The Korean War proved the value of the aircraft carrier in the nuclear age. The war also proved that the aircraft carrier and its jet aircraft was the mainstay of U.S. military power.
Naval aircraft provided much needed air support at the beginning of the war, as the U.S. Air Force mobilized for the fight. Carrier air wings were instrumental in destroying enemy supply depots, bridges, roads, and railways. General MacArthur saw them as vital in supporting ground forces and maintaining air superiority against enemy MiGs. When the tide turned in November of 1950 as Chinese forces pushed Allied units south, Navy aviators covered the retreat.
To prepare for the Cold War, the United States developed strategic aircraft, concealed intercontinental missiles throughout the Midwest, and launched a fleet of ballistic missile submarines. The strength of its defense, however, lay in the nation's surface fleet. President John Kennedy argued, "Control of the seas means security; control of the seas means peace; control of the seas can mean victory."
The U.S. Navy quickly mobilized its carriers for combat in the Korean War, including the Midway-class carriers and World War II-era ships that were converted to accommodate jet aircraft. Navy planes averaged 900 sorties per day, compared to 100 by the enemy. Over 250,000 sorties were flown by the Navy, contributing 1/3 of the total air effort. The case for Cold War carriers was made. The Navy began the war with 15 active carriers and ended it with 38 in service.
Neil Armstrong in his flight suit aboard the USS Cabot, 1949. Courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections.
Loading aircraft on the USS Cabot. Courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections.
This stadimeter, an optical device used for range-finding, was used aboard the USS Leyte (CV 32), one among the 24 Essex-class carriers produced for action in World War II. Leyte saw extensive service during the Korean conflict. Loan Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia. Gift of the U.S. Army Transportation Center, Navigation Branch, Ft. Eustis, Virginia.
Life ring buoy from the USS Forrestal (CV 59). Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Naval Yards.
Aircraft burn on the deck of the USS Forrestal (CVA 59) in the Gulf of Tonkin, July 29, 1967. Courtesy of RVAHNAVY Association.