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NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive

Can you identify...?

Below are a few "mystery images." We need your help to identify the ship(s), or the location, date or event. Can you shed some light on any of them? If so, please contact us by clicking on the appropriate button.

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Mystery Photo #1

This is a "long-hull" Essex/Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier moored to Pier 26 North (Hudson) River, New York. Photo was probably taken in 1945 or 1946. Can you identify this ship? (larger image available on request.)

This ship is possibly USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) (Thanks to Harry Wood, ADJ3, CVS-39, 1962–1964.) "Returning to the east coast [September 1945], she held 'open house' for more than 200,000 visitors, demonstrating that their tax dollars and War Bonds had been wisely spent. Lake Champlain was the first ship open to the public since the war started and she was a big hit. Philadelphia, Boston and New York were the cities that hosted our carrier, and many memorable liberties were held." (Jack Sauter, USS Lake Champlain CV/CVA/CVS-39, Turner Publishing Company, 2002.) Note a large number of civilians aboard the ship or awaiting their turn on the pier.

Read an analysis of this photo, by David Buell.

Photo probably taken by Anita Russell.
Submitted by her daughter, Amy Cohen.
Mystery Photo #2

A Marine Honor Guard and what appears to be a decommissioned WW2-style Essex-class carrier in the background. Based on the group of items it was with, this photo might have been taken on the East Coast, in the late 50's or early 60's. Can you identify the ship, date, location or event? (Larger image available on request.)

George F. Harrs comments: "USS Tarawa (ATV-12), late '61–early '62, Philadelphia Naval Yard, tied up across the pier from USS Galveston (CLG-3). See photo NH98849 on the Galveston page, you can see Tarawa. I was aboard the Gal. and because of all the top-side work, radar updates, etc., we had a Yard Admiral's inspection (entire crew) on the pier. We had our backs to the Gal., the Marine Honor Guard was facing us with their backs to the Tarawa. I remember the inspection but canít remember the date. Wish I could be of more help but Iím pretty sure thatís what this is."

David Buell
HMS Speaker

An unknown carrier with what looks to be a Hellcat coming in to land at dusk.

Can you identify the ship, date or location? (Larger image available on request.)

Hoyt Bowman comments: "This appears to be at a fleet anchorage, in view of the tankers and overall background, probably Ulithi. A catapult track is in the right foreground, so this is a bow landing on a ship at anchor. I hope this will jog the memories of someone who was there."

Ed Cleary, however, dissents: "I disagree with this being a bow landing. The ladder on the superstructure on the left side indicates that this is a stern landing."

Peter "Spot" Cullen, CVW-19, comments: "This is a photo from years before my cruises (67–69) on the 'Tico Maru' and the 'O boat' but brings back good and sad memories. As an amateur photographer, I would estimate that the photo was taken with a 135mm or 200mm lens from approximately a point at the front of the island (on the port side of the deck or more safely the forward port catwalk). I definitely believe that the compression of the picture (due to the lens) makes it subject to disagreement, but besides the ladder to the island, there are visible (1) flight deck crew poised to assist with the tailhook release at the aft starboard position, (2) the LSO directly opposite, and (3) the arresting gear (I don't know the correct name for those cables) across the deck. The 'catapault' track I think may be the edge of the port elevator."

Dan DeCosta notes: "The short deck, dashed line close aboard the side, and catapult abeam the elevator show this to be a Casablanca Class CVE. It does not have the 5"/38 mounts starboard of the arresting gear as an Essex would have and it does not have the Starboard side stacks the Independence Class CVL would have."

Robert B. Shirk, MAJ(RET) USA comments: "If you assume that the Hellcat making the landing is close to or immediately over the fantail you can do a comparative measurement:"

"The aircraft shows a 4.5cm wing span in the picture on my computer screen (I suggest using the original photo for a better measurement)."

"The Carrier shows a 8.5cm width."

"The F6F had a 42ft wingspan."

