The primary mission of the aircraft carrier is to deploy and recover aircraft – effectively operating as a seagoing airbase. Each carrier at the time would have over thousand sailors and upwards of 30 aircraft. The US Navy fielded an incredible 36 carriers during WWII, the Royal Navy 24 and the French Navy had one obsolete carrier. The US navy used most of their carrier against the very powerful Japanese Navy in the Pacific that was arguably the most capable carrier force at the beginning of the war.
Typically the aircraft carrier formed a part of fast carrier force, being able to strike long and hard at the enemy, even in the most unlikely areas. They were heavily defended by destroyers, light cruisers and often powerful fast battleships – not to mention their own aircraft defenses against enemy carriers.
The Allies lost 9 aircraft carriers during the war, 3 of the 4 Royal Navy losses were to German U-boats.
Aircraft carriers, both during the British attack on Taranto in Nov 1940 and of course Pearl Harbor in Dec 1941, proved to be the future of naval warfare, along with submarines. In modern times the aircraft carrier is the ultimate show of naval power.
All Aircraft carrier classes
The list is divided by navy, then ordered by commissioned date of each class (oldest first).
|Béarn (1)||1927 - 1927|
|Courageous (2)||1916 - 1916|
|Furious (1)||1917 - 1917|
|Argus (1)||1918 - 1918|
|Hermes (1)||1923 - 1923|
|Eagle (1)||1924 - 1924|
|Ark Royal (1)||1938 - 1938|
|Illustrious (3)||1940 - 1941|
|Indomitable (1)||1941 - 1941|
|Unicorn (1)||1943 - 1943|
|Colossus (10)||1944 - 1948|
|Implacable (2)||1944 - 1944|
|Lexington (2)||1927 - 1927|
|Ranger (1)||1934 - 1934|
|Yorktown (3)||1937 - 1941|
|Wasp (1)||1940 - 1940|
|Essex (24)||1942 - 1950|
|Midway (3)||1945 - 1947|
Please note that we list the classes by navies that initiated/owned the class. Often vessels of certain classes were then built for other nations (or lent), those ships are not visible here but only through the navies pages or by looking into each class.
War losses: Aircraft carriers
|17 Sep 1939||HMS Courageous (50)||Courageous|
|8 Jun 1940||HMS Glorious (77)||Courageous|
|13 Nov 1941||HMS Ark Royal (91)||Ark Royal|
|9 Apr 1942||HMS Hermes (D 95)||Hermes|
|8 May 1942||USS Lexington (CV 2)||Lexington|
|7 Jun 1942||USS Yorktown (i) (CV 5)||Yorktown|
|11 Aug 1942||HMS Eagle (94)||Eagle|
|15 Sep 1942||USS Wasp (CV 7)||Wasp|
|27 Oct 1942||USS Hornet (i) (CV 8)||Yorktown|
9 Aircraft carriers lost. See all Allied Warship losses.
Ian W. Toll
Books dealing with this subject include:
Aircraft Carriers, Macintyre, Donald, 1968 (transl.)