Explosion rocks USS Enterprise

Explosion rocks USS Enterprise

An explosion aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise kills 27 people in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on January 14, 1969. A rocket accidentally detonated, destroying 15 planes and injuring more than 300 people.

The Enterprise was the first-ever nuclear-powered aircraft carrier when it was launched in 1960. It has eight nuclear reactors, six more than all subsequent nuclear carriers. The massive ship is over 1,100 feet long and carries 4,600 crew members.

At 8:19 a.m. on January 14, a MK-32 Zuni rocket that was loaded on an F-4 Phantom jet overheated due to the exhaust from another vehicle. The rocket blew up, setting off a chain reaction of explosions. Fires broke out across the deck of the ship, and when jet fuel flowed into the carrier’s interior, other fires were sparked. Many of the Enterprise’s fire-protection features failed to work properly, but the crew worked heroically and tirelessly to extinguish the fire.

In all, 27 sailors lost their lives and another 314 were seriously injured. Although 15 aircraft (out of the 32 stationed on the Enterprise at the time) were destroyed by the explosions and fire, the Enterprise itself was never threatened.

The USS Enterprise was repaired over several months at Pearl Harbor and returned to action later in the year.


USS Enterprise (CVN 65)

USS ENTERPRISE - the Navy's eighth ship to bear the name - was the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. During her more than 50 years of service she has set many records and milestones including steaming with a speed of more than 40 knots during her sea trials after construction. Later, she became the first nuclear carrier to transit the Suez Canal and the first carrier to operate the F-14 fighter aircraft. Additionally, the ENTERPRISE is still the longest warship ever put to sea.

Deactivated at Naval Base Norfolk, Va., on December 1, 2012, the ENTERPRISE was towed to the nearby Newport News Shipbuilding Shipyard at Newport News, Va., for dismantling on June 20, 2013. Defueling of ENTERPRISE's last reactor took place at Newport News in December 2016. She will now be prepared for the tow to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., for the final dismantling. At the moment, scrapping is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

General Characteristics: Keel Laid: Februar 4, 1958
Launched: September 24, 1960
Commissioned: November 25, 1961
Deactivated: December 1, 2012
Decommissioned: February 3, 2017
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.
Propulsion system: eight nuclear reactors
Propellers: four
Blades on each Propeller: five
Aircraft elevators: four
Catapults: four
Arresting gear cables: four
Lenght, overall: 1,123 feet (342.3 meters)
Flight Deck Width: 257 feet (78.4 meters)
Area of flight deck: about 4,5 acres (18211.5 m 2 )
Beam: 132.8 feet (40.5 meters)
Draft: 39 feet (11.9 meters)
Displacement: approx. 93,500 tons full load
Speed: 30+ knots
Planes: approx. 85
Crew: Ship: 3,200 Air Wing: 2,480
Armament: three Mk 29 NATO Sea Sparrow launchers, three 20mm Phalanx CIWS Mk 15

This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS ENTERPRISE. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors who submitted their information.

USS ENTERPRISE Cruise Books:

  • USS ENTERPRISE is the eighth ship in the Navy named "ENTERPRISE".
  • USS ENTERPRISE was commissioned without any armament.
  • USS ENTERPRISE was initially planned to become the first ship in a class of six aircraft carriers. However, the extremely high costs cancelled the project and USS ENTERPRISE remained a unique ship.
  • USS ENTERPRISE was the second ship in the Navy which received the 20mm Phalanx CIWS Mk 15.
  • USS ENTERPRISE was the second nuclear-powered water surface vessel in the world.

Accidents aboard USS ENTERPRISE:

On its way to the coast of Vietnam the carrier conducts flight operations. During the arming of an F-4 Phantom one of the aircraft's Zuni missiles detonates causing a fire that quickly spreads to other armed planes and causes some of their bombs and missiles to explode, too. ENTERPRISE subsequently turns into the wind to keep the flames away from the isle.

One hour later, the fire on the flight deck was under control but there were still fires below decks which took additional hours to be extinguished.

During the eight explosions and the resulting fires aboard USS ENTERPRISE, 27 crewmen were killed and 85 were injured.

ENTERPRISE suffers heavy damage including three holes in the flight deck (one of them through two decks). 15 aircraft were destroyed or damaged.

Click here for a detailed report of the accident from the USS ENTERPRISE WestPac Cruise Book 1969.

Click here to view more USS ENTERPRISE Patches.

Click here to view more photos.

Broward Navy Days

The following images were taken by Howard Walsh jr. They were taken in Port Everglades, FL, during the Broward Navy Days in 2000.

The two photos below were taken by Karl-Heinz Ahles when USS ENTERPRISE was inport Norfolk, Va., on May 11, 1999, respectively in September 1998.

The photos below were taken by me and show the USS ENTERPRISE at Naval Base Norfolk, Va., on October 27 and 29, 2010, after completing the Composite Training Unit Exercise in preparation for her upcoming and final deployment.

Deactivation

The photos below are official US Navy photos taken during the deactivation ceremony of USS ENTERPRISE at Naval Station Norfolk on December 1, 2012.

The photos below are official US Navy photos taken on June 20, 2013, and showing the ENTERPRISE being towed from Naval Base Norfolk to Newport News Shipbuilding for dismantling. Most striking is the carrier's missing main mast.

The photos below were taken by Michael Jenning on October 28, 2013, and show the deactivated ENTERPRISE at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The photos below were taken by Michael Jenning on October 24, 2014, and show the deactivated ENTERPRISE at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The photos below were taken by Michael Jenning on October 4, 2017, and show the ENTERPRISE at Newport News Shipbuilding where she is slowly dismantled.

The photos below were taken by Michael Jenning on September 23, 2018, and show the ENTERPRISE at Newport News Shipbuilding.


At approximately 8:18 am, Enterprise was turning to port to conduct flight operations when a Zuni rocket, equipped with a 15 pound warhead of Composition B explosive, mounted on a F-4J Phantom parked on the stern, exploded after being heated by the exhaust from an MD-3A "Huffer", a tractor-mounted air starting unit used to start aircraft. Ώ] Γ] The explosion perforated the aircraft's fuel cells, and ignited the leaking JP-5 jet fuel. About a minute later, three additional Zuni rockets exploded these blasts blew holes into the flight deck, allowing the burning JP-5 to pour into the 03 ("oh-three") level directly under the flight deck. Ώ] Captain Kent Lee, commanding officer of the Enterprise, directed the port turn to continue after the first explosion, steering the ship into the wind to blow smoke away from the ship. Δ] Approximately three minutes after the initial explosion, a bomb mounted on the Phantom exploded, having been engulfed in flames from the earlier explosions and burning fuel. This explosion blew a larger hole, approximately 8 feet by 7 feet, in the flight deck. The heat from the blast ignited additional fires on the 03 level, and debris from the explosion caused holes in the deck this allowed burning fuel to spread further, entering the 02 ("oh-two") and 01 ("oh-one") levels and eventually the first deck. This explosion also damaged the twin agent units that provided firefighting foam to the area, rendering them inoperable, and severed fire hoses in the area. In short order, a second Mark 82 bomb detonated, followed by a larger 500-pound bomb. Several minutes after the larger bomb detonated, a bomb rack holding three MK-82 bombs exploded. This blast tore a large hole, approximately 18 feet by 22 feet, into the flight deck, and ruptured a 6,000 gallon fuel tank mounted on a tanker aircraft a massive fireball resulted from the fuel igniting, spreading the fire further. All told, eighteen explosions occurred, blowing eight holes into the flight deck and beyond. Ώ]

Despite the damage and the loss of the twin agent unit, the crew was able to extinguish the fires within four hours. Δ]

The nuclear-powered frigate USS Bainbridge came to the stricken carrier's aid during the fire. Ε]


Contents

Designed under project SCB 160, [25] Enterprise was intended as the first of a class of six carriers, but massive increases in construction costs led to the remaining vessels being cancelled. Because of the huge cost of her construction, Enterprise was launched and commissioned without the planned RIM-2 Terrier missile launchers. [26] Initially, the carrier had little defensive armament. [27] [28] [a] Late in 1967, Enterprise was fitted with a prototype Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS) installation, with two eight-round box launchers for Sea Sparrow missiles. [30] [27] A third BPDMS launcher was fitted during the ship's refit in 1970–1971. [31]

Later upgrades added two NATO Sea Sparrow (NSSM) and three Mk 15 Phalanx CIWS gun mounts. [32] One CIWS mount was later removed and two 21-cell RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile launchers were added. [33] [34]

Enterprise is also the only aircraft carrier to house more than two nuclear reactors, [6] having an eight-reactor propulsion design, with each A2W reactor taking the place of one of the conventional boilers in earlier constructions. [35] She is the only carrier with four rudders, two more than other classes, and features a more cruiser-like hull. [36]

Enterprise also had a phased array radar system known as SCANFAR. SCANFAR was intended to be better at tracking multiple airborne targets than conventional rotating antenna radars. SCANFAR consisted of two radars, the AN/SPS-32 and the AN/SPS-33. The AN/SPS-32 was a long-range air search and target acquisition radar developed by Hughes for the U.S. Navy. The AN/SPS-32 operated together with the AN/SPS-33, which was the square array used for 3D tracking, into one system. It was installed on only two vessels, Enterprise and the cruiser USS Long Beach, placing a massive power drain on the ship's electric system. [ citation needed ]

The technology of the AN/SPS-32 was based on vacuum tubes and the system required constant repairs. The SPS-32 was a phased array radar which had a range of 400 nautical miles against large targets, and 200 nautical miles against small, fighter-size targets. [37] These early phased arrays, replaced around 1980, were responsible for the distinctive square-looking island. [12]

The AN/SPS-32 and AN/SPS-33 radars, while ahead of their time, suffered from issues relating to the electrical beam steering mechanism and were not pursued in further ship classes. While they are considered to be an early form of "phased array" radar, it would take the later technology of the Aegis phased array AN/SPY-1 with its electronically controlled beam steering to make phased array radars both reliable and practical for the USN. [ citation needed ] The dome above the SCANFAR contained the unique electronic warfare suite, the Andrew Alford AA-8200 dipole antennas (which never acquired a military designation). The system consisted of six rows of antennae encircling the dome. The antennas in the upper two rows were encased in piping radomes as they were small and fragile.

