp were all lost. Saratoga was a torpedo magnet and spent far more time under repair than in operations. At one point the operational carriers of the US Pacific Fleet consisted only of USS Enterprise. The Essex class fleet carriers would be coming on line in 1944 (as originally forecast) but these big carriers took time to build. There was, however, one other class of carrier that would come into service in 1943 to supplement the fleet until the mass of Essex class fleet carriers were ready. This was the Independence class of light carrier.
The aircraft carrier had already proven its worth in service with the Royal Navy, especially the attack on Taranto, which immobilized the Italian fleet. However, the USN needed more carriers. The Hornet CV8 would not be completed until late 1941 and the Essex class was years in the future. The initial units of the class were ordered but at this time it appeared that they would not be available until 1944. The President wanted carriers before that time.
The Independence class light carrier owes its birth to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In early 1941 President Roosevelt was worried about the status of the United States Navy. Europe seemed firmly under control of Germany, as France had fallen the year before. The British continued to receive reversals and since Germany and the Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact, it seemed that there was no likely relief for the beleaguered island, other than the possibility of the United States. In the Pacific relations were steadily worsening with Japan. He insisted that the navy convert a number of cruiser hulls of the large Cleveland class light cruiser program into aircraft carriers. He looked at the construction program and noticed a huge number of Cleveland class light cruisers already under or slated for construction. Why not convert some of those to aircraft carriers? At first the admirals were against the idea but it was fortunate that the President had the foresight to insist upon the carrier conversion. When presented with the President’s plan, the Admirals found only difficulties with its implementation. The hulls were too narrow and since the bow sheer was pronounced, the hangar and flight deck would be too short. There would be difficulties in routing the stack trunks and the forward elevator would be too far aft because of the narrowness of the bow. However, President Roosevelt wanted new carriers and acceptable compromises were developed to overcome the problems. A small island was built outboard of the hull and instead of trunking all exhausts into one stack, exhaust ducts were run outboard and the four stacks supported with bracing. Thus the Independence class of light aircraft carriers was born.
The Independence class could steam at 32 knots and stay with the fleet. On a limited displacement of 10,000 tons the ships packed a very formidable air wing of 45 aircraft. This air complement was far more formidable than the numbers of aircraft that could be carried by the Japanese converted aircraft carriers and was at least equal to the striking power of most British full fleet carriers.
Originally they were to use the standard CV nomenclature but due to their smaller size, they renamed light carriers CVL. Nine were ordered and converted from Cleveland class light cruiser hulls. All nine were commissioned in 1943 with USS Independence CVL-22 the first on January 1, 1943 and USS San Jacinto CVL-30 the last on December 15, 1943.
The design did provide fast carriers on a comparatively light displacement and were very cramped because of their size. However, in comparing the Independence class with Japanese light carrier designs, the USN CVL packed a very strong punch. Originally slated to carry 45 aircraft, the Independence could carry 40 in the hangar. Because of their high speed they served with the fast fleet units and were normally teamed with Essex class fleet carriers. Near the end of the war with a surplus of Essex class construction, they would sometimes serve to ferry aircraft with 40 in the hangar and 60 to 70 on deck. They had a limited future after the war, as they were simply a war time expedient. Originally slated to carry only fighters, they were to carry 48 F8F Bearcats and operate with the Essex and Midway classes, which would carry the attack aircraft. With budget cuts they were quickly removed from the fleet and placed in reserve status.
USS Independence was completed with 5-inch/25 gun positions at bow and stern but all of the subsequent ships were completed with 40mm mounts in these positions. The Independence was completed with two 5-inch/25 guns, sixteen 40mm guns and ten 20mm guns. As the war progressed the Oerlikons disappeared in favor of more Bofors. By the end of the war all of the class mounted 26 or 28 40mm guns in twin and quadruple mounts. Independence was part of the carrier strike force used in the invasion of Tarawa. During this campaign she took a torpedo from a Japanese aircraft in November 1943 and spent half a year under repair. She rejoined the fleet and was with the other fast carriers throughout the rest of the war. After the war the Independence was part of the atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll in 1946. She received minor damage as she was removed from the epicenter of the blast. Decommissioned in August 1946, she was used for weapons trials. In February 1951 she was used as a target and sunk. (History from: Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau )
Dragon has released the USS Independence light carrier kit in 1:700 scale. This new release is part of their "Premium Edition" that adds additional features and parts to the original kit. Highlights of the "Premium Edition" for the Independence include new aircraft, as clear plastic F6Fs Hellcats and TBF Avengers are included in the kit, a new decal sheet, a brass photo-etch set that includes a brass hangar deck and clear plastic flight deck so that you can build the model showing the hangar.
Sprue A – Hull
This fret also includes many other structural items for the hull. There is a so-so forecastle deck, end bulkheads with access doors, four stacks, nice stack external bracing and island. There are some nice plastic parts that you will not use because of the extras included in this Premium Edition kit. No need to use the plastic island mast, radar or boat crane, as the kit includes far better and finer brass photo-etch replacements on the enclosed fret. Other items include flag/jack staffs, bow and stern gun tubs, and bracing.
