World Aircraft Carriers List Photo Gallery

Aviation Oddities

Part III: Barges, Landing Ships, and Other Platforms

Seaplane Barges

When we think of aircraft carriers and seaplane tenders, we rarely think of barges. But several barges have served in various aviation-related roles, in addition serving as aircraft transports.

 [THUMBNAIL] A Royal Navy "seaplane barge", circa 1918. During WWI several barges were used as small towed "carriers" along the British coast.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is a US Navy "sea sled", the American counterpart to RN's seaplane barges. The "sea sled" was designed as small, high-speed launching platform for various aircraft. Although proposals called for up to 5,600 such craft to be constructed during WWI, records can only confirm the construction of the one "sled" shown here. A few other "sleds" may have been constructed for trials purposes. The "sled" was 24-25 tons in displacement, 55 feet long, and propelled by four engines totalling to 1800 hp; the maximum speed reached on trials was 56 knots. This sled was delivered to the US Navy at Boston in September 1918; on 7 March 1919 it succesfully launched an aircraft during trials in Hampton Roads. There the development stopped, and the sea sled(s) passed into obscurity, their fates unrecorded.

 [THUMBNAIL] Perhaps the only barge specifically built as an aviation vessel, this is Catapult Lighter No. 1 (AVC 1), unofficially known as the "Silver Queen". It was built to launch a very large seaplane, which was ultimately cancelled. Since the seaplane could fly with a much heavier payload than it could take off with, a catapult was required. This odd 5,800 ton, 424 foot vessel, built around a single giant catapult, was built to meet the need. This view shows the stern of the vessel, where the seaplane would be hauled aboard up a ramp. The vessel was laid down on a disused shipway at Philadelphia Navy Yard on 29 May 1939. This photo was taken on launching day, 17 August 1940.

 [THUMBNAIL] A bow view of the unusual AVC 1. This photo was taken on launching day, 17 August 1940, when the ship was 72% complete. She was launched without ceremony; the launching was probably motivated by the need to clear shipways for wartime construction, rather than a need for this experimental barge. The vessel was placed "in service" 17 December 1941, at which point experimental seaplanes were hardly a priority.

 [THUMBNAIL] AVC-1 afloat. She was intended to have diesel propulsion, but installation of her engines was cancelled along with the seaplane program. Her catapult machinery proved to be unreliable and troublesome. She was used for catapult trials on an intermittent basis, and spent several periods in reserve. The odd vessel was sold in 1956, shortly before USN abandoned seaplanes completely. Although some sources report the barge was scrapped in 1956, she survived at least through the mid-1970's under the name Pulpwood #1, apparently as a pulpwood barge.

Landing Ship Oddities

 [THUMBNAIL] A flying-off deck aboard a US LST during WWII. This platform allowed light Army aircraft to be flown off to support invasions, but they could not land aboard.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is LST 776 carrying a primitive aircraft recovery system, sometimes known as the "Brodie flycatcher", on her bow. A handful of LSTs were outfitted to launch light aircraft in support of amphibious operations, but only this ship could recover them, thanks to the "flycatcher". It is not surprising that this device saw only limited use.

Vietnam Contraptions

The Vietnam confict was an odd war, and it resulted in a variety of odd aviation ships. These are a few of the more interesting ones.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is USS Garrett County (LST 786) serving as a "mother ship" for US riverine forces. The versatile LST was well-suited to this role, with generous space for stores, repair shops, and berthing. In addition to the numerous small craft seen alongside, she also supported the helicopters that operated with riverine forces. The clear, flat main deck of the LSTs served as a useful landing platform for several medium helicopters. In this role she might be considered a "helicopter tender". This ship was eventually redesignated as a patrol craft tender (AGP), a designation previously carried by several ex-seaplane tenders.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is USS Colleton (APB 36), a self-propelled barracks ship. The ship is immediately recognizable as a former LST, in this case converted during construction. She is serving in the same role as her LST cousin in the previous picture. Some of her APB sisters survive today as barracks hulks, the last WWII-era LST-type ships in US service.

 [THUMBNAIL] The need to repair the Army's helicopters in Vietnam lead to this odd ship, USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH 1), converted from the old seaplane tender Albemarle (AV 5). Her seaplane deck was replaced by a massive superstructure containing extensive repair shops. She was civilian manned, with Army personnel working in the repair shops.

 [THUMBNAIL] Perhaps the world's smallest aircraft carrier. This is an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) fitted with a helicopter deck, making it an ATC(H). These small craft were converted from landing craft (LCM). They saw extensive riverine use during the war.

The Oddball Oddballs

Some oddballs don't fit into any categories....

 [THUMBNAIL] This is the Japanese battleship-carrier Hyuga. Following the carrier losses at Midway, two older battleships gave up their aft gun turrets in favor of a flight deck for seaplanes. In theory the seaplanes were to be catapulted from the deck, then recovered from the sea. In reality there were too few aircraft and too few pilots; these ships never operated seaplanes. Both served as decoys at Leyte, and were destroyed during the late-war raids on Japanese shipping.

 [THUMBNAIL] This odd craft is Kaimalino, also known as SSP-1 (Stable Semi-Submerged Platform). Built by the Coast Guard for the Navy, she was USN's first SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) experimental/research vessel. The helicopter deck is a convenient result of the vessel's twin-hull configuration. The center of the deck could be removed to give access to a centerline well for lowering research gear. After a period in this configuration, the craft was reconfigured as a range-support ship, with extensive equipment covering over the entire "flight deck", rendering the ship nearly unrecognizable.

 [THUMBNAIL] This insane-looking ship is Wolverine, a primitive training carrier employed in the Great Lakes during WWII. Cut down from a sidewheel excursion steamer, she was meant as a cheap, no-frills training platform to boost the number of pilots joining the fleet. The ship at left is a second excursion steamer, also being cut down to a carrier (named Sable); see below.

 [THUMBNAIL] Sable, second of the Great Lakes training carriers. These ships had no hangars or fueling facilities, the aircraft being flown out for landings, takeoffs and "touch and goes" each day.

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