(USS Card departs San Francisco, CA with a load of F-102 Delta Dagger fighters on the wooden WWII flight deck. The supersonic F-102 was based at home, at overseas airbases in Japan, West Germany, and the Philippines; and during the Vietnam War in South Vietnam. It was also exported to Greece and Turkey.)
After WWII, some of the US Navy’s escort carriers were converted for aircraft ferry use. While not the most glamorous mission, they filled an important niche in the use of American airpower during the Cold War.
Rise of the “jeep carriers”
The CVE (escort aircraft carrier) of WWII was a cheap, mass-produced way to put warplanes to sea. This idea existed at the start of WWII, but was brought to fruition by the industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, who had organized the Liberty Ship program. Kaiser proposed applying Liberty Ship techniques to CVEs, using stock merchant hulls and engines as the base. This was successful and the time between keel laying and commissioning was cut to as little as 100 days.
During WWII the US Navy commissioned eleven of the Bogue class, four of the Sangamon class, fifty of the Casablanca class, eighteen of the Commencement Bay class, and the one-off’s USS Charger and USS Long Island. Another, USS Tinian (CVE-123) was complete but never commissioned at the end of WWII, and four more were scrapped incomplete at WWII’s end plus eleven cancelled altogether. Additionally the USA built thirty-eight for Lend-Lease to the Royal Navy.
CVEs were tremendously successful in defeating the u-boat menace in the Atlantic. These small and slow carriers also supported amphibious landings, freeing up fast fleet carriers for combat in the Pacific.
(Because of their limitations, CVEs often flew older types during WWII. Here, a SOC-3A Seagull biplane catches the wires aboard USS Long Island (CVE-1) in June 1942. USS Long Island was a one-off bizarre design, with a catapult that ran diagonally across the flight deck.)
(A F4F Wildcat fighter sits aboard USS Steamer Bay (CVE-87) about eight weeks before the end of WWII. This late into the conflict, larger fleet carriers had long since moved on to the Hellcat and Corsair and were preparing for the Bearcat.)
The down side was that CVEs were slow and unable to keep pace with ships like the Essex or Iowa classes. They had limited communications gear, were unarmored and easily damaged, and had very small flight decks and hangars. Six were sunk during WWII (half of the US Navy’s entire carrier losses, ever) including USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73), the only American carrier sunk by a battleship. A seventh, USS Sangamon (CVE-26) was heavily damaged by a kamikaze and not repaired. Whereas the US Navy’s big fleet carriers had expected careers of a third of a century, CVEs were built with expected lifespans of only 60 months.
Similarly to specialized amphibious types and Atlantic convoy patrol craft, the CVEs were left without a mission with the end of WWII. Many decommissioned into reserve between 1946-1949.
(This photo of a Grumman Guardian taking off from USS Mindoro (CVE-120) illustrates the limitations CVEs had after WWII, as postwar naval aircraft grew in size, weight, and engine power. The anti-submarine plane’s wingspan is barely less than the flight deck’s width.)
Beyond the fact that the US Navy’s budget was too tight to operate them, there were inherent limits that couldn’t be ‘modernized away’. Some had new postwar radars and radios added however there was a ceiling as to how many kilowatts their electrical plants could output. The biggest issues were their slow engines and, most importantly, small flight decks, of which nothing could be done.
Various miscellaneous and secondary roles were performed, as seen below.
The FR-1 Fireball was introduced five months before the end of WWII but saw no combat. This fighter was not a turboprop but rather a compound-engine (piston in front, jet in fuselage) design. At the dawn of the jet age, it was incorrectly thought that jets would be too dangerous to land on a carrier. The Fireball used it’s jet for takeoff and combat, and piston engine only for landing. Congress completely cancelled Ryan’s 700 plane order immediately after Japan’s surrender, with only 71 having been built.
By the spring of 1947 (when the above photo was taken) the Fireballs were in a lone squadron, VF-1E, aboard USS Badong Strait (CVE-116) which was too small to fly true jets. The Fireball was retired in August 1947 and compound-engine fighters faded into obscurity.
Inbetween WWII and the Korean War, USS Block Island (CVE-106) was used as an overflow barracks at NAS Annapolis, MD due to Congress cutting the US Navy’s budget for ashore buildings after WWII.
