Saturday, February 16, 2019

Gray Ladies

An aerial view of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard looking west/northwest on 30 October 1995. The shipyard closed on 30 September 1995, but the Navy Intermediate Ship Maintenance Facility (NISMF) continued to store decommissioned and mothballed ships. Vessels visible, left to right: the battleships USS Iowa (BB-61), and USS Wisconsin (BB-64) at the DD wharf; naval auxiliaries USS Sylvania (AFS-2), USS Milwaukee (AOR-2) and USS Savannah (AOR-4) at pier 5; the aircraft carriers USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS Saratoga (CV-60); at pier 4; the amphibious assault ships USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) and USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7) at pier 2. In the back pool is the heavy cruiser USS Des Moines (CA-134) and numerous destroyers and frigates. (Source)
One of drjim's comments yesterday brought back some old memories, so I had to go digging, then (of course) had to write a post about it. Now that opening photo is one of the things I discovered while wandering the Internet. In that photo are USS Forrestal (CV-59), USS Saratoga (CV-60), and USS Iowa (BB-61). Yes, there are other ships in that photo (including ScottTheBadger's Big Badger Boat, USS Wisconsin (BB-64)).

Now the three ships I mentioned were, for a time, tied up at Pier 2 at Naval Station Newport, where I first saw them in August of 1999.

Big Mamie (USS Massachusetts (BB-59)) on the way to the Boston Drydock in 1998. She is passing the USS Iowa (BB-61),
USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS Saratoga (CV-60) at Pier two Newport, Naval Station, RI.
(Source)
One evening shortly after our arrival here in Little Rhody, we decided to go exploring our new surroundings. I'd been retired from the Air Force for a few months and had finally found a job to my liking. (As I'm still there over nineteen years later I guess I made a good choice!) We were staying in one of the very few Howard Johnson's motor inns still remaining. (Didn't have a restaurant of that name, there was an Applebee's instead.)

So we piled into the family car and headed out onto Aquidneck Island. Which the locals simply call "The Island" and which is officially Rhode Island. I think we've covered this before but I'll tell you again, Little Rhody is officially "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," Rhode Island is "The Island," where I work, everything else is Providence Plantations, including the part where I live, but yes, I digress.

We drove past the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, which sits atop a ridge, headed towards Narragansett Bay (the other side of The Island is washed by the Sakonnet River, which is a tidal strait and not really a fresh water river, it's as salty as the Bay). As we crested the ridge, there before us lay the Bay, and  two aircraft carriers and a battleship, shown above, and again below.

There they are again, looks like the tugs were pushing USS Iowa into the nest. So this might have been the 24th of September, 1998. (She left on 8 March 2001.)
(Source)
Another view after USS Iowa had departed to become a museum ship in California (where drjim was instrumental in making repairs to her radios).

Most of the buildings in the foreground belong to NUWC, Pier 2 is where the carriers are tied up. The pier to the right was where I had the opportunity to tour USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) and USS McFaul (DDG-74), the latter twice. The second time was when The Nuke was her Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer (ASWO). Some of the crew began referring to me as "ASWO's Dad" during the week USS McFaul was in town. I spent the better part of five days aboard her escorting tours for my work colleagues. Which kind of gives you an idea what I do these days to make a living. (Source)
USS Iowa left, as I mentioned, to become a museum ship, USS Forrestal and USS Saratoga left to meet a different fate, both to be scrapped at Brownsville, Texas, a sad fate for any warship. Some folks around here wanted one of them to remain and become a museum ship, possibly across the Bay at Quonset Point. The cost to move one of them, do the necessary repairs to turn her into a museum, and keep her maintained would have been prohibitive, no group could come up with that sort of cash. So off the two ships went.

It was sad when USS Iowa was towed away, but at least she would remain afloat. Sadder still when USS Forrestal and USS Saratoga headed down Narragansett Bay, under the Newport Bridge and out to sea for the very last time.

The end of an era...



Pier 2 sits empty now, but I remember the days when I drove by that pier and could see two aircraft carriers and a battleship.

Now we have no active battleships, and I wonder why.



54 comments:

  1. I served two years on Forrestal during active duty, and then I was on her as a civilian worker for the three years when she was in the Philly yard for the Service Life Extension Program. My first workday at the Philly yard was aboard Saratoga.

