Book Review: America's First Aircraft Carrier: USS Langley and the Dawn of U.S. Naval Aviation


by David F. Winkler

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2024. Pp. xii, 373. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN:1682475018

The Life and Work of the USS Langley 

Dr. Winkler, a retired naval officer who’s had a long career as an historian with the U.S. Naval Academy, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and the Naval War College, has produced an outstanding “biography” of the nation’s first aircraft carrier.

Winkler opens with a chapter looking at the early history of the U.S.S. Jupiter, one of four turbo-electric drive colliers that entered service just before World War I, which, after much discussion, was selected in 1920 for conversion into an aircraft carrier. He then does a flash back to explore the early history of U.S. naval aviation, which by the end of World War I had performed impressively in an anti-submarine role, while examining British developments.

There follows a chapter on the process of converting the ship and one on her entry into service. Several chapters look at how Joseph Mason Reeves, a seasoned battleship sailor, drove the development of the untested concept into a fully functional operational unit of the fleet, introducing many of the practices and technologies still used today. In these chapters we also get to see the Langley’s increasingly sophisticated role in fleet maneuvers, and at the same time the growth of naval aviation as the carriers Lexington and Saratoga entered service.

Winkler carries the story through the mid-1930s, when, as more new carriers began entering the service, the Langley was converted into a seaplane tender, and then follows her career into World War II until she was sunk in the Netherlands Indies by Japanese aircraft in May of 1942.

A very good look at the early history of U.S. carrier aviation.




Note: America’s First Aircraft Carrier is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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