USS Oriskany (CV-34)

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USS Oriskany
Career (United States)
Name: USS Oriskany
Namesake: Battle of Oriskany, 1777
Ordered: 7 August 1942
Builder: New York Naval Shipyard
Laid down: 1 May 1944
Launched: 13 October 1945
Commissioned: 25 September 1950
Decommissioned: 2 January 1957
Recommissioned: 7 March 1959
Decommissioned: 30 September 1976
Reclassified: CV to CVA 1 October 1952
CVA to CV 30 June 1976
see SCB-27 and SCB-125 for conversion information
Struck: 25 July 1989
Nickname: Mighty O, the O-boat
Fate: Sunk as part of a pilot program to create artificial reefs 17 May 2006
General characteristics
Class & type: Essex-class aircraft carrier(Ticonderoga class)
Displacement: As built:
30,800 tons
Length: As built:
888 ft (271 m)911/ft. overall 23 foot catapult extensions
Beam: As built:
129 ft (39 m) overall
Draft: As built:
30 ft 6 in (9.30 m) maximum
Propulsion: As designed:
8 × boilers 565 psi (3,900 kPa) 850 °F (450 °C)
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp (110 MW)
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h)
Range: 20,000 nautical miles (37,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)
Complement: As built:
2,600 officers and enlisted
Armor: As built:
2.5 to 4 inch (60 to 100 mm) belt
1.5 inch (40 mm) hangar and protectice decks
4 inch (100 mm) bulkheads
1.5 inch (40 mm) STS top and sides of pilot house
2.5 inch (60 mm) top of steering gear
Aircraft carried: As built:
90–100 aircraft
1 × deck-edge elevator
2 × centerline elevators

USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) – nicknamed Mighty O,[1] and occasionally referred to as the O-boat – was one of the few Essex-class aircraft carriers completed only after World War II for the United States Navy. The ship was named for the Revolutionary War Battle of Oriskany.

The history of Oriskany differs considerably from that of her sister ships. Originally designed as a "long-hulled" Essex-class ship (considered by some authorities to be a separate class, the Ticonderoga class) her construction was suspended in 1947. She eventually was commissioned in 1950 after conversion to an updated design called SCB-27 ("27-Charlie"), which became the template for modernization of 14 other Essex-class ships. Oriskany was the final Essex-class ship completed.

She operated primarily in the Pacific into the 1970s, earning two battle stars for service in the Korean War, and five for service in the Vietnam War. In 1966 one of the worst shipboard fires since World War II broke out on Oriskany when a magnesium flare was accidentally ignited; forty-four men died in the fire.

Oriskany '​s post-service history also differs considerably from that of her sister ships. Decommissioned in 1976, she was sold for scrap in 1995, but was repossessed in 1997 because nothing was being done (lack of progress). In 2004 it was decided to sink her as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. After much environmental review and remediation to remove toxic substances, she was carefully sunk in May 2006, settling in an upright position at a depth accessible to recreational divers. As of 2008 the Oriskany is "the largest vessel ever sunk to make a reef".[2]

The Oriskany is mentioned in the 1986 film Top Gun as the ship from which the main character's father had flown during the Vietnam War. She has been featured in films such as Men of the Fighting Lady and The Bridges at Toko-Ri from 1954 and What Dreams May Come (1998).[3]

Construction and commissioning[edit]

The name "Oriskany" was originally assigned to CV-18, but that hull was renamed Wasp when the keel was laid in 1942. CV-34 was laid down on 1 May 1944 by the New York Naval Shipyard (NYNSY), launched on 13 October 1945, and sponsored by Mrs. Clarence Cannon. Construction was suspended on 12 August 1947, when the ship was approximately 85% complete. Oriskany was redesigned as the prototype for the SCB-27 modernization program. To handle the new generation of carrier aircraft, the flight deck structure was massively reinforced. Stronger elevators, more powerful hydraulic catapults, and new arresting gear were installed. The island structure was rebuilt, the anti-aircraft turrets were removed, and blisters were added to the hull. Blistering the hull (also known as adding bulges) increases the cross-sectional area of a ship's hull, thereby increasing its buoyancy and stability. It also provides increased bunker volume. In the case of the Oriskany, this would have been for aviation fuel. These features would have been crucial to a ship that had so much topside weight added after its original design. Oriskany was commissioned in the New York Naval Shipyard on 25 September 1950, Captain Percy H. Lyon in command.

Service history[edit]

1950–1956[edit]

USS Oriskany as completed, 1950.

Oriskany departed New York on 6 December 1950, for carrier qualification operations off Jacksonville, Florida, followed by a Christmas call at Newport, Rhode Island. She resumed operations off Jacksonville through 11 January 1951, when she embarked Carrier Air Group 1 for shakedown out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After major modifications at New York Naval Shipyard from 6 March to 2 April, she embarked Carrier Air Group 4 for training off Jacksonville, then departed Newport on 15 May 1951, for Mediterranean deployment with the 6th Fleet.

