The US Navy's Landlocked Aircraft Carriers
During World War II, aircraft carriers played a very important part, especially in the Pacific. As the war wore on, the US Navy was rapidly building new carriers. They built over a hundred carriers of several types.
The problem was they needed to train new pilots to fly thousands of new attack planes, preferably where they wouldn't have to worry about enemy attacks. That's where the USS Wolverine and USS Sable came in.
From Luxury Liners to Carriers
The USS Wolverine began life in 1913 as the paddlewheel steamer Seeandbee. The luxury cruiser was capable of carrying 1,500 passengers. It measured 500 feet long and had "500 private cabins, a saloon and a great formal dining hall, complete with an orchestra".
For almost 3 decades, the Seeandbee plied Lake Erie from Buffalo to Cleveland. Until the War department called. The admirals needed a training platform for new pilots, and they couldn't spare any flattops. So, they bought the Seeandbee and set to work refitting it. Over four months, they removed the superstructure and replaced it with a 500-foot-long flight deck with the required arrester cables.
The ship was rechristened the USS Wolverine (IX-64) in August of 1942. Based at Chicago’s Navy Pier, the new ship would venture into Lake Michigan to train pilots. (Lake Michigan is the 5th largest lake in the world at 22,000 square miles.)
As the war dragged on, the demand for pilots grew. So a second training ship was needed. The Navy purchased another luxury liner, the 518-foot-long paddlewheel Greater Buffalo. She was refitted and rechristened the USS Sable. Together, these two ships made up the "Cornbelt Fleet".
By the end of the War, thousands of pilots had learned the ropes on these two ships. (One source said 18,000 and another source said 35,000.) One of whom was the late President George H. W. Bush.
When the Japanese surrendered, the training ships were no longer needed. They were decommissioned two weeks later. The Wolverine was sold for scrap. The Great Lakes Historical Society tried to purchase the Sable to convert it to a floating museum. Unfortunately, the plans fell through, and it too was broken up for scrap.
What Makes this Story Cool?
The USS Wolverine and USS Sable had a number of features that made them stand out from all other US naval vessels at the time. They were fueled by coal, while other ships used fuel oil. They were also the only paddlewheel ships. Propellers replaced paddlewheels in the 1800s. Finally, their 500-foot flight decks where the shortest in the Navy. The idea was if a pilot could land on one of their deck, he could land anywhere.
Since all the pilots were trainees, there were a few accidents. Currently, there are over a hundred fighter planes sitting on the bottom of Lake Michigan, many in pristine condition.
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