In World War II, aircraft carriers were not the only ships to launch and recover aircraft. Cruisers and battleships each carried a few small floatplanes.[i] Most were Curtis SOC Seagulls or Vought OS2U Kingfishers. Curtis SO3C Seamews and SC Seahawks also saw some use in the war.
Battleships usually carried four. They used them primarily for observation—watching the fall of shells during surface actions to help direct gunfire.[ii] This gave most of these aircraft an “O” in their official designations. Observation was critical in World War II, especially in the early years before radar was perfected because battleships often had to fire on targets far beyond visual range.
The “S” in their designations meant “scouting.” Cruisers used their floatplanes primarily to locate enemy surface ships and submarines. Battleship and cruiser flotillas often had to sail without aircraft carriers. When they did, cruiser floatplanes were their only eyes. Cruisers often gave up some of their deck space to a seaplane hanger, allowing them to carry up to eight floatplanes.
Floatplanes had many other missions during the war. An increasingly important role was finding and recovering pilots downed at sea. A single rescued pilot could be carried inside the aircraft. Figure 3 shows an aircraft being prepared to be lifted back onto its ship. The pilot and observer/gunner are fixing a hook to the floatplane. The rescued pilot is sitting the back seat. Continue reading