Bennington II (CV-20)
A town in the southwestern corner of Vermont. It is the seat of government for Bennington County. During the American Revolution, Bennington was the nearest town to the site of a battle, actually fought on New York soil, in which American victory contributed to the ultimate defeat of "Gentleman Johnnie" Burgoyne at Saratoga. As the nearest town, Bennington gave its name to the battle.
(CV-20: displacement 27,100; length 872'; beam 93'; extreme width 147'6"; draft 28'7"; speed 32.7 knots; complement 3,448; armament 12 5-inch, 40 40-millimeter, 60 20-millimeter; aircraft 80; class Essex)
The second Bennington (CV-20) was laid down on 15 December 1942 by the New York Navy Yard; launched on 26 February 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Melvin J. Maas; and commissioned on 6 August 1944, Capt. James B. Sykes in command.
Bennington completed trials, shakedown training, and post-shakedown availability by 14 December when she departed New York and headed for the Pacific theater. She transited the Panama Canal on 21 December and moored at San Diego on the 29th. On New Year's Day 1945, the carrier stood out of San Diego to continue her voyage west. She arrived in Pearl Harbor on 7 January. For the remainder of the month, she conducted air and gunnery training in the Hawaiian operating area. On 1 February, Bennington exited Pearl Harbor in company with Belleau Wood (CVL-24), Bunker Hill (CV-17), Randolph (CV-15), Saratoga (CV-3), and Alaska (CB-1) to join Task Force (TF) 58 at Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolines.
She arrived in Ulithi lagoon on 8 February and became a unit of Task Group (TG) 58.1. The aircraft carrier remained at Ulithi only two days, departing the atoll with TG 58.1 on the 10th to make air attacks on the Japanese home islands in support of the landings on Iwo Jima. Task Force 58 steamed first to the vicinity of the Marianas to conduct rehearsals over Tinian before heading north for the main event. After the air groups carried out the training sorties on 12 February, the ships fueled at sea on the 14th and then headed toward the launching point some 125 miles southeast of Tokyo. On the 16th, TF 58 launched its air strikes on Japan proper. Bennington aviators went after targets both at Tokyo and at Yokosuka, site of the large Japanese naval base. While their colleagues pounded Japan, pilots in Bennington’s combat air patrol (CAP) helped to protect TG 58.1 from air raids and knocked three intruders out of the air. On the negative side, her air group lost one plane to antiaircraft fire over Japan.
The aircraft carrier retired from the vicinity of Honshu on 18 February, fueled the next day, and then steamed toward Iwo Jima to provide close support for the subjugation of that island already in progress. She continued that duty from 20 to 22 February before retiring for a fueling rendezvous on the 23d. The following day, she and her sister carriers set a course back toward Japan. On the 25th, her air group participated in another series of attacks on the Tokyo region of Japan. Retiring on the 26th, Bennington launched aircraft against airfields on Okinawa in the Ryukyus on 1 March. She and her colleagues headed back to Ulithi on the 3d and reentered that anchorage the following day for eight days of rest and relaxation.
On 14 March, she returned to sea. After several days of training exercises, Bennington and the other carriers of TF 58 pointed their bows toward Kyushu, southernmost of the major Japanese home islands, to hit airfields there in preparation for the projected invasion of Okinawa. Those attacks went forward on 18 March; and, the following day, Bennington aircraft struck at installations in the Kure-Hiroshima area of Honshu. On the 20th, her aviators returned to Kyushu to give the airfields there another pounding. That same day, Bennington and the other units of TF 58 began their retirement from Japanese waters and toward Okinawa to begin direct support for the landings. On 23 March, she began launching raids against Okinawa and the surrounding islands, concentrating primarily on Kerama Retto, a small group of islands located due west o£ the southern portion of Okinawa and which constituted the first objective of the invading force. That small group of islands, needed as a fleet anchorage and forward repair base, fell late the following day, and the fast carriers shifted their attention to softening up the main objective.
That phase of the operation lasted until early on the morning of 1 April, D-day. After the assault force went ashore, Bennington and the other fast carriers began dividing their time between strikes on Okinawa and the surrounding islands in direct support of the occupying troops and raids on the Japanese home islands, primarily Kyushu, in distant support of the operation. On 7 April, Bennington aircraft helped stifle the Japanese Fleet’s last gasp. The battleship Yamato, escorted by light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, came out of Japan in a desperate attempt to break up the landings at Okinawa. That force, totally lacking air cover, was spotted on the 6th by American submarines; and, on the 7th, by American patrol planes. When TF 58 attack groups found the force on the 7th, the result was a foregone conclusion. Though fighting gallantly to the last, Yamato, Yahagi, and four of the destroyers went to the bottom. The four destroyers that escaped also suffered damage but managed to reach Sasebo. Bennington aviators claimed at least two torpedo hits on the mighty battleship at the cost of just a single plane from her air group.
