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SAIPAN CVL-48 / AVT-6 (briefly CC-3)
later ARLINGTON AGMR-2
Sister ship: WRIGHT
Notes: In 1943, Admiral King ordered a continuing program of two light carriers per year; the first two ships were to be ready by December, 1945, to replace expected war losses. The new ships were to be based on the BALTIMORE class heavy cruiser hulls; no heavy cruisers were to be converted, but the use of an existing hull plan would (it seemed) to make for a simpler design. As it turned out, an entirely new hull was designed, without the torpedo bulges of the INDEPENDENCE class. The anti-aircraft battery was augmented, but 5" guns were not provided. Only two ships were built; by the time the next two were to be ordered, World War II had ended and further orders were cancelled. The aircraft carried were 36 fighters and 12 torpedo-bombers. But the two were rather cramped for jet operations, and they served most of their "carrier careers" as training carriers.
SAIPAN was commissioned on 14 July 1946; her first service was to train student pilots out of Pensacola NAS, Florida. In 1948, she began work in operational techniques for jet-engined aircraft, and on 3 May 1948, Fighter Squadron 17A, flying FH-1 "Phantom" jets were embarked. Three days later, all of the squadron had been qualified for carrier operations, making SAIPAN and VF-17A the first carrier-based jet squadron. SAIPAN continued service with the Atlantic Fleet, mainly in training airmen of both the American and Canadian navies. A 1952 refit saw her "number two" funnel removed, reducing their number to three. In October, 1953, SAIPAN was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. In March, 1954, she ferried aircraft to French Indo-China (which were transferred to France). In May, 1954, SAIPAN was ordered back to Norfolk, Virginia (by way of the Suez Canal), and completed her "round-the-world" trip on 20 July 1954. SAIPAN resumed her training duties, and twice sailed with supplies for hurricane relief (October, 1954 to Haiti; and October, 1955 to the Tampico region of Mexico). On 30 September 1957, SAIPAN was decommissioned at Bayonne, New Jersey. SAIPAN was reclassified as an auxiliary aircraft transport (AVT-6) on 15 May 1959. In March, 1963, SAIPAN sailed to Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company at Mobile, Alabama. She was briefly designated as CC-3, but she was reclassified a Communications Major Relay Ship (AGMR-2) on 1 September 1964 while still undergoing conversion. On 8 April 1965, SAIPAN was renamed ARLINGTON. Her visible appearance was very similar to WRIGHT, but without the antenna array between her stacks.
ARLINGTON's conversion was completed on 12 August, 1966, and she was recommissioned on 27 August. Following shakedown and training cruises, ARLINGTON was deployed to the the Far East, and served off the coast of Vietnam in support of U. S. forces from August, 1967, through December, 1968. Recalled to Pearl Harbor, ARLINGTON served with TF-130 in the Manned Spaceflight Recovery Program, and assisted in the recovery of the Apollo 8 mission from its lunar orbit. After a brief return to Vietnamese waters, ARLINGTON once again served with TF-130 in the recovery of both the Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 missions in 1969. Following the recovery of Apollo 11, ARLINGTON sailed to Long Beach, CA, where she was deactivated in August, 1969. She was decommissioned on on 14 January 1970 and berthed with the Inactive Fleet at San Diego. ARLINGTON was stricken from the Navy List on 15 August 1975, and was sold for scrapping on 1 June 1976.