Merry Christmas 2021

I would like to wish a merry Christmas to all readers of wwiiafterwwii.

Below is the WWII-veteran aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) in 1961. The crew is spelling out “Merry Christmas” in Dutch for a port visit to the Netherlands.

USS Essex was the leadship of the Essex class fleet carriers. Perhaps more than any other single warship design, the Essex class was instrumental in the US Navy’s victory in the Pacific theatre of WWII. USS Essex commissioned on 31 December 1942 and participated in the Tinian, Marcus Island, Marianas, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa battles of WWII. USS Essex later fought again during the Korean War and participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis; and was the Apollo 7 recovery ship. USS Essex finally decommisisoned in 1973 and was scrapped in 1975.

Like many Essex class carriers, USS Essex was extensively modernized after WWII. One interesting item is below:

Often a source of “…what did this thing do?” puzzlement to hobby scale model builders, this angled tube-like thing on the starboard side outboard of the island was an escalator.

Above is a close-up. The black framework jutting out was part of the unrelated refuel-at-sea system.

During the post-WWII SCB-27A modernization program, the aircrew ready rooms were rearranged aboard the Essex class and moved deeper inside the hull. A side effect of this was, naturally, the aviators had a longer distance between the ready room and their planes on the flight deck. At the same time, their garb was getting bulkier – consider that when the United States entered WWII in 1941, a carrier pilot had a leather helmet, goggles, a life vest, a pistol, and not a lot else. By the time of the Korean War fiberglass helmets and more rugged harnesses were in use and later still oxygen masks and so on.

To move all this up successive levels of ladders without snagging or tearing anything was exhausting. The solution was an escalator from the ready room level to the flight deck level.

While the word is essentially a common noun by now, “Escalator” was, technically, trademarked by the Otis company in 1900. The escalators on the refit Essex class carriers were made by Westinghouse so the US Navy had to call them “electric stairways”.

When they worked, the escalators were a good idea. The problem was that often, they did not work. A warship’s hull “hogs and sags”, which in layman’s terms means it bends very slightly fore-to-aft in heavy seas. This is obviously not conducive to something like an escalator, which has a lot of very long moving things that need to stay lined up, and wasn’t really designed for shipboard use to begin with. When the escalators stopped working, they just became a 100′ long steep set of stairs for the pilots to ascend, defeating the whole purpose.

(photo by Michael Criswell)

Not all of the Essex class received the SCB-27A/C upgrade after WWII and not all of them had escalators installed. Conversely, the Cold War-era Forrestal and Kitty Hawk class carriers had them; on the Forrestal class they crossed four decks while the Kitty Hawk class had two, one forward and one aft. The one-off Enterprise class did not need them. The US Navy’s modern classes (Nimitz and Gerald Ford) likewise did not need them.

7 thoughts on “Merry Christmas 2021

  1. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well.
    Been up and down the Hornet’s escalator (not working) a dozen times. That is a long slog carrying nothing. Had to be a pain in the butt for the pilots.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Does anyone have any information about the demolition of WWII ships in Lake Michigan near Montrose Beach back in 1947 or 1948? My dad took me to witness planes dropping bombs on ships in the water. I didn’t understand what was happening other than watching huge explosions. I didn’t dream it! Years later before my dad passed away, he told me they were destroying ships that couldn’t be used any more or sold – or used for scrap? I’d love to know more about it.


      • It was on Montrose Beach in Chicago, Il. Maybe it did have to do with the air station you’re referring to. But I know it was Montrose Beach cuz we went there all the time in the summers. I wonder about maybe checking old Chicago newspapers but I’m not sure exactly when. I believe the year would have been around 1946 but I was only around five years old (born 1941).
        Thanks for your reply!!

        Liked by 1 person

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