History Wars World War II

Today in military history: US aircraft carrier USS Langley is sunk

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USS Langley

On Feb. 27, 1942, the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, was sunk by Japanese warplanes.

The Langley launched the first airplane in 1922 and nine days later, the first aircraft landed on her deck. For the next twenty years, she served as an unarmed test bed for flight deck operations before being reclassified and converted into a seaplane tender in 1937.

The Langley was built primarily for testing and experimentation for seaborne aviation in the Pacific. It became the test platform for developing carrier operation techniques and tactics, notably helping the Navy learn to better land and launch aircraft more quickly.

During World War II, she assisted with anti-submarine patrols in the Pacific. On Feb. 27, 1942, she was rendezvousing with U.S. destroyers when she was attacked by nine Japanese bombers. Commander R.P. McConnell managed to avoid the first two bomb waves, but the third struck hard and the engine room flooded, killing sixteen members of her crew. 

McDonnell gave the order to abandon ship and watched with the rest of the crew from the destroyers decks as they finished her off, sending her down to Davy Jones’ Locker — and out of enemy hands.

Featured Image: View of USS Langley being abandoned after Japanese bombs crippled the ship south of Java, Feb. 27, 1942. USS Edsall is standing by off Langley’s port side. Photographed from USS Whipple. (Photo by Captain Lawrence E. Divoll, USN(Retired), 1981. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph.)