"The result is a carrier deck about 80ft wide."

The only carrier that had that deck width and was routinely in service with F6Fs would be CV6 - USS Enterprise. One of your late war photos of that ship appears to show a ladder added to the aft island."

"Issues with this solution:"

"Some of the pre-Casablanca Class CVEs had deck widths in the 75ft range—given the fudge factor with the photo you would need to rule out these ships handling Hellcats at what is most likely a Pacific anchorage."

"Deck markings don't quite match photos of the Enterprise."

Alan Moore identified this ship as HMS Speaker (D90/R314), ex-Delgada (CVE-40).

Robert M. Cieri
Mystery Photo #4

An unknown carrier during World War II. This is a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver that somehow ended up in the portside catwalk after landing. You can see that the propeller is still spinning and chopping up the deck.

Can you identify the ship, date or location? (Larger image available on request.)

Phil Hollandsworth comments: "[My father] thinks this is CV-10 [USS Yorktown] bringing air group aboard on the way to Caribbean for gunnery practice just after shakedown in Chesapeake Bay. Dad remembers a lot of troubles with getting SB2C's on board. The pilots hated them."

Jerry Brown, however, notes: "This is not the Yorktown at the time of her Caribbean cruise. The Yorktown had early model Helldivers on board at that time (SB2C-1 with 3-bladed prop). This is a later model (appears to be a SB2C-3 with 4-bladed prop)."

Dan DeCosta points in a different direction: "This is the USS Monterey in 1951 in her role as a training carrier."
"Note the empty 40mm gun tub port aft. Those were removed during her return to duty (following her early 1947 decommissioning) in 1951 for use as the Navyís training Carrier."
"The early tri color paint scheme on the aircraft (despite being the later four bladed SB2C3/4) indicates that this aircraft was probably not deployed during the war but rather was kept stateside for testing, training or reserve. In this picture it is most probably a Naval Reserve aircraft."

William Southworth comments: "Most training of the intermeadate & advanced especially during the last year of the war with Japan, was done out of three stations: Pensacola Fla., Beeville Tx & Kingsville Tx. Which ever CV (primarily Long Hulled Essex) that was on a shakedown cruise, would double for new aircraft touch & goes. As the picture clearly shows a late war Helldiver (pilots & crew renamed them 'the Beast,' because of their bad handling characteristics). These touch & goes were also done on new & modified aircraft."

Amber Bomstein suggests: "This photo looks like it may have been possibly taken on USS Enterprise CV-6. The flight deck looks a little familiar."

Robert M. Cieri
Mystery Photo #5

An unknown ["long-hull"] Essex-class carrier at a Naval Shipyard, possibly 1945–46.

Can you identify the ship, date or location?

Identified as USS Shangri-La (CV-38) at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, in 1947. (Thanks to David Buell, Timm Smith, Joe Lewis and Bob Ketenheim.)

Text from "USS Shangri-La, CV /CVA / CVS-38," by Bob Ketenheim, page 29 (Turner Publishing Company, 2002):

"At 0625 on July 3, [1947] Shangri-La moored to Pier 11 at the Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, San Francisco to begin the process of inactivation. On July 15, the ship moved into Dry Dock No. 4 to have her bottom inspected, cleaned and sealed with a new coat of paint."


"The ship remained in dry dock until September 20 when she was towed back to berths 10 and 11 in the shipyard." [...]

"At 1000 on November 7, the remaining crewmen were assembled at quarters for muster and inspection. At 1010, Shangri-La was decommissioned and placed in inactive status in reserve by Commander, San Francisco Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet. [...]"