The above 1949 photo shows USS Sicily (CVE-118) landing an anti-submarine blimp in the open ocean. The chevrons on the flight deck were GPIs (glide path indicators) to assist the pilot, who did not have an easy task bringing a lighter-than-air war machine to rest on a windy moving surface. The US Navy later devised a system for airborne blimps to snag fuel bladders off the flight deck, and later still, a refueling hose was hoisted up to a hovering blimp’s cab. This last system was successful, and was adapted to helicopters and is still used today. The US Navy ended blimp operations in 1962.
The 1950-1953 Korean War gave the WWII-vintage CVEs a brief new lease on life as they were used for various roles that did not require jets.
This photo from a 1952 issue of Life magazine shows Marine Corps HRP-1 Rescuer helicopters operating off USS Siboney (CVE-112). The HRP-1 was one of the final fabric-skinned American military aircraft, and the last five completed switched to aluminum. The WWII-built Gearing-class destroyer is USS O’Hare (DD-889) which commissioned three weeks too late for WWII but later saw combat during the Vietnam War.
Above, USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches a OY-2 Sentinel, the Navy/Coast Guard version of the Army’s WWII L-5 Sentinel, for a reconnaissance mission over Korea. The Sentinel could take off and land without the need of catapults or arrestor wires.
Another large helicopter operated in the Korean War was the HUP-2 Retriever. These operated successfully from WWII-vintage ships such as USS Gilbert Islands (CVE-107).
USE OF WWII-SURPLUS CVE’s AS AIRCRAFT TRANSPORTS
By far the most important contribution WWII-era CVEs made to the Cold War was as an aircraft ferry (AKV). Here, the role was not to undertake any sort of combat but simply to move aircraft as cargo from one place to another.
The idea already came to fruition even as WWII was still being fought. In the dark days of 1942, as u-boats roamed off New York City and the US Navy reeled in the Pacific, it was unthinkable that there might be a surplus of aircraft carriers. But by the latter part of the war, Henry Kaiser’s business acumen had a bumper crop of CVEs rolling off slipways even as the larger Essex class carriers grew in number. As WWII progressed, slow and limited-ability CVEs became available for secondary tasks.
Above, USS Barnes (CVE-20) transports a load of land-based P-47 Thunderbolts and P-38 Lightnings to the western Pacific in July 1943. The latter had their wings removed and stowed below deck to maximize the number of warplanes aboard.
In July 1944, USS Copahee (CVE-12) was seconded to ATAIU (Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit), the organization responsible for studying Imperial Japanese types. Aboard here are thirteen A6M “Zero” fighters, a lone B5N “Kate” torpedo plane, plus some US Navy aircraft hitching a ride. In the hangar deck below were thirty-seven spare Japanese engines, plus Japanese radios, aircraft guns, and other equipment. Some of these planes were recovered crash-landings and as such had their landing gear ripped off as seen.
During WWII the US Navy established a “war-wearies” center at NAS Alameda, CA. It was intended that planes which were dinged-up, past their flight-hour limit, etc; would be refurbished and reissued. As it turned out, American industry cranked out warplanes at an unimaginable rate and logistically it was simpler to just ship out replacements. The center mostly became a salvage dump. Here, USS Thetis Bay (CVE-90) transports war-weary PBY Catalinas, F6F Hellcats, and a lone J2F Duck biplane.
The early post-WWII years
Operation “Magic Carpet” was the massive and successful post-WWII repatriation of American servicemen overseas in late 1945-early 1946. Along with men, thousands of warplanes had to be brought back home.
USS Nassau (CVE-16) ended WWII running a regular “circuit” of shuttling replacement aircraft between the mainland USA, Hawaii, the Marianas in the central Pacific, and Manus Island in the far western Pacific. After WWII the traffic largely became one-way. Here USS Nassau carries a land-based C-47 Skytrain along with TBM Avenger dive-bombers and PBY Catalina flying boats. For longer-range types like the Catalina, it was not necessarily required to ferry them, but with the war over the US Navy did not want to risk lives on very long overwater flights.
Above, on the bow of USS Bogue (CVE-9) in late 1945 sits a rare trophy, one of only two Tachikawa Ki-77 long-range aircraft ever built. This ultra-high endurance type was used for development of Japanese warplanes during WWII. It never received an Allied code name. On this same voyage, USS Bogue also transported a Ki-74 “Patsy” tactical bomber, a G8N1 “Rita” four-engined strategic bomber, and several single-engine seaplanes. Further in Yokosuka harbor lays the US Navy occupation fleet and in the center, IJN Nagato, the only Japanese battleship still operational at the end of WWII. IJN Nagato was expended as a nuclear target in 1946.
