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At the very beginning of the existence of the ship Forrestal, her commissioning crew — often known as plank owners — commenced to develop a state of integrity, commitment, and heart within her cold steel hull that continues even today, long after the ship has been decommissioned and dismantled. Forrestal steamed forth from her home ports for nearly thirty-eight years, projecting our nation's naval aviation might. Forrestal served as one of this country's big sticks, ready to protect our nation's interests at home and abroad. She served her nation proudly, contributing greatly to the United States of America winning the Cold War.
In 1955, USS Forrestal was then the largest ship ever constructed. She was the pride of the fleet, the United States Navy's showpiece. She was designed with the best and latest technologies to bring our country's naval aviation into the atomic/jet age. She is the very first of the so-called big-deck aircraft carriers.
Forrestal could carry within her hull more food and fuel to sustain her crew and, steam for longer periods, and operate more types of aircraft than all previous aircraft carriers. She could store within her magazines more destructive weaponry than most nations possessed. Even today, USS Forrestal, the matriarch of today's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, is nearly as large as today's aircraft carriers.
In 1993, just prior to the economic decision to decommission, she was undergoing a fourteen-month $158 million overhaul to extend her life until the year 2018. She could possibly be the best-conditioned aircraft carrier ever decommissioned.
On July 12, 1951, the navy announced that Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company had been awarded a contract to build CVA-59, the "world's first super aircraft carrier."
CVA-59 would be named Forrestal in honor of the late James Vincent Forrestal, who served as assistant secretary of the navy, secretary of the navy, and the first secretary of defense. Forrestal's motto would be "First in Defense."
The keel for this great ship was laid on July 14, 1952, and in less than thirty months, Forrestal was launched. In 1952, Forrestal would be the largest vessel ever constructed. Back then she would displace sixty thousand tons, with a length of 1,039 feet and a flight-deck width of 252 feet. From keel to mast, she equaled the height of a twenty-five-story building. Within her many decks, she would carry the latest technologies and crew comforts. Her huge voids and compartments would hold more food, fuel, and stores than any other naval vessel. As the first of the super aircraft carriers, she is a remarkable sight.
USS Forrestal was the first carrier built from the keel up to operate jet aircraft of the atomic age. To accommodate the larger and heavier jet aircraft, Forrestal's design was revolutionary. Among Forrestal's many firsts, she would have an angled flight deck to enable simultaneous launchings and landings of her aircraft. Additionally she would have four powerful steam-powered catapults to launch the heavier jet aircraft. Her design called for an armored steel flight deck and hangar deck. The flight deck would be the strength deck. Aircraft handling was greatly improved by the addition of four huge deck-edge aircraft elevators. These elevators enabled the quick movement of aircraft from the four-acre flight deck topside down to the safety of the seventy-five-thousand-square-foot, twenty-five-foot-high hangar bay below. Forrestal's bow would be enclosed. Her eight boilers and four powerful engines produced over two hundred sixty thousand horsepower, allowing Forrestal to steam at speeds in excess of thirty-four knots.
On December 11, 1954, USS Forrestal was christened, with Mrs. James V. Forrestal breaking the traditional bottle of champagne across the carrier's bow.
On October 1, 1955, USS Forrestal CVA-59 was commissioned. Her home port would be Naval Operating Base Norfolk in Virginia. With a strong beginning under the command of her first commanding officer, Captain Roy L. Johnson, Forrestal began her distinguished service. After her first shakedown cruise from January 24 to March 31, 1956, Forrestal and crew were ready to play a major role in their country's naval air and sea power.
Early in Forrestal's thirty-eight years of service, she was called upon by chief of naval operations Admiral Arleigh Burke, who ordered Forrestal, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt CVA-42, USS Des Moines CA-134, and three divisions of destroyers to sail to the Azores on November 7, 1956, during the Suez Crisis. After making a huge presence on station during the crisis for twenty days, Forrestal departed the Azores for her first overseas liberty port of Lisbon, Portugal. After nearly five days of enchanting liberty, Forrestal steamed to the States, briefly stopping at Naval Station Mayport in Florida before returning to Naval Operating Base Norfolk on December 12. The remainder of 1956 was filled with general maintenance being conducted in preparation for her upcoming first Mediterranean deployment and a well-deserved Christmas and New Year's leave period for her crew.
Early in 1957, Forrestal departed Norfolk on January 15, 1957, on her first Mediterranean Sea deployment. The largest ship ever to sail in the Mediterranean Sea, the giant aircraft carrier Forrestal began her maiden deployment with the Sixth Fleet. The crew was excited to be visiting fourteen liberty ports of call, undertaking plenty of flight operations, and engaging in underway replenishment and destroyer refueling details. During the six months following her arrival in January, the Forrestal steamed over forty thousand miles. Steaming this considerable distance, she made calls in six countries and possessions, where she showed her massive self and the eight different aircraft embarked to more than sixty-five thousand fascinated visitors.