Eric C. Johnson, however, points out: "I believe the location of this photo is San Francisco Naval Shipyard, but I am not entirely convinced this photo was taken in the 1945–47 time frame. This leads me to doubt that the aircraft carrier in question is in fact USS Shangri-La (CV-38). In the background under the bow there appears to be the stern of the USS Iowa (BB-61), which was laid up at San Francisco in the late spring of 1949. Also visible is the bow of a Haskell-class attack transport, with the large white or white/shadowed hull number 23?—possibly 236, 238 or 239. The most likely candidate is USS Bronx (APA-236) which entered the San Francisco Reserve Group in early 1949, although USS San Saba (APA-232), Bottineau (APA-235), Dane (APA-238) and USS Glynn (APA-239) were also present from late 1946 onward."

"The aircraft carrier also shows no signs of being decommissioned, her radar suite and bow 40mm guns show no signs of being prepared for cocooning, the naval jack is clearly visible. Her stern is facing the east; if prior to a 1010 decommissioning ceremony her bow would be shrouded in shadow. It appears the photo is taken in the afternoon—therefore I see no connection between this photo and the decommissioning of USS Shangri-La. I believe the photo is taken sometime after the movement of USS Iowa into her layberth in the late spring of 1949 and her being broken out of mothballs in early summer 1951. USS Bronx never recommissioned for Korea service, although USS Glynn did."

"There are two other possibilities. The first is the photo is of either USS Antietam (CV-36) after her recommissioning at Alameda Naval Air Station in January 1951, or USS Shangri-La after her return to active service in May 1951. Of these two possibilities, I tend to lean towards USS Antietam. Her bow 40mm mounts clearly have "Gunnar" Mk 63 directors, which numerous photos of USS Antietam also show. Gunnar began slowly coming into the fleet from late 1948 onwards. USS Shangri-La recommissioned for training duties pending a major SCB-27C reconstruction in 1952–55. I have not seen photos of her bow 40mm mounts during this year of training duties.

There were however other Pacific Fleet carriers in service with Gunnar-equipped bow 40mm mounts—USS Boxer (CV-21), USS Princeton (CV-37) and USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) for example. [USS Valley Forge (CV-45) appears to be missing her port bow 40mm mount during part of this time.] Any of them could be the carrier in question—without a hull number or other tell-tale evidence I believe this photo is still very much a mystery."

Additional comments by Tracy White, Researcher @ Large: "That crane was finished in 1947, so it can't be before then. Since it's a long hull, we can cut more options:"

"It's not Tico as she had the large truss aerial supports (starboard forward flight deck catwalks) replaced before the end of the war: NS021497."

It's not Hancock as she was in mothballs in Seattle by then.

Could be Boxer, but probably isn't as this 1947 photo shows her without the larger truss aerials: NS022134."

"Leyte was Atlantic Fleet. So was Kearsarge up until the point she was modernized."

"Possibly Antietam, but it's a short window, as she had lost the truss radio supports by November 1948, NS023641. DANFS is of no help, but it appears she spent most of her time in the very western Pacific, so I view this as less likely."

"Possibly Princeton, she operated on the West coast from 1947–49 until being deactivated, according to DANFS."

"Lake Champlain was in the east coast mothball fleet at the time."

"Tarawa is a strong possibility as she was based on the west coast from 1947 to late 1948."

"Valley Forge appears to have commissioned with the whip aerials forward."

"I would say Shangri-La, Princeton, and Tarawa are the most likely candidates, but nothing really points out one over the others to me."

Dan DeCosta explains: "The ship pictured is the USS Princeton, and was taken at Hunters Pt Naval Shipyard in San Francisco between March 24 and June 20 of 1949."

"The key is the prior observer is correct in identifying the stern of the USS Iowa (already sporting cocoons). The USS Iowa was deactivated at San Francisco in September 1948 and formally decommissioned and placed in reserve at San Francisco from 24 March of 1949 to July of 1951. Therefore, the photo must have been taken between those dates."

"The only long hulled Essex's in the Eastern Pacific during this period were USS Boxer, and USS Princeton. USS Valley Forge and USS Philippine Sea were either in availability in San Diego or the Western Pacific."

"Two factors positively identify the ship as USS Princeton and eliminate the possibility of it being USS Boxer, USS Tarawa or USS Shangri-La."