WWII-surplus gear in the United States was invariably sold to America’s new postwar allies. Here, USS Rendova (CVE-114) moves WWII T-6 Texan land-based trainers to the Turkish air force in 1948. The simple-to-fly T-6 Texan was a popular trainer among America’s allies during the Cold War. The carrier in the foreground is the much larger USS Valley Forge (CV-45). CVEs were also used in the late 1940s to ship Helldivers to neighboring Greece during that nation’s civil war.
With the Texans delivered, USS Rendova was sent on a diplomacy cruise of the then-insignificant Persian Gulf emirates. Here, the king of Bahrain is piped aboard. He had never been aboard a carrier and was impressed. Bahrain was at the time backwards and an autonomous British territory. During WWII it was bombed once by Italy but otherwise sat out the war. In 1971 it gained independence, and during the 1990s the US Navy established a base there. By the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, modern Bahrain was a key ally.
In August 1948, USS Sicily (CVE-118) delivered F-80 Shooting Star fighters to Glasgow, UK. These planes were destined for the US Air Force’s 36th Fighter Group, where they relieved WWII propeller fighters in the American zone of occupied Germany. As seen in this Life magazine photo the F-80s had the rear fuselage section removed so the Allison J33 engine would balance the plane under the crane.
(Glasgow had a quayside runway to assist in this task, as seen in the photo above.)
One of the more useful items aboard CVEs during WWII was the Karry Krane, manufactured by Hyster (today of forklift fame). It weighed 2½ tons but could deadlift over double it’s own weight. During WWII this was sufficient to handle single-seat fighters. The 10’1″ boom articulated down for stowage in the cramped hangar decks of WWII ships. As the CVEs transitioned to AKVs, these little machines were invaluable. Obviously Cold War-era jets were much too heavy for it but it could still move spare engines, shipping crates, etc. During the Vietnam War, stripped and unrotored UH-1 Iroquois helicopters could be lifted by these WWII machines, which had pneumatic dualie tires to distribute the load on the wooden flight decks.
(photo via portsidenewyork website)
Hyster manufactured Karry Kranes throughout WWII, and in the 1950s restarted production of a civil variant. The 1940s naval version served on into the 1970s. Although thousands were built, as of 2017 only one US Navy-veteran Karry Krane is known to still exist.
The Korean War required a huge surge in plane ferry capacity, which was largely met by the WWII-surplus CVEs. Warplanes and helicopters were moved from the USA both to staging areas in Japan and to South Korea itself.
Above, USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116) offloads the 1st Marine Brigade’s F4U Corsairs in 1950. The USMC used this WWII fighter design to great effect during the Korean War. The photo shows some changes to the ship’s appearance. Precious few dollars were available in post-WWII Navy budgets for CVE modernization, but USS Badoeng Strait received an all-enclosed bridge and DBM radar intercept gear (the two thimble radomes). The AA guns are Mk2 40mm weapons left over from WWII, as is the SK-2 radar.
USS Cape Esperance (CVE-88) was rushed out of mothballs in 1950, and in this photo still has mothball fleet “igloos” covering the aft WWII anti-aircraft sponsons. The 40mm guns would have been of limited use against MiG-15 jets anyways so they were left inactive to save time. On deck is a load of fighters destined for Korea; USAF F-86 Sabres and USMC F9F Panthers and F4U Corsairs. Some are covered with blown plastic to protect them from saltwater spray.
Again during the Korean War, USS Cape Esperance moves a wide variety of planes of differing generations: F-80 Shooting Stars, F-84 Thunderjets, F-86 Sabres, T-6 Texans, L-20 Beavers, and TBM Avengers.
Above, USS Sitkoh Bay (CVE-86) carries a similar mixed bag bound for Korea: TBM Avengers, UC-45 Expeditors, C-47 Skytrains, and F4U Corsairs. The four oddly-painted twin-engined types are JD trainers, a US Navy non-combat version of the US Air Force’s A-26 Invader.
Later during the Korean War, USS Sitkoh Bay carries the USAF’s 12th Fighter Wing F-84 Thunderjets.
This photo of USS Sitkoh Bay, towards the end of the Korean War in 1953, shows how land-based jets (here, USAF F-86 Sabres) were shipped, completely encased in blown plastic and with stop bars on the wings and tails to prevent the control surfaces from fluttering in the ocean wind. The wheels are chocked with lumber nailed into the WWII wooden flight deck.
(Taken at the same time, this photo shows the WWII Mk12 5″ gun on the ship’s transom. Visually-aimed, it was nearly worthless in an AA role by this time.)