    Look at the photo of the Philly Navy yard. Start at the two battleships and walk your mind's eye towards the multi-legged water tower. You just passed over the lot that I parked in almost every work day.
    In the upper left corner you can see drydocks #4 and #5. Both large enough for the Navy's modern carriers, and Wisconsin did her yard period in drydock #4. Drydock #5 is leftmost drydock, and if you run your eye down the water's edge you can see drydock #1 next to a red roofed building.

    "Dry Dock No. 1 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard was originally constructed as a wooden structure under the supervision of Robert E. Peary, a Navy officer and explorer of the North Pole. (Library of Congress)"
    https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/philadelphia-navy-yard/

    As to why the Navy lacks battleships, and by extension the larger question of why the Navy is in bad shape, that is well beyond the scope of a comment, and answering the question would require me to double up my blood pressure medicine before undertaking research and writing.

    Your post brought back a flood of memories. Thank you.



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    1. Another angle of your opening photo.
      https://www.reddit.com/r/philadelphia/comments/6h8m3o/an_overall_high_oblique_aerial_view_of_the/

      If you look towards the top of the photo you will see an aircraft hangar.
      That's a remnant of Mustin Field Naval Air Facility. Mustin Field was commissioned 17SEP26 and was named in honor of Henry C. Mustin who was the first Naval aviator to take a cat shot. The Naval Air Facility stayed open until 1963.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_C._Mustin_Naval_Air_Facility

      Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Sprague de Camp all worked at the Philly 'yard during the Second World War.
      https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/asimov-de-camp-and-heinlein-naval-aviation-experim/

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    2. Thanks for the photo John, and those insider details that I like. I remember flying into Philly once, coming across the river I looked down and saw a flight deck with a big "67" painted on it. USS John F Kennedy (CV-67), The WSO spent a few days aboard her back when she was a midshipman. She remembered the Captain walking out every morning and saying "Good morning, Big John." Another good ship right there.

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    3. Re: As to why the Navy lacks battleships, and by extension the larger question of why the Navy is in bad shape, that is well beyond the scope of a comment, and answering the question would require me to double up my blood pressure medicine before undertaking research and writing.

      Amen. I've seen some of the inanity first hand. Distressing it is.

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    4. Depending on the whims of chance, you overflew me. Kennedy was our last ship, and I was assigned to her during her whole time in Philly.

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    5. I know the Marines and any near-shore Army unit would feel safer and happier if the battleships or the Salems, or at least some sort of gunned shore-bombardment ship had remained in service.

      I know I'd feel safer if we still had floating big gun platforms.

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    6. Yup, we might need 'em some day!

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    7. The Kennedy was indeed a good ship, Sarge. I had the good fortune to serve as a member of the ship's company aboard CV 67, and as part of the air wing aboard CV 59.
      --Tennessee Budd

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    8. I'm nitpicking but, I was taught that Dry Docks float and Graving Docks are dug.
      Spent a few weeks at Philadelphia on the USS Harold J. Ellison (DD-864) in the early 80's, just before it was given to Pakistan.
      Watched lots of (still in boxes, unused) spare parts hauled off the ship and thrown into dumpsters so that new spare parts could be brought aboard.

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    9. As to the "dry dock" versus "graving dock," one seldom hears the latter these days. Interestingly, ships "launched" up at Bath Iron Works are in a dry dock which they float out into the river, then that is flooded. So I think you have a point Jon, they probably can't do that with larger ships, like our carriers. But what do I know, I was Air Force. (I trust you sailors to keep me honest on naval stuff!)

      As to spare parts being dumped, why am I not surprised? My son's Spru-Can, USS Briscoe (DDG-977) was in dire need of parts, so my son and some of his sailors went up to Philly to "borrow" some parts from a Spru-Can about to be decommissioned. Spare parts are not glamorous, most Congresscritters won't allocate money to buy them, so what do we always run out of? Spare parts...

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  2. It is sad to see ships/boats/naval craft (I am a landlubber) that had a big part in our glorious past sent off to the scrapyard, literally. Especially since there doesn't seem to be a replacement. Or is that just me?

    Did I win the coveted TFC award for today?!

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    1. It is sad, though I understand the financial aspects of it.

      You and John must have been commenting at nearly the same time. He beat you by two minutes...

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  3. DAISY MAE almost wound up in Duluth Superior, but the leftist jerk that was Superior's state rep blocked that. She would have had to been moored in the Superior side of the harbor. He responded to plead from a bunch of peace groups that did not want a evil ship of war in Wisconsin waters, because she was evil. Representative Blaska, being a Democrat, pulled strings, and the DNR decided she was a potential pollution source, as I recall.