The aircraft carrier continued to give support to the Okinawa operation, to provide combat air patrol to intercept enemy air raids, and to pound the airfields that were the points of origin for those raids. On 28 April, Bennington and the rest of TG 58.1 left the vicinity of Okinawa for rest and relaxation at Ulithi. She remained at the huge fleet anchorage from 30 April to 9 May. On the latter day, she stood out of Ulithi and, after exercises in the area, headed back to Okinawa on the 10th. The aircraft carrier resumed support duty for the Okinawa campaign on 12 May. Again, she divided her time between direct support for the troops fighting on the island and sweeps against the Kyushu airfields. Early in June, Bennington suffered damage when TF 38, Halsey had relieved Spruance on 27 May and fleet, task forces, and task groups changed designation, steamed through another typhoon. On 9 June, she set a course for Leyte Gulf and repairs. The warship arrived at her destination on the 11th and underwent repairs until the 27th. She cleared the base at San Pedro Bay on 1 July in company with the rest of TF 38.
For the remainder of the war, she and the other fast carriers concentrated exclusively upon the Japanese home islands and surrounding waters. Her planes ranged the length of the island chain from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south, making frequent calls on Honshu. Targets included industrial complexes, military and naval installations, and shipping. Flying with virtual impunity over Japan, the Bennington planes helped to bring Japanese industrial and military operations to near standstill. She was still conducting air strikes off Honshu on 15 August when news broke of the Japanese capitulation.
After hostilities ended, Bennington continued operations in the Japanese home islands in support of occupation forces. Her aviators conducted routine patrols as well as searches for camps containing Allied prisoners of war. That duty lasted until 10 September at which time she entered Tokyo Bay. The aircraft carrier remained in the Far East until mid-October when she shaped a course back to the United States. Along the way, she stopped at Saipan, where she disembarked her air group, and at Pearl Harbor before entering San Francisco Bay on 7 November. She remained there until the first week in January 1946 when she returned to sea, bound for Hawaii transporting a load of planes and a draft of men. After conducting some training operations in the Hawaiian Islands, the carrier headed back to San Francisco where she arrived on 30 March. Early in April, the warship set out on a voyage to the east coast. She transited the Panama Canal at mid-month and arrived in Norfolk, Va., on the 22d. She apparently remained there until 8 November at which time she was decommissioned and berthed with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
Bennington remained in reserve for almost four years. On 29 October 1950, she moved to the New York Naval Shipyard to be modernized and prepared for active service. Over the next two years, she underwent a transformation that increased her displacement, length, and beam. Her flight deck was strengthened and widened to accommodate jet aircraft. She also received many modifications to other equipment, such as catapults and elevators, to accomplish the same purpose. In October, while completing those alterations, she was redesignated an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-20). Finally, she was recommissioned on 13 November 1952, Capt. David B. Young in command.
Following a series of tests and trials, Bennington departed New York on 19 February 1953 for her shakedown cruise to the West Indies. That cruise, punctuated by several visits to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lasted for over three months. During of the training cruise, an explosion occurred in her number 1 fireroom on 27 April. It rocked her lower decks and claimed the lives of 11 men. Prompt action by the damage control team minimized both human and material destruction. She put into Guantanamo Bay on the 29th, completed repairs in a week, and returned to sea to continue her shakedown training. On 7 May, she concluded training operations and set a course back to New York. After a stop at Norfolk to disembark her air group, the carrier reentered the New York Naval Shipyard on 25 May to begin post-shakedown availability.
That summer, she began normal operations with the Atlantic Fleet out of her home port, Quonset Point, R.I. That duty lasted until mid-September at which time she put to sea to participate in a large-scale NATO exercise, Operation Mariner. That operation ended on 4 October, and Bennington steamed through the Strait of Gibraltar to begin her first deployment with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. That assignment lasted until 16 February 1954 when she embarked upon her homeward voyage. Bennington arrived at Quonset Point on the 21st to disembark her air group. On 1 March, she moved to New York for a shipyard availability and a post-deployment standdown period.
