Construction, Launching and Commissioning
After beginning construction of the carriers Lexington and Saratoga, the U. S. Navy still could add tonnage to its carrier fleet and still accommodate the requirements of the latest naval treaty. Thus, the Navy laid the keel of the 8th ship to bear the name of Wasp (CV-7) on April 1 1936 at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co. in Quincy, Massachusetts. Launched three years later on April 4, 1939, the navy commissioned her on April 25, 1940. Captain John W. Reeves, Jr. was her first skipper. She was the only carrier in her class.
Smaller than the Lexington and Saratoga, she displaced 14,700 tons and 18, 450 tons fully loaded. Her flight deck was slightly more than 741 feet long and 109 feet wide. Powered by two-shaft steam turbines and six boilers, her maximum rated speed was 29.5 knots. She could cruise at 15 knots for 12,500 nautical miles. Her crew complement was 2,367 men and she could carry 80 planes. In 1942, her crew was 2,367 men and she carried 27 fighters, 37 dive-bombers, and 12 torpedo-bombers or 76 planes. The carrier’s armament was 8 5-inch guns, 16 1.1-inch antiaircraft guns and 16 .50-caliber machine guns.
After finishing her construction in Boston harbor, she steamed for Hampton Roads, Virginia and arrived there on June 24, 1940. The Wasp left four days later for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea with the destroyer USS Morris (DD-417).
Joining the Atlantic Fleet
While on the way, she began to qualify naval aviators. Among those was Lt.(jg) David T. Campbell, who became the Navy’s top ace in World War II. She arrived at Guantanamo Bay in time to celebrate Independence Day. After completing her shakedown trials, the Wasp officially joined the fleet. She returned to duty while her crew trained on her in the Caribbean. She also introduced the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW) to carrier operations.
Later, she ferried planes to Iceland in 1941 and escorted the first American troops to occupy Iceland in August. The Wasp became part of the “unofficial” war as part of the Navy’s support of the British Royal Navy escorting convoys between North America and Iceland. The tension increased when CNO Adm. Stark ordered the Navy to use their “maximum efforts” to find and destroy any German or Italian warship they could find.
Going to War
On December 7, 1941, she was at anchor in Grassy Bay, Iceland when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Concerns about the French fleet at Martinique might go over to the Germans forced the Navy to order the Wasp, the light cruiser Brooklyn, and the two destroyers Sterett and Wilson to that French possession to prevent that event from happening. After preventing the French ships from being part of the German Navy, the crisis lost its importance as the French finally realized that the more powerful US naval presence would stop any such plan before it began.
The Wasp returned from Iceland to Norfolk on December 27 for an overhaul that would not end until January 1942. On January 14, 1942, she weighed anchor and headed to Newfoundland and later at Casco Bay, Maine. The carrier served in the North Atlantic as part of Task Group (TG) 22.6. The TG headed back to Norfolk on March 16, 1942. On March 17, she collided with the destroyer Stack that tore a huge hole in the destroyer’s starboard side. The Stack had to head for the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs.
The Wasp dropped anchor at Norfolk on the 21st. Three days later, she steamed for Iceland and then to the British Isles to strengthen the British Home Fleet. While the carrier served with distinction in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Americans and Japanese fought first two carrier battle of World War II at Coral Sea and Midway. The US Navy lost the fleet carriers Lexington (CV-2) at Coral Sea and Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway. Despite the Japanese losing four fleet carriers, the two battles left only two operational carriers in the Pacific — Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8). The Saratoga (CV-3) was at Pearl Harbor under repair after a Japanese submarine torpedoed her near Oahu in January 1942.
The US Navy desperately needed more carriers in the Pacific. So, the carrier received orders to head to the Pacific Theater. On June 6, 1942, the Wasp joined the battleship North Carolina (BB-55), the heavy cruiser Quincy (CA-39), the light cruiser San Juan (CL-54), and six destroyers and headed for the Panama Canal. The ships passed through the Canal on June 10 and then became Task Force 18 (TF 18) commanded by Radm. Leigh Noyes. The ships steamed for San Diego and arrived there on June 19. After upgrading her aircraft with the latest models the Americans had, Task Force 18 sailed for the Tonga Islands on July 1. Five transports carrying the 2nd Marine Regiment joined the convoy. While still four days from reaching their destination, the Wasp had serious engine problems. The ship’s “black gang” immediately jumped to the task. They quickly replaced the damaged turbine while the ship steamed to their destination. When they arrived at Tongatabu on July 18, the Marines went ashore to garrison this vital American base.
