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After some preliminary training in Chesapeake Bay in late May and a week of availability at Norfolk, Belleau Wood sailed for the West Indies on 8 June to carry out her shakedown cruise. Anchoring off Port of Spain on the 13th, the light carrier spent the next two weeks conducting battle problems, damage control drills, gunnery practice, and flight operations in the Gulf of Paria. Returning to the United States at Philadelphia on 3 July, the aircraft carrier underwent a series of post-shakedown repairs, inspections, and alterations at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. During these modifications, she was redesignated as a small aircraft carrier, CVL-24, on 15 July 1943. Belleau Wood got underway for Panama on the 21st, transited the canal on 26 July, and moored at Balboa that same day. Two days later, she sailed for Hawaii in company with Lexington (CV-16), Princeton (CVL-23), and six escorts. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 9 August, the crew spent the next two weeks in hurried preparation for the reoccupation of Baker Island.
Assigned to Task Group (TG) 11.2, Belleau Wood departed Pearl Harbor on 25 August in company with Princeton and seven escorts. The warships crossed the equator on 1 September and arrived off Baker Island, some 400 miles east of the Japanese-held Gilbert Islands, that same day. The small carrier's combat air patrol (CAP) scored their first kill on the 1st as well, when her Grumman F6F "Hellcat" fighters splashed a Kawanishi H8K four-engine "Emily" flying boat that strayed too close to the task group. The two smaller carriers flew CAP and ASP missions in the area for the next two weeks, protecting Army troops and Navy construction battalions ("Seabees") as they built an airstrip on the island.
In mid-September, the two light carriers rendezvoused with Lexington and conducted air strikes against Japanese gunboats and air defense positions in the Gilbert Islands on the 18th and 19th. Belleau Wood's CAP was also busy, shooting down a patrolling Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty" bomber that had ventured south from the Marshall Islands. After returning to Pearl Harbor on the 23d to refuel and rearm, the light carrier set out on the 29th for an air raid on Wake Island. This operation, like the earlier raid on Tarawa and Makin, was designed to train pilots and soften up the Japanese defenses in the central Pacific.
Belleau Wood, in company with five other carriers in TG 14.5, arrived off Wake on 5 October. Her pilots mainly flew CAP and ASP over the task group, and her fighters splashed three Mitsubishi A6M "Zeke" carrier fighters and three "Bettys" that day. Still, her air group's defensive focus did not keep the light carrier from launching two strikes of 10 "Avengers" and 14 "Hellcats" on Wake, losing two fighters in the process. Antiaircraft fire over Wake accounted for one fighter, while the second crashed on landing, killing four of the carrier's flight deck crew. Belleau Wood then returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 11 October.
The carriers then headed north and struck the Japanese base at Truk on 29 April. Belleau Wood covered strikes launched by other carriers with her usual CAP and ASP flights. The next day, her task group turned toward Ponape in the Caroline Islands, and she launched fighter sweeps in conjunction with a bombardment of the island by American battleships on 1 May. The warships then steamed to the Marshalls, arriving in Kwajalein lagoon on 4 May. Two "Avengers," one "Hellcat," and their crews were lost during these operations.
The light carrier moved to Majuro on the 13th where her crew began preparations for Operation "Forager," the planned liberation of the Mariana Islands. Tasked with eliminating Japanese air power in the Marianas, the 15 fleet carriers of TF 58 planned to attack airfields on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. They also prepared for a major fleet battle if the Japanese carriers attempted to interfere. Belleau Wood joined Hornet (CV-12), Yorktown, and Bataan (CVL-29) and put to sea with TG 58.1 on 6 June. Five days later, as part of the task group attacking Guam, Belleau Wood launched a fighter sweep against Japanese airfields. These planes shot down four "Zekes" over Agana airfield without loss. On the 12th, the light carrier launched fighter sweeps over Guam and Rota that claimed another "Zeke" and a Kawasaki Ki. 45 "Nick" fighter at a cost of one "Hellcat." After retiring and refueling on the 14th, the task group sailed for the Bonin Islands that evening.
On the morning of the 20th, Belleau Wood launched her usual CAP and ASP missions and steamed west as the task force prepared for a second day of battle. However, the Japanese carriers had begun retiring west the previous evening, and American search planes could not find them. Late in the day, after hearing a sighting report at 1613, the light carrier launched six fighters and four torpedo bombers to accompany a last-ditch 206-plane strike. The raid caught the retreating Japanese at dusk, sank light carrier Hiyo, and damaged another. Belleau Wood's fighters also claimed three "Zekes" in air combat. The American planes then flew east for a difficult night landing, made possible only when the task force turned on its deck and search lights.
