The USS Suwannee was a member of the Sangamon class of escort aircraft carriers. Originally, she was known as the SS Markay, built for the Keystone Tankship Corp. by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. of Kearny, N.J. Her keel was laid down on June 3, 1938; she was launched March 4, 1939. She was purchased by the U.S. Navy on June 26, 1941 and renamed the Suwannee. She was commissioned on July 16, 1941, and served as an oiler with the designation AO-33.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Suwannee was selected for conversion to an escort aircraft carrier and sent to Newport News, Va., for re-fitting. She was commissioned as a carrier (AVG-27) on Sept. 24, 1942, with Capt. Joseph J. Clark in command.
The Suwannee was to see action almost immediately. On Nov. 8, 1942, she was part of the Center Attack Group off the coast of Casablanca, Morocco, supporting the landings of Operation Torch. For the next several days, the Suwannee’s aircraft conducted combat air patrols (CAP), anti-submarine patrols (ASP) and bombing missions on enemy positions. Her aircraft would fly 255 sorties between Nov. 8 and 11 with the loss of three planes in combat. On Nov. 11, one of her aircraft would find and sink a French submarine attempting to attack the American task force.
After her duties as part of Operation Torch were completed, the Suwannee was ordered to the Pacific Ocean. She arrived at New Caledonia on Jan. 4, 1943. For seven months, she served as an escort for transports and supply ships traveling to Guadalcanal and other islands in the Solomon Islands chain.
From Nov. 19-23, 1943, the Suwannee provided aerial support for the successful U.S. invasion of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. In early February 1944, she would take part in the assault of several islands in the Marshall Island chain, bombing Roi and Namur and the Kawjaelin atoll. From Feb. 16-25, she provided air support for the invasion of Eniwetok. In April, she was deployed to the waters off of New Guinea to support the landings there.
In June 1944, the Suwannee was sent to the Marianas Islands to provide air coverage for the landings on Saipan and Guam. On June 19, she became one of a handful of U.S. ships to sink submarines in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans when one of her aircraft sank the Japanese submarine I-184.
In mid-October, the Suwannee was deployed to Leyte Gulf as part of a large force supporting the U.S. invasion of the Philippines. She provided air coverage for the assault force, flying CAP and ASP and attacking Japanese airbases in the Visayans until Oct. 25. On the 25th, the Suwannee was part of a skeleton force of 15 escort carriers and 22 destroyers and destroyer escorts left in the Philippine Sea after the majority of the U.S. fleet deployed after two Japanese strike forces. Those two forces were bait; a third large Japanese force of four battleships, eight cruisers and 11 destroyers entered the Philippine Sea through the San Bernardino Strait and vastly outgunned the remaining U.S. contingent. In spite of the heavy odds against them, the U.S. force would hold out long enough to force a Japanese withdrawal.
At 7:40 a.m. on Oct. 25, the Suwannee’s task force, known as “Taffy 1”, was attacked by the first wave of kamikaze suicide strikes launched by the Japanese in the war. The Suwannee’s gunners would be the first Americans to shoot down a kamikaze, downing two in rapid succession, but the carrier would by a third plane a short time later. The Japanese plane hit about 40 feet forward of the aft aircraft elevator and tore a 10-foot hole in the flight deck. The planes bomb exploded between the flight and hangar decks, causing a 25-foot hole in the hanger deck area and killing a number of the Suwannee’s crew. In spite of the damage, emergency repairs were completed quickly enough that air operations resumed less than two hours later.
Shortly after noon the next day, the Suwannee was hit by a second kamikaze. The Japanese aircraft dove into one of her torpedo bombers, which had just landed, causing both planes to explode and starting a huge fire that burned for hours. This second strike essentially knocked the Suwannee out of the battle. She would limp to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving on Nov. 26.
The Suwannee’s repairs were completed in just over two months, on Jan. 31, 1945. She would shortly be back in the action, arriving off the coast of Okinawa on April 1 for the invasion of that island. After providing close air support for the initial invasion, the Suwannee’s aircraft were assigned to the task of attacking kamikaze bases on Sakishima Gunto. In June, she supported the landings on Balikpapan, Borneo, in her last action of the war. In all, the Suwannee would earn 13 battle stars during World War II.
The Suwannee was placed in the Atlantic Inactive Fleet in September 1945, shortly after the Japanese surrender ended the war. She was berthed at the Boston Naval Shipyard and decommissioned on Jan. 8, 1947. She remained there for 12 years, being struck from the Naval Vessel Register on March 1, 1959. Her hulk was sold twice before finally being scrapped in Spain in June 1962.
Characteristics of the USS Suwannee (Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Class and type: Sangamon-class escort carrier
Displacement: 6,534 long tons (6,639 t)
Length: 559 ft (170 m)
Beam: 75 ft (23 m);114 ft 3 in (34.8 m) extreme width
Draft: 32 ft 4 in (9.9 m)
Speed: 18 knots (21 mph; 33 km/h)
Complement: 860 officers and men
Armament: • 2 × 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal. guns
Aircraft carried: 31
Name: USS Suwannee
Acquired: 26 June 1941
Commissioned: 16 July 1941
Decommissioned: 21 February 1942
Reclassified: AVG-27, 14 February 1942
Recommissioned: 24 September 1942
Decommissioned: 8 January 1947
Reclassified: ACV-27, 20 August 1943
CVHE-27, 12 June 1955
Struck: 1 March 1959
Fate: Sold 30 November 1959
June 1941: USS Suwannee acquired by the U.S. Navy
September 1942: USS Suwannee recommissioned as an escort carrier
November 1942: USS Suwannee supports landings of Operation Torch
November 1943: USS Suwannee supports landings at Tarawa
June 1944: USS Suwannee provides air support for invasions of Saipan and Guam
October 25-26, 1944: USS Suwannee struck by two Japanese kamikazes
April 1945: USS Suwannee supports invasion of Okinawa
January 1947: USS Suwannee decommissioned