Invading Guadalcanal and Launching Aircraft
The planning for the invasion of Guadalcanal proceeded rapidly. The Wasp joined Vadm. Jack Fletcher’s Support Force along with the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga — now repaired and ready for battle. Radm. Leigh Noyes placed his flag on the Wasp and took the carrier to meet the force’s mission to provide air support for the upcoming invasion.
On August 6, the Wasp, escorted by the heavy cruisers San Francisco (CA-38), Salt Lake City (CA-25), and four destroyers steamed on a westward course and arrived to a position at midnight 84 miles from Tulagi from where she began launching aircraft at sunrise. There were no Japanese ships or aircraft in sight. Lt. Cmdr. Wallace M. Beakley led 16 F4Fs, 15 SBDs, and one TBF beginning at 5:57 a.m. toward their intended targets.
The aircraft bombed and strafed targets on Tulagi, Gavutu, and other places. At 7:04 a.m., 12 TBFs armed with bombs and commanded by Lt. H. A. Romberg took off from the Wasp to help out their comrades who had run into greater resistance that anticipated. They clobbered Japanese troops on Tulagi with the effect of knocking out “all enemy resistance.”
Meanwhile, the 10,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Division successfully went ashore on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Japanese resistance was the heaviest on Tulagi. The Wasp, Saratoga, and Enterprise recovered their returning aircraft and withdrew southward during the night of 7th. The Wasp returned to its launch position the next morning to dispatch F4Fs for CAP. SBDs took off to search to the north for any Japanese warships. Meanwhile, Japanese bombers arrived over the invasion area and attacked the American fleet there. The attack damaged on American transport with heavy Japanese air losses.
The Americans had successfully invaded Guadalcanal and Tulagi, silenced all Japanese opposition, and captured the airfield — the invasion’s primary objective. Later on the 8th, Fletcher, with some of his ships running out of fuel, withdrew his carriers safely out range of any Japanese airplanes and warships. In the meantime, the Japanese handed the US Navy a disastrous defeat at Savo Island.
The carrier patrolled for the next month patrolling for Japanese ships and protecting American convoys. After Savo, the Japanese began to run the “Tokyo Express” to bring reinforcements to their beleaguered troops on Guadalcanal.
Fletcher ordered the Wasp southward to refuel such that she did not participate in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. During that battle, Japanese air attacks damaged the Enterprise such that she had to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The Saratoga also sustained damage from another torpedo attack and had to withdraw to Pearl Harbor as well. The Wasp and the Hornet were the only two operational American carriers in the South Pacific.
A Tragic End
The two carriers and the battleship North Carolina along with 10 other warships escorted transports on September 16, 1942 bringing the 7th Marine Regiment to reinforce the Marines on Guadalcanal. Wasp patrolled 150 miles southeast of San Cristobal Island. She had not sighted any Japanese ships until a Japanese flying boat appeared overhead. One the carrier’s CAP F4Fs shot the plane down. No one knew if the aircraft’s radio operator had reported seeing the carrier.
At 2:20 p.m. the Wasp turned into the wind to recover and launch aircraft. The odor of aviation gasoline permeated the hangar deck. Meanwhile, the Japanese submarine I-19 spotted the carrier 24 minutes later and fired a four-torpedo spread at her. A lookout on the Wasp exclaimed, “three torpedoes . . . three points off the starboard bow.” The Wasp tried avoid the oncoming missiles by making a hard right turn but to no avail. Two torpedoes smacked into the carrier’s side near the ship’s gasoline and ammunition storage areas and exploded. Another torpedo passed off her bow. The carrier rocked with a succession of fiery blasts in the forward areas and hangar decks. Planes flew into the air. The fires ignited the ready ammunition lockers and gasoline tanks. The Wasp was doomed.
Water mains were dry of any water to fight the fires. Any chance to save the ship proved hopeless. Capt. Forrest P. Sherman, the carrier’s skipper, ordered “Abandoned Ship” at 3:20 p.m. With all men off the ship 40 minutes later, Sherman went down a lifeline and into the sea. The other ships recovered 1,946 men. Violent explosions continued to destroy her. At 9:00 p.m., she slipped beneath the waves by the bow.