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    1. Yep. And "Yellow Eyes" is one of the Ringo novels I would recommend without hesitation.

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    2. IIRC, pretty much the same thing happened with USS Iowa and San Francisco. Perhaps drjim will chime in on this.

      I was pissed at the time, but now see it as a blessing in disguise. Good golly, given the state of SF today, the odor from that place, let alone the vibe, would just flake the paint right off her.

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    3. Daisy Mae. That's her shipname. First found out that name reading Ringo's books, but then researched it.

      She was a beautiful ship. Capable of firing a metric-ton load of explosive and armor piercing goodness rather quickly and very accurately.

      The Aldenata series by John Ringo is a good series. "Watch on the Rhine" is an interesting one too, as Ringo did lots of research into the Waffen SS during and after the war. Very interesting series of books.

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    4. RHT447 - The 3rd World right there. Sucks.

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    5. Beans - I still don't get the reference. Was Daisy Mae an actual ship, I can find no reference to that nickname in the actual U.S. Navy. Is my Google Fu weak? Or am I so uncool today? (It's been known to happen.)

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    6. Well, 'cause you asked.
      http://www.ussdesmoines.com/daisy-mae-newletter.html
      And an article from the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum
      https://www.goldstarmuseum.iowa.gov/about/ussdm
      I'm pretty sure Ringo was picturing a young lady much like this for the avatar of the reactivated Des Moines.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJQ-iFpnAcc

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    7. Beans-"Watch On The Rhine" is both interesting and makes you think. And I forgot to credit Tom Kratman as the coauthor of "Yellow Eyes."

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    8. Ah, Little Abner, Des Moines, Daisy Mae. Alles Klar!

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    9. I may have to break down and start reading Ringo.

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    10. You have not yet read John Ringo??? Why ever not? And what is the nature of your reluctance?

      Paul

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    11. Science fiction, not historic, those are two of the prime reasons. Also a lack of time. I read a lot of history.

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    12. Yep, Scott is correct about the Iowa. There were several groups/cities in the running for her final Home Port. The USN insisted on seeing business plans, sources of funding, money already in the bank, and a host of other things before they made their final choice.

      You can't just go to the Navy and say "Gimmie Dat Boat For Da Hood", and expect them to turn the ship over to you.

      One of the groups/cities couldn't come up with any cash, and the one group that wanted her up by San Francisco ran into serious opposition from a very vocal (and connected) group strongly opposed to having "An Instrument Of War on display that our children might see".

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    13. Yes, Heaven forbid that the kids might see something that guarantees their freedom!

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    14. Tom Kratman is another good one. So is David Drake. All three have 'Been There, Seen That' and it shows.

      Some of Drakes earlier works really show his struggle to cope with Vietnam, and he uses a lot of historical texts as basis for his works.

      Kratman is... Kratman.

      As to San Fran, what, they only wanted to be famous for having a Prison? Losers. Well, now they're part of the 'Turd World' so poo on them.

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    15. I thought Drake sounded familiar, I did read some of the Hammer's Slammers short stories. A long, long time ago.

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    16. When the Navy was looking for a gun for shore bombardment for the Zumwalt-class follies, I thought they'd settled on 6.1" (155mm) for commonality of shells and handling, only to find out it was a one-off design incompatible with anything but it's own special, under-performing, over-cost, now cancelled ammunition. For the job at hand, we had perfectly good 8" guns with far more room for growth. No modern ship could take a turret of the Des Moines or Salem, but the gun, or the Mk 71 once tested? I swear to dog that our Naval procurement brass is lost in the woods, or working for the enemy. They're really that bad.

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    17. I can't agree with you more Larry. The gun selected for the Zumwalt class was an inherently bad idea. Essentially it was a gun which fired a missile, a very expensive missile. The choice of caliber was wise, letting the procurement nitwits run off unsupervised was not. Yup, touched a nerve on that one, I watched it freaking happen and no one was listening to the real experts.

      A travesty all the way around

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  4. End of an era indeed.

    When I packed up and left my uncle's family for college, I moved into my dad's place in the Oakland Hills. The westward view of the Bay Area was fantastic. His place was up in the hills and a bit north of the Bay Bridge. We had a view of this, albeit at distance, but you could still ID the carriers with the naked eye.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_carriers_at_Alameda_1974_(colour).jpg

    I missed this particular view. By July of '74, I had graduated basic training and was in small arms repair school at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

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    1. Great photo! Interesting to see just how big USS Enterprise (CVN-65) looks compared to the non-nukes.