On 10 September, Belleau Wood launched fighter sweeps over Buayan and Digos airfields while an "Avenger" strike hit Cotabato airfield. Targets proved scarce on Mindanao, however; and the task group shifted emphasis to the Visayas in the central Philippines. On the 12th, fighter sweeps over Negros and Cebu shot down two "Zekes," a Nakajima Ki
.43 "Oscar" fighter, and a Nakajima B6N "Jill" torpedo bomber. Rocket attacks on airfields, barracks, and coastal shipping rounded out the day. On the 13th, Belleau Wood's CAP splashed a last pair of aircraft, a "Frances" and an "Oscar," before she finally turned south for New Guinea. The next day, while enroute to support the Morotai landings, she sent a fighter sweep over Zamboanga which claimed five "Bettys" and a "Nick" destroyed on the ground. After that successful operation, TG 38.1 took a break and flew "routine" air cover and ASP missions near Morotai during the landings made there between 15 and 17 September. The next day, Belleau Wood shifted to TG 38.4 and sailed to Seeadler Harbor on Manus to replenish ordnance and provisions.
The Japanese responded to the San Pedro Bay invasion by sending four task groups to intercept the American invasion. This began a series of actions later called collectively the Battle
for Leyte Gulf. On the 24th, Belleau Wood's task group took station off Samar and launched planes over the western Visayas to find the Japanese. Having spotted one of the enemy groups that morning, TG 38.4 launched a strike of 26 fighters and 39 bombers against the Japanese. In the ensuing attack, part of a number of strikes later called the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Belleau Wood's planes claimed torpedo hits on at least one battleship. That evening, her task group received orders to intercept and sink four Japanese carriers spotted north of the Philippines.
After refueling on the 26th, TG 38.4 spent the next four days providing air cover for ground operations on Leyte and launching air strikes against enemy shipping. Raids also hit airfields around Manila to destroy Japanese reinforcements being flown in from the north. In response, Japanese pilots began flying suicide missions--kamikaze attacks--against the American ships in the Philippines. On the 29th, a kamikaze hit TG 38.2 and damaged Intrepid (CV-11). At around 1400 the next day, as Belleau Wood's task group operated near Leyte, five kamikazes eluded CAP by closing the warships at an altitude of 18,000 feet. Antiaircraft fire splashed three, but one crashed Franklin, killing 56 men and seriously wounding 14 others. The fifth plane, identified as a Mitsubishi A6M3 "Hamp" carrier fighter, first dropped a bomb on Franklin and then, at 1427, pulled up and dove on Belleau Wood. The Japanese fighter plunged into the light carrier's flight deck, striking among 11 fully loaded "Hellcats." Several explosions started extensive fires that took three hours for damage-control teams to get under control. With her flight deck holed and casualties numbering 92 men killed and 97 wounded, Belleau Wood retired to the Carolines.
Task Group 58.1 steamed to a position roughly 125 miles southeast of Tokyo on 16 February. From there, the carriers launched repeated strikes against airfields in the region, claiming the destruction of several hundred enemy planes. Belleau Wood's CAP splashed one of these, shooting down a Mitsubishi Ki.46 "Dinah" reconnaissance plane near the task group that morning. After bad weather canceled the remaining strikes the following afternoon, the carriers then steamed south to support the planned 19 February amphibious landings on Iwo Jima.
The light carrier then spent a grueling three weeks alternating between CAP sweeps over Okinawa and air strikes on nearby Japanese airfields, claiming two Aichi D3A "Val" carrier bombers and an "Oscar" in air combat. During two major enemy attacks on the task group, on 12 and 16 April, her fighter pilots took credit for another 11 Japanese planes. The light carrier then retired toward Ulithi to replenish, arriving there on 30 April.
For the next year, Belleau Wood remained moored at various locations in the San Francisco area undergoing conversion and inactivation until placed out of commission, in reserve, at the Alameda Naval Air Station on 13 January 1947. She remained in "mothballs" until transferred to France on 5 September 1953 under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. After serving in the French Navy as Bois Belleau, the carrier was returned to Navy custody in early September 1960 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1960 and she was sold to the Boston Metals Co., on 21 November 1960 for scrapping.