USS Yorktown CV-5 (1937-1942)

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The USS Yorktown, named for the site of the British surrender to the Americans in the year 1781, served with distinction during World War II.  Commissioned in 1937 after her construction at Newport News, Virginia, the Yorktown was a 19,800 ton aircraft carrier. During the relatively quiet years of the late 1930s, the Yorktown sailed the Atlantic and Caribbean. In 1939, she became more active and operated mostly in the Pacific. Just prior to formal declaration of war by the United States in 1941, the Yorktown patrolled the Atlantic in those tense months of preparation for war between the U.S. and the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Action in World War II

Weeks after the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, the Yorktown powered through the Panama Canal to reinforce the horribly damaged U.S. Pacific Fleet. As most recall, the fleet was completely surprised by the attack. Of the eight battleships present, three were sunk, another capsized, and the remainder damaged; eleven other vessels were either sunk or seriously damaged. The Yorktown was needed to bolster the fleet and to help to carry the war to the enemy.

The carrier’s initial combat operation was the Marshalls-Gilberts raids in early February 1942. These raids were tactical airstrikes and naval artillery attacks by Navy forces under the overall command of Rear Admiral William Halsey, Jr. The Yorktown then participated in raids in the South Pacific that culminated in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May of 1942. This battle was the first fleet action in which aircraft carriers engaged each other. The Yorktown, though seriously damaged by enemy bombs, helped sink or damage two Japanese ships.

After being repaired, the Yorktown served in the Battle of Midway in 1942. Historians would later point to this battle as the turning point of the war in the Pacific, and the Yorktown ably assisted with her air group damaging the Japanese carrier Soryu and helping to destroy the carrier Hiryu and the cruiser Mikuma.

Destruction at Midway

However, the damage received by the Yorktown during the battle caused her abandonment on June 4, 1942. In the subsequent effort to salvage her, torpedoes from a Japanese submarine caused enough further damage so that the Yorktown sank on June 7. The wreck of this great fighting carrier was discovered in 1998. Though entombed three miles deep, the USS Yorktown’s wreck was found to be in good condition.

Asbestos in Navy Ships

Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.


Naval Historical Center

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