After the Korean War ended, replacement of propeller fighters with jets continued and the WWII escort carriers were still needed for ferry jobs. Here, USS Tripoli moves a load of cocooned F-84 Thunderjets in 1956. Numbered CVE-64 during WWII, USS Tripoli had been redesignated CVU (utility aircraft carrier) by this time.
USS Windham Bay had likewise been redesignated to CVU-92 by this time. In lieu of modernizing the ship’s systems, the US Navy went the other route and completely removed the air search radar (note the empty mast) and WWII anti-aircraft guns, basically turning the ship into a large cargo vessel. This 1958 photo also shows a common AKV feature, the “snow fence” at the front of the flight deck. These vertical staves acted as a windbreak.
This particular carrier also delivered WWII-era F8F Bearcat fighters to the French air force in Indochina. Above in 1951, USS Windham Bay docks at a place that would soon become familiar in American newspapers, the cargo piers in Saigon.
(One of the French Bearcats being unloaded in Saigon. American aid to European colonial wars was unpopular with the USA’s voters in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the Bearcats were delivered bare of any markings.)
At roughly the same time, another ex-CVE, USS Cape Esperance, delivered a load of Bearcats to Thailand. The French Bearcats were inherited by South Vietnam which used them until 1964, the same year Thailand retired the type.
USS Cape Esperance had also previously delivered WWII-surplus Helldivers (above) to Thailand.
Transition to AKVs and MSC operation
Towards the end of the 1950s, the US Navy redesignated most of these ships under the auxiliary code AKV (aircraft transport) and increasingly assigned them to Military Sealift Command. MSC ships were formally out of commission and as such, prefixed USNS (United States Naval Ship), not USS. They were manned by hired civilian mariners. By law, they were unarmed and with the final removal of any remaining WWII guns, most electronics other than a simple civilian navigation radar were also deleted.
(USNS Cape Esperance with a load of land-based F-86 Sabre fighters. The sponsons for the WWII 40mm AA guns remain along the flight deck edge but are empty.)
The MSC ships had their hull numbers physically removed and replaced with civilian-style ship name markings. On Navy paperwork they were prefixed T-___ indicating a noncommissioned ship with civilian crew.
(USNS Kula Gulf with unrotored UH-1 Iroquois helicopters of the US Army’s 188th Assault Helo Company aboard, destined for the Vietnam War. On the stern is “Naval Ship Kula Gulf”:, here being repainted.) (photo by David Miller)
(USNS Croatan in the late 1960s after a crane and tall funnel were installed. The blue / yellow bands on the funnel were the symbol of MSC ships.)
(USNS Point Cruz delivering aircraft to Yokosuka, Japan in the mid-1960s. Types onboard appear to be A-1 Skyraiders, a T-33 Tweety trainer, a F-104 Starfighter, and F-4 Phantom IIs. The F-104 and F-4s were possibly bound for the JASDF, the other aircraft for use in Vietnam.)
The “Deal of the Century” and the WWII CVEs
Unrelated to anything from WWII, in 1958 West Germany ran a competition for it’s new standard fighter. It was widely expected that other countries would follow suit with whatever the Luftwaffe chose, and sales in the thousands were expected. A half-dozen different American fighter manufacturers bid, in addition to overseas companies. The deal was won by Lockheed’s F-104 Starfighter.
Lockheed’s bid also involved allegations of epic bribery and corruption, but in any case production began and true to predictions, within months five other air forces picked the F-104. Eventually fifteen countries flew Starfighters. Customers spanned the globe from Spain to Taiwan, Jordan to Canada, Japan to Italy, etc. The short-ranged F-104 initially lacked a refueling probe, and the “Deal of the Century” could not have been pulled off without a way to deliver the Starfighters. In many cases this was the WWII-vintage escort carriers.
(USNS Croatan with a deck load of coccooned Starfighters. This was possibly the first Greek batch.)
(USNS Croatan unloads a Norwegian air force F-104 at Bodø.)
(There was no quayside runway at Bodø so the Starfighters had to be gingerly towed on city streets to the nearest airport, where they were then sent to Norwegian airbases.)
(One of USNS Croatan’s deliveries in the Norwegian sky.) (photo by Boyd Waechter)
(Inbetween shuttling F-104s around the world, USNS Croatan was loaned to NASA as a mobile research platform.)
(USNS Card was also used for Starfighter deliveries.)
1960s: the Vietnam years
Just like the Korean War in the previous decade, America’s involvement in Vietnam required a huge surge in warplane ferry capacity.
