Eyes of the Fleet – WW2 American Seaplane Operations

Source: Imgur user

Picture heavy!

Eyes of the Fleet – Seaplane Operations

Cruiser-based seaplanes provided the ability for small flotillas and single ships to scout vast areas of ocean in the search for enemy activity. Additionally, seaplanes afforded a small measure of offensive capability–against submarines, for example, or lightly armed merchant ships. The usual complement for a cruiser was four seaplanes. Pictured are Curtiss SOC Seagulls, the mainstay scout aircraft of the late 1930s.

Launch

Launching aircraft was straightforward. The planes sat atop catapult rails and were launched with either steam from the ship’s boilers or a gunpowder charge.

Creating a slick

Recovering them was a bit trickier, because choppy water made landing a floatplane dangerous. To create a smooth patch of water for the aircraft to land upon, the ship would execute a sharp turn, creating a “slick” of becalmed water in it’s wake, as seen here. Pictured is USS New Orleans.

Formation “slicking”

In this photo, the heavy cruisers of the Scouting Force turn in formation to create slicks to recover aircraft. The planes can be seen landing behind the two middle cruisers. From front to back: USS Chicago, USS Louisville, USS Salt Lake City, and USS Northampton.

Landing

The aircraft then lands on the slick and taxis up to the ship. Notice the difference in wave height between the ship’s wake and the open water.
The "sled"

The “sled”

For recovery, a “sled” or “mat” is towed behind or alongside the ship. On top of the sled is a cargo net of webbed ropes, into which a hook on the central float of the aircraft would connect. The sled would enable the ship to drag the hooked aircraft along, so the ship wouldn’t have to come to a complete stop to recover her planes. Notice the small bombs under the Seagull’s wings–the aircraft could carry two 250lb. bombs or depth charges.
The hook

The hook

Here, a sailor is holding the hook which would connect with the cargo net.
Cargo net

Cargo net

The cargo net that caught the plane’s hook is plainly visible here. The ship would then haul the sled, with the connected aircraft, closer to the ship.
Cargo net

Cargo net

Another view of the cargo net on the sled, this time with a late-war SC Seahawk. Later in the album, there’ll be more information about the various types of seaplanes used.
Connecting

Connecting

Once the plane has caught the sled, the pilot cuts the engine, and the ship maneuvers her crane over the aircraft. On two-man aircraft like the Seagull shown here, the second crewman would climb out and attach the crane’s cable to the attachment point on the aircraft, while the pilot held his ankles to keep him steady. The sled hook on the underside of the central float is visible.
Hoisting

Hoisting

The crane then lifts the plane aboard…
Nesting

Nesting

…and deposits it onto the catapult rail…
Hangar

Hangar

…or lowers the aircraft into the ship’s hangar. Seen here is a Seagull in the hangar aboard a Brooklyn-class light cruiser, with its wings folded and panels open for maintenance. This view is facing aft, and the hangar doors are directly above the aircraft.
Early cruisers

Early cruisers

The first cruiser designs didn’t have a dedicated airplane hangar, so the aircraft were stored topside on the catapult rails at all times. Shown here is a Seagull being lowered onto the starboard rail on an Omaha-class light cruiser. The Omaha-class was the only type of light cruiser to place the catapults amidships–all following light cruisers located the aviation equipment at the stern.
Visitors and biplanes aboard USS Cincinnati at Vancouver 1937

Visitors and biplanes aboard USS Cincinnati at Vancouver 1937

A view of the catapult deck aboard the Omaha-class cruiser, USS Cincinnati, taken in 1937 during a visit to British Columbia. Note the starboard Seagull has its wings folded in storage position, while the port-side Seagull’s wings are spread.
USS Cincinnati at Vancouver

USS Cincinnati at Vancouver

Another view of the catapults and the Seagulls aboard USS Cincinnati during her visit to Vancouver.
Introduction of hangars

Introduction of hangars

Hangars were included on light cruiser designs beginning with the Brooklyn-class ships of the mid 1930s. The hangar was situated at the stern and protected by a sliding roof door, visible in the open position here, with several men standing atop it. Of the standard complement of four planes, two would usually be kept topside on the catapults, with the other two stored inside the hangar. All four planes could fit inside, though, in case of combat or inclement weather. Additionally, two aircraft could fit on each catapult, meaning that these cruisers were capable of carrying eight planes; this was done to ferry replacement aircraft to ships in need.
Inside the Hangar