In the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar, she was relieved in mid-July and returned home to the United States after 189 days of operating at high tempo on July 22, 1957.
After Forrestal's return from the Mediterranean, she steamed up the Elizabeth River, entering Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth for twenty days for some much-needed repairs and improvements. After departing the shipyard on August 12, Forrestal participated in a scheduled fleet operation as part of Task Unit 28.1.1, operating off the North Carolina coast, and another operational exercise, INTEX 2-57, off the Virginia coast before returning to Norfolk on August 24 to begin preparation for her next deployment.
Forrestal departed on September 3, 1957, on a very large multination NATO fleet exercise titled "Strike Back." This NATO fleet exercise consisted of nine aircraft carriers, two battleships, eight cruisers, fifty-one destroyers, eight destroyer escorts, ten supply ships, six fleet support vessels, and thirteen submarines. This operation was conducted above the Arctic Circle. Before the Forrestal returned from this forty-nine-day deployment, some much-deserved liberty was enjoyed by her crew. A well-received time was enjoyed by everyone on board during twelve days of friendly visiting in and around Southampton, England. Forrestal returned to Norfolk on October 22. During the remainder of 1957, Forrestal operated along the Virginia Capes and Jacksonville operating areas, conducting fleet exercises. During November 17 through November 19, carrier qualifications were conducted for the new Vought F8-U Crusader single-engine supersonic jet fighter. The year 1957 proved to be very busy for Forrestal, with her finishing up the year undergoing repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.
The year 1958 began with Forrestal high and dry in Dry Dock 8 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth. The yard work consisted of overhauling three of her main condenser turbines, major repair work on her number-one catapult and number-one jet blast deflector, sandblasting and repainting of aviation fuel service tanks, and electrical repairs on generators, switchboards, and elevator and catapult circuits. Boilermen of B Division were busy wire-brushing each of her eight boilers. They also cleaned the evaporators. Forrestal departed the shipyard on February 21 and immediately went to ammo anchorage in Hampton Roads for seven days of ammo loading. On February 28, Forrestal moored for the first time at the newly completed pier 12 at Naval Operating Base Norfolk. During most of March, Forrestal was busy conducting day and night carrier qualifications of navy and marine squadrons and participating in Fleet Exercise LANTPHIBEX along the Virginia Capes and North Carolina operating areas. April and May of 1958 found Forrestal conducting more carrier qualifications, with stops in and out of Norfolk and Mayport. On May 24, Forrestal moored at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth for twenty-nine days of much-needed repairs. On June 21, the much-anticipated dependents cruise commenced, with thousands of Forrestal friends and family members touring the ship for a day with their sailors at sea. The remainder of June and the first week of July found Forrestal conducting carrier qualification in and out of Norfolk. Middle East tensions continued to rise when, on July 14, Arab nationalists seized the Iraqi government in a bloody coup, killing the pro-Western king Faisal and Premier General Nuri es Said, causing crises throughout the Middle East.
On July 18, Forrestal, along with Carrier Air Group Ten, embarked with nine squadrons was quickly ordered to depart Norfolk steaming to the mid-Atlantic in response to the Lebanon crisis. After twenty-one days of operating in the mid-Atlantic, Forrestal returned when tensions eased on August 7.
Later that year, on September 2, 1958, Forrestal, along with Carrier Air Group Ten, departed on her second Mediterranean Sea deployment. After steaming to the Mediterranean, Forrestal dropped anchor in Augusta Bay, Sicily, on September 16, relieving USS Saratoga CVA-60. For the next 192 days, Forrestal showed the flag while visiting eleven ports, visiting many sights, and enjoying actor and comedian Bob Hope's Christmas USO show on the hangar deck.
Forrestal raised her starboard anchor and departed Gibraltar Bay, Gibraltar British Crown Colony, on March 4 and steamed eastward to Norfolk, retuning on March 12, 1959. The remainder of the year found Forrestal entering Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth on April 1 for an overhaul to replace the original slanted smokestack with a rectangular one that had a flat top. The aft mast was changed to one that is T-shaped, and some of the smaller communications antennae were changed. After 109 days of overhaul, Forrestal departed the shipyard, making preparations for a refresher training cruise. On April 24, Forrestal departed pier 12 en route to refresher training in the Guantanamo Bay training area. She returned on August 31, 1959. For the next few months, Forrestal spent time participating in squadron qualification and weapons evaluation exercises off the coast of Virginia.