Commissioning and trials Edit

In 1958, Enterprise ' s keel was laid at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Shipway 11. On 24 September 1960, the ship was launched, sponsored by Mrs. W. B. Franke, wife of the former Secretary of the Navy. On 25 November 1961, Enterprise was commissioned, with Captain Vincent P. de Poix, formerly of Fighting Squadron 6 on her predecessor, [38] in command. On 12 January 1962, the ship made her maiden voyage starting an extensive shakedown cruise and a lengthy series of tests and training exercises designed to determine the full capabilities of the nuclear powered super carrier. [39] On 20 February 1962, Enterprise was a tracking and measuring station for the flight of Friendship 7, the Project Mercury space capsule in which Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr. made the first American orbital spaceflight. [40] Enterprise completed shakedown activities at Naval Station Norfolk on 5 April 1961. [39]

1960s Edit

On 25 June 1961, Enterprise joined the 2nd Fleet on her initial operational deployment, carrying out training off the US east coast, and took part in Exercise LantFlex 2-62, a nuclear strike exercise, in conjunction with the carrier Forrestal from 6–12 July. [41] [40] In August, the carrier joined the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, returning to Norfolk, Virginia on 11 October. [41]

1962 Cuban Missile Crisis Edit

In October 1962, Enterprise was dispatched to her first international crisis. Following revelations that the Soviet Union was constructing nuclear missile launch sites on Cuba, President John F. Kennedy ordered the United States Department of Defense to conduct a large-scale buildup. Among the preparations, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet readied large numbers of its ships. On 22 October, President Kennedy ordered a naval and air "quarantine" (blockade) on shipment of offensive military equipment to Cuba, and demanded the Soviets dismantle the missile sites there. Five United States Second Fleet carriers participated in the blockade—Enterprise (as part of Task Force 135), Independence, Essex, Lake Champlain, and Randolph, backed by shore-based aircraft. By 28 October, the crisis was averted, after the United States secretly agreed to remove nuclear missiles from Italy and Turkey. [ citation needed ]

Second and third deployments Edit

On 19 December 1962, a Grumman E-2 Hawkeye was catapulted off Enterprise in the first shipboard test of a nose-wheel launch bar designed to replace the catapult bridle. [42] Minutes later, a second launch with a launch bar was made by a Grumman A-6A Intruder, demonstrating one of the primary design goals of reducing launch intervals. [43]

In 1963–1964, now under command of Captain Frederick H. Michaelis, Enterprise made her second and third deployments to the Mediterranean. During her third deployment, the carrier was part of Operation Sea Orbit, the world's first nuclear-powered task force with the cruisers Long Beach and Bainbridge, together forming a convoy to sail around the world. On 25 February 1964, a crewman of the Finnish merchant ship Verna Paulin was injured in a fall while the ship was in the vicinity of Souda Bay, Greece. Enterprise answered her call for assistance. A surgeon was transferred to Verna Paulin by helicopter. [40] In October 1964, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for her first Refueling and Overhaul. During this refit, her eight nuclear reactors, which had powered Enterprise as she steamed over 200,000 nmi (230,000 mi 370,000 km), were refuelled, two of her propeller shafts were replaced, and the ship's electronics were updated. Enterprise emerged from her refit on 22 June 1965. [44]

Vietnam deployments Edit

In November 1965, the Enterprise was transferred to the Seventh Fleet, home-ported at NAS Alameda, California. The following month, on 2 December, she became the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat when she launched aircraft against the Viet Cong near Biên Hòa City. The ship led Carrier Division Three, with Enterprise (redesignated CVAN-65), which had Carrier Air Wing Nine aboard, Bainbridge Barry and Samuel B. Roberts. Enterprise launched 125 sorties on the first day, unleashing 167 short tons (151 t) of bombs and rockets on the enemy's supply lines. On 3 December, she set a record of 165 strike sorties in a single day. [ citation needed ]

In January 1966, the aircraft carrier was continuing operations as a unit of Task Force 77 in the Gulf of Tonkin, as the flagship of Rear Admiral Henry L. Miller, Commander Carrier Division Three. [45] Under the command of Captain James L. Holloway III, she was carrying a complement of approximately 350 officers and 4,800 men. Four West coast squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Nine, commanded by Commander F. T. Brown, were embarked VF-92, under Commander E. A. Rawsthorne, and VF-96, under Commander R. D. Norman, flying F-4B Phantom IIs VA-93 under Commander A. J. Monger, and VA-94, under Commander O. E. Krueger, flying A-4C Skyhawks. With these squadrons were three others based on the East Coast VA-36, under Commander J. E. Marshall, VA-76, under Commander J. B. Linder, flying A-4C Skyhawks and RVAH-7, under Commander K. Enny, flying RA-5C Vigilantes. Rear Admiral Miller was relieved as Commander Carrier Division Three by Rear Admiral T. J. Walker on 16 February 1966. During the change of command ceremony on the flight deck, Rear Admiral Miller praised the ship's performance in his farewell remarks, and presented air medals to more than 100 pilots and flight officers. [ citation needed ]

The ship tied up at Leyte Pier, U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, on the evening of 8 December 1966. [45] Loading of supplies for the first line period was started immediately. Rear Admiral Walter L Curtis, Jr, Commander Carrier Division Nine, brought his flag aboard. In company with Manley, Gridley and Bainbridge, Enterprise sailed for Yankee Station on 15 December, and took up her position there three days later. [ citation needed ]

When Enterprise departed the Gulf of Tonkin on 20 June 1967, her pilots had flown more than 13,400 battle missions during 132 combat days of operations.(Enterprise Command History 1967, 29) As Vice Admiral Hyland stated in his congratulatory statement, "the entire Air Wing Nine has earned a resounding 'Well Done'." The carrier had steamed 67,630 miles in operations with the Seventh Fleet. She arrived in Subic Bay on 22 June and departed on 25 June for return to Alameda on 6 July 1967. [ citation needed ]

At Alameda, Enterprise began an overhaul. Captain Kent Lee relieved Captain James L. Holloway as commanding officer in ceremonies on 11 July 1967. Shipyard work was completed on 5 September 1967, and after completing sea trials on 7 September, Enterprise steamed south from San Francisco Bay to San Diego to reembark Carrier Air Wing Nine and get underway for refresher training off the California coast. [ citation needed ]

Enterprise was visiting Sasebo, Japan in January 1968 when the US intelligence ship USS Pueblo was seized by North Korea, and she served as flagship of TF 71 (Rear Admiral Epes), which had been formed in response. When diplomatic negotiations had defused tensions, Enterprise and her escorts were released to head south to Yankee Station on 16 February 1968. Enterprise returned to NAS Alameda on 18 July 1968, having completed 12,839 catapult launches, with 12,246 sorties—9,182 of them combat. After a short overhaul in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 29 July to 26 September, she returned to Alameda to prepare for another deployment to Vietnam. [ citation needed ]

1969 fire Edit

During the morning of 14 January 1969, while being escorted by the destroyers Benjamin Stoddert and Rogers, a MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded on a parked F-4 Phantom exploded when ordnance cooked off after being overheated by an aircraft start unit. [46] The explosion set off fires and additional explosions across the flight deck. [ citation needed ]

The fires were brought under control relatively quickly (when compared with previous carrier flight deck fires), but 27 sailors were killed and an additional 314 sailors were injured. The fire destroyed 15 aircraft, and the resulting damage forced Enterprise to put in for repairs at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii, primarily to repair the flight deck's armored plating. [47] On 1 March 1969, repairs to the ship were completed and the ship proceeded on her scheduled western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment to Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf. These destinations would be delayed by events in the eastern Sea of Japan. [ citation needed ]

Korean operations Edit

In January 1968, the capture of the United States intelligence-gathering vessel Pueblo by a North Korean patrol boat led to a diplomatic crisis. Enterprise was ordered to operate near South Korean waters for almost a month. [ citation needed ]

On 14 April 1969, tensions with North Korea flared again as a North Korean aircraft shot down a Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star that was on a reconnaissance patrol over the eastern Sea of Japan from its base at Atsugi, Japan. The entire 31-man crew was killed. The US responded by activating Task Force 71 (TF 71) to protect future such flights over those international waters. Initially, the Task Force was to comprise Enterprise, Ticonderoga, Ranger, and Hornet with a screen of cruisers and destroyers. Enterprise arrived on station with TF 71 in late April after completion of repairs. The ships for TF 71 came mostly from Southeast Asia duty. This deployment became one of the largest shows of force in the area since the Korean War. [ citation needed ]

1970s Edit

In 1969–1970, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and went through an overhaul and her second refitting. In January 1971, she completed sea trials with newly designed nuclear reactor cores that contained enough energy for 10 years. Enterprise, with Captain Forrest S. Petersen now in command, then departed for Vietnam again, to provide air support for American and South Vietnamese units. [ citation needed ]