Early in April, she returned to sea to conduct carrier qualifications off Mayport, Fla. She completed that mission and returned to Quonset Point on the 29th. Late in May, she moved south to Norfolk where she embarked Air Group 181 on 22 May and put to sea for carrier qualifications in the Narragansett Bay area. At 0600 on the 26th, she began launching aircraft for the qualifications. Eleven minutes later, a series of explosions rocked the ship when the port side catapult accumulator burst and released vaporized lubricating oil which was detonated by some unknown heat source. Though severely damaged internally, the warship managed to launch the entire air group and send it into Quonset Point. She also maintained way on and headed back to Quonset Point while damage control, fire, and rescue parties worked feverishly to control fires, to rescue the injured, and to recover the dead. The tragedy cost her 103 officers and men dead and over 200 others injured, most of them severely burned. The most severely injured men were carried to Quonset Point in a massive helicopter lift, and Bennington dropped the remainder off there before heading to New York for extensive repairs. She arrived in the New York Naval Shipyard on 12 June. In addition to repairing the damaged area, the shipyard made major modifications originally scheduled for a later date. The two most notable changes were the addition of an enclosed hurricane bow to lessen the potential for damage in heavy weather and of an angled flight deck to improve the efficiency of air operations.
She completed repairs and alterations by 11 March 1955, and the carrier returned to sea on 25 April to conduct carrier qualifications off Mayport and post-overhaul shakedown training out of Guantanamo Bay. For the next four months, she conducted normal operations along the east coast and in the West Indies. On 8 September, the carrier embarked upon a voyage to a new home port and a new fleet. Steaming around Cape Horn, she arrived in San Diego, Calif., on 20 October. There, the warship joined the Pacific Fleet.
Over the next nine years, the period preceding America’s full entrance into the conflict in Vietnam, Bennington divided her time between deployments to the 7th Fleet in Far Eastern waters and normal evolutions along the California coast. During that time, she made five deployments to the Orient. The first two, made during the winter of 1955 and 1956 and the winter of 1957 and 1958, proved to be of routine nature, combining training evolutions and goodwill visits to various Asian ports. The third deployment of the period, from August 1958 to January 1959, came as an emergency assignment occasioned by the communist Chinese threat to the Nationalist Chinese-held offshore islands, Quemoy and Matsu. The carrier's service with the Taiwan Strait patrol during that crisis earned her the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. Following her return to normal west coast duty in January 1959, the Navy decided to use the carrier exclusively for antisubmarine warfare. On 30 June 1959, she became an antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier (CVS-20). Her fourth tour of duty in the Far East, carried out between October 1960 and May 1961, was highlighted by another American show of force during the Laotian crisis. Again, she earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. The final deployment of that period was characterized by a return to more normal duty, training and port calls.
Bennington’s final seven years of active service, which included four more assignments with the 7th Fleet, coincided with the period of direct involvement of United States armed forces in the civil war in Vietnam. The first deployment of this phase of her career started peacefully enough early in 1964, but the Tonkin Gulf incident in August extended her Far Eastern tour and brought duty in Vietnamese waters in October and November. Her next 7th Fleet tour of duty, during the summer and fall of 1965, brought more duty off the coast of Vietnam, but the service was not nearly so extensive as the she would perform during her final two deployments.
On 4 November 1966, Bennington embarked upon her next to last 7th Fleet assignment. Throughout that tour of duty, she served with the larger carriers on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. In addition to providing antisubmarine protection to TF 77, she also had the responsibility for tracking and identifying all ships operating in the vicinity of the task force and for providing search and rescue services for downed aviators. The deployment ended on 21 April, and Bennington headed for Australia to participate in the celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Allied victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The carrier departed Sydney, Australia, on 8 May and, after a stop at Pearl Harbor on the 18th, arrived in San Diego on the 23rd.
After almost a year of normal operations along the west coast, she stood out of Long Beach for the final deployment of her naval career on 30 April 1968. She made a stop at Pearl Harbor from 15 to 20 May and arrived in Yokosuka on 29 May. Her last deployment brought more of the same duty that she had seen on the previous oneantisubmarine protection for TF 77, ship identification work, and search and rescue services. She concluded that tour of duty on 28 October when she departed Yokosuka to return to the United States. Bennington arrived in Long Beach on 9 November and, on the 14th, entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a five-month yard overhaul. The aircraft carrier resumed active service on 30 April 1969 and conducted normal operations along the California coast for the remainder of the year and into January 1970. On 15 January 1970, Bennington was placed out of commission with the Pacific Reserve Fleet at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 20 September 1989.
Bennington (CV-20) earned three battle stars for World War II service and five battle stars during the Vietnam conflict.
Raymond A. Mann
8 February 2006