Above, USNS Kula Gulf is reactivated at the Philadelphia, PA Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in 1965. After a 10-year stint in mothballs, reactivating the ship was not cheap and spoke to the need for warplane ferry capacity in Vietnam.
Two of the WWII CVEs in particular, USNS Card (T-AKV-40 / ex-CVE-11) and USNS Core (T-AKV-41 / ex-CVE-13) were heavily involved in the Vietnam War.
(USNS Core delivering helicopters to Saigon in December 1961. The South Vietnamese security guard in front has a WWII-era M1918 BAR.)
(USNS Core in the Saigon River delivering CH-47 Chinooks, UH-1 Iroquois, and A-1 Skyraiders. The moored auxiliaries are ex-US Navy WWII ships transferred to South Vietnam’s navy.)
(USNS Core making a US Army delivery to Saigon in 1964.)
(USNS Card in 1964. By this time, the ship had been modified with additional heavy-duty cranes on the former flight deck that could handle modern warplanes.)
(USNS Core received similar modifications. Here the WWII veteran is delivering palletized supplies, A-1 Skyraider planes, and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters to Saigon.)
(USNS Card in February 1965. The new cranes are visible, as is the new heavy-duty elevator. It was sized to allow a semi truck with trailer to move up and down to the hangar deck. Here, the cargo is TEU-type shipping containers.) (US Naval Institute photo)
(USNS Card moored in Saigon, South Vietnam. Alongside is the South Vietnamese tank landing ship HQVN Da Nang, which had been USS Maricopa County (LST-938) during WWII. HQVN Da Nang was captured intact when Saigon fell and was renamed Tran Khanh Du by the unified Vietnamese navy. This photo gives a good view of the “snow fence” on USNS Card’s former flight deck.)
(USNS Core with a load of A-1 Skyraider attack planes for the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). They are covered with a peel-off protective coating that removed easier than the blown plastic of the Korean War era.)
(The prototype A-1 Skyraider flew in 1945 but it did not start mass production until after WWII ended. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, it was a punishing ground attack plane. As seen above, the VNAF used the Skyraider for the entirety of the Vietnam War.)
(USNS Core appears to be unloading the A-1 into the river, but in reality there was a barge below. This method allowed the ship to unload faster.)
Some of the other WWII-vintage AKVs took part in the Vietnam War as well. USNS Kula Gulf, which was reactivated more or less expressly for the conflict, transported entire US Army units to Saigon.
(USNS Kula Gulf with a load of Vietnam-bound UH-1 Iroquois helicopters and OV-1 Mohawk observation planes, along with a equipment crates and a ground refueling trailer. The Mohawks were well-protected, the Hueys and trailer much less so as it was generally accepted they would be donated to South Vietnam at the end of America’s involvement, whenever that might be. Helicopters were always shipped unrotored.) (photo by David Miller)
the Viet Cong attack against USNS Card
On 2 May 1964, a Viet Cong commando unit executed one of the most remarkable feats of the conflict, heavily damaging USNS Card pierside in Saigon.
The attack was planned and done by Lam Son Nau, a South Vietnamese citizen loyal to North Vietnam. A stevedore on Saigon’s waterfront, he used his job to collect intelligence for the Viet Cong but sought to do more. Nao often saw the WWII-era flattops unloading modern warplanes, and reasoned that sinking one in the river would do as much as shooting down dozens of aircraft in combat.
(Lam Son Nau in the 1980s)
Nao initially planned to sink USNS Core. His father had been a maintenance worker for the harbor, so he was familiar with all the sewers, cisterns, and drainage tunnels. On 9 December 1963, Nao recruited two other VC volunteers and set out through the port’s sewers. En route, they were stopped by police. Nao told them they were planning on stealing some civilian radios from a docked merchant ship, and they would give the police some on the way out. The police released Nao without searching him. He successfully planted his charges, which were 90lbs contraptions of American-made C4 with makeshift TNT boosters, on USNS Core‘s hull. When they failed to explode, he went back and retrieved the charges. He discovered that the batteries in the timer had died. USNS Core‘s civilian crew had no idea anything had happened.
Nao explained the failed operation to a local VC commander and begged permission to try it again. The commander and his staff were frankly stunned that Nao had even gotten that close to an AKV, not to mention that he had the courage to go back and retrieve the explosives. They told him that if he wished to try again, he was welcome to proceed.
