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Aircraft Carrier Main Deck Construction WW2 British vs USA

Hello Mac,

Have wondered a bit about the advaantaages/ disadvantages of WW2 British Aircraft Carriers with steel decks comapred with American carriers with wooden [mohognany ?] main dexks.

My initial thoughts wre along these lines: The wooden decks would be intially cheaper and dmage caused by plane in landidngs coud be more easily repaired than for the steel decks of the British CVs.

Don't know whether the steel decks offered any additional resistance to bomb penetration than wooden decks. On the other hand, I do seem to recall that they survived Kamakaze attacks in several instances w/o major problems.

This is all WW2 data. I am wondering what the current practices are  for modern nuclear powered carriers both here in USA and in Britain--or if the Brits are currently building any carriers.
Eugene H. Edwards Send private email
Saturday, April 30, 2005

I believe the steel decks of the British Carriers were

tougher than the wooden ones of their US Allies.

In the Pacific I recall a number of Kamikaze attacks on

US carriers that penetrated the wooden flight deck, and

then blew up in the hangar with disastrous results.

Ommaney Bay was one I saw on the way up to Lingayen Gulf.

But, I have not seen any statistics vis a vis steel

against wood.

Must see if I can turn up anything.

Martin Elliget any thoughts here please?


Mackenzie Gregory Send private email
Monday, May 02, 2005
Hi Eugene & Mac.

It's an interesting point for discussion. I'm interested to hear what others think on this.

The wooden decks must have been cheaper but the ease of repair may have depended on which port the repairs were effected and the availability of steel plate or hardwood timber planks. Probably little problem in sourcing these materials in a major port but in one of the temporary ports, in the Pacific for example, I'm not sure whether repairing a wooden deck would have been any easier than an armoured one. It certainly appears that armoured decks were more effective in withstanding the punishment of Kamikaze attacks.

Found the following snippets on carriers and decks in a couple of books.

From "World War II, A Visual Encyclopedia" (PRC Publishing, 2001):
"Up to 1939 carriers were limited to 23,000 tons displacement under the naval treaties, with the exception of the ex-capital ships Lexington and Saratoga (US Navy) and Akagi and Kaga (Japanese Navy). In 1937 the British introduced a new feature, an armoured flightdeck to allow carriers to survive prolonged bombing, and this was subsequently copied by the USN and IJN. The German Navy started work on two carriers, the Graf Zeppelin and Peter Strasser, but only the former made any progress, she was still incomplete in 1945. The Italians belatedly tried to convert two liners, but these were also overtaken by events."

On the American aircraft carrier Yorktown: "The main features of the Yorktown Class were incorporated into future carriers, and the 'Essex' design was little more than an enlarged version. The hangar was designed for maximum capacity and was open to the ship's side. A weak point was that the hangar ventillation was linked to the ship's main system, but the stowage of avgas was effective in reducing the risk of fire. Armour was fitted on the hangar deck, but the flight deck was made of 6in wide hardwood planks laid athwartships."

From "A Sailor's Odyseey", autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount (Andrew Browne) Cunningham of Hyndhope (Hutchinson & Co, 1951), Admiral Cunningham recounts that on 4 Mar 1945, three days after sailing from Leyte in the Pacific, the aircraft carriers Formidable, Indomitable, and Victorious of British Task Force 57 suffered numerous Kamikaze attacks with some casualties, though in most cases the fires were brought under control relatively quickly and the carriers continued operations:

"It was shortly before noon on this day that the Formidable was hit by a Kamikaze which crashed into the flight deck near the island structure, having released its bomb just before striking. The Formidable had eight killed and forty-seven wounded, in addition to which a fire started on deck destroying eleven aircraft. Apart from other damage, the flight deck was holed and indented, and the ship's speed was reduced by a splinter of the armoured deck which passed below to a boiler-room and finally pierced the inner bottom."

"The fires in the Formidable were soon under control, and by about 1 p.m. she was capable of 24 knots. On May 6th she was fully operational, which was a very fine effort."

Cunningham goes on to say:
"I have mentioned the Kamikaze attacks in some detail because it had been amply proved that the armoured flight-decks of our carriers enabled them to stand up to heavy punishment and still to continue to operate. Some of the more lightly-armoured American carriers had been set on fire and disabled when attacked in the same way."

I have no information to hand on current practices.

Kind regards,
Martin Elliget Send private email
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
The US Naval Historical Center looks to have some good info on U.S. Aircraft Carriers:

In particular, the monograph "Evolution of Aircraft Carriers" by Scot MacDonald (1964) appears to be an excellent reference and is available for download in Acrobat format.