Forrestal returned to the Mediterranean on January 29, 1960, with Carrier Air Group Eight and ten squadrons embarked for 216 days. Upon entering the Mediterranean, Forrestal began participating in exercise Big Deal VI, Phase I, under the command of Commander Second Fleet and Carrier Task Force 25.1.2. This two-phase operation with forces of Carrier Task Force 60 and Carrier Task Force 25.1.2 conducted simulated aggressor strikes against each other and against simulated targets in Spain. On February 14, Forrestal relieved the USS Saratoga CVA-60. During this deployment, Forrestal made a record-breaking fifteen liberty port visits plus a swim call during anchorage on June 20 at Aranci Bay, Sardinia. USS Independence CVA-62 and Forrestal conducted a turnover on August 19, and Forrestal returned to Norfolk on August 31, 1960. Forrestal's third Mediterranean deployment in five years was marked by NAVAIRLANT awarding her the battle E efficiency pennant. It was the first time since her commissioning that Forrestal had the esteemed honor of being presented this award, which is so cherished by ships throughout the navy.
On September 9, 1960, Forrestal entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Dry Dock 8 for some much-needed maintenance. On October 31, Forrestal departed Norfolk for the Jacksonville operating area to conduct carrier suitability trials for the F4-H1 Phantom II, A3-J1 Vigilante, F8U-1 and F8U-2N Crusader, S2F-3 Tracker, A4D-2 Skyhawk, A3D-2P Skywarrior, and TF-1 Trader aircraft through November 9. The next two months of 1960 called for training future crewmembers of USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63. Forrestal conducted a nighttime highline transfer with USS Triton SSN-586, a nuclear submarine. Forrestal conducted tests on the yet-to-be-installed mirror landing system equipment. On November 22, 1960, Forrestal's Memorial Chapel was dedicated; this was a new peaceful place to escape to for a quiet moment of reflection and solitude. The remaining month of December was filled with carrier qualifications along the Myrtle Beach and Jacksonville operating areas.
The year 1961 began with Forrestal moored at pier 12 in Norfolk, preparing for another Fleet exercise, Lantflex 1-61, which was conducted from January 15 through January 19. Next on the schedule was ammunition loading in preparation for the upcoming Mediterranean deployment. Forrestal departed Norfolk on February 9 with Carrier Air Group Eight and many of the same ten squadrons from the previous deployment embarked once again. Forrestal's first port visit began at Cannes, France, on February 25; after a brief stop at Gibraltar British Crown Colony and a quick turnover with USS Saratoga. This Mediterranean deployment was similar to the previous three, with Forrestal making a record fourteen liberty port visits, including four visits to Naples, Italy. On August 16, Forrestal conducted a turnover with USS Independence CVA-62 in Pollensa Bay, Mallorca, Spain. Forrestal returned to Norfolk on August 25, having completed many accomplishments. Air Group Eight had 10,624 arrested landings without a fatal accident to air crew personnel. Upon arrival, Forrestal again won the coveted battle efficiency E award. Carrier Air Group Eight broke the monthly record of total hours flown and amassed an astounding total of twenty-seven thousand flight hours. Besides outclassing all attack carriers in the Atlantic Fleet, her Gunnery, Operations, Engineering, Communications, and Air Departments swept all departmental E awards from the competition. Finally Forrestal operated with over fifty different US and foreign naval vessels. On September 5 Forrestal entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, for her second major overhaul in six years. Modifications planned for this yard period included changing the arresting cable system from six arresting cables to four arresting cables, as well as the removal of the four forward gun mounts, along with their sponsons and their directors. Improvements included installing a new SPS-43 air search radar system on the starboard side of the island, an anticipated installation of a Fresnel Lens Landing Mirror System on the port side aft to greatly improve aircraft approach and landing safety, and the pilot/LSO landing aid television (PLAT) system. Back aft on the fantail and hangar bay 3, an aircraft engine test facility was installed. On the bow area of the flight deck, new Van Zelm bridle arrestors were installed. This major overhaul was completed in 131 days, finishing on September 13, 1962.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fire, Fire, Fire on the Flight Deck Aft; This Is Not a Drill"
Copyright © 2018 Kenneth V. Killmeyer.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Author's Note, xxiii,
Chapter 1 The Beginning, 1,
Chapter 2 Training, 22,
Chapter 3 Transit to Combat, 72,
Chapter 4 Combat, 89,
Chapter 5 Zuni, 217,
Chapter 6 Fire on the Flight Deck, 237,
Chapter 7 Not Enough Time, 323,
Chapter 8 Fighting Fire to Save Their Ship, 507,
Chapter 9 Fires Are Out, 697,
Chapter 10 The Damage, 732,
Chapter 11 Transit Home, 746,
Chapter 12 Home Again, 761,
Chapter 13 The Repair, 770,
Chapter 14 Preparation to Return, 809,
Chapter 15 USS Forrestal Is Back, 824,
Drawing Spotting Of Aircraft July 29, 1967 217 & Larger View, 832,
Glossary of Terms, Colloquialisms, and Abbreviations, 833,
About the Author, 873,