Nao rebuilt the explosives into two separate devices, one C4 and the other TNT. On 2 May 1964, he tried again, this time against USNS Card. To avoid the Saigon police department en route, they used little canoes as were common to the port’s civilian employees. Once in the area, they were stopped by a river security boat. Nao offered a flimsy excuse and a cash bribe. The security boat crew accepted the bribe and told Nao’s team they expected more cash on the way out of the secure area.
Again, Nao’s team used the sewers to approach the American ship. The two charges were planted at 02:45 local with a 15-minute delay. True to their word, the security boat team was waiting for Nao’s canoe and their second bribe. As they approached, the bombs detonated at 03:00 and the security boat sped off towards the explosion, allowing the VC team an easy getaway.
Amazingly, civilian mariners aboard USNS Card reacted quick enough to secure the WWII watertight doors preventing an immediate capsizing of the ship. None the less, the vessel had a 12′ hole below the waterline aft starboard and was taking on water fast.
(USNS Card listing starboard aft following the attack.)
By daybreak, USNS Card had settled aft-down, with the ship’s underside in the muddy river bed. Immediately the US Navy dispatched the salvage ship USS Reclaimer (ARS-42) and tug USS Tawakoni (ATF-114), themselves both WWII warships, to salvage USNS Card.
North Vietnam announced that it had outright destroyed an American aircraft carrier. The North Vietnamese postal service released a 1966 air mail stamp celebrating the attack. Obviously the USA’s postal service did not honor it, but Canada’s did, and they became a desired stamp collector’s item south of the border.
For it’s part, the USA was not completely honest in it’s remarks on the attack either. It was simply announced that USNS Card had been damaged in Saigon. In reality, the ship was in serious trouble. Refloating USNS Card took the better part of a month. A special 6″-discharge high pressure pump was needed to dewater the engine room. Once dewatered, USNS Card was towed to Subic Bay in the Philippines to be patched up, then towed to Japan for full repairs.
(The 6″-discharge salvage pump in action.)
LCdr Roy Boehm, a Navy SEAL, did a forensic examination of the WWII-vintage hull and determined that the C4 component was from demolition charges the USA had supplied to South Vietnam’s navy. Most likely the Viet Cong obtained them from corrupt South Vietnamese. These remarks were not publicized. Despite the excellent effort by USS Reclaimer and USS Tawakoni, little was said about the salvage in the press. The whole episode would have shone light on corruption in South Vietnam’s military, a pathetic security apparatus in an allied capital, and the legally grey area of using civilian-manned ships for military tasks in a war zone.
Remainder of the decade
Use of these WWII ships continued after the attack on USNS Card. By the latter part of the 1960s however, these vessels were clearly on the wane. Even with only sporadic use, they were well past the intended lifespans of their hulls and engines.
(Late in the 1960s, several T-AKVs including USNS Card had a tall, modern smokestack replace the stub design of WWII.)
(USNS Point Cruz arrives in Japan with a small load of aircraft in the late 1960s. The large OD green object is a ground refueling trailer.)
(USNS Core departs San Francisco, CA in 1967 with a load of A-4 Skyhawks, A-3 Skywarriors, and a C-47 Skytrain. The latter was a WWII design still in use at the time.)
(USNS Card in 1968, unloading US Army prefabricated barracks sections, along with T-6 Texan and T-33 Tweety training planes for the VNAF.)
End of the road
By the close of the decade, it was decided to retire the remaining ex-CVE transports. Many of the latter-era Vietnam types had inherent air-to-air refueling ability, and the military’s tanker fleet was growing. The upcoming next generation of warplanes (the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and F-16 Falcon) would not only have refueling ability but be much longer-ranged to begin with, and more capable of self-deployment. USNS Kula Gulf left service in September 1969, only four years after the expensive reactivation in Philadelphia. USNS Card was taken out of service in March 1970. USNS Core and USNS Croatan left service together in September 1970. USNS Breton was the last to go, several weeks later in October. All were quickly scrapped, the last being USNS Breton in 1972.
(USNS Card delivers cocooned F-4 Phantom II fighters to Subic Bay in the Philippines in 1969. These could have been US Navy F-4s for carrier air wing replacement, or US Air Force F-4s destined for nearby Clark AFB. The USAF flew Phantom IIs out of Clark into the 1980s.)
(USNS Card with a clean deck on one of her final voyages.)
(USNS Breton after being discarded and awaiting a scrapper. When completely empty, these ships rode high and the top of the propeller and rudder is visible.)
(USNS Card being scrapped in Oregon.)