Martin Elliget Send private email
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
I was an A/B on the Victorious just after ww 2 and I was told that a kamikazy had crashed on to our flight deck and exploded and after the fire was put out which was very quick the jap plane was just pushed over the side by the ships crane and normal services were resumed.
I will confirm this story with an old shipmate who belongs to the same R S L sub branch as myself and was on board at the time. the other info I remmeber is that the flight deck was of 6" armoured steel plating.
Harry Davies Send private email
Friday, June 17, 2005
Every one has mised the point of the wood deck. Look at the stats. on Brit and US carriers.  Malta class 86,800 ton
81 aircraft  Essex class 34'8oo ton 100 + aircraft.  On the Essex we carried 103 and they were much bigger than the cute little Seafires {navy Spitfires}  We only took one hit by a Komikize We draged some plates over the hole and were back to flight quarters in under 2 hours. an extra 30 to 40 planes can give you a lot of protection.
  In my day we had wood decks and iron men.
      Jack Ormsby  1st. powderman gun #4  Essex 

          I've got history you will not find in books.
Jack Ormsby Send private email
Thursday, November 24, 2005
thanks guys! i'm doing a term paper for my european history class and my topic is how the british navy infleuenced the american navy, and i am particularly interested in the stealtop flight decks. i have had kind of a hard time tracking this topic down, i'm glad i stumbled upon this page.

thanks again!

Heather Cornchild Send private email
Friday, February 24, 2006
If it is still relevant to you, you might like to look at my books Task Force 57, the British Pacific Fleet, for info on Kamikaze hits; also my book Junkers Ju.87 Stuka for details (including photos and battle analysis) of hits on the British carriers Illustrious, Formidable and Indomitable by 1,000 lb bombs in the Mediterranean in 1941-42, then compare the results with the loss of the Lexington and damage to the Bunker Hill, Franklin etc.

Its an endless argument, but the British faced air attacks from land based European air forces (Germany and Italy) in closely confined waters, so had the motivation to provide protection in this way. They down side was, of course, a much smaller air group. Incidently British carriers did not just fly Seafires, they operated Corsairs from flight decks as routine when the US was restricting them to land based Marine Corps outfits only, and they also operated Hellcats and Avengers on Lend-Lease.

Best wishes on your project.
Peter C Smith Send private email
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Keep one thing in mind.  Wooden decks were quicker to put back into service after damage underway than was steel.  Although I am not positive, the decks may have been made of Teak.  US Battlewagons had teak decks and so was the superstructure of US Submarines.  The US Submarine that I served on in the 1980's had a TEAK wooden decking as part of the superstructure and was built in the late 1950's.  Carriers had repair shops aboard and carried wood for shoring damaged bulkheads, plugs and wedges for pipe leaks so they would swell in place.  I don't think that Kamikaze attackes were forecast when the fleet carriers were being built, but the Midway Class which came on scene in the fall of 1945, too late for WW2 had metal armoured flight decks.  Lessons learned?
Mike Cronin
Monday, March 27, 2006
A few comments on related subjects:

1) All significant developments in aircraft carriers, with the exception of nuclear propulsion, were British:

Arrestor wire
Aircraft elevator
Angled flight deck
Optical landing system
Steam catapult

2) The Chance-Vought F4UCorsair was originally rejected by the US Navy as being too difficult to land due to the inability of the pilot, seated well back in the fuselage, and with the plane's long nose, to see the flight deck.  It was relegated to land-based use by the US Marine Corps, and large numbers given to the Royal Navy under lend-lease. 

The Brits. evolved a curved landing approach where the pilot was able to keep the flight deck in view all through the approach until just before touching down.  The USN adopted the same procedure, and F4U then became a very successful carrier plane in the US Navy too.
Nick O'Dell Send private email
Thursday, November 23, 2006
If a USA carrier use wood as her flight deck, how did the deck stand the impact of planes landing?

I think maybe they needs so many pillars to support the wood deck. But these pillars would interfere the hanger desck, wouldn't they?

if the flight was damaged, how can repaired board to fix the holes?

It is difficult to image to use wood to fix to make it to be enough strong to accept planes landing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007
To give a contemporary (WWII era) answer, one carrier veteran I interviewd for a publication informed me they were told wooden decks were necessary on aircraft carriers because of their payload. The quick refueling process left aviation fuel splattered all over the deck, primarily during a heated engagement. With ammunition being brought from below, a spark would have disastrous results. A wrench dropped by a mechanic on a fuel covered metal deck could spell the end of the ship. One little spark is all it would take.

Saturday, August 21, 2010
There may be reasons for wood decks on carriers but why did us battleships have wood decks. I think it was a  single admiral who liked the look of freshly sanded wood with sailors in white hats doing the work.
jarvis baillargeon Send private email
Saturday, October 16, 2010

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