Having swept from ports of Italy and France to those of Greece and Turkey, from there to the shores of Tripoli, Oriskany returned to Quonset Point, Rhode Island on 4 October 1951. She entered Gravesend Bay, New York on 6 November 1951 to offload ammunition and to have her masts removed to allow passage under the East River Bridges to the New York Naval Shipyard. Overhaul included the installation of a new flight deck, steering system, and bridge. Work was complete by 15 May 1952, and the carrier steamed the next day to take on ammunition at Norfolk, Virginia from 19–22 May. She then got underway to join the Pacific Fleet, steaming via Guantanamo Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Horn, Valparaíso, and Lima, arriving San Diego, California on 21 July.

Following carrier qualifications for Carrier Air Group 19, Oriskany departed San Diego on 15 September 1952, to aid United Nations forces in Korea. She arrived Yokosuka on 17 October and joined Task Force 77 off the Korean Coast on 31 October. Her aircraft struck hard with bombing and strafing attacks against enemy supply lines and coordinated bombing missions with surface gunstrikes along the coast. Her pilots downed two Soviet-built MiG-15 jets and damaged a third on 18 November.[4]

Strikes continued through 11 February, attacking enemy artillery positions, troop emplacements, and supply dumps along the main battlefront. Following a brief upkeep period in Japan, Oriskany returned to combat on 1 March 1953. She continued in action until 29 March, called at Hong Kong, then resumed air strikes on 8 April. She departed the Korean Coast on 22 April, touched at Yokosuka, and then departed for San Diego on 2 May, arriving there on 18 May.

Following readiness training along the California coast, Oriskany departed San Francisco on 14 September to aid the 7th Fleet watching over the uneasy truce in Korea, arriving in Yokosuka on 15 October. Thereafter, she cruised the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea, and the area of the Philippines. After providing air support for Marine amphibious assault exercises at Iwo Jima, the carrier returned to San Diego on 22 April 1954. She entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard for overhaul; the overhaul was completed on 22 October, when she put to sea for the first of a series of coastal operations, and participation in the production of the Korean War-era film The Bridges at Toko-Ri, where she stood in for the escort carrier USS Savo Island.[5]

Oriskany arrived at Yokosuka on 2 April 1955, and operated with the Fast Carrier Task Force ranging from Japan and Okinawa to the Philippines. This deployment ended on 7 September, and the carrier arrived at NAS Alameda, California, on 21 September.

She cruised the California Coast while qualifying pilots of Air Group 9, then put to sea from Alameda on 11 February 1956 for another rigorous Western Pacific (WestPac) deployment.

1957–1976[edit]

Oriskany showing angled flight deck and hurricane bow.

Oriskany returned to San Francisco on 13 August 1956, and entered the shipyard to undergo the SCB-125A modernization program on 1 October. She was decommissioned there on 2 January 1957. Oriskany received a new angled flight deck, aft deck edge elevator, enlarged forward elevator, and enclosed hurricane bow. Powerful new steam catapults replaced the older hydraulic catapults. The wooden flight deck planking was also replaced with aluminum planking.

Oriskany was recommissioned at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard on 7 March 1959, Captain James Mahan Wright was in command. Four days later she departed for shakedown out of San Diego with Carrier Air Group 14 embarked. Operations along the West Coast continued until 14 May 1960, when she again deployed to WestPac, returning to San Diego on 15 December. She entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard on 30 March 1961, for a five-month overhaul that included the first aircraft carrier installation of the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS).

Oriskany departed the shipyard on 9 September for underway training out of San Diego until 7 June 1962, when she again deployed to the Far East with Carrier Air Group 16 embarked. She returned to San Diego on 17 December for operational readiness training off the West Coast.

The carrier was again stationed out of San Diego on 1 August 1963, for Far Eastern waters, with Carrier Air Group 16 embarked. She arrived at Subic Bay on 31 August 1963, and from there steamed to Japan. She was at the port of Iwakuni, Japan, on the morning of 31 October, en route to the coast of South Vietnam. There, she stood by for any eventuality as word was received of the coup d'état taking place in Saigon. When the crisis abated, the carrier resumed operations from Japanese ports.

Oriskany returned to San Diego on 10 March 1964. After overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, she steamed for refresher training out of San Diego, followed by qualifications for Carrier Air Wing 16. During this period her flight deck was used to test the E-2 Hawkeye, the Navy's new airborne early warning aircraft. She also provided orientation to senior officers of eight allied nations.

Oriskany on fire.

Oriskany departed San Diego on 5 April 1965, for WestPac, arriving at Subic Bay on 27 April. By this time more United States troops had landed in the Republic of South Vietnam to support ARVN (Army Republic of South Vietnam) troops against increased communist pressure. Oriskany added her weight to the massive American naval strength supporting South Vietnam. In combat operations that brought her and embarked Carrier Air Wing 16 the Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service from 10 May to 6 December 1965, she carried out over 12,000 combat sorties and delivered nearly 10,000 tons (9,100 tonnes) of ordnance against enemy forces. She departed Subic Bay on 30 November, and returned to San Diego on 16 December.

