USS Princeton (CVL-23)


USS Princeton (CVL-23)

The fourth USS "Princeton" (CVL-23) was a United States Navy sclass|Independence|aircraft carrier lost at the battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

Construction and deployment

She was laid down as "Tallahassee" (CL-61) by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, 2 June 1941, reclassified CV-23 on 16 February 1942, renamed "Princeton" 31 March 1942, launched 18 October 1942, sponsored by Margaret Dodds (wife of Princeton University president Harold Dodds), and commissioned at Philadelphia 25 February 1943, Capt. George R. Henderson in command.

Following shakedown in the Caribbean, and reclassification to CVL-23 on 15 July 1943, "Princeton", with Air Group 23 embarked, got underway for the Pacific. Arriving at Pearl Harbor 9 August, she sortied with TF 11 on the 25th and headed for Baker Island. There she served as flagship, TG 11.2 and provided air cover during the occupation of the island and the construction of an airfield there, 1 September14 September. During that time her planes downed Japanese Emily reconnaissance planes and, more importantly, furnished the fleet with photographs of them.

Completing that mission, "Princeton" rendezvoused with TF 15, conducted strikes against enemy installations on Makin and Tarawa, then headed back to Pearl Harbor. In mid-October, she sailed for Espiritu Santo where she joined TF 38 on the 20th. With that force, she sent her planes against airfields at Buka and Bonis on Bougainville (1 November2 November) to diminish Japanese aerial resistance during the landings at Empress Augusta Bay. On the 5th and 11th her planes raided Rabaul and on the 19th, with TF 50, helped neutralize the airfield at Nauru. "Princeton" then steamed northeast, covered the garrison groups en route to Makin and Tarawa and, after exchanging operational aircraft for damaged planes from other carriers, got underway for Pearl Harbor and the west coast.

Availability at Bremerton, Washington followed and on 3 January 1944, "Princeton" steamed west. At Pearl Harbor, she rejoined the fast carriers of TF 50, now designated TF 58. On the 19th, she sortied with TG 58.4 for strikes at Wotje and Taroa (29 January31 January) to support amphibious operations against Kwajalein and Majuro. Her planes photographed the next assault target, Eniwetok, 2 February and on the 3rd returned on a more destructive assignment - the demolition of the airfield on Engebi. For 3 days the atoll was bombed and strafed. On the 7th, "Princeton" retired to Kwajalein only to return to Eniwetok on the 10th-13th and 16th-28th, when her planes softened the beaches for the invasion force, then provided air cover during the assault and ensuing fight.

From Eniwetok, "Princeton" retired to Majuro, thence to Espiritu Santo for replenishment. On 23 March, she got underway for strikes against enemy installation and shipping in the Carolines. After striking the Palaus, Woleai and Yap, the force replenished at Majuro and sortied again 13 April. Steaming to New Guinea, the carriers provided air cover for the Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura) operation (21 April29 April), then crossed back over the International Date Line to raid Truk (29 April30 April) and Ponape (1 May).

On 11 May, "Princeton" returned to Pearl Harbor only to depart again on the 29th for Majuro. There she rejoined the fast carriers and pointed her bow toward the Marianas to support the assault on Saipan. From 11 June18 June, she sent her planes against targets on Guam, Rota, Tinian, Pagan, and Saipan, then steamed west to intercept a Japanese fleet reported to be en route from the Philippines to the Marianas. In the ensuing Battle of the Philippine Sea, "Princeton's" planes contributed 30 kills and her guns another 3, plus 1 assist, to the devastating toll inflicted on Japan's naval air arm.

Returning to the Marianas, "Princeton" again struck Pagan, Rota and Guam, then replenished at Eniwetok. On 14 July, she got underway again as the fast carriers returned their squadrons to the Marianas to furnish air cover for the assault and occupation of Guam and Tinian. On 2 August, the force returned to Eniwetok, replenished, then sailed for the Philippines. En route, its planes raided the Palaus, then on 9 September10 September, struck airfields on northern Mindanao. On the 11th, they pounded the Visayas. At mid-month the force moved back over the Pacific chessboard to support the Palau offensive, then returned to the Philippines to hit Luzon, concentrating on Clark and Nichols fields. The force then retired to Ulithi, and in early October, bombed and strafed enemy airfields, installations and shipping in the Nansei Shoto and Formosa area in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.

Loss

On October 20, landings were made at Dulag and San Pedro Bay, Leyte. "Princeton", in Task Group 38.3, cruised off Luzon and sent her planes against airfields there to prevent Japanese land based aircraft attacks on Allied ships massed in Leyte Gulf. On the 24th, however, the task group was found by enemy planes from Clark and Nichols fields. Shortly before 10:00 a.m. "Princeton" was attacked by a lone enemy dive bomber. The plane dropped a single bomb, which struck the carrier between the elevators, crashing through the flight deck and hangar before exploding.

A fire broke out as a result of the hit; it quickly spread and caused further explosions. Other vessels then came alongside to provide assistance. USS|Irwin|DD-794|2 approached and attempted to fight the fire in the forward section of the hangar deck. The cruiser USS|Birmingham|CL-62|2 also assisted in the fire fighting.

At 15:24 a second and larger explosion shook the "Princeton", possibly caused by an explosion of one or more bombs in the magazine. The "Birmingham" was heavily damaged by the explosion and suffered casualties. "Irwin" was also damaged, but stayed close and launched boats to rescue survivors from the sea. "Irwin" rescued 646 crew members from the "Princeton"; the ship later received a Navy Unit Commendation award for her actions.

Efforts to save the carrier continued, but at 16:00 the fires were out of control. The remaining personnel was evacuated and at shortly after 17:06 "Irwin" commenced firing torpedoes at the burning hulk. However, "Irwin" abandoned this effort due to torpedo malfunctions and was relieved by USS|Reno|CL-96|2 at 17:46.

Three minutes later an even larger explosion occurred on the "Princeton", destroying the entire forward section and sending flames and debris up to 1000-2000 feet into the air; the aft section had sunk by 17:50.

Aftermath

108 men from the "Princeton" were lost in the attack, 10 officers and 98 enlisted men; 1,361 crew members were rescued. In addition the assisting ships had also suffered damage and casualties:

* — 85 killed, 300 wounded, a heavily damaged topside, and loss of 2 5-in., 2 40mm and 2 20mm guns.
* — foremast lost, portside smashed
* — forward 5-in. mounts and director out, starboard side smashed.
* — one 40mm smashed.

Captain John M. Hoskins, who had been interim commanding officer of CVL-23 was also rescued, but lost his right foot. He would later become the new commanding officer of the fifth USS|Princeton|CV-37|2, launched as a replacement in 1945.

Nineteen-year old Seabee R. Gallatin remarked: "Many men were lost to sea on the USS "Princeton", yet no one knows about it. In a way, it was a miracle that so many men could be saved as well as myself. The ship was a burning inferno!"

Legacy

"Princeton" earned 9 battle stars during World War II.

The Princeton University Chapel still displays a service flag that once flew on this "Princeton".

See also

* List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II for other ships lost in World War II.
* List of aircraft carriers
* List of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy
* List of World War II ships

References

External links

* [http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-p/cvl23.htm Navy photographs of "Princeton" (CVL-23)]
* [http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/carriers/cv23sink.html More about the sinking]
* [http://www.ninesisters.com/princeton.htm USS Princeton] at Nine Sisters Light Carrier Historical Documentary Project


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