"USS Tarawa was not in the Pacific during that time period having departed San Diego for an around the world cruise 28 September 1948. She then served in the Atlantic until being put in reserve with the New York Group. She was not recommissioned until February of 1951—and remained on the east coast until well after the Korean War. So, USS Tarawa was not on the West Coast when the photo had to be taken."

"The carrier pictured is 'In Commission' as indicated by the Union Jack flying from the Jack Staff on the center of the forward flight deck."

"Shangri-La was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1947. Prior to USS Iowa being placed in reserve (3/49). The only possibility then is USS Princeton, or USS Boxer."

"The forward lattice radio 'trees' were replaced on USS Boxer with whip antennas in 1947. So this isn't the USS Boxer."

"USS Princeton was decommissioned and placed in Reserve at Hunters Pt on 20 June 1949. Therefore the photo was taken sometime between 24 March and 20 June of 1949."

"(and just as a little piece of trivia, Shangri-La's Jack Staff was positioned on the forward starboard corner of the flight deck—it was not centered on the deck as was Princeton's.)"

Robert M. Cieri
Mystery # 6

This is undoubtedly a Forrestal-class carrier (elevator arrangement), and the time frame should be 1961–63 (aircraft mix, no guns forward). Ranger can be discarded outright, as she retained her forward sponsons throughout her career. Hull number cannot be seen, but it appears there's a hint of a "6" forward—this, along with the fact that F3H Demons were not part of any Carrier Air Group/Wing regularly attached to Forrestal after 1958, probably discards Forrestal herself. That leaves Saratoga and Independence, probably Sara, as she appears to have an open stern. (Larger image available on request.)

Charles Teschke comments: "The Indy had JBD (Jet Blast Deflectors) in the deck behind all the cats, unless they were added at a later date. I was aboard the Indy from 72–74 in VA-65."

Jim Azelton adds: "I am certain the carrier in this photo is Saratoga. I was onboard Indy from '92 to '97 and there are some distinguishing features of the flight deck which sets Indy apart. From what I have seen of the Forrestal-class boats, there are, apparently, two 'sub-types': Forrestal/Saratoga and then Ranger/Independence."

  1. "The flight deck was slightly different on Ranger/Indy at the forward part of the #2 elevatoróthey had an 'extension' into the leading edge of the elevator whereas, the Forrestal/Saratoga did not."
  2. "Another distinguishing feature setting Indy apart from the others is the aft edge of the angle deck. In Indy, the aft end had a sharper angle to it—coming to a point directly abeam the aft end of the #4 elevator."
  3. "Indy did not have a JBD behind cat 4 as [Charles Teschke mentioned]."
  4. "Lastly, Indy had a 'kink' on the starboard, aft end of the flight deck, extending outboard. The other ships had a straight line along the deck edge."

"I have marked-up a copy of the picture to pin-point the areas I mention here."

Ronny Svendsen notes: "The photo in question is of USS Saratoga Med Cruise 1963."

"The extension of the flight deck behind the port forward elevator first appeared in the 1963 cruise book. This was also the last cruise with the F3H-2 (F-3B), as the next CVA-60 cruise had the F-4B. Tailcode of the CVW is AC!"

"It is not CVA-62 due to different layout of the aft starboard corner of the flight deck."

William P. Jones, M.D.
From the collection of his father, chief of photographic engineering for a number of years
Mystery # 6
Mystery Photo #7

"Unknown aircraft carrier at Pearl Harbor, circa 1945–46."

Can you identify the ship, or confirm date/location? (Larger image available on request.)

Hints: Number of radio masts along the flight deck. She appears to be a "short-hull" Essex.

David Buell notes:

"I believe this to be the Bennington CV20, as this photo shows the shortened forward end of the flight deck which only CV 20 operated with in this form after storm damage. Others had the full length restored in overhaul/repair."

