The Japanese had a tendency to be sneaky about their weapons of warfare, and their attack plans, as we know from Pearl Harbor. One such well kept secret was the Hiryu…which means Flying Dragon. The ship was a modified Soryu design that was built exclusively for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Soryu, which means Blue Dragon, was built first, and because of the heavy modifications, the Hiryu was almost considered to be a separate class of ship. Hiryu had a displacement of 17,600 tons, length of 746 feet 1 inch, beam of 73 feet 2 inches, draft of 25 feet 7 inches and a speed of 34 knots. Built in 1931, “these two ships became prototypes for almost all subsequent Japanese carriers. They had continuous flight deck, two-level hangar, small island superstructure, two deflexed down and aft funnels and three elevators. As a whole ship design (within the limits of displacement assigned on it) has appeared rather successful, harmoniously combining high speed with strong AA armament and impressive number of air group.” The Hiryu, unlike the small height hangar levels of the Soryu, was built to an advanced design. “Her freeboard height was increased by one deck, island was transferred to a port side (Hiryu became second after Akagi and last Japanese carrier with an island on a port side). Breadth of a flight deck was increased on 1m, a fuel stowage on 20%. She had a little strengthened protection: belt thickness abreast machinery raised to 48mm.”
Hiryu took part in Japanese invasion of French Indochina (Now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) in mid 1940s, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Wake Island. The ship became a great enemy of the Allies. Then, along with three other fleet carriers, Hiryu participated in the Battle of Midway Atoll in North Pacific Ocean in June 1942. Initially, the Japanese forces managed to bombard US forces on the atoll. It didn’t look good for the Allies, but on June 4, 1942, the Japanese aircraft carriers were attacked by dive-bomber aircraft from USS Enterprise, USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, and Midway Atoll. Hiryu was hit and severely crippled, and was set on fire. Japanese destroyer Makigumo torpedoed Hiryu on June 5, 1942 at 05:10 am, because she could not be salvaged. Only 39 men survived as after 4 hours, she sank with bodies of 389 men. Three other Japanese carriers were also sunk during the Battle of Midway. It was a battle that brought Japan’s first naval defeat since the Battle of Shimonoseki Straits in 1863. It was a great day for the Allies.
Following the first successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers on Dec 17, 1903, the world changed dramatically…as did the way we fought wars. Of course, just because the Kitty Hawk broke free of the gravitational pull of Earth on that day, did not mean that we went straight to jets. Nevertheless, by the 1920s, airplanes were more common. With this change in travel and maneuverability, came the ability to use these new weapons in warfare. While it took time to develop airplanes to the ability needed to use in a war, in all reality, warfare was forever changed on that day.
The United States quickly became interested in aerial warfare, and began work on developing the planes and providing training for the pilots who would fly them. In August of 1910, Jacob Earl Fickel did the first experimenting, with Glenn Curtiss shooting a gun from an airplane. At that time, planes couldn’t easily fly across oceans like they can now, so if they were to be used in warfare, they would have to be transported to the war zone somehow. That brought about the expirements to see if it was practical to take off and land on a ship. I have to wonder just how many failed attempts they had before civilian pilot Eugene Ely successfully took off from a wooden platform installed on the scout cruiser USS Birmingham on November 14, 1910 near Hampton Roads, Virginia. This exceptional pilot successfully took off, and then landed safely on shore a few minutes later. Several months later on January 18, 1911, he also successfully landed on a platform on the USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco harbor.
Now that they knew it could be done, it was time to find a ship to be the carrier full time. Enter the USS Jupiter. The USS Jupiter was a collier ship, which is a bulk cargo ship, from 1913 to 1920. At that point, it was decided that the USS Jupiter would be decommissioned, and converted into the first aircraft carrier in history. Once the work was finished, the USS Jupiter became the USS Langley on April 11, 1920 and was recommissioned as an aircraft carrier on March 20, 1922. Her first executive officer felt right at home on the new ship, because Commander Kenneth Whiting, who was a former submarine commander turned aviator, had been transported to England by the collier Jupiter. Whiting, who earned the title “Father of the Aircraft Carrier,” was the last naval aviator to take training personally from Orville Wright…bringing things full circle so to speak…but the story never really ends does, now does it.