The USS Enterprise (CV-6), nicknamed “The Big E,” “Lucky E,” and “Grey Ghost,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on August 3, 1933. Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on July 16, 1934. She was launched on October 3, 1936 and commissioned on May 12, 1938 under the command of Captain Newton H. White.
USS Enterprise operated first off the East Coast and in the Caribbean before being ordered to the Pacific in April 1939. While based in San Diego, she was used during the filming of Dive Bomber, a movie that starred Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. She later became based at Pearl Harbor, where she was stationed when the United States entered World War II.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Enterprise was returning from a transport mission to Wake Island. She and her aircraft from Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) and Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) arrived in time to help defend against the Japanese attack. She lost several planes when they were shot down by the Japanese or hit by anti-aircraft fire. When the attack was over, she pulled in for supplies and refueling, then patrolled against further attacks in the area. She sank the Japanese submarine I-70 on December 10, 1941.
In January 1942, USS Enterprise went on convoy duty, protecting reinforcements to Samoa. She then sailed in support of the attacks on Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap, where she sank three ships, damages eight others, and shot down a number of Japanese aircraft. The aircraft carrier sustained only minor damage. She attacked Wake Island and Marcus Island before returning to Pearl Harbor for repairs and alterations.
During the spring, the USS Enterprise arrived too late to participate in the Battle of the Coral Sea. She feinted toward Nauru and Banaba, causing the Japanese to abandon their attempts to seize the two islands. The carrier headed back to Pearl Harbor on May 26 to prepare for the Battle of Midway. She joined Carrier Task Force 16 as the flagship of Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.
The Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942. Dive bombers from the USS Enterprise sunk Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi. The Japanese lost a total of four carriers, one cruiser, and 272 aircraft during the battle. The USS Enterprise remained undamaged, and returned to Pearl Harbor for overhaul on June 13.
USS Enterprise returned to battle on July 15, 1942 as a member of Task Force 61, supporting the troop landings in the Solomon Islands on August 8. On August 24, TF 61 sent their aircraft against the Japanese in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. The carrier lost 77 men, had 91 other injured, and sustained serious damage to the ship. She was able to return to Pearl Harbor under how own power for repairs.
The USS Enterprise rejoined Task Force 61 in October in time to take part in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. She was hit by two bombs, killing 44 men and injuring 75 others. She maintained her position and took on many planes from the carrier USS Hornet when it sank. When this happened, USS Enterprise was the only functioning American carrier in the Pacific Theater.
USS Enterprise headed to Nouméa for repairs on October 30, but she had to sail for the Solomons on November 11 with repair crews still on board. Her aircraft helped drink the Japanese battleship Hiei on November 13. When the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal ended two days later, the carrier had helped sink 16 Japanese ships and damage eight others. She returned to Nouméa to complete her repair work on November 16.
After her repairs were completed on December 4, USS Enterprise trained at Espiritu Santo until January 28, 1943. Two days later, her planes flew combat air patrol during the Battle of Rennell Island. She returned to Espiritu Santo at the beginning of February and spent the next three months covering American surface forces in the Solomon Islands. She headed to Pearl Harbor in the spring, and on May 27, 1943, she received the first Presidential Unit Citation ever awarded to an aircraft carrier. The carrier headed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at the end of July, where she underwent refitting and overhaul.
The USS Enterprise headed back to the war zone in November, providing air support for the troop landings on Makin Atoll. In January, she supported operations in the Marshall Islands and supported the troop landings at Kwajalein. In February, she attacked the Japanese naval base at Truk, launching the first night radar bombing attack from an American carrier.
On February 20, USS Enterprise attacked Jaluit Atoll. In March, she joined Task Group 36.1 to provide air cover and support the troop landings at Emirau Island. She then rejoined Task Force 58 in the air strikes against Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, Palau, Hollandia, and Truk.
USS Enterprise sailed to the Marianas in June to strike at Saipan, Rota, and Guam. She covered the troop landings on Saipan on June 15. Four days later, the aircraft carrier took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the greatest aircraft carrier battle in history.
The USS Enterprise supported operations on Saipan until July 5, when she headed to Pearl Harbor for overhaul. She rejoined the action on August 24 as a member of Task Force 38. She launched air strikes against the Volcano Islands, Bonin Islands, Yap, Ulithi, and Palau into September. In October, she moved on to support operations against Okinawa, Formosa, the Philippines, and Leyte. Her planes struck at all three groups of enemy forces during the Battle of Leyte Gulf from October 23-26. She patrolled the area until the end of the month before heading to Ulithi for supplies. Her planes attacked targets at Manila and Yap before the carrier returned to Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1944.
USS Enterprise returned to the Philippines on Christmas Eve. As part of Task Group 38.5, she sailed the waters near Luzon and the China Sea, striking at shore targets and shipping throughout January 1945. Her aircraft struck Tokyo on February 16-17 before moving on to support the Marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima until March 9. At one point during the operation, her planes flew over Iwo Jima continuously for 174 hours.
During March, the USS Enterprise conducted night raids against targets in Kyushu, Honshu, and the Inland Sea of Japan. She was damaged by a bomb on March 18, and sailed to Ulithi for repairs. The carrier was back in action at the beginning of April, when she sailed to support operations against Okinawa. She was hit by a kamikaze on April 11, forcing her to return to Ulithi for repairs. She was back at Okinawa on May 6, where her aircraft remained on patrol around the clock. She was struck by another kamikaze on May 14, 1945. The plane destroyed her forward elevator; 14 men were killed and 34 others were injured. The aircraft carrier headed back to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs, where she remained when the Japanese surrendered on August 15.
When her repairs were complete, USS Enterprise conducted a number of voyages for Operation Magic Carpet, bringing over 10,000 American servicemen back home from the war. On one of her trips to Europe, she was awarded the British Admiralty Pennant by Sir Albert Alexander, British First Lord of the Admiralty. This most prestigious decoration of the British Royal Navy has never been presented to any other foreign ship in over 400 years.
The USS Enterprise was decommissioned on February 17, 1947. She was sold for scrap on July 1, 1958. In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation and the British Admiralty Pennant, the aircraft carrier earned the Navy Unit Commendation and 20 battle stars for her service in World War II, making her the most decorated ship of the war.
Like other ships from the World War II era, USS Enterprise was built using many asbestos-containing components. Known for its resistance to water, heat, fire, and corrosion, asbestos was used in practically every area of the ship and in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served about the USS Enterprise or participated in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses like asbestos, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
USS Enterprise workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS Enterprise, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.