Amphibious Assault Ship USS Essex Carries Load Of Gorgeous World War II Warbirds To Hawaii

The U.S. Navy’s Wasp class amphibious assault ship USS Essex recently served as an aviation transport of sorts, bringing a load of World War II-era warbirds to Hawaii. The aircraft, which include examples of the iconic P-51 Mustang fighter and B-25 Mitchell bomber, among others, are set to take part in events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on Friday.

Essex arrived at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, site of the infamous Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, which finally brought American fully into the War, with her unusual cargo on Aug. 10, 2020. The United States and the rest of the Allies declared final victory over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945, though Japanese officials would not formally surrender until Sept. 2. This followed Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8.

The Essex arrives in Hawaii., USN
Workers offload a B-25J Mitchell bomber in Hawaii., USN
One of two Texan trainer aircraft that was also on board after being unloaded in Hawaii., USN
Both Texans together on the dock at Pearl Harbor., USN

In addition to the P-51 and the B-25, the full contingent of private-owned warbirds also included two Catalina flying boats, an F8F Bearcat fighter, an FM-2 Wildcat fighter, two Texan trainers, and a Boeing-Stearman PT-17 biplane. Personnel at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California had loaded the aircraft onto Essex for the journey to Hawaii at the end of July.

Personnel in San Diego load the FM-2 Wildcat onto Essex., USN
Dockworkers in San Diego rig up the P-51 Mustang in preparation to load it onto the Essex., USN
One of two Catalina flying boats in the water next to Essex before being hoisted aboard., USN
The F8F Bearcat on the dock in San Diego on its way to the Essex., USN
Personnel inspect the Boeing-Steerman PT-17 biplane in San Diego., USN

In some ways, Essex was reprising the role that some smaller Navy aircraft carriers fulfilled during World War II, helping to deliver combat aircraft from the United States to faraway destinations, including in the Pacific theater. Much more recently, in the late 2000s, the Wasp class Amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard – which recently suffered a devastating fire – transported “red air” aggressor jets to Hawaii for exercises.

An L-29 Deflin aggressor jet is seen on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard in the late 2000s., USN

It’s hardly the first time a Navy ship has hosted warbirds, either. In April 1992, two B-25s notably took off from the Forrestal class aircraft carrier USS Ranger

to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942. That operation involved the Yorktown class aircraft carrier USS Hornet launching 16 of the bombers, which then went on to bomb Tokyo and other nearby areas in a direct reprisal for the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson brought another contingent of warbirds to Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995, as well.

In this particular instance, Essex also carried a new C-12U Huron utility aircraft, which is a militarized Beechcraft King Air, bound for the Hawaii Army National Guard.

These aircraft were in addition to the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors and MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters embarked on the Essex as part of its normal aviation contingent. The ship, which also has other Marine elements on board, was already headed to Hawaii to take part in the upcoming multi-national Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, which is set to begin next week.

MV-22 Ospreys and MH-60 Sea Hawks are seen here on the Essex‘s forward deck. The C-12U Huron for the Hawaii Army National Guard is also visible at the stern., USN

All told, this has to be one of the most unusual and unique mixtures of aircraft to ever grace Essex’s flight deck since the Navy commissioned the ship in 1992.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.