One of the Diesel Era symbols is the aircraft carrier, born during the Great War to become the most important warship class of the next war.
This is USS Langley, CV-1, the first aircraft carrier of the US Navy. Converted from the collier Jupiter in 1922, she entered service just when the British rapidly expanded their carrier fleet. The very first carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was converted from a merchant ship in 1914. She could carry five floatplanes and two regular, wheeled aircraft.
Ark Royal sailed for the Dardanelles on 1 February 1915 and provided support to Allied landings there until May 1915, serving in the Eastern Mediterranean until the Armistice. In January 1918, two of her Sopwith Baby aircraft attempted to bomb the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. After the war she operated in the Black Sea, transporting aircraft to Batumi to support White Russian forces fighting the Russian Civil War. She was also used in support of the air and land campaign in Somalia against the Mad Mullah. In 1920, she assisted the withdrawal of White Russian forces from Crimea. She then returned to Britain and was put into reserve at Rosyth for a refit. And in September 1922 she was recommissioned to take aircraft out to the Mediterranean during the Chanak crisis... By this time, Royal Navy had newer, much larger carriers. HMS Argus, converted from the Italian liner Conte Rosso and commissioned in September 1918, was the world's first example of what is now the standard pattern of aircraft carrier, with a "flush deck" enabling wheeled aircraft to take-off and land:
Another British carrier, HMS Eagle, was converted from a battleship:
And HMS Furious was a conversion of 'large light cruiser', rebuild step by step. She received the full flush deck only in 1925:
Her half-sisters, Courageous and Glorious, were converted in a similar way.
In 1923, Royal Navy commissioned its first built-from-the-scratch aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes:
Spacious, with sound construction, she lacked one vital thing: speed. 25 knots were definitely not enough. Besides, she wasn't the world's first purpose-built carrier: Japanese Hōshō was commissioned a bit earlier, in December 1922:
After these purpose-built carriers came another round of conversions. This time it was international. In 1927 the French Navy received a converted battleship Bearn - the only survivor of the canceled Normandie class:
In 1927-1928 two mighty carriers were completed for the Imperial Japanese Navy - converted battlecruiser Akagi and converted battleship Kaga:
And what about US Navy? A pair of battlecruisers, canceled according to the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, were rebuild into the best carriers of their time. Meet the nice pair: USS Lexington and Saratoga!
With steam turbines developing up to 209,710 hp, these 36,000-ton ships were capable of 34 knots and carried a maximum of 120 aircraft of various types, including fighters, scouts, and bombers. Each ship cost a total of $45,000,000 ($573.2 million in 2008 dollars) with aircraft.
The first purpose-built US carrier was Ranger, commissioned in June 1934:
She was smaller than Lex & Sara, only 14,576 tons, her turbines developed 53,500 shp, and the speed was nearly 30 knots. After this 'sketch' came more powerful, spacious and fast carriers of the Yorktown class and smaller Wasp:
I'll be happy to tell the carriers' tale further, but I'm afraid it will become tiresome. So, enjoy the slideshow:
Find more photos like this on Dieselpunks
or browse the album. Here are about 50 carriers. Including unfinished Axis Graf Zeppelin and Aquila, US light carriers converted from light cruisers, first escort carriers, WW2 merchant ship conversions, and giant Shinano - a half-sister of the world's largest battleship Yamato.
Useful info on every aircraft carrier pictured here can be easily found on the Web.
My special thanks to the excellent Kaigun site, Maritimequest and Naval Photo Archives.