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Photo # KN-18336:  USS Kearsarge underway in the Pacific, December 1968

USS Kearsarge (CV-33, later CVA-33 and CVS-33), 1946-1974

USS Kearsarge, a 27,100-ton Ticonderoga class aircraft carrier, was built at the New York Navy Yard. She was commissioned in March 1946 and spent her first year of service in training operations in the western Atlantic and Caribbean. During the later 1940s, Kearsarge made two trips to Europe, the first a summer 1947 midshipmen training cruise and the second a mid-1948 deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. In early 1950, the carrier was transferred to the west coast, where she decommissioned in June for extensive modernization work.

Recommissioned in February 1952, Kearsarge now had a stronger flight deck, new island and many other changes to her appearance and capabilities. She made a Korean War combat cruise in September 1952 - February 1953, during which time she was reclassified as an attack aircraft carrier and redesignated CVA-33. From mid-1953 to 1958, Kearsarge had regular tours of duty with the Seventh Fleet in the Far East. Her 1955 deployment included supporting the Nationalist Chinese evacuation of the Tachen Islands. The carrier was again modernized in 1956-57, receiving an angled flight deck and enclosed "hurricane" bow to better equip her to operate high-performance aircraft.

Kearsarge was assigned a new role in October 1958, becoming an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) support aircraft carrier, with the new designation CVS-33. In that capacity, she operated ASW fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters to protect the fleet against the threat of hostile underwater attack. Regular Seventh Fleet deployments continued through the late 1950s and the 1960s, including indirect involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. In 1962 and 1963, Kearsarge carried out a new mission, serving as recovery ship for the orbital flights of astronauts Walter Schirra and Gordon Cooper. Made redundant by the general fleet drawdown of the late 1960s and early 1970s, USS Kearsarge was decommissioned in February 1970. Following three years in the Reserve Fleet, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in May 1973 and sold for scrapping in February 1974.

This page features selected views of USS Kearsarge (CV/CVA/CVS-33).
Official U.S. Navy Photographs, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

Photo #: NH 97402

USS Kearsarge (CV-33)

In a harbor during the later 1940s, with her crew paraded on the flight deck for inspection.

Photo #: NH 97403

USS Kearsarge (CVA-33)

With two AJ "Savage" heavy attack aircraft on her flight deck, following her SCB-27A modernization, circa 1952-55.

Photo #: USN 1107965

Two A-4C "Skyhawk" aircraft
of Attack Squadron 146 (VA-146)

Fly past USS Kearsarge (CVS-33), 12 August 1964.
These planes, from USS Constellation (CVA-64), are Bureau #s 149551 and 149570.

Photo #: USN 1117602

USS Kearsarge (CVS-33)

At sea, 12 December 1965. She has nine A-4 attack jets on her flight deck, as well as one S-2 anti-submarine plane.

Photo #: KN-13416

USS Kearsarge (CVS-33)

Underway in Hawaiian waters, 5 July 1966, with S-2 and E-1B airplanes and SH-3 helicopters on her flight deck.

Photo #: KN-18336

USS Kearsarge (CVS-33)

Underway in the Pacific Ocean, 5 December 1968.

Photo #: NH 97404

"Sigma 7" Project "Mercury" Space Capsule

Is towed toward USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) for pickup, after its orbital flight with astronaut (Commander, USN) Walter Schirra on board, 16 October 1962.
Note rescue swimmer on the capsule's flotation collar, and a Kearsarge 26-foot motor whaleboat standing by.

Photo #: USN 1124878

Sikorski SH-3A "Sea King" helicopters
of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Six (HS-6)

Lift off from the flight deck of USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) as she enters Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 27 June 1967. The USS Arizona Memorial is in the distance.
Helicopter at left is Bureau # 152124.
Photographed by PH3 B.L. Kleckner.

