Freshwater Aircraft Carriers
In 1942 with the US rapidly gearing for war after the attack on Pearl Harbour the US Navy sought to train as many pilots as possible for it’s ever expanding carrier force. However, with all available carriers on active duty in the North Atlantic and Pacific there was a shortage of training ships where pilots could practice deck landings and qualify.
In 1942 the US Navy purchased two passenger steamers the Seeandbee and the Greater Buffalo which plied the Great Lakes. The Seeandbee, a paddle steamer built in 1913 was renamed USS Wolverine (XI-64) and her superstructure was stripped and a 550ft wooden flight deck was installed. Greater Buffalo was built in the 1920s and was renamed USS Sable (XI-81) and refitted with a steel flight deck.
The two new aircraft carriers were unarmed and lacked elevators or hangers but their flight decks were adequate for training purposes. They were the world first and only side-wheel paddle steamers and the first commissioned paddle steamers in the US navy since the 1870s.
Seeandbee before her conversion c.1919
Both vessels were based in Chicago and during the war trained nearly 18,000 pilots with Wolverine carrying out 65,000 landings while 51,000 landings were made on Sable. One of the many young pilots who trained on the vessels was a 20-year old George HW. Bush who completed his flight training on USS Sable in 1943.
They were both decommissioned in late 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947-8.
Image One Source (USS Sable)
Image Two Source (USS Wolverine)