The first USS Tarawa (CV-40) was one of the Navy's potent new 27,000 ton aircraft carriers and sister of the Essex, Shangri-La, and Princeton. The first Navy ship so named, Tarawa was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, and launched in the Elizabeth River on May 12, 1945. In a speech delivered at the launching of the Tarawa, Marine Corps General Holland Smith, who commanded the Marines during the furious 76 hour fighting on the atoll, said ,"It is eminently fitting that this great ship should be named for an operation which marked a turning point of the war in the Pacific and began a new era of amphibious warfare."
The Marines who went ashore on November 20, 1943, carried a battle flag which was later presented to the new carrier. The flag, under which 1,020 Marines and Sailors died, was hauled down in a special ceremony on February 13, 1944, by a handpicked color guard of men who had taken part in the assault.
Tarawa boasted improvements in design and equipment that set her apart from the other ships in her class. The vessel was 856 feet in overall length, had 100 feet in beam and a draft of 24 feet. Fully loaded, she displaced more than 34,000 tons and was able to achieve a top speed of more than 30 knots. With a crew compliment of approximately 2,500 men, Tarawa carried 80 planes and was equipped to launch and land the first Naval-developed jet-propelled aircraft.
Heavily armed, Tarawa sported twin and single mount five-inch guns, quadruple 40mm and twin 20mm antiaircraft weapons. Profiting from the lessons learned in the Pacific carrier war, the ship also had improved facilities to stow bombs and rockets.