Photo #: NH 69774

USS Kearsarge (CVA-33)

Decommissioning party salutes the colors, as Kearsarge goes out of commission for the last time, at Long Beach, California, 13 February 1970.
Those present are (from left to right):
Captain Frederick W. Zigler, USN, Commanding Officer, Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility;
Rear Admiral Norman C. Gillette, USN, Commander Anti-Submarine Warfare Group Three;
Rear Admiral William T. Rassieur, USN(Retired), former Commanding Officer of the ship;
Captain Leonard M. Nearman, USN, ship's Commanding Officer; and
Mr. C.E. (Gene) Gallman, representing the Mayor of Long Beach.


SCB-27 modernization of Essex/Ticonderoga class aircraft carriers, (CV 9-12, 14-16, 18-20, 31, 33-34, 38-39)
(work completed between 1950 and 1955)

Between 1947 and 1955, fifteen Essex and Ticonderoga class aircraft carriers were thoroughly modernized. The impending arrival of high-performance jet aircraft and nuclear-armed heavy attack bombers had rendered these still rather new ships almost incapable of executing their most vital missions, while the post-World War II financial climate precluded building replacements. Accordingly, a reconstruction program began in Fiscal Year 1948, with the incomplete Oriskany as the prototype. Two more ships were converted the next year, three in FY 1950 and then, with the the Cold War in full bloom, nine more Fiscal Years 1951 to 1953.

Designated SCB-27, the modernization was very extensive, requiring some two years for each carrier. To handle much heavier, faster aircraft, flight deck structure was massively reinforced. Stronger elevators, much more powerful catapults, and new arresting gear was installed. The original four twin 5"/38 gun mounts were removed. The new five-inch gun battery consisted of eight weapons, two on each quarter beside the flight deck. Twin 3"/50 gun mounts replaced the 40mm guns, offering much greater effectiveness through the use of proximity-fuzed ammunition.

A distinctive new feature was a taller, shorter island. To better protect aircrews, ready rooms were moved to below the armored hangar deck, with a large escalator on the starboard side amidships to move airmen up to the flight deck. Internally, aviation gasoline storage was increased by nearly half and its pumping capacity enhanced. Also improved were electrical generating power, fire protection, and weapons stowage and handling facilities. All this added considerable weight: displacement increased by some twenty percent. Blisters were fitted to the hull sides to compensate, widening waterline beam by eight to ten feet. The ships also sat lower in the water, and maximum speed was slightly diminished.

The modernized ships came in two flavors, the first nine (SCB-27A) having a pair of H 8 hydraulic catapults, the most powerful available in the late '40s. The final six received the SCB-27C update, with much more potent steam catapults, one of two early 1950s British developments that greatly improved aircraft carrier potential. These six were somewhat heavier, and wider, than their sisters. While still in the shipyards, three of the SCB-27Cs were further modified under the SCB-125 project, receiving the second British concept, the angled flight deck, plus an enclosed "hurricane bow" and other improvements. These features were so valuable that they were soon back-fitted to all but one (Lake Champlain) of the other SCB-27 ships. The fourteen fully modernized units were the "journeymen" aviation ships of the late 1950s and 1960s, providing the Navy with much of its attack aircraft carrier (CVA) force and, ultimately, all its anti-submarine warfare support aircraft carriers (CVS).

The SCB-27 program involved rebuilding fifteen ships, three of which were given a combined SCB-27 and SCB-125 modernization.

  • Kearsarge (CV-33). Reconstructed to SCB-27A design by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Work began in February 1950; recommissioned in February 1952.
     was extended to include SCB-125 features; recommissioned in August 1955.
  • Essex/Ticonderoga class characteristics, as modified under project SCB-27A:

  • Displacement: 40,600 tons (full load)
  • Dimensions: 898' (length overall); 101' 4" (hull); 151' 11" (over flight deck and projections)
  • Powerplant: 150,000 horsepower, steam turbines, four propellers, 31.7 knot maximum speed
  • Aircraft ("ultimate" planned 1958 complement): 72 planes, including 24 15,000 pound interceptors, 24 30,000 pound escort fighters and 24 30,000 pound attack bombers. The actual aircraft complement carried was quite different.
  • Gun Armament: eight 5"/38 guns in single mountings plus fourteen twin 3"/50 gun mounts. From the mid-1950s onward, gun armament was rapidly reduced.