Sprue B –Weapons
Sprue C– This sprue is produced in clear styrene plastic. Without the prior release of the Independence, I cannot say if this same sprue appeared in the earlier version in opaque gray, or if this sprue has been entirely redesigned. It is dominated by the flight deck. Since the Premium Edition Independence comes with a brass hangar, some modelers may wish to leave this deck in clear plastic so that the hangar with planes can be seen below it. The flight deck has the side galleries and gun sponsons already part of the deck and both galleries and gun tubs have foot plate grids visible in the plastic. For the galleries, they show a perforated design but this is achieved through relief, rather than having actual holes for the perforations. For the gun positions, there is a cross-hatched grid design. This appears to be over scale but nonetheless the effect is attractive. Not every deck plank is depicted and yet there are sufficient lines to provide the planked effect. Arrestor gear positions are also molded into the plastic. The two deck elevators are clearly and cleanly indicated. They are part of the flight-deck and do not come as separate parts for assembly in a down position.
Although the deck is the major item in this sprue, there are many other clear plastic parts found with it. The two most prominent are the hangar bulkheads. These bulkheads are loaded with detail, which includes roller screens in a closed position, doors, vertical ladders, ventilation openings, and portholes. The forward bulkheads are separate parts with detail consisting of portholes. Seven platforms are also found on this sprue, all of which had a foot grid pattern in relief. Other clear plastic parts are two twin 40mm guns with separate mounts, 22 carley floats and other miscellaneous fittings.
Sprue D– This sprue is concerned with the underwater portion of the model. The DML Independence, Premium Edition, can be built as waterline or full hull. The sprue is dominated by the lower half of the hull. Locator holes for the propeller shafts, shaft supports and rudder are found on the part. However, the keel appears too thick. Also on this sprue are the four shafts and four propellers, which are nicely done parts, as well as the single rudder. A stand for the full hull version of the model is also included with a nameplate for USS Independence.
K Sprue – Weapons & Fittings
Aircraft Sprues – One feature of the initial release of Independence, which caused mirth and wonderment, was the inclusion of only two aircraft and those two were of an entirely wrong type. Although the A sprue still has the single F9F and single TBD Dauntless Devastator, however these three sprues of clear plastic aircraft are measurably superior. Not only are they the correct types of aircraft, but also they are very well done. Each of the three sprues contains two F6F Hellcats and two TBM Avengers. Each aircraft can be assembled with folded wings or wings extended and comes with separate landing gear and propeller. The fuselage and wings have relief scribed panel lines. Although the scribbing may be over-scale the effect on these miniatures models is excellent. These aircraft further increase the attractiveness of building at least one version with a clear flight deck and hangar bulkheads to show the aircraft with wings folded in the hangar. With the options allowed by the clear deck, hangar deck detail and Hellcats and Avengers, one is tempted to get at least two of these kits. One can be built waterline and painted with aircraft ranged on deck and a full hull version could be built with clear deck and hangar bulkheads with aircraft stowed below.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret – One very great addition to any DML Premium Edition is the inclusion of a ship specific brass photo-etch fret in the kit. This is true with the new version of USS Independence. The included fret does not include generic parts such as inclined ladders, and although it does have one short run of vertical ladder and some railing, could probably use more of the generic parts. The fret is dominated by the hangar deck. Relief-etched the hangar deck almost begs to be included with planes stowed with a see-through flight deck. End bulkheads are also in brass. The complex mast tower atop the island is done in photo-etch, which provides fineness of detail that plastic parts cannot hope to duplicate. Other essential parts are the radar array and boat crane, two additional inclusions which are far superior in brass. The inclusion of the brass fret alone, makes the Premium Edition DML Independence, far superior in terms of quality over the previous all plastic parts versions.
Decals– Dragon has included a new sheet of decals for this release. Produced by the Italian company of Cartograf, the new decal sheet provides additional options for the modeler. There are three stern names provided in this sheet; USS Independence; USS Monterey and USS San Jacinto. Although four large deck 2s, two 3s, two 6s and two 0s are included on the sheet, allowing for the numbers of other ships of the class to be modeled, there are only those three name plates. Likewise the small white hull numbers only include the numbers for those three carriers, # 22, 26 or 30. A full set of deck markings is included, as well as four national ensigns in two different sizes. Another option included in the decals is a choice of aircraft markings. Included are 50 national insignia with red outlines, used in 1943 and 50 national insignia without red outlines used for the rest of the war. Since each aircraft will show three insignia, one on the wing and two on the fuselage, there are more than enough to equip all included aircraft with enough to spare to add the insignia to the underside of the wings. Another fine touch is the inclusion of specific wing and tail markings of the checkerboard design worn by the aircraft of USS Independence.
Instructions– The instructions are produced in the standard fan fold out style of DML. There are eight pages. The first page includes depictions of the parts sprues and fret with unused parts highlighted in blue. Unused parts comprise a good portion of the K sprues and almost all of the parts of the B sprues. Page two includes icons used in construction, paint color designations and paint and markings detail for the aircraft. Page three contains hull assembly, as well as armament assembly. Page four finishes hull assembly and also depicts platform with some fittings assembly. Page five attaches the flight deck and includes bracing and tower detail. Page six finishes assembly with boat crane, stacks and island attachment. There are two pages with dazzle paint schemes. One is for USS Monterey CVL-26 in January 1944 with a Measure 33/3D dazzle. The other is for USS San Jacinto CVL-30 in January 1944 with a Measure 33/7A dazzle.
Verdict – The Dragon Premium Edition of USS Independence does provide a significant improvement over the previous versions of the USN light carrier design. Although some sprues appear to be the same ones found in the earlier kits, new sprues and other inclusions significantly improve the kit. Chief among these improvements are new aircraft sprues and a brass photo-etched fret. You will certainly need some DML Independence light carriers to run with your DML Essex class fleet carriers.