"She is also in Measure 12 (late version) which CV 20 was at this time."

"Finally compare this photo to the two of CV 20 at Pearl Harbor that I have submitted to Navsource [1 & 2] which show the two radio masts aft which by this time I believe only CV 20 carried. This photo could well have been taken at this same time."

Robert M. Cieri
Mystery Photo #8

"[A]n aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific. [Louis Esposito Sr. took the photo and] served in LST-950."

Hints: The combination of "solid" camouflage scheme (Ms. 21), three 40-mm quad mounts below the island, and "early type" island, would point to USS Wasp (CV-18) early in the Okinawa campaign. Just a "possible," not even a "probable."

Johan Jungermann, however, notes: "It's a Long Hull carrier, not USS Wasp because Wasp [was a] Short Hull carrier. I believe it's USS Randolph in the Okinawa campaign."

Dan DeCosta adds: "Johan is correct, this ship is the USS Randolph."

"Only three 'Long Hull' Essex Class ships operated with the Starboard side Hanger Deck 40 mm mounts (added on in early 1945). They were: USS Ticonderoga, USS Randolph, and USS Hancock."

"Of those three, USS Ticonderoga had a tall 'mainmast' which rose out of the aft end of her funnel—It was added when she received those extra starboard 40mm mounts. She was the only Essex to have it, and it is not installed on the ship in this photo."

"The USS Hancock and USS Randolph were identical in every way except for two details: the Hancock sported dazzle camouflage (measure 32); and the Randolph was painted in the solid dark blue (measure 21)."

"The USS Hancock also had an additional SK rectangular radar antenna aft of the main mast that is not in the photo".

David Buell comments: "I believe that Dan DeCosta is correct that the unidentified long hull Essex is the Randolph, but for different reasons:"

"Boxer CV 21 and Antietam CV 36 need to be considered as candidates for this photo since they were also both in the Western Pacific in the second half of 1945, were painted in Measure 21, and yes, they both had the 40mm sponsons added to their starboard sides. There are photos posted on Navsource on their respective pages confirming this, in spite of common assumption otherwise. Hancock was not in dazzle at this time, however she was painted up in Measure 22 when she received her starboard 40mm sponsons at Pearl Harbor in 1945 after undergoing battle damage. However I agree with the identification by Mr. DeCosta only because the detail on the after side of the island under the #2 MK 37 director on this photo matches Randolph on close photo examination of this area, and both CV 21 and CV 36 differ in this area from CV 15 as well as this photo. I would give this a definite for CV 15."

Louis Esposito
Mystery Photo #9

This photo was labeled as "Casablanca CVE 55-04." It is clear, however, that this is not USS Casablanca (CVE-55) but an Independence-class light carrier (CVL). Can you identify her?

Chris Hoehn notes: "The SK-2 radar dates the photo between mid 1945 to 1954/55. The lack of any hull numbers on the flight deck or hull makes me believe that this is a photo of Bois Belleau, formerly USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) or La Fayette, formerly USS Langley (CVL-27) of the French Navy. A close look at the flag hoisted on the mast looks like the Tri-color furled in a light breeze; in black and white photos the shades of red and blue used by France cause the red to appear almost black and the blue to appear gray."

David Buell adds: "I agree that it is almost definitely Belleau Wood CVL 24 right after her commissioning into the French Navy as Bois Belleau. I agree that the flag flying in the photo is the French Tricolor. The lack of deck markings and numbers indicate that [she is] not in US service. Both carriers that went to France received SK-2 radar before transfer. What identifies this ship as the former CVL 24 and not [Langley] CVL 27 is that her forward 40mm quad mount does not have the armor shield on it. CVL 27 which was also transferred to France at this time had this shield on both of her quad 40mm mounts during her US service as well as at the time of her transfer and subsequent service in the French Navy. I would give this a definite for CVL 24."

Richard Miller, BMCS, USNR (Ret.)

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Last update: 27 March 2020