    SCB-125 modernization of Essex/Ticonderoga class aircraft carriers, (CVA/CVS 9-12, 14-16, 18-20, 31, 33-34, & 38)
    (work completed between 1955 and 1959)

    Between 1954 and 1959, fourteen modernized Essex and Ticonderoga class aircraft carriers of the SCB-27 type were further updated under the SCB-125 program. This work, incorporating new features not known or accepted when the earlier scheme was originated in the later 1940s, greatly enhanced seakeeping and high-performance aircraft operations. Perhaps the most significant new attribute was the British-developed "angled flight deck", in which the carrier's aircraft landing area was slanted several degrees off to port, enabling aircraft to easily "go around" in the event of recovery difficulties. The benefits this brought to carrier aviation operating safety can hardly be overemphasized.

    Another notable SCB-125 alteration included moving the after aircraft elevator from the centerline to the starboard deck edge, greatly facilitating aircraft handling. In fact, this change had already been made on the last six of the SCB-27s, the steam-catapult SCB-27C type, the final three of which received both modernization schemes in the same shipyard session. Blending the flight deck's forward end into the upper hull form, creating the so-called "hurricane" bow, constituted the final significant change. This concept, already adopted for the Forrestal class "super carriers" then under construction, improved seakeeping in rough seas. It also provided a covered location for the carriers' secondary conning station, whose portholes, visible across the upper bow plating, were a distinctive feature of the refitted ships.

    Though the SCB-125 program significantly changed the ships' appearance, the scope of the work was much less than that of SCB-27 and generally took seven or eight months' shipyard time, rather than the two years or more that was typical of the earlier modernization. The exception was Oriskany, the SCB-27 prototype and the last to get the SCB-125 treatment. Uniquely, she had her hydraulic catapults replaced with more powerful steam types and received many other improvements in a reconstruction that lasted twenty-eight months in 1957-59.

    As quickly as new carriers and steam catapult conversions joined the fleet during the later '50s, the seven SCB-125 hydraulic catapult ships were reassigned to the anti-submarine mission, replacing unmodernized carriers. Four of the seven steam catapult carriers also became ASW ships during the 1960s, though some of these operated very little, if at all, in that role. Most of the ASW ships received SQS-23 long-range sonars in 1960-66. Nine ships left active service in 1969-71, as major reductions in fleet strength were implemented. Three more decommissioned in 1972-74. Hancock and Oriskany lasted into the middle-'70s, and the veteran Lexington remained operational as training carrier until 1991. All four of the Essex class museum ships are of the modernized SCB-27/SCB-125 configuration.

    The SCB-125 program involved the further rebuilding of fourteen ships, as listed below in the order of the completion of this work:

  • Kearsarge (CVA/CVS-33). Hydraulic catapults. Received SCB-125 refit in 1956-57.
  • Essex/Ticonderoga class characteristics, as modified under project SCB-125 with steam catapults:

  • Displacement: 43,060 tons (full load)
  • Dimensions: 894' 6" (length overall); 103' (hull); 166' 10" (over flight deck and projections)
  • Powerplant: 150,000 horsepower, steam turbines, four propellers, 30.7 knot maximum speed
  • Aircraft: (as Attack Carrier) Approximately 70 aircraft, including five squadrons of fighters and attack planes, and small detachments of heavy attack, airborne early warning and reconnaissance planes;
  • (as Anti-submarine Support Carrier) Approximately 50 aircraft, including two squadrons of S2F fixed-wing aircraft, one squadron of helicopters and small detachments of airborne early warning and (in the 1960s) fighters.
  • Gun Armament: eight 5"/38 guns in single mountings plus a few twin 3"/50 gun mounts. From the mid-1950s onward, gun armament was steadily reduced to compensate for growing weights of topside equipment and embarked aircraft.