South and Southeast Asia Edit

In Vietnam, Enterprise, Oriskany and Midway launched a total of 2,001 strike sorties by 30 July 1971. Strike operations in July were disrupted when the carriers on station evaded three typhoons: Harriet, Kim and Jean. A slight increase in South Vietnam strike sorties occurred during the month. These were mainly visual strikes against enemy troop positions and in support of U.S. helicopter operations. From August–November 1971, Enterprise was in operations on Yankee Station. [ citation needed ]

In December 1971, Captain Ernest E. Tissot, Jr. assumed command, and Enterprise was deployed to the Bay of Bengal, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 as a show of strength against India's naval blockade by INS Vikrant. Later a Soviet Navy submarine was also trailing the U.S. task force. A confrontation was averted the Americans moved towards South East Asia, away from the Indian Ocean. [48]

On 18 December 1972, the United States resumed bombing campaigns above the 20th parallel under the name Linebacker II. During Linebacker II operations, Enterprise and other carriers on station reseeded the mine fields in Haiphong harbor and conducted concentrated strikes against surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery sites, enemy army barracks, petroleum storage areas, Haiphong naval and shipyard areas, and railroad and truck stations. Navy tactical air attack sorties under Linebacker II were centered in the coastal areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. There were 705 Navy sorties in this area during Linebacker II. Between 18 and 22 December, the Navy conducted 119 Linebacker II strikes in North Vietnam, with the main limiting factor on airstrikes being bad weather. [ citation needed ]

In December 1972, the North Vietnamese returned to the peace table and Linebacker II ended. In January 1973, the Vietnam cease-fire was announced and American carriers ceased all combat sorties into North and South Vietnam. [ citation needed ]

From 28 January 1973, aircraft from Enterprise and Ranger flew 81 combat sorties against lines-of-communication targets in Laos. The corridor for overflights was between Huế and Da Nang in South Vietnam. These combat support sorties were flown in support of the Laotian government, which had requested this assistance. Laos had no relationship with the ceasefire in Vietnam. [ citation needed ]

Post-Vietnam Edit

After the cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, Enterprise proceeded to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier was altered and refitted to support the Navy's newest fighter aircraft – the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. Two of four jet blast deflectors were enlarged to accommodate the Tomcat. The No. 4 propulsion shaft was replaced it had been bent when its screw became fouled in a discarded arresting gear cable. [ citation needed ]

On 18 March 1974, the first operational Tomcats of VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters made their maiden takeoffs and landings from the carrier. In September 1974, Enterprise became the first carrier to deploy with the new fighter plane when she made her seventh WESTPAC deployment. [ citation needed ]

In February 1975, Typhoon Gervaise struck the island nation of Mauritius, and Enterprise was ordered to provide disaster relief. Arriving at Port Louis, carrier personnel spent more than 10,000 man-hours rendering such assistance as restoring water, power and telephone systems, clearing roads and debris, and providing helicopter, medical, food and drinkable water support to the stricken area. [ citation needed ]

Operation Frequent Wind Edit

In April 1975, Enterprise, Midway, Coral Sea, Hancock, and Okinawa were deployed to waters off Vietnam for possible evacuation contingencies as North Vietnam, in violation of the Paris Peace Accords, launched a conventional invasion of South Vietnam. On 29 April, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps helicopters from the 7th Fleet. The Operation involved the evacuation of American citizens and "at-risk" Vietnamese from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam under heavy attack from the invading forces of North Vietnam. [ citation needed ]

President Gerald Ford ordered helicopter evacuation when PAVN shelling forced the cessation of fixed-wing evacuation from Tan Son Nhut Airport. With fighter cover provided by carrier aircraft, the helicopters landed at the US Embassy, Saigon and the DAO Compound to pick up evacuees. The last helicopter lifted off the roof of the United States Embassy at 7:53 am, local time, on 30 April 1975 carrying the last 11 Marine Security Guards. During Operation Frequent Wind, aircraft from Enterprise flew 95 sorties. [ citation needed ]

Eighth and ninth deployments Edit

In July 1976, Enterprise began her eighth Western Pacific deployment. Beginning in October she took part in the ANZUS exercise 'Kangaroo II' with ships of the Australian and New Zealand Navies. [49]

One of the ports visited was Hobart, Tasmania in November 1976. It had also been the first time an American ship anchored in the capital's harbor, Hobart, since the early 1920s. A beer with a picture of the Enterprise for its label was just one of the commemorations received by the renowned nuclear carrier. [ citation needed ]

In February 1977, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, made derogatory remarks against the United States in public and Americans in Uganda were taken hostage. This was several months after the Israeli raid at Entebbe airport. Enterprise and her escort ships were scheduled to transit home after a seven-month deployment, but having just left Mombasa after a port call, were directed to remain in the area and operated off the east African coast for about one week. The ship's Marine detachment and air wing prepared for a possible mission to rescue and evacuate the Americans, but Amin eventually released all the hostages. The ships then steamed across the Indian Ocean at high speed to make a previously scheduled final port call at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines before returning to NAS Alameda. [ citation needed ]

In 1978, Enterprise underwent her ninth Western Pacific deployment, including port calls in Hong Kong, Perth, Australia, and Singapore. In January 1979, the carrier sailed into Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a comprehensive 36-month overhaul. This overhaul modified the ship's superstructure – removing the SCANFAR radars and the unique inverted cone-shaped top section, which was three stories high. During the lengthy overhaul, Navy and shipyard personnel referred to Enterprise as Building 65. [ citation needed ]

1980s Edit

In 1982, the carrier made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. In April 1983, Enterprise ran aground on a sandbar in San Francisco Bay while returning from deployment and remained stuck there for several hours. [50] Coincidentally, George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the fictional starship Enterprise, was aboard at the time as a guest of the navy. [51] Even though groundings and collisions are usually career-enders for U.S. warship captains, the captain at the time, Robert J. Kelly, who had already been selected for promotion to commodore, eventually became a four-star admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. [52]

In 1985, the Enterprise began training for her 11th WESTPAC deployment. Late at night on 2 November 1985 with Captain Robert L. Leuschner, Jr. on the bridge, she struck Bishop Rock on the Cortes Bank during flight exercises, damaging the outer hull with a gash more than 100 feet in length and knocking out of one screw, a chip whose size was illustrated with a photograph of a Navy diver stretched out and reclining inside the notch. [ citation needed ] The cost of repairing the damage was $17 million, and Leuschner was relieved of command on 27 January 1986 as a result of the incident, by Captain Robert J. Spane. [53]

In 1986, the carrier made her 12th WESTPAC deployment, leaving on 15 January 1986. She led Battle Group FOXTROT, including Truxtun, Arkansas, O'Brien, Reasoner, Lewis B. Puller, McClusky, David R. Ray and Wabash. The Battle Group sailed directly for the Indian Ocean, with stops in Hawaii, Subic Bay, and Singapore. [54] On 28 April 1986, Enterprise became the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez Canal. She went from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean to relieve Coral Sea, on station with America off the coast of Libya. Enterprise entered the Mediterranean to support "Operation El Dorado Canyon", the US bombing of Libya. It was the ship's first visit to the Mediterranean in more than 22 years. During the deployment, Rear Admiral J.T. Howe was relieved as Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group 3 by Rear Admiral Paul David Miller. [55]

In February 1988, Enterprise underwent her 13th deployment and was assigned to Operation Earnest Will, escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. On 14 April, another Earnest Will ship, Samuel B. Roberts, struck an Iranian mine in international waters. In response, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian targets, starting with two Iranian oil platforms that were being used as support bases for Iranian attacks on merchant shipping. Aircraft from Enterprise ' s CVW-11 bombed two Iranian frigates, helping to sink one and damaged the other, and provided other air support for the strike. [56]

In September 1989, Enterprise left Alameda and began her 14th overseas deployment, an around-the-world cruise that would end at the ship's new homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. In early December 1989, Enterprise and Midway participated in Operation Classic Resolve, President George H. W. Bush's response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino's request for air support during the rebel coup attempt. Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay until the situation subsided. [ citation needed ]

1990s Edit

In April 1990, Enterprise completed her around-the-world deployment, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, after having steamed more than 43,000 mi (69,000 km) (nautical). In October, the carrier moved to Newport News Shipbuilding for refueling and the Navy's largest complex overhaul refit ever attempted. On 27 September 1994, Enterprise returned to sea for sea trials, now with Captain Richard J. Naughton in command, during which she performed an extended full power run as fast as when she was new. [ citation needed ]

On 28 June 1996, Enterprise began her 15th overseas deployment. The carrier enforced no-fly zones in Bosnia as part of Operation Joint Endeavor and over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. The deployment ended in December 1996, which also marked the end of active service for the Grumman A-6 Intruder from the Navy. February 1997, Enterprise entered Newport News Shipbuilding for an extended selective restrictive availability lasting four-and-a-half months. [ citation needed ]

In November 1998, following workups, Enterprise departed on her 16th overseas deployment, with CVW-3 embarked. On the night of 8 November, shortly after the start of the deployment, a Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler crashed into a Lockheed S-3 Viking on the carrier's flight deck. The mishap occurred as the EA-6B was landing during night carrier qualifications, striking the folded wings of the S-3, which had not yet cleared the landing area of the flight deck. [ citation needed ]

The four-man crew of the EA-6B perished when the aircraft hit the water, but the two crew members of the S-3 ejected. A fire broke out on the flight deck but was quickly extinguished by the flight deck crew. Three of the four members of the Prowler crew were lost at sea, and the remains of the fourth were recovered shortly after the crash. The crew of the Viking were rushed to the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia. There were no other significant injuries. An exhaustive search for three missing EA-6B Prowler crew members was suspended after nearly 24 hours. [ citation needed ]

On 23 November 1998, Enterprise relieved Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf.


