Classy Kassie' Took Southeast Alaska to War
Escort Carrier named after Kasaan BayBy DAVE KIFFER
November 10, 2016
The USS Alaska was a heavy cruiser, the USS Kodiak was a landing ship. Perhaps the most famous, and tragic, Alaska-related warship was the USS Juneau, a light cruiser that was sunk by torpedoes during the Battle of Guadalcanal, leading to the deaths of 587 of its crewmembers, including five sons of the Sullivan family of Waterloo Iowa. (See "Sullivan Brothers Made USS Juneau Famous," Sitnews, August 4, 2008, sidebar to "Third USS Alaska saw action in World War II.")
But there was another ship with an Alaska name in World War II, the USS Kasaan Bay, an escort carrier that spent parts of the war in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Kasaan Bay (CVE-69) off Gould Island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island (USA), 16 September 1944.
The USS Kasaan Bay also, initially, was not even an aircraft carrier. Originally, when the keel was laid down, in 1943, it was intended to be a "fleet oiler," a supply ship. But early in the war it became obvious that more aircraft carriers were needed and it was a slow, expensive process turning out "fleet carriers." It was decided to repurpose some of the oilers into escort carriers.
Escort carriers could help ferry planes into forward areas and also perform convoy escort duties, particularly in the North Atlantic where German U-boats were running amok, especially in the early stages of the war.
Also called "jeep carriers" or "baby flattops," the escort carriers were basically half as long, 500 feet, as a fleet carrier and a third the tonnage (7,000 to 8,000 tons). They were crewed by around 850 sailors, a significantly smaller number than the fleet carriers.
The escort carriers top speed was around 18 knots so they were unable to keep up the faster moving attack fleets led by the fleet carriers. But they were cheaper to operate and build, which was why, during the war, the US produced 120 escort carriers and 30 fleet carriers.
They also had much less armor and other protection than the larger carriers Crews morbidly joked that the CVE classification actually stood for "Combustible, Vulnerable and Expendable." Although several of the ships met spectacular demises during the war, the Kasaan Bay was not among them.
The Kasaan Bay (CVE 69) was a Casablance class carrier. It was one of 50 escort carriers built by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company in Vancouver, Washington and was completed in October 1943, a mere five months after its keel was laid. It was commissioned in December, 1943 and went to sea under the command of Captain B. E. Grow.
Initially, it was stationed in the Pacific and ferried passengers and planes from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor. But then it was decided to move the ship to the Atlantic and it was sent to Norfolk, Virginia. In May, it took a cargo of planes and equipment to Casablanca. The Kasaan Bay then was stationed in the Mediterranean Sea at Oran, Algeria and it took part in the invasion of the South of France in August of 1944. Pilots from the ship supported the invasion and were given credit for downing two German planes.
In August, the USS Kasaan was sent back to Norfolk. It made one more plane ferrying trip to Casablanca and then was reassigned to the Pacific as the US began ramping up for an expected invasion of the Japanese home islands.
In January of 1945, the carrier returned to Pearl Harbor and then went to Guam and Ulithi. It continued to travel between the forward bases and Pearl Harbor until it was permanently assigned to patrol the shipping lanes between the Marshall and Mariana islands, protecting the supply lanes for the Battle of Okinawa.
Portion of a historic photo of Pearl Harbor dated ca. 1945, showing the additional piers & quays, S13–S19. View facing north. Port Hueneme NAVFAC archives, Kidder-Smith collection, photo N-195-9. USS Kasaan Bay (CVE-69) in the foreground.
In late December of 1945, she returned to the West Coast and then transited to Boston in February of 1946. The USS Kasaan Bay was decommissioned on July 6, 1946 and went into reserve status for the next decade and a half. In February of 1960, the ship was scrapped.
But of piece of the old escort carrier remains.
A copy of the 1944 "log book" of the USS Kasaan is in the Texas history portal at the University of North Texas. It was a book made by the crew members of the ship to commemorate their year at sea.
Inside are stories about crew members, features about the captain and the executive officer and pages of photos of crewmen. Most interesting id a song to the ship, written by an anonymous crewman to the tune a popular song, "Jennie Made Up Her Mind."
Called the "Sassie 'Kassie' With the Classy Chassis" it features twelve choruses and verses. Here a few:
Kassie is a flattop, a Kaiser dream
Oh, Kassie, what a Classy Chassis
Kassie ain't too pretty, we know she ain't
Oh, Kassie, impudent and sassy
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Dave Kiffer ©2016
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