To date, five ships have been named USS America; including a 74-gun ship of the line which was not launched during the American Revolution, but subsequently donated to France, and a 19th century racing yacht which was converted to naval service during the American Civil War. This latter vessel should not be confused with the USS American, a former whaler that was intentionally sunk by Confederate forces to obstruct shipping in the main harbor channel of Charleston, South Carolina.
Also, there was the German liner SS Amerika, which was seized by the United States government and renamed USS America (ID-3006), which operated as a troop transport. In truth, however, only one warship was actually called USS America: a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier, the CV-66, which has the dubious distinction of being the only supercarrier to be spent as a target ship. Currently, the United States Navy operates the USS America (LHA-6), an amphibious assault ship that at 45,000 tons fully loaded is larger than many carriers in service with many foreign navies.
To complicate matters further, in the entire history of the United States Navy, there has only been one ship to enter service as the USS United States, and that was actually the one of the original six frigates that served as the Navy’s nucleus in the first half of the 19th century.
Three other ships were also to be named USS United States, including a Lexington-class battlecruiser which was canceled due to the Washington Treaty when barely over 10% complete; as well as the eighth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier – which was consequently named USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
Then there was the USS United States (CVA-58), which was to be the lead ship of a new class of super aircraft carriers developed after World War II. However, his design was considered ambitious and even state-of-the-art, but was probably completely unfeasible. As a result, just five days after her keel was laid, the program was cancelled.
A true flat top – no island
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman approved the construction of five new “supercarriers”, for which funds had been provided in the Naval Appropriations Act of 1949. The transporter was a stark departure from WWII-era flattops and in some ways evoked the “streamlined modernity” of the Art Deco architecture and design movement that became common with modern automobiles and aircraft. ‘after war.
The proposed 65,000 ton (83,000 ton fully laden) transporter was to have presented a flush deck designed to launch and recover large 100,000-pound aircraft, which in turn could carry the nuclear weapons of the day that weighed up to five tons. The ship was to be 1,000 feet long, without an island, and equipped with four aircraft elevators and four catapults.
The flush deck was supposed to provide more space for the large bombers – although these should have been fixed to the flight deck as it would have been impossible to move them up or down in an elevator to the shed. Additionally, a small hanger was provided for fighter escort – and as the design evolved more space was given to fighters. It was planned that the ship’s air wing would consist of a dozen bombers as well as nearly fifty fighters.
While the primary mission was to transport long-range bombers, the USS United States class was also intended to provide tactical air support to air and amphibious forces, as well as conduct maritime control operations.
Massive size and massive cost
Designed as a conventional carrier, it would require eight Foster-Wheeler boilers and four Westinghouse turbines, which could produce 280,000 hp while four screws could take the massive vessel to speeds in excess of 33 knots.
Construction costs were estimated at around $190 million ($2.05 billion in 2020 dollars), while the cost of the task force to accompany the massive warship would have brought the total price to over $1.265 billion.
However, the design was not without its problems either.
The lack of an island meant that the ship had no position for radar, but also other command and control capabilities. A small tower-like platform could help direct movement on the flight deck, but radar, navigation, war planning and other operations would have been relegated to a specially equipped command ship cruiser . Instead of being the flagship of a strike group, the USS United States and the other aircraft carriers would have been floating airfields or arsenal ships.
Issues such as smoke and other exhaust gases from power plants and how they would be diverted from the flight deck needed to be addressed. There was also the unresolved question of how Navy bombers should stay on the flight deck for an entire voyage.
In the end, it was not an enemy adversary that ultimately “sunk” the project, but rather the US Air Force, which saw the carrier as an embodiment of the Navy’s nuclear aspirations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff seemed to agree that the carrier’s primary function would only serve to duplicate the role of the Air Force. Just days after the lead ship’s keel was laid, the program was cancelled.
Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan immediately resigned, while the “Admirals Revoltled to the dismissal of Admiral Louis Denfeld from his position as Chief of Naval Operations.
This did not mark the end of the super carrier, and instead, just five years later, the United States Navy advanced with the more conventional USS Forrestal class. Additionally, as the size of nuclear weapons decreased, it was also determined that a massive warship designed to accommodate carriers was not necessary. In the 1950s, nuclear weapons were sent to sea on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt – a much smaller aircraft carrier than the planned USS United States.
Biography of the expert: Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a writer from Michigan who contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with over 3,000 articles published over a twenty-year career in journalism. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.