Explosion on USS Enterprise nuclear carrier

On this day in 1969, a powerful explosion occurred on the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. The carrier was located near Hawaii at the time, and an explosion killed 27 people and wounded an additional 314. The carrier of the USS Enterprise was then the pride of the US fleet. It entered service in the early 1960s as the first nuclear aircraft carrier in world history. With a length of 342 meters, the USS Enterprise still holds the record for the longest warship ever made.

The explosion on a nuclear aircraft carrier was particularly dangerous given that there were as many as eight nuclear reactors on the USS Enterprise (today’s Nimitz class carriers have only two reactors and are slightly shorter than the USS Enterprise). The accident to date occurred when an MK-32 Zuni rocket attached to a F-4 Phantom fighter jet parked on a carrier deck exploded.

The rocket exploded, probably due to heat exposure from a nearby source. A fire that erupted after the blast destroyed as many as 15 planes, and the USS Enterprise had to stay anchored at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for more than two months for repair.


Who Knocked the Enterprise Out of the War

A twisting, turning search to identify the kamikaze pilot who crashed into "The Big E" on 14 May 1945 eventually resulted in the aviator's brother and friends finding long-overdue comfort and closure.

Sunlight shining on its underside, the inverted suicide plane dove toward the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) early on 14 May 1945. The pilot of the bomb-laden Japanese A6M5 Reisen Zeke had carefully used cloud cover and avoided 5-inch and 40-mm antiaircraft fire while approaching the carrier from her stern. Just before the Zeke passed the ship's fantail, he flipped it onto its back in a snap roll. An instant later, the kamikaze pilot steepened his plane's dive and crashed through the carrier's forward flight deck. The resulting explosion blasted most of the ship's forward elevator more than 400 feet into the air. While the Enterprise's casualties were relatively light—14 killed and 68 wounded—and she was able to maintain her place in the formation and fight off more attacks that day, "The Big E" was heavily damaged. On the 16th she set out for home, her combat career ended.

American histories of the Enterprise—most notably Navy Commander Edward P. Stafford's The Big E—identified the kamikaze pilot as "Chief Pilot Tomi Zai." Commander Stafford even titled a chapter in his book after him. But while conducting research in Japan, I found evidence that Tomi Zai was not the brave pilot's name. To the best of my knowledge, only a handful of the several thousand kamikaze pilots who died by crashing into enemy vessels have been identified, and usually only in Japanese-language books. I nevertheless set out on a journey to correctly identify the man who put the Enterprise out of the war.

Against the Backdrop of Okinawa

On 6 April 1945, in response to the recent U.S. landings on Okinawa, Japan launched the largest kamikaze, or Special Attack, offensive of World War II—Operation Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum). Its series of ten mass aerial attacks would stretch over 2?? months. On 11 May, about 240 Imperial Japanese Navy and Army planes participated in the sixth Kikusui attack, which severely damaged Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's flagship, the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17).

After transferring his flag to the Enterprise, the Task Force 58 commander responded by ordering planes from Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3 to intensify their attacks on the Kikusui air bases on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. On the nights of 12-13 and 13-14 May, fighters and bombers from the Enterprise attacked the airfields using general-purpose bombs, incendiary clusters, and rockets.

Although Naval Air Station Kanoya was one of the bases hit, early on the morning of the 14th, 28 A6M5 Model 52C Zekes of the 6th Tsukuba, 11th Kenmu, and 8th Shichisho squadrons were able to take off. A group of 12 started lifting off at 0525, and the remainder began leaving at 0619. The pilots of the kamikaze planes had orders to attack targets of opportunity—namely ships in the task groups about 130 miles to the southeast—and each carried a 500-kg (1,100-pound) armor-piercing delay-action bomb. Forty escort fighters accompanied the planes.

Tomi Zai was the only one of the 28 kamikaze pilots who successfully completed his mission. He is generally credited as being an outstanding pilot for being able to roll his Zeke onto its back and then hit the Enterprise after it appeared that he would fly over and miss the turning carrier. The pilot's body, along with his plane's engine, was found in the bottom of the forward elevator well, and in The Big E, Commander Stafford implied that "Chief Pilot Tomi Zai" was printed on calling cards found in one of his pockets. However, when I checked the names of the kamikaze pilots who had been killed on 14 May 1945 in Combined Fleet records and other sources, I could not find a Tomi Zai. I did, however, find a Lieutenant (junior grade) Shunsuke Tomiyasu, but considered it premature to conclude that Tomi Zai was that pilot.

The Search Begins

Fortunately, I had gotten to know Joel Shepherd, secretary of the USS Enterprise CV-6 Association, through the Internet. According to his information, the pilot's proper name was Shusasuka Tomiyasa, which closely resembled Shunsuke Tomiyasu. An early and improper translation rendered it Tomi Zai. I asked Joel if any of the pilot's personal items besides the calling cards were recovered. About two weeks later I received an e-mailed reply in which Joel said he had a small rubber stamp that he had been told was found among the pilot's effects. He offered to send it to me.

While awaiting the stamp's arrival, I asked three Japanese veterans for help gathering more information about the pilot. Takeharu Nozaki is a member of the Hakuo Bereaved Family Association, an organization of flight reserve officer veterans and relatives of those aviators who died during the war Fujio Hayashi was a navy veteran who had prepared flight duty rosters at Kanoya in 1945 and Nobuya Kinase was Shunsuke Tomiyasu's comrade in the Tsukuba Air Group. Their search for relevant squadron after-action reports and action-progress summaries at the Japanese Institute for Defense Studies' Archives was unsuccessful however, Takeharu was able to put me in touch with Lieutenant Tomiyasu's brother, Hideo Tomiyasu.

In the meantime, the long-awaited rubber stamp (hanko) arrived from the United States along with a note from Joel. He wrote: "I've been told it was found in the personal effects of the pilot who crashed Enterprise on May 14, 1945, but have no way of verifying that. Again, if it appears to belong to ?Tomi Zai,' I'd be happy to see it returned to his family." The stamp was about 2?? inches high, with a long, slender wooden handle and a 2-by-??-inch wooden base. A thin piece of rubber embossed with Chinese characters forming the words "Misc. building" was glued to the base.

Hoping direct evidence linking the Enterprise kamikaze to Lieutenant Tomiyasu had been discovered, I asked his brother if he had any information about the stamp. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about it.

Help from an Enterprise Sailor

Although some of my leads were drying up, an Enterprise veteran, as well as Joel, was able to provide background information about the 14 May kamikaze hit. I had gotten to know Norman L. Zafft several years earlier when I was researching Lieutenant Kazuo Nakai, who had attempted to crash into the Enterprise on 1 February 1942 off the Marshall Islands. Norman was then president of the Enterprise Association. He had come aboard the carrier at age 18 in October 1943, and in May 1945 was a shipfitter second class assigned to the ship's Construction and Repair Division.

Neither Norman nor Joel knew how I could obtain one of the pilot's calling cards or a copy of one of them, and Norman added that he had "no idea" where the cards ended up. The pilot's family and others in Japan were concerned about the disposition and burial of the pilot's remains. As it was a most delicate subject, I was prepared to keep the findings to myself or pass them along, depending on the answer. Joel referred me to the Enterprise's war diary, which stated, "At 1410 buried body of Japanese Naval Lieutenant whose plane crashed ship at 0657." According to Norman, "His body, as I recall, was placed in a mattress cover with a 5-inch shell and slid into the sea off the fantail, or stern, of our ship, as we buried our dead." Joel speculated that he was given a simple but respectful burial at sea, probably without much ceremony.

"I don't know how the pilot's name came out to be Tomi Zai," Norman wrote, "but my guess is, someone saw his name and couldn't pronounce it. [He] saw Tomiyasa and shortening it to Tomi Sa in English."

I had earlier determined that a Nisei officer who could translate Japanese was most likely on board the Enterprise at the time of the attack. He might have read one of the calling cards correctly but, either through mispronunciation or misspelling as the name was forwarded along, Shunsuke Tomiyasu became Shusasuka Tomiyasa and was finally shortened to Tomi Zai.

A Key Piece of Evidence Arrives

At this point, I wanted to report to Lieutenant Tomiyasu's brother, as well as Nobuya Kinase and Takeharu Nozaki, on my progress. Our first meeting took place at a restaurant near Yokohama Station. There, I was excited to receive a copy of "Declaration 113, Action Progress Summary Report" from Takeharu. Discovered in the office of the Hakuo Bereaved Families Association, this Imperial Japanese Navy handwritten document summarized information on 14 May 1945 flights out of Kanoya. It was the very report I had been looking for I thought it would conclusively list the name of the pilot who crashed into the Enterprise. While I was disappointed to discover that was not the case, the report did contain key information that helped me shorten the list of possible pilots by process of elimination.

I had learned from the Senshi Sosho, the Japan Defense Agency's history of the war, that 28 bomb-laden Zekes took off from Kanoya shortly after dawn on 14 May. "Declaration 113" revealed that 22 pilots of those planes actually completed their missions. (Six of the aircraft probably suffered mechanical problems and returned to base.) Furthermore, the report listed the names and ranks of the 22 pilots broken down by squadrons. Four were lieutenants (junior grade), thirteen were ensigns, and five petty officers. According to the Enterprise war diary, the kamikaze pilot was a lieutenant, which left only four possibilities.

