A Brief History
On December 27, 1922, the Imperial Japanese Navy commissioned the first aircraft carrier in the world that was designed and built as an aircraft carrier, the Hōshō.
Prior to the Hōshō, some ships such as the USS Langley CV-1 were converted (in 1920) to aircraft carriers from other warships or merchant ships. The Royal Navy (British) Ark Royal is probably the first of what we would recognize as a more or less modern carrier, commissioned as a carrier in 1914 after being converted from a freighter that was in the process of being built in 1913. The few seaplanes carried by the Ark Royal could not land on the flight deck, but had to land on the water and be taken back aboard by crane.
The four or so land type planes the ship could carry were required to land ashore as the ship was not equipped to have airplanes land on the deck. Basically, the Ark Royal was a seaplane carrier.
Hōshō was small by later aircraft carrier standards, only 552 feet long and displacing only about 9500 tonnes. Capable of carrying only 15 aircraft, she was lightly armed for defense against enemy planes by 2 X 80mm guns, but had 4 X 140 mm guns for anti-ship use. She had a crew of just over 500 men. Still, the ship was capable of 25 knots and could steam for nearly 10,000 miles on internal fuel.
Hōshō first saw combat in 1932 when her planes engaged Chinese warplanes near Shanghai, and she later continued in combat during the Sino-Japanese War. Hōshō remained in service with periodic upgrades throughout World War II, including a secondary role in the Battle of Midway. During World War II, Hōshō served mainly as a training carrier, and was fitted with a longer flight deck (593 feet) and upgraded anti-aircraft guns.
Hōshō saw no major combat during the war, but was damaged on two occasions by US Navy airplanes while in the vicinity of Japan during 1945. In 1946, she was scrapped, and so lost to history was the first purpose built aircraft carrier.
During World War II, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the capital ships of the world’s fleets, and today their status remains as the premier ships in the world, so large and so expensive that only a few navies even have one, let alone the ten nuclear powered carriers fielded by the US Navy. (The USN operates another 9 ships that are mainly amphibious assault ships capable of carrying helicopters and VSTOL aircraft.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite aircraft carrier? If you do, please tell us which one and why you think it is special in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Haskew, Michael E. Aircraft Carriers: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Important Warships. Zenith Press, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Japanese aircraft carrier Hōshō in Tokyo Bay in 1922 from Kure Maritime Museum, Japanese Naval Warship Photo Album: Aircraft carrier and Seaplane carrier, Supervisory editor: Kazushige Todaka, p. 12, is in the public domain in Japan because its copyright has expired according to Article 23 of the 1899 Copyright Act of Japan (English translation) and Article 2 of Supplemental Provisions of Copyright Act of 1970. This is when the photograph meets one of the following conditions:
- It was published before January 1, 1957.
- It was photographed before January 1, 1947.
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