Friday, August 10, 2012

Eyes of the Idaho

An O2U-1 is craned onto the Idaho. And,
yes, both these photos are tall and skinny.
This isn't how I've cropped them, it's how
Kodak marketed photography as it moved
from being a specialty to a consumer-based
industry...they figured the most popular
subject to shoot would be your friends and
relatives - and people are tall and skinny,
so the pictures should be, too.
Before the advent of sea-going radar during and after World War II, battleship commanders relied on Naval Aviators and their fragile seaplanes to be their eyes, patrolling over the horizon for the lurking enemy. The USS Idaho serves as an example of the small but vital contribution that non-aircraft carrier based naval aviation made to America's fleet. Through coincidence, the Archive has obtained three different images from three widely separated sources, all three showing elements of the Idaho's air eyes.

A mechanic works on the engine of
one of Idaho's Corsairs, while mounted
on the fantail catapult.
When she was launched in July 1917, the Idaho (BB-42, the fourth ship to bear the name) was referred to as a "superdreadnaught" rather than a battleship, and was, in the words of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, the "heaviest fighting craft afloat". Between late 1931 and 1934, she was extensively modernized, a process that included the removal of the removal of her original masts. She, like other battleships of her class, were typically assigned three scout aircraft, with two of them stationed on the catapult of the No. 3 turret, and the third one on the fantail catapult.

Up until about 1936 (I can't find a definitive date for the transition, input is invited), the planes used by Observation Squadron 3 (VO-3) were Vought O2U-1 Corsairs; after this, they transitioned into SOC-3 Seagulls. This suggests that the photos here were all taken between October 1934 and sometime in about 1936.

The O2U-1, built from 1930 to 1936, was a pontoon-equipped variant to the wheel-equipped O2U Corsair. It could fly at over 160 knots and had a range of 680 miles, so it was ideal platform for finding enemy ships and directing over-the-horizon fire from the Idaho's twelve 14-inch guns.

If you look carefully, in the center of the water, the old 8x10 has been stamped
- once upon a time in gold lettering - with "USS Idaho". 
A detailed photo history of the Idaho can be found here.

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