According to a notation in the margin of the report: "At/about 0718, position 130?? bearing (true), 140 nautical miles from Miyazaki, ten escort fighters sighted two groups of the enemy task forces. One carrier [the Enterprise] appeared to be a CVE and was sending up a pillar of flames."

Because Lieutenants Keijiro Hiura and Takuro Fujita transmitted their last communications after 0657—the time the Enterprise was hit—they can be eliminated. For the remaining two lieutenants, Shunsuke Tomiyasu and Fumio Kusumoto, the flight times from takeoff to 0657 was approximately 90 minutes, which is the time required for a Zeke laden with a 500-kg bomb to fly from Kanoya to the carrier's location. The known facts about their flights could make either one Tomi Zai. However, I concluded Shunsuke Tomiyasu was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Enterprise based on the similarity of his name to Shusasuka Tomiyasa, the surname of which closely resembled Tomi Zai.

Recovering a Piece of the Plane

Having completed my research, I next hoped, with the help of Norman Zafft, to bring some comfort and closure to the family and friends of Lieutenant Tomiyasu. On board the Enterprise on 14 May 1945, Norman had the watch from 0400 to 0800. He and three of his shipmates—nicknamed the "Fresh-Water Kings"—took turns caring for the fresh-water tanks and pumps near the Enterprise's forward elevator. Just before 0700, one of the shipmates, George Barker, came down and said, "Zafft, if you want to go and eat chow, I will relieve you early, as I feel safer down here." Norman went to the crew's mess, and while he was in the chow line, general quarters sounded. Immediately afterward, Tomiyasu's plane crashed near the forward elevator. George Barker was one of the Sailors killed, and Norman had the terrible experience of knowing that his friend had died in his place.

As a member of the Construction and Repair Division, Norman had access to the bottom of the elevator well, where he ventured after the crash and explosion. He told me he picked up a souvenir there, a small piece of the Zeke's fuselage. Another shipfitter got part of the plane's propeller blade, a small piece of which Norman later sawed off. He polished one side and engraved on it USS Enterprise—May 14, 1945.

In replying to my request years earlier for information about the Japanese plane that nearly hit the Enterprise in 1942, Norman had begun his letter by writing that he had been bitter toward and prejudiced against the Japanese people, but after 50 years, he knew it was time to forgive. The Japanese had fought the war for their country, as the Americans had for their country. Maybe hearing from me had helped change his attitude.

When I told Hideo Tomiyasu and the members of the Tsukuba Air Group Association that Norman had two pieces of Lieutenant Tomiyasu's plane, which he had carefully preserved for nearly 60 years, opinions were divided between aggressively seeking the return of one of the pieces, and gently urging Norman to part with one of the mementoes. I strongly believed that he would not part with the engraved piece of the prop blade but might return the piece of fuselage. Hideo and members of the Tsukuba Air Group Association decided to entrust me with writing an e-mail asking Norman for one of the pieces. Although I knew his attitudes toward the Japanese had changed considerably in the past couple of years, I carefully chose my words, stating in the message that we would appreciate his considering giving us one of the pieces.

Several days after I sent the e-mail, I received a response from Norman saying, after informing his family of our request, he had decided to send us the piece of the plane's fuselage. He wrote that he could not part with the piece of the prop blade, as it represented a day he would always remember, and his son would have it someday. The other piece of the plane would mean more to the Tomiyasu family than to his family, he said. About a week later I was excited to receive a manila envelope from Norman. A piece of an Imperial Japanese Navy Zeke kamikaze plane had returned to Japan after 58 years!

A Final Resolution

A few weeks later, in early July 2003, I attended a gathering to celebrate the life of Lieutenant (junior grade) Shunsuke Tomiyasu and reach a definitive conclusion about his fate. Held in a hotel room near Yokohama Station, the attendees included Hideo Tomiyasu the three Japanese veterans I had worked with—Fujio Hayashi, Nobuya Kinase, and Takeharu Nozaki and Tetsuo Terao, another veteran who had been a middle-school classmate of Lieutenant Tomiyasu's.

Fujio, who had been one of the lieutenant's commanding officers, recounted many episodes from the young aviator's life. I followed by reporting on my research and explaining it was next to impossible to expect further developments. All the attendees then agreed that although the evidence was circumstantial, the kamikaze pilot who had been known as Tomi Zai must have been Lieutenant (junior grade) Shunsuke Tomiyasu.

I then presented the envelope I had received from Norman Zafft to Hideo Tomiyasu. He withdrew from it a small, about 1??-by-3??-inch, slightly bent piece of Duralumin. On the outer surface, part of the dark olive drab paint of the imperial navy's planes had peeled off due to exposure to high temperatures, and a strip of metal about 2??5 an inch wide that seemed to be a stringer was riveted on the back of the piece.

Without saying a word, Hideo Tomiyasu stared fixedly at the piece of the plane in which his beloved brother flew to his death. He, as well as the veterans present, must have felt a thousand emotions as they gazed at it.

According to Hideo, the only official word he had received about his brother's death was that "Lieutenant Tomiyasu was killed in action on May 14, 1945." About ten years ago, he had learned by hearsay that Shunsuke might have crashed into the Enterprise. Having just learned in detail about his brother's final moments, Hideo thought Shunsuke must have been satisfied to have successfully completed his mission. In those days, when a kamikaze pilot left on a sortie, he was determined to hit the target. Hideo calmly said that he wanted all to know that, although people think Shunsuke was the only pilot who distinguished himself in the battle, all the other pilots who took off from Kanoya that morning shared in the success by having cooperated with and supported his brother.

In accordance with Hideo's wishes, the piece of his brother's plane is now displayed at the Kanoya Naval Air Station Museum. The description accompanying the exhibit explains that, more than 60 years before, 22-year-old Lieutenant (junior grade) Shunsuke Tomiyasu, with a high spirit of patriotism, followed the extraordinary command to die for his country and crashed into the USS Enterprise, successfully accomplishing his sure-death, one-way mission. The names of the 14 American officers and men of the Enterprise killed by the crash—including Seaman Second Class George Barker—are also included in the exhibit for the repose of their souls. Moreover, in return for his kindness and generosity, a description is included to the effect that, despite old, hard feelings against the Japanese, Norman L. Zafft gave the relatives and comrades of Lieutenant Tomiyasu a piece of the plane on board which the young pilot died.

Hideo Tomiyasu told me he donated the piece of his brother's kamikaze plane to the museum because he wants present-day young people to know that in the past many young Japanese had willingly sacrificed their lives for the sake of their country. He also wants today's youth to realize how primitive, brutal, and violent war can be. He hopes this small but significant historic artifact is a symbol of the reality of war in hopes that subsequent generations might avoid conflict.

Mr. Sugahara, a retired airline employee, is a translator and World War II historian who attended the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima, Hiroshima, during the war. He is also a coauthor, along with Ichiro Matsunaga and Gordon J. Van Wylen, of Encounter at Sea and a Heroic Lifeboat Journey (Troy, MI: Sabre Press, 1994). Mr. Sugahara would like to express his heartfelt appreciation to Joel Shepherd, secretary of the USS Enterprise CV-6 Association, and Norman Zafft, a former president of the organization, for their kind cooperation and assistance in writing this article.

The Real Tomi Zai

Imperial Japanese Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) Shunsuke Tomiyasu was born in 1922 to a Nagasaki family. According to his brother Hideo, he had large eyes and was called "Medama" ("Big Eyes") in his primary and middle-school days. A good harmonica player, he was a member of his school band. He was also accomplished at judo.

After Shunsuke graduated from Waseda University in March 1943 with a degree in politics and economics, he worked for the Nichiman Trading Company in Shinkyo (Changchun), Manchuria. That September he joined the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 13th Class of Reserve Students and received intensive Zeke flight training at Tsukuba Air Base. In May 1944 he was commissioned an ensign. After several transfers and a promotion to lieutenant (junior grade), Shunsuke was assigned to Tsukuba Naval Air Group on 1 March 1945 as an instructor for the 14th Class of Reserve Students. On 28 March, however, Tsukuba Air Group organized a Zeke Special Attack (Kamikaze) Corps, which Lieutenant Tomiyasu joined. Leading the corps' 6th Tsukuba Squadron, he took off from Naval Air Station Kanoya on his final mission early on 14 May.
In his final letter to his family, Shunsuke wrote:

Dear Father, Mother, and Sister,
I was suddenly ordered to sortie to a certain area, and I must depart now. Since from the beginning I gave my life for our country, I do not expect to return alive. I am surely determined to achieve excellent battle results.

Today the fate and existence of our country are at hand. We leave as defenders of our country. You may miss me when I am not here, but please live with great enthusiasm and cheerfulness. Worries will cause everyone to be discouraged.
When I entered the Navy, I naturally was prepared for death, so I think everyone also should not feel lonely. I plan to send a letter to Hideo, but please give him greetings also from our home.

Since Lieutenant Junior Grade Kondo plans to go visit you, please meet with him. I will do my very best, so please rest assured about that.
Shunsuke
Kan Sugahara


The Navy’s investigation of the USS Iowa turret explosion was seriously bungled

Iowa’s turret two on fire immediately following the explosion. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, had a dream in the early 1980s: A 600-ship fleet. And while growing that fleet, Lehman wanted to bring back some of the elegance and esprit that had been lost during the Vietnam War era. And in his mind, nothing said “elegance” like the Iowa class battleships that were originally built to fight World War II.

