By a single vote, the House Appropriations Committee recommended yesterday that the United States turn away from giant-sized Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and build smaller ones.

Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), who offered the amendment within the committee to deny money for another Nimitz-class ship, said last night that the 24-to-23 vote showed that "we're in for a real battle on Thursday" when the full House will vote on the carrier issue.

If the House goes along with its Appropriations Committee recommendation, the Senate is expected to follow suit. This could bring the end of the era of the giant nuclear-powered carriers, the biggest warships afloat.

Rep. Bill Chappell (D-Fla.), who led the fight in the appropriations committee to build a fourth Nimitz, said last night that he and his allies will go to battle stations again on Thursday for the big carrier.

"The administration has absolutely gagged the Navy on this one," Chappell complained last night. He said Navy leaders really want to build one more Nimitz, although they cannot fight for it.

Chairman George H. Mahon (D-Tex.) of the House Appropriations Committee made the final argument in the closed committee session. Fellow lawmakers said Mahon said former President Ford did not come out for continuing the Nimitz carrier until after he had lost the Texas primary last May to Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.

As argued out in the committee meeting yesterday, which Chappell requested be closed, advocates of turning away from the Nimitz class said it made more sense to spend the $2 billion that would have to go into another giant carrier on two smaller ones.

Backers of building Nimitz countered that the half-sized carriers the Carter administration wants to build in the future will end up costing almost as much as the Nimitz but could do far less.