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    2. According to the photo's caption, the left carrier is the USS Coral Sea (CVa-43) and she got an angled flight deck in the fifties making her 968 feet long, compared to the Enterprise's length of 1123 feet.
      As you observed, the two carriers on the center are much smaller, because USS Hancock (CVA-19) at 888 feet is a WWII vet, and USS Oriskany (CVA-34) also at 888 of length was started during the war, but wasn't commissioned until 1950.
      Also note that the carrier designation changed from CVA, the A standing for Attack, to CV during my time on Forrestal. I guess having the word attack in a large warship was just too aggressive. (snark)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Coral_Sea_(CV-43)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Enterprise_(CVN-65)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Hancock_(CV-19)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Oriskany_(CV-34)

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    3. Yes, oh dear, don't want the peace loving peoples of all those democratic peoples' republics getting the wrong idea.

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  5. First photo of the Philly Navy Yard brings back lots of memories for me.
    Had my enlistment physical there more than a half century ago. As a Seaman Recruit, fresh from boot camp did a couple of weeks there in classes; chipped paint in a mothballed LST in the Reserve Basin (in the summer, with no ventilation); first got underway on a USN ship for an overnight cruise down to the mouth of Delaware Bay and back on an old Destroyer Escort.
    Went back to PNSY as chief engineer on a DDG in the late 1970s for a yard period, most of it in Drydock No. 1. Lived in the BOQ or base housing, now abandoned and rotting after the base closed. Great subs from "Blindman's" on the base, run by the visually impaired, but you can get great subs (er, hoagies, when in Philly) just about anywhere.
    All my ships are now long gone, but it is nice to see some remain as museums, especially the remarkably beautiful Iowa class BBs.
    John Blackshoe, Ancient Mariner....

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    1. I doubt we'll see the like of the Iowa class again. Sad.

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  6. We discard our history too quickly, in so many ways. Too many ships that are still useful and economic tossed away in the interests of new and shiny.

    So sad. The death of a ship is a horrid thing. One thing to lose one from a battle or as a target, another to being chewed to death by 2-legged rats.

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    1. When we discard ships to build the new, shiny, and often useless, it's more than a shame. It's a crime.

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  7. Went on board the SS Jeremiah O'Brien with my wife and youngest son when she was docked at the Port of Sacramento. Also met this author and bought an autographed copy of his book--

    https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Desperate-Hours-Survival-Japanese-held/dp/0897452585

    Hero Ships--

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Of6P9Jn_kY

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    1. RHT447:

      Our paths may have crossed, as I also visited that ship when I lived in Sacramento ( or at least the Sacrament area ). Do you remember the year of that event?

      Paul

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    2. Paul:

      Oh my. I'm going to say 2004-ish. Our youngest was (I think) still in Jr. High. We went to the State Fair in the morning, and then toured the ship in the afternoon. If I can find the book and the autograph is dated, I'll post back.

      Here is a video from 2010. Read the comments. It looks like they cast off in Sacramento and head downstream back to San Francisco. They sail by the "mothball" fleet and USS Iowa.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpSZW6fYJ00

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  8. Thanks for the photos of some great ships. As Iowa is my birth state, I have long had a soft spot in my heart for the USS Iowa.

    I have some ideas as to why the U.S. Navy no longer has big gun ships, but stating them here would involve language I don't use on your blog. I, too, believe that at some point in the not too distant future we will ( or more likely, some of our military people ) will pay a heavy price for this.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  9. Thanks for the props, Sarge! I was just one of the guys on the the team that did the work. I had High Voltage/High Power RF experience, so I got tagged "it", and we all worked together to get the transmitters back on-line.

    It's amazing how much ordnance an Iowa-class ship can put on target. 9 guns, 2700 lb AP shells, at 2 rounds-per-minute, per gun, and they could keep it up for hours. One of the four (New Jersey?) fired so long one night in Viet Nam that the paint burned off the barrels.

    My favorite story was a group of Marines pinned down by fire from a well fortified bunker in Korea. They called one of the ships, and she slammed the target with half a dozen AP shells. The Marines then went up to see what was left, and the entire bunker, and most of the hill, was gone.

    Amazing ships, and after spending 6 years with one of them, I finally have a genuine appreciation and understanding of the phrase "Built Like A Battleship".

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    1. The battlewagons were amazing. The Iowa class particularly so.

      You earned the props drjim, as did the team you were on. Well done.

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  10. When I read the title, I thought you were talking about my elderly Aunts.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)