February 27, 1942 — The USS Langley was sailing off the Indonesian coast with her escort anti-submarine vessels in tow. A Japanese reconnaissance plane spotted them and reported back to their command. By mid-day, the U.S. ships were being bombarded by Japanese bombers — Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 attack bombers, to be precise, known to the sailors below as “Betty” or “Betties.” The USS Langley performed evasive maneuvers, dodging Japanese bombs for quite some time. However, on their third pass, the Japanese struck with five devastating blows and 16 of Langley’s crew were killed. The engine rooms began to flood as the ship was stranded, dead in the water. The call to “abandon ship” was made, and once the crew were safely away, allied forces scuttled the ship to prevent it from getting into enemy hands. No further casualties were sustained.
The USS Langley was the United Sates’ first aircraft carrier, but it was not initially built as such. Known before as the USS Jupiter, it was also the Navy’s first ship to utilize a turbo-electric transmission — it’s job was to transport coal, classified as a naval collier. After the Jupiter’s decommission, it would be revived and transformed into a prototype for what would become the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, and was subsequently renamed to the USS Langley. By 1922, she was back in on the seas. The ship’s namesake was Samuel Pierpoint Langley, a pioneer in many fields, including the field of aviation and particularly in heavier-than-air flight.
The USS Langley was generally crewed by 468 officers and enlisted personnel, and it was 542 feet in length. It could carry 36 aircraft and could move at approximately 15.5 knots (17.8mph). To put that in perspective: the United States’ Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier holds over 500 officers and approximately 3,789 enlisted personnel. It is 1,106 feet in length, can hold more than 75 aircraft and can move faster than 30 knots (35mph).
The USS Langley is not to be confused with the Independence-class aircraft carrier of the same name, that would be renamed to the La Fayette when it was transferred to the French.
The following video may provide some insight into the development struggles the Navy undoubtedly came across when developing its first aircraft carrier. The margin for error is very small here — one mistake and you could lose precious aircraft in the water. You can note the difficulties as well with the effects of the wind right after landing, and the perils of extremely limited runway.
Video courtesy of Airboyd YouTube channel. Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.