The USS Iowa (BB 61) was originally commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1958 following service in World War II and the Korean War. After sitting in mothballs pierside at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for 26 years, Iowa was overhauled, modernized, and recommissioned. But in order to meet SECNAV’s expectation, many necessary repairs were either skipped or rushed, and as a result Iowa failed the first major inspection in 1984. The inspecting officer recommended that the battleship be taken out of service immediately, but Secretary Lehman personally rejected that input and instead ordered the Atlantic Fleet leadership to fix the problems and get Iowa sailing as soon as possible.

In late May of 1988, the Iowa’s brand-new commander officer, Capt. Fred Moosally canceled a $1 million repair to the gun turrets, deciding to use the funds to upgrade the ship’s power plant instead. According to an article written a few years later by Greg Vistica of the San Diego Union-Tribune, between September 1988 and January 1989, sailors aboard Iowa reportedly conducted little training with her main guns, in part because of ongoing, serious maintenance issues with the main gun turrets. According to Ensign Dan Meyer, the officer in charge of the ship’s Turret One, morale and operational readiness among the gun-turret crews suffered greatly.

On April 19, 1989 the Iowa was scheduled to conduct a live-fire exercise in the waters off of Puerto Rico. The Second Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Jerome Johnson, was aboard, and Captain Moosally was eager to impress. The night before, fire-control officer, Lieutenant Leo Walsh, conducted a briefing to discuss the next day’s main battery exercise. Moosally, Morse, Kissinger, and Costigan did not attend the briefing. During the briefing, Skelley announced that Turret Two would participate in an experiment of his design in which D-846 powder would be used to fire 2700 lb (1224.7 kg) shells.

The powder lots of D-846 were among the oldest on board Iowa, dating back to 1943–1945, and were designed to fire 1900-pound shells. In fact, printed on each D-846 powder canister were the words, “WARNING: Do Not Use with 2,700-pound projectiles.” D-846 powder burned faster than normal powder, which meant that it exerted greater pressure on the shell when fired. Skelley explained that the experiment’s purpose was to improve the accuracy of the guns.

Skelley’s plan was for Turret Two to fire ten 2,700-pound practice (no explosives) projectiles, two from the left gun and four rounds each from the center and right guns. Each shot was to use five bags of D-846, instead of the six bags normally used, and to fire at the empty ocean 17 nautical miles away.

Ziegler was especially concerned about his center gun crew. The rammerman, Robert W. Backherms, was inexperienced, as were the powder car operator, Gary J. Fisk, the primerman, Reginald L. Johnson Jr., and the gun captain, Richard Errick Lawrence. To help supervise Lawrence, Ziegler assigned Second Class Gunner’s Mate Clayton Hartwig, the former center gun captain, who had been excused from gun turret duty because of a pending reassignment to a new duty station in London, to the center gun’s crew for the firing exercise. Because of the late hour, Ziegler did not inform Hartwig of his assignment until the morning of 19 April, shortly before the firing exercise was scheduled to begin.

Moosally presenting Hartwig with a duty award during the summer of 1988. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

At 08:31 on 19 April, the main turret crewmembers were ordered to their stations in Turrets One, Two, and Three. Thirty minutes later the turrets reported that they were manned, swiveled to starboard in firing position, and ready to begin the drill. Vice Admiral Johnson and his staff entered the bridge to watch the firing exercise. Iowa was 260 nautical miles northeast of Puerto Rico, steaming at 15 knots.

Turret One fired first, beginning at 09:33. Turret One’s left gun misfired and its crew was unable to get the gun to discharge. Moosally ordered Turret Two to load and fire a three-gun salvo. According to standard procedure, the misfire in Turret One should have been resolved first before proceeding further with the exercise.

Forty-four seconds after Moosally’s order, Lieutenant Buch reported that Turret Two’s right gun was loaded and ready to fire. Seventeen seconds later, he reported that the left gun was ready. A few seconds later, Errick Lawrence, in Turret Two’s center gun room, reported to Ziegler over the turret’s phone circuit that, “We have a problem here. We are not ready yet. We have a problem here.”

Ziegler responded by announcing over the turret’s phone circuit, “Left gun loaded, good job. Center gun is having a little trouble. We’ll straighten that out.”

Mortensen, monitoring Turret Two’s phone circuit from his position in Turret One, heard Buch confirm that the left and right guns were loaded. Lawrence then called out, “I’m not ready yet! I’m not ready yet!”

Next, Ernie Hanyecz, Turret Two’s leading petty officer suddenly called out, “Mort! Mort! Mort!” Ziegler shouted, “Oh, my God! The powder is smoldering!” A bout this same time, Hanyecz yelled over the phone circuit, “Oh, my God! There’s a flash!”

At 09:53, Turret Two’s center gun exploded. A fireball blew out from the center gun’s open breech. The explosion caved in the door between the center gun room and the turret officer’s booth and buckled the bulkheads separating the center gun room from the left and right gun rooms. The fireball spread through all three gun rooms and through much of the lower levels of the turret.

The resulting fire released toxic gases that filled the turret. Shortly after the initial explosion, the heat and fire ignited 2,000 pounds of powder bags in the powder-handling area of the turret. Nine minutes later, another explosion, most likely caused by a buildup of carbon monoxide gas, occurred.

When it was all over 47 members of Iowa’s crew were dead.

Several hours after the explosion, Admiral Carlisle Trost, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), issued a moratorium on the firing of all 16-inch guns. Vice Admiral Joseph S. Donnell, commander of Surface Forces Atlantic, appointed Commodore Richard Milligan to conduct an informal one-officer investigation into the explosion. An informal investigation meant that testimony was not required to be taken under oath, witnesses were not advised of their rights, defense attorneys were not present, and no one, including the deceased, could be charged with a crime no matter what the evidence revealed.

Milligan boarded Iowa on 20 April and toured Turret Two. He did not attempt to stop the ongoing cleanup of the turret. Accompanying Milligan to assist him in the investigation was his personal staff, including his chief of staff, Captain Edward F. Messina. Milligan and his staff began their investigation by interviewing members of Iowa ‘ s crew.

During Meyer’s interview by Milligan and his staff, Meyer described Skelley’s gunnery experiments. Meyer stated that Moosally and Kissinger had allowed Skelley to conduct his experiments without interference or supervision. At this point, according to Meyer, Messina interrupted, told the stenographer to stop typing, and took Meyer out into the passageway and told him, “You little shit, you can’t say that! The admiral doesn’t want to hear another word about experiments!”

The investigation went downhill from there, shifting from any attempt to find command-wide leadership issues or maintenance malpractice to blaming the entire mishap on Second Class Gunner’s Mate Clayton Hartwig. Navy investigators extrapolated the fact that Hartwig had taken an insurance policy out with a shipmate, Kendall Truitt, as the beneficiary into a homosexual relationship gone wrong between the two men that caused Hartwig to commit suicide by sparking the turret explosion with an incendiary device.

The Naval Investigative Service (NIS, now known as Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS) agents were ham-fisted and ruthless in their pursuit of what they already believed to be true or the direction in which they’d been ordered — tacitly or otherwise — to focus. NIS agents interviewed Truitt and repeatedly pressed him to admit to a sexual relationship with Hartwig. Other agents interviewed Truitt’s wife Carole, also pressing her about the sexual orientation of Hartwig and Truitt, asking questions about how often she and her husband had sex, what sorts of sexual acts they engaged in, and whether she had ever had sex with any of Truitt’s crewmates.

At the same time the Navy’s public affairs command at the Pentagon leaked NIS findings to a host of media outlets, and reports started appearing in newspapers and on TV that said that Hartwig had intentionally caused the explosion after his relationship with Truitt had gone sour.

On July 15, 1989 the officer in charge of the investigation submitted his completed report on the explosion to his chain of command. The 60-page report found that the explosion was a deliberate act “most probably” committed by Hartwig using an electronic timer. The report concluded that the powder bags had been over-rammed into the center gun under Hartwig’s direction in order to trigger the explosive timer that he had placed between two of the powder bags.

Navy brass briefing press on the release of the first investigation. (Photo: DoD)

When the official report hit the streets there was a great public outcry by the families of the victims, and many of them began feeding members of the media with insider information that, in turn, led to a host of reports that pointed out the myriad ways the Navy’s investigation was deeply flawed. Those reports led to an investigation by the House Armed Services Committee.

In early March 1990, the HASC released its report, titled USS Iowa Tragedy: An Investigative Failure. The report criticized the Navy for failing to investigate every natural possible cause before concluding that the explosion was an intentional act. The report also criticized the Navy for allowing the turret and projectile to become contaminated for permitting evidence to be thrown overboard and for endorsing the investigator’s report prior to completing the technical investigation. The NIS’s actions in the investigation were described as “flawed” and the NIS agents assigned to the case were criticized for unprofessional interviewing techniques and for leaking sensitive documents and inaccurate information. Finally, the report concluded that officer put in charge of the investigation was unfit to oversee it.

A subsequent investigation conducted by a group of engineers and scientists concluded that the explosion had been caused by the over-ram of powder into the breech after they were able to replicate the condition several times under test conditions. In spite of this, the second Navy investigation doubled down on the original finding that the explosion had been intentionally set by Hartwig.

Finally, on 17 October 1991, 17 months after the Navy reopened the investigation, Adm. Frank Kelso, the Chief of Naval Operations, conducted a press conference at the Pentagon to announce the results of the Navy’s reinvestigation. Kelso noted that the Navy had spent a total of $25 million on the investigation. He stated that the Navy had uncovered no evidence to suggest that the gun had been operated improperly, nor had it established a plausible accidental cause for the explosion.

