The OS2U was the most widely used navy float plane of World War II. They were carried aboard battleships and cruisers. Cranes were used to place them in the water and later recover them. The result was that conventional surface ships could conduct their own flight operations, independent of the aircraft carriers. The Kingfisher could perform a variety of tasks - training, scouting, bombing, tactical and utility missions such as towing aerial gunnery targets and chasing practice torpedoes. Most OS2Us operated in the Pacific Theater where Kingfisher pilots rescued many downed airmen. Some were used in the Atlantic Ocean to hunt Nazi submarines.
The Navy contracted for the prototype XOS2U-1 on March 22, 1937, and this airplane first flew in July 1938. The first production Kingfisher, the OS2U-1, was delivered early in 1940 and assigned to the battleship "USS Colorado." Fifty-four OS2U-1s soon followed. By early 1941, Vought had built 159 OS2U-2s and the Navy had stationed these airplanes at Naval Air Stations in Pensacola, Florida, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Alameda, California. Under the Lend-Lease program, the United States sent many Kingfishers to Great Britain where they served in the Royal Navy as the Kingfisher I. Other countries received Kingfishers both during and after the war including Australia, the Soviet Union, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.