Inside the Hangar

The hangar on Brooklyn- and Cleveland-class cruisers was fairly spacious. The aircraft would sit on a dolly, seen in the foreground, and could be rolled around on the rails set into the deck. The ground crew slept with their planes: note the bunks set into the bulkheads left and right. This view is facing forward.
Heavy Cruisers

Heavy Cruisers

The Pensacola-class was the first series of American cruisers to be known as “heavy cruisers”, replacing the earlier term of “armored cruisers.” Entering service in 1928, they were designed with catapult rails for launching seaplanes, but without hangars. The aircraft shown are Vought O2U Corsairs, which were replaced by the SOC Seagull a few years after this photo was taken.
Heavy Cruisers

Heavy Cruisers

The next class of heavy cruisers, the Northampton-class, was the first type to include an aviation hangar (and the first class of ship to have bunks instead of hammocks!). All subsequent cruiser designs would feature them. In contrast to the stern-mounted facilities on most light cruisers, on heavy cruisers the catapults and hangar were located amidships, as seen on this New Orleans-class cruiser. This would only change with the development of the Baltimore-class heavy cruisers (and their prototype, USS Wichita), introduced in 1943. These were basically scaled-up versions of the Brooklyn-class light cruisers, and the aviation facilities were at the stern.
Heavy Cruisers

Heavy Cruisers

A view of the hangar aboard the New Orleans-class cruiser USS San Francisco.
Vought OS2U Kingfisher

Vought OS2U Kingfisher

The Curtiss SOC Seagull biplane, seen in most of the photos so far, was the standard seaplane from the mid-1930s. Soon after its introduction, plans were made for a more modern, single-winged aircraft to complement the Seagull, and the Vought OS2U Kingfisher was the result. It entered service in 1940 and served throughout the war as the Navy’s primary scout seaplane. In this famous image, pilots shot down near Truk Atoll were rescued by a Kingfisher, and are awaiting transfer to the submarine USS Tang.
Curtiss SO3C Seamew

Curtiss SO3C Seamew

Shortly after work began on the Kingfisher, the Curtiss company was approached to develop another modern scout seaplane which would fully replace the Seagull. Curtiss’ new design, the SO3C Seamew (named after a kind of seagull), suffered a difficult and protracted development due to engine problems and in-flight stability issues. Here, a Seamew is launched from aboard the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Biloxi in mid-1943.
Seamew, part deux

Seamew, part deux

Eventually, many of the Seamew’s flaws were addressed: notice the unique upwardly-curved wingtips to fix the stability problems, as well as the unusual shape of the plane’s inverted-V engine. Despite this, it was obsolete and (still) underpowered by the time it finally entered service in 1943, and was a disappointment to both the US Navy and the Royal Navy. The Seamew was withdrawn from active service after only a year, and the Seagull biplanes, which had been relegated to training roles, were again sent to front-line units.
Curtiss SC Seahawk

Curtiss SC Seahawk

By 1942, it was clear that all seaplane types were badly in need of replacement with modern designs. Curtiss, still struggling with the SO3C, started on a fresh concept and worked on it in parallel: the SC Seahawk. The Seahawk was designed to a different philosophy: where previous aircraft carried several crew members, the Seahawk would have only the pilot. Deliveries began in 1944, and it didn’t see combat until 1945. As with many of the “best planes of the war,” it arrived too late for a really meaningful contribution. Here, a Seahawk is being dragged upon the sled toward the large cruiser USS Alaska during the Iwo Jima operation in 1945.
SC Seahawk

SC Seahawk

The recovery procedure in 1945 was much the same as in 1929. Since the Seahawk carried only a pilot, he had to climb out of the aircraft to attach the crane’s cable. The Seahawk had much better performance than earlier designs, with a maximum speed of over 300 mph–150 mph faster than the Kingfisher. Though it only carried the pilot, there was a compartment in the rear fuselage to carry a rescued pilot, or a stretcher for medevac.
.
SC Seahawk

SC Seahawk

A Seahawk pilot makes fast the recovery cable. It seems like it was a somewhat complicated process, requiring the pilot to climb out onto one wing, then the other, to open the panels on the nose where the securing hardware was located. The Seahawk was the last seaplane used by the US Navy, as the role was quickly taken over by helicopters after the end of the war.
Thanks for reading!
The End!

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Eyes of the Fleet – WW2 American Seaplane Operations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s