Kelso stated, “The initial investigation was an honest attempt to weigh impartially all the evidence as it existed at the time. And indeed, despite the Sandia theory and almost two years of subsequent testing, a substantial body of scientific and expert evidence continue to support the initial investigation finding that no plausible accidental cause can be established.” Kelso added that the Navy had also found no evidence that the explosion was caused intentionally. He further announced that he had directed the Navy to never again use an informal board composed of a single officer to investigate such an incident.

Kelso concluded by offering “sincere regrets” to the family of Clayton Hartwig and apologies to the families of those who died, “that such a long period has passed, and despite all efforts no certain answer regarding the cause of this terrible tragedy can be found.

Iowa decommissioned in Norfolk on October 26, 1990. In May of 2012, the battleship was towed to the Port of Los Angeles and is now a floating museum.

From August 1990 to February 1991, the Iowa-class battleships Wisconsin and Missouri were deployed to the Persian Gulf. The two battleships fired 1,182 16-inch shells in support of Desert Storm combat operations without mishap.


11 Amazing WWII Color Pictures Of The USS Enterprise – Big E

USS Enterprise (CV-6) was an Aircraft Carrier which was kKnown to the troops as the “Big E”. Enterprise was a Yorktown-class carrier, was launched in 1936 and together with the Saratoga, and the Ranger they were the only three American carriers commissioned before the start of the Second World War to survive the war.

The USS Enterprise participated in more major actions of the war against Japan than any other US ship, these actions included the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, various other air-sea engagements during the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The Japanese announced on three separate occasions that she had been sunk, which earned her the name “The Grey Ghost”.

Enterprise earned a total of 20 battle stars, more than U.S. warship in World War II and became the most decorated US ship that war.

Operating in the Pacific, circa late June 1941. She is turning into the wind to recover aircraft. Note her “natural wood” flight deck stain and dark Measure One camouflage paint scheme. The flight deck was stained blue in July 1941, during camouflage experiments that gave her a unique deck stripe pattern. U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers and Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers (aft) on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) in early 1942. View of the bulged flight deck structure of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), resulting from a bomb that exploded below during the 24 August 1942 Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Photographed a few days later, after the ship had returned to port. Note the Atlanta-class light cruiser in the background. USS Enterprise (CV-6) Flight deck damage caused by a bomb explosion during the 24 August 1942 Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Photographed a few days later, after the ship had returned to port. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USS Washington (BB-56) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) Transiting the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic, early in October 1945. They were then en route to the U.S. East Coast to participate in Navy Day celebrations. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USS Enterprise (CV-6) TBM Avenger torpedo bombers warming up on the after flight deck during operations in the Pacific, circa May 1944. An F6F Hellcat fighter is on the midships elevator, in the foreground. The original Kodachrome color transparency was received by the Naval Photographic Science Laboratory on 29 May 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USS Enterprise (CV-6) Damage to the starboard quarter 5/58 gun gallery, resulting from a bomb that hit nearby during the 24 August 1942 Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Photographed a few days later, after the ship had returned to port. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USS Shannon (DM-25) Steams past task forces gathering for the Okinawa Operation, circa March 1945. Location is probably Ulithi Atoll. Ships in the near background include USS Flint (CL-97), in left center, and USS Miami (CL-89), at right. Three Essex class aircraft carriers are anchored in the middle distance. USS Enterprise (CV-6) is at the far left. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Photographed from USS Enterprise (CV-6) in August 1942, during the Guadalcanal Campaign. USS Saratoga (CV-3) is in the center, with a Farragut-class destroyer to the left and a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser to the right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Douglas SBD Dauntless scout bomber Takes off from USS Enterprise (CV-6) during operations in the Pacific Ocean, circa early 1944. The original Kodachrome color transparency was received by the Naval Photographic Science Laboratory on 29 May 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.


Sunday Ship History: USS Enterprise (CV-6)

USS Enterprise (CV-6) was the seventh ship to bear that name in the United States Navy.

The first Enterprise in the Navy was a British sloop, captured by "Col. B. Arnold ". The second was a schooner, as was the third. The third Enterprise fought privateers, pirates and captured or defeated Tripolitan ships, as well as seeing action in the War of 1812. Number Four was also a schooner, but had a quieter time than number Three. The fifth Enterprise, a bark-rigged screw sloop-of-war engaged in various surveys and showed the flag. The sixth was, well, ". a motorboat, serv[ing] in a noncommissioned status in the 2d Naval District during World War I."


But number seven? She was a biggie. Some background here:

USS Enterprise, a 19,800-ton Yorktown class aircraft carrier, was built at Newport News, Virginia. Commissioned in May 1938, she made a shakedown cruise to South America, then operated in the Caribbean. In April 1939, Enterprise was ordered to the Pacific, where she was to play an unparalleled role in the great sea war that began with Japan's 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the time of that raid, Enterprise was at sea. On 10 December, her planes sank a Japanese submarine, the first of many enemy ships that would fall victim to her air group. Later in December, she participated in the abortive Wake Island relief expedition. In February 1942, after escorting convoys to the South Pacific, Enterprise attacked Japanese positions in the Marshalls. During the following three months, she hit Wake and Marcus islands, covered the Doolittle raid on Japan and was en route to the South Pacific when the Battle of the Coral Sea took place in early May.

In June 1942, Enterprise played a vital role in the Battle of Midway, in which her planes sank or helped sink three Japanese aircraft carriers and a cruiser. She was next involved in the Solomons Campaign, including the Guadalcanal landings in early August, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons later in that month and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October. Badly hit by Japanese bombs in August and October, Enterprise was the only available fleet carrier in the area in November and, despite her damaged condition, launched her air group against enemy ships during the climactic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Remaining in the Solomons area into the Spring of 1943, she received the Presidential Unit Citation for her exploits there.

In late 1943 and early 1944 Enterprise participated in the Gilberts and Marshalls invasions and in attacks on Japanese bases in the Central and Southern Pacific. In June and July, she took part in the Marianas operation and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. From August to December, her planes joined in more raids and again engaged enemy ships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in late October. At the end of 1944 Enterprise received a special night operations air group, with which she took part in the Luzon campaign, strikes in the South China Sea, the Iwo Jima invasion, raids on the Japanese home islands and the Okinawa campaign. She was repaired locally for bomb damage received on 13 March 1945 and Kamikaze damage on 11 April, but had to the return to the U.S. after being badly hit by another Kamikaze on 14 May.

Of the more than twenty major actions of the Pacific War, Enterprise engaged in all but two. Her planes and guns downed 911 enemy planes her bombers sank 71 ships, and damaged or destroyed 192 more. Her presence inspired both pride and fear: pride in her still unmatched combat record, and fear in the knowledge that Enterprise and hard fighting were never far apart.

The most decorated ship of the Second World War, Enterprise changed the very course of a war she seemed to have been expressly created for.

In this first year of war, Enterprise and the other ships of the Pacific Fleet faced nearly overwhelming odds regularly. At Midway, Enterprise and her sister ships Hornet - which had never directly engaged the enemy before - and Yorktown - hastily patched up after being struck by an enemy bomb in the Coral Sea battle - squared off against four battle-hardened Japanese carriers . and won. At Santa Cruz, Hornet and Enterprise - just two carriers now - again engaged four of the enemy's and inflicted such devastating losses on Japan's naval aviators that over a year would pass before Japan's carriers could once again challenge the American fleet.

Over the course of the year, the Big E was struck six times by Japanese bombs, and more than 300 of her men were killed or wounded as a result. Enterprise Air Group and Air Group Ten, flying from Enterprise's deck the first eighteen months of the war, suffered heavy losses as they faced the best of Japan's fighting forces. One by one, the other prewar carriers of the Pacific fleet were lost in battle, or damaged and forced to withdraw for repair. Lexington CV-2 was lost in May, and Yorktown less than a month later. On the last day of August, Saratoga CV-3 absorbed her second torpedo of the year and was forced to retire to Pearl Harbor. Wasp CV-7, struck by three torpedoes on September 16, was not so lucky.

Finally, on the morning of October 26, as Hornet burned just over the horizon, Enterprise became the last operational US carrier in the Pacific. A bold sign appeared in the hangar deck - "Enterprise vs. Japan" - reflecting both the desperate nature of the situation, and the resolve of Enterprise's men. Not until December 5, when the repaired Saratoga arrived at Noumea, would the men in Enterprise see another friendly flattop.

Offer up a salute to the brave crews of CV-6.

As discussions begin over the naming of a new aircraft carrier to be completed after the decommissioning of the current USS Enterprise (CVN-65), it is hard to imagine a prouder heritage than another generation of sailors crewing a new Enterprise.

Those pictures? From here and here. It's worth a visit to those sites, which tell the tale of the bomb exploding on the deck of Enterprise and much more. From the top:

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942

U.S. Navy ships firing at attacking Japanese carrier aircraft during the battle, 26 October 1942. USS Enterprise (CV-6) is at left, with at least two enemy planes visible overhead. In the right center is USS South Dakota, firing her starboard 5"/38 secondary battery, as marked by the bright flash amidships.

Battle of the Eastern Solomons, August 1942

A Japanese bomb exploding on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), just aft of the island, on 24 August 1942.
Note: According to the original photo caption, this explosion killed the photographer, Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Robert F. Read. However, Morison's "History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II" (volume 5, page 97) states that Read was killed by the bomb that had earlier hit the after starboard 5"/38 gun gallery, which can be seen burning in the upper left. Morison further states that the bomb seen here exploded with a low order detonation, inflicting only minor damage.

Naval Air Station, Alameda, California

Four aircraft carriers docked at the Air Station's piers, circa mid-September 1945. The ships are (from front to back):
USS Saratoga (CV-3)
USS Enterprise (CV-6)
USS Hornet (CV-12) and
USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).
Note PBY amphibians parked at the far left.


