Light Carriers (CVL)

Photograph of Independence-class light carrier

National Archives #80-G-74436

Light carriers are almost always expedients based on surplus hulls of other types. The United States commissioned no light carriers until, under prodding from President Roosevelt, the Navy converted several Cleveland-class light cruiser hulls to small aircraft carriers (the Independence class.) These proved useful, but not decisively so, as they were completed at about the same time as the excellent Essex-class fleet carriers.

The Japanese built several light carriers based on passenger liner hulls before the war. These were not fast enough to keep up with the fleet carriers and lacked anything like adequate protection. However, their speed would have been adequate for supporting the battle line, had the need ever arisen.

Light carriers were generally not cost-effective, operating fewer aircraft per ton of displacement or number of crew than fleet carriers. It was found during the war that 65 aircraft was about the smallest useful air group for a fleet carrier, but the light carriers typically operated a air group only half to two-thirds this size.

Japanese light carriers



Zuiho class

U.S. light carriers

Independence class

British light carriers




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