Source: Imgur user dzibanorama
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.
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.
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.
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.