In 1969, a Freak Accident Nearly Destroyed a Navy Aircraft Carrier

The painfully won experience from the Enterprise fire inspired a final round of introspection from the navy, which you can read in the mandatory JAG investigation here. Prior to the fire, sailors were already aware of the danger posed by the huffer heating units to aircraft weapons, due to earlier, nonlethal incidents. The crew of the USS Constellation had even devised longer huffer hoses for safer use. However, this awareness did not lead to navy-wide policies which could have prevented the accident, and the ordnance crew on the Enterprise’s deck failed to react promptly to a deadly threat to their safety despite spotting it in advance.

A series of collisions involving U.S. Navy destroyers in 2016 and 2017—including two incidents this summer that left sixteen sailors dead—have raised questions as to why the maritime fighting branch appears to be suffering the same accident again and again.

However, it can take time for organizations to learn from mistakes and implement solutions to deal with them. This fact was illustrated when it took no less than three catastrophic fires on U.S. aircraft carriers between 1966 and 1969 that killed more than 200 sailors before major reforms decisively improved safety onboard the giant flat tops. This final article in a three-part series looks at the last incident which occurred on the USS Enterprise.

All three of the disasters were triggered in part by rocket munitions. In 1966, a magnesium flare tossed into an ammunition locker caused rockets to detonate aboard the USS Oriskany, killing forty-four. Then in 1967, a Zuni rocket mounted on a fighter onboard the USS Forrestal accidentally launched due to a power surge, blasting into the side of an A-4 attack jet. This began a chain-reaction of detonating bombs and jet fuel that threatened to consume the conventionally-powered supercarrier.

However, these last two incidents occurred while the crew were undergoing the stress of launching dozens of jet aircraft a day into combat over Vietnam. Such was not the case for the USS Enterprise as she cruised seventy miles southwest of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on in January 1969. The 1,100-foot long Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Escorted by the destroyer USS Rodgers and the missile cruiser USS Bainbridge, the supercarrier was undergoing flight drills in preparation for another deployment to Vietnam.

At 6:45 AM on January 14 the carrier began launching a mix of F-4J Phantom fighters, A-6 and A-7 attack planes, and E-2 and KA-3 support aircraft. By 8:15 AM there were a total of fifteen aircraft prepping for launch on the flight deck. These included Phantom fighter 405 which was loaded with six 500-pound Mark 82 bombs and two LAU-10 rocket-launching pods, each containing four unguided five-inch Zuni rockets. As usual, an MD-3A huffer—a tractor-mobile heating unit used to warm up jet-engines—was positioned on the starboard side of the fighter, ready to prepare for it takeoff.

However, several crewmen noticed that the exhaust from the huffer was gusting onto one of the Phantom’s rocket pods only two feet away. At that distance, the heat would have amounted to more than 320 degrees while Fahrenheit the huffer was idling. The crew were not trained to know the cook-off temperature of the weapons they were handling, but several mentioned their concern to a nearby ordnance chief and other personnel. However, they were either preoccupied with fusing bombs in time for launch, or he couldn’t hear what was being said over the noise of nearby jet engines. Despite four different surviving crewmen admitting afterwards that they were aware of the unsafe positioning of the huffer, nobody acted on the situation in time.

The Zuni rocket employed a Composition B warhead, composed of 60 percent RDX and 40 percent TNT mixed with wax that was prone to cooking off when exposed to roughly 350 degrees of heat. M65 bombs made of Composition B had inflicted the lion’s share of the damage in the Forrestal fire, and the navy was then in the process of converting to more stable Composition H6 munitions.

At 8:18 the exhaust heat triggered the fifteen-pound warhead of one of the Zuni rockets. The resulting blast ruptured the Phantom’s fuel tank, which poured burning JP-5 jet fuel onto the deck, catching three more Phantoms on fire. Amongst the first victims of the conflagration were two operators of the huffer unit and the F-4 pilot.

A horrible chain reaction unfolded, similar to that which had occurred on the USS Forrestal. The heat from the burning fuel caused three more Zuni rockets to explode after two minutes, blasting a hole into the aircraft hangar below—allowing burning jet fuel to pour in.

The devastation had only just begun. The growing blaze then caused a 500 pound bomb mounted on the Phantom to detonate, gouging an eight-foot diameter hole into the deck, setting off secondary fires three decks below.

In his definitive book on the incident, Enterprise crewman Michael Carlin recalled the moment:

Everyone was stunned by the explosion and the shrapnel that hit all about the island…. Both twin agent units [full of flame-retardant foam] were knocked out. Hoses flopped about wildly, geysering spumes of foam and salt water. Men were on fire, the wounded moved feebly, the dead were still.

As ordnance detonations rippled across the ship, a rack of three Mark 82 bombs detonated all at once, blowing out a giant eighteen by twenty-two foot hole in the deck and causing a large KA-3 tanker to ignite with thousands of gallons of fuel onboard, sending a massive fireball scything into damage control crews.

More than eighteen explosions would tear open the Enterprise’s deck in eight places. Fortunately, her crew reacted efficiently to combat the blaze. Her skipper, Captain Kent Lee, turned the ship portside into the wind to blow away smoke, while sailors rushed forwards to combat the fire despite the detonating munitions, managing to roll the remaining bombs off the deck into the ocean before they could catch fire. The destroyer Rodgers put herself at risk by slewing in closely beside the Enterprise in order to spray her down with fire hoses. The efforts paid off—despite suffering a total of eighteen ordnance detonations, the crew brought the fire under control after forty minutes, and extinguished it entirely by noon.

The raging blaze had injured 314 crewmen and killed twenty-eight. Fortunately, this was significantly lower number of fatalities than had occurred on the Oriskany and Forrestal. Indeed, Captain Lee attributed the lower death toll to firefighting lessons learned from the earlier catastrophes.

Twisted and scarred by the blaze, with fifteen of her jets reduced to smoldering wrecks, the Enterprise limped back into Pearl Harbor, where she underwent fifty-one days of repairs costing $126 million ($866 million in 2017 dollars). The venerable carrier went on to serve forty-three more years before being retired in 2012. As for Captain Kent Lee, he would play an important role in the development of the FA-18 Hornet fighter jet. He passed away this August of 2017.

The painfully won experience from the Enterprise fire inspired a final round of introspection from the navy, which you can read in the mandatory JAG investigation here. Prior to the fire, sailors were already aware of the danger posed by the huffer heating units to aircraft weapons, due to earlier, nonlethal incidents. The crew of the USS Constellation had even devised longer huffer hoses for safer use. However, this awareness did not lead to navy-wide policies which could have prevented the accident, and the ordnance crew on the Enterprise’s deck failed to react promptly to a deadly threat to their safety despite spotting it in advance.

The succession of devastating accidents in the 1960s cost hundreds of lives. However, they did have one positive aftereffect: they confronted the navy with major deficiencies with its safety culture, and forced it to implement serious reforms to training and upgrades to its equipment, including the installation of flight deck “wash down” systems and employing more stable munitions. While carrier operations remain an inherently dangerous business, there have so far not been any catastrophic accidents on the scale of those that occurred in the 1960s. Tragically, those lessons were paid for in blood before their importance was fully realized.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.


Star Trek: A Brief History of Blowing Up the USS Enterprise

So let’s take a look back at the history of Enterprises getting blown up real good. Some of these examples come from alternate timelines or possible futures, but they all have one thing in common: The flagship of the Federation going out in a blaze of glory. Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name… Enterprise!

<em>Original Enterprise</em><br>Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Have you seen Star Trek Beyond?

<em>Possible

“Time Squared”: Six hours in the future is a bad place to be for the Enterprise.

<em>Enterprise-C and Alternate Timeline Enterprise-D</em><br>The Next Generation, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”

In one of the greatest Star Trek episodes ever produced, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the arrival of a previous Enterprise -- the NCC-1701-C -- from the past causes history to be altered, resulting in Captain Picard and his crew living in a galaxy torn apart by war between the Federation and the Klingons. The Enterprise-C, the predecessor to Picard’s ship, was believed destroyed years earlier while protecting a Klingon outpost on Narendra III against a Romulan attack. Though the C’s Captain Rachel Garrett and her crew were thought to be killed, their act of sacrifice while protecting the Klingons was a key step in achieving peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

But when the C slipped through a wormhole into Picard’s present, history was changed and that peace never happened. In order to restore the timeline to its proper (less horrible) place, the C must return to certain doom in the past while this alternate Picard and his crew sacrifice themselves as well, making sure their sister ship can escape to its preordained fate. And this is where Picard utters his immortal “Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name… Enterprise!” line. So great.

<em>Time Loop Trapped Enterprise-D</em><br>The Next Generation,

Groundhog Day for the Enterprise

<em>Time Frozen Enterprise-D</em><br>The Next Generation,

Getting timey-wimey blown up and then un-blown up in "Timescape"

<em>The Borg Are Everywhere Enterprise-D</em><br>The Next Generation, “Parallels”

In “Parallels,” Worf inadvertently began jumping from parallel universe to parallel universe, finding increasingly different versions of the Enterprise in each world. But when the spatial fissure that he was travelling through eventually destabilized, it resulted in almost 300,000 realities spilling out onto each other. That included a version of the Enterprise where the Borg had taken over the galaxy, Picard was gone (presumably assimilated) and Riker had a really big beard. This shattered Enterprise crew refused to return to its own reality where, as Big Beard Riker put it, “The Borg are everywhere!” But in the end, the poor bastards would inadvertently be destroyed by a fellow Enterprise in an attempt to disable their ship. Probably better for them in the long run, really.