History of the aircraft carrier

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Eugene Ely shortly after taking off from the USS Birmingham

First attempts in 1910

The first take-off of an aircraft from a ship occurred in the United States in late 1910 . The flight acrobat Eugene Burton Ely started with his Curtiss - biplane from a ramp on the deck of the cruiser USS Birmingham was built. However, the landing took place on land. Two months later he succeeded in another attempt to land on another ship, the USS  Pennsylvania . The fall arrest system for his aircraft consisted of ropes that were simply laid across the deck and braked by sandbags at the ends. This proved that ships can serve as take-off and landing platforms for aircraft.

First World War

Until the development of real aircraft carriers on which aircraft could take off and land, some navies maintained aircraft mother ships . These served as the base of operations for seaplanes , some of which were launched by catapults. They landed on the water next to the ship and were brought back on board by crane.

The HMS Furious of the British Navy, a converted cruiser , had a 70 meter long flight deck in front of the ship superstructure from 1917, on which aircraft could take off but not land. The machines therefore had to land on the water and were largely lost in the process. The Furious launched the first air raid on board a ship; the two German zeppelin halls in Tondern were successfully attacked and destroyed.

The concept was further developed into a seaplane carrier between the world wars .

The first operational aircraft carrier on which wheeled aircraft could safely take off and land was the British Navy's HMS Argus . It was created in 1918 by converting a half-finished passenger steamer, but was no longer used during the First World War . It was the first carrier with a smooth flight deck over the entire length of the ship.

Developments up to World War II

The Langley (1928)

From 1920 to 1922, the United States converted the Jupiter naval coal transporter into its first aircraft carrier, the Langley . The two following carriers, the Lexington and the Saratoga , both of which entered service in 1927, were also conversions. However, they were created from the hulls of two incomplete battle cruisers .

The British also converted other ships. This is how the Courageous and the Glorious emerged from battlecruisers (or rather from Large Light Battlecruisers - a hybrid of battlecruisers and light cruisers).

The first aircraft carriers that were developed from the outset as carriers were the Japanese Hōshō , which was commissioned in 1922, and the Hermes , which was completed by the British in 1924 and whose construction had begun before the Hōshō . The US followed with the Ranger in 1934 .

Akron airship launching an aircraft

From 1931 to 1935 the US Navy owned two rigid airships , the Akron and the Macon , which were able to drop and pick up fighter and reconnaissance aircraft. These airships were mainly used as reconnaissance aircraft. Both airships were lost in accidents.

From 1936, Germany built two large Graf Zeppelin class aircraft carriers . A construction freeze was imposed in 1940 when the Graf Zeppelin was in the final equipment while the second carrier was still on the pile and was demolished there.

In 1942 the aircraft carrier construction program was resumed. Work on the Graf Zeppelin was continued and passenger ships and cruisers were planned to be converted into aircraft carriers. When the carrier construction program was discontinued again in January 1943, four ships were being converted or prefabricated into aircraft carriers.

The largely completed Graf Zeppelin was aground in an arm of the Oder near Stettin in April 1945, captured by the Russians and sunk in the Baltic Sea in 1947 after attempting to detonate the ship. At the end of July 2006 the wreck was found about 30 nautical miles north of Wladyslawowo (Ellerwald).

Second World War

The Zuikaku

The Second World War showed how vulnerable ships were to aircraft. The sinking of the Bismarck on May 27, 1941 is a striking symbol of this .

Aircraft carriers replaced the battleships as the most powerful units. (see destruction of Force Z )

Major missions by aircraft carriers in World War II:

At the end of the Pacific War , the Japanese tried , above all, to master the overwhelming power of the American aircraft carriers with their Tokkōtai special forces.

The project of a huge British aircraft carrier made of ice under the project name Habbakuk was not implemented , but various preparatory work was carried out on this.

Development after the Second World War

Enterprise 2004
The Russian Admiral Kuznetsov
The French Charles de Gaulle

After World War II, two crucially important improvements were made to aircraft carriers:

  • Angle deck - take-off and landing is possible at the same time, and landing aircraft can take off if the safety cables are missed
  • Steam catapult - modern jet planes that are getting heavier and heavier with ever higher minimum speeds can still be started from the aircraft carrier

In addition, nuclear power was used for the first time to generate energy. The first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (eight nuclear reactors) was the American Navy's Enterprise . She was built at the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard and was in service from 1961 to 2017.

The currently largest aircraft carriers in the world are the American Nimitz- class carriers with a displacement of almost 100,000 tons. Ten of them were built and will be replaced by the new Gerald R. Ford class . The lead ship, the Gerald R. Ford , entered service on July 22, 2017 and replaced the Enterprise .

Other nations with aircraft carriers are Great Britain , France , Russia , People's Republic of China , Spain , South Korea , Italy , India , Thailand and Brazil . However, due to the immense cost of an aircraft carrier, the carriers in these countries are significantly smaller than the American ones.

France tried to present a counterpart to the American porters with the Charles de Gaulle, which was put into service in 1997 . It was the first European nuclear-powered carrier and was significantly larger than the other European aircraft carriers. However, there was no success. Even during the construction phase, the costs shot up to astronomical heights. Since it was put into service, the ship has repeatedly struggled with technical problems, among other things, the propeller broke during the first voyage and the reactor overheated.

Great Britain is currently planning to build two new aircraft carriers that will become the largest European warships ever built ( Queen Elizabeth class ). The commissioning of the carriers is planned for 2020. In the meantime France has also expressed its interest in this project in order to possibly supplement the ten-year-old Charles de Gaulle with a carrier of this type.


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