Oriskany again left San Diego for the Far East on 26 May 1966, arriving in Yokosuka, Japan, on 14 June. She steamed for "Dixie Station" off South Vietnam on 27 June. Wearisome days and nights of combat shifted to "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin on 8 July. In the following months there were brief respites for replenishment in Subic Bay, then back into the action that saw her launch 7,794 combat sorties.

An F-8 Crusader intercepts a Tu-95 "Bear-D". Oriskany, from which the F-8 launched, can be seen in the background.
Oriskany comes alongside at the end of her final WESTPAC cruise in March 1976

The carrier was on station the morning of 26 October 1966, when a fire erupted on the starboard side of the ship's forward hangar bay and raced through five decks, killing 44 men. Many who lost their lives were veteran combat pilots who had flown raids over Vietnam a few hours earlier. Oriskany had been put in danger when a magnesium parachute flare exploded in the forward flare locker of Hangar Bay 1, beneath the carrier's flight deck.[6] Subsequent investigation showed the flare functioned as designed and the cause of the fire was human error. A seaman accidentally ignited the flare, and in a panic, threw it into the weapons locker where the flares were kept for storage, instead of throwing it over the side into the water; this ignited all the flares in the locker and caused horrific damage. Some of her crewmen jettisoned heavy bombs which lay within reach of the flames, while others wheeled planes out of danger, rescued pilots, and helped quell the blaze throughout the next three hours. Medical assistance was rushed to the carrier from aircraft carriers Constellation and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later investigation by Captain John H Iarrobino of the Oriskany and analysis by the Naval Ammunition Depot in Crane, Indiana, showed that one in every thousand flares could ignite accidentally if jarred. Five crew members were court-martialed as a result of the incident but were acquitted. After this incident and others, the flare design used by the Navy was changed to a safer design immune to accidental ignition, and crews were increased to stabilize numbers so all activities could be properly supervised.[7]

Oriskany steamed to Subic Bay on 28 October, where victims of the fire were transferred to waiting aircraft for transportation to the United States. A week later the carrier departed for San Diego, arriving on 16 November. San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard completed repairs on 23 March 1967, and Oriskany, with Carrier Air Wing 16 embarked, underwent training. She then was stationed out of San Francisco Bay on 16 June to take station in waters off Vietnam. Designated flagship of Carrier Division 9 in Subic Bay on 9 July, she commenced "Yankee Station" operations on 14 July. On 26 July she provided medical assistance to the fire-ravaged attack carrier USS Forrestal.

On 26 October 1967, then–Lieutenant Commander John McCain flew off Oriskany in an A-4 Skyhawk on his 23rd bombing mission of the Vietnam War. He was shot down that day and was a prisoner of war until January 1973.

Oriskany returned to Naval Air Station Alameda on 31 January 1968, and entered San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard on 7 February for an eight-month overhaul. Upon completion of work, the carrier underwent refresher training and flight qualifications before deploying to the Far East in April 1969. On September 20, 1969, Captain John A. Gillcrist took over as the commanding officer.[8] From 16 April 1969, Carrier Air Wing 19 made six deployments aboard the Oriskany (the first four to support the Vietnam War in the Gulf of Tonkin until the end of the war in 1973). On September 11, 1970 Captain Frank S. Haak relieved Captain Gillcrist, and became the new commanding officer.[9] The final deployment being to Western Pacific from 16 September 1975 – 3 March 1976.[10]

1976–2004[edit]

Oriskany (second aircraft carrier from bottom) laid up at Puget Sound in 1992; alongside her are (from bottom) Hornet, New Jersey, Bennington and Midway

Following 25 years of service, Oriskany was decommissioned on 30 September 1976, and laid up for long-term storage in Bremerton, Washington, to be maintained as a mobilization asset. Reagan Administration proposals to reactivate Oriskany were rejected by the United States Congress on the basis of her poor material condition and limited air wing capability. The cost of reactivation was estimated at $520 million for FY 1982 ($1 billion in 2014[11]).[12] At the end of the Cold War and the subsequent reduction of the U.S. Navy's active force, Oriskany was recognized as being obsolete and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1989. Her hull was stripped of all equipment that could be reused or recycled. The ship's bell (removed during decommissioning in 1976) is now on display in Oriskany, New York, and various parts were scavenged to support the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, California and other Navy ship museums.

Oriskany received two battle stars for Korean War service and ten for Vietnam War service.

In the early 1990s, a group of businessmen from Japan wanted to buy the Oriskany and display her in Tokyo Bay as part of a planned "City of America" exhibit.[13] Congressional legislation was initiated to transfer Oriskany, but the project failed due to lack of financing.

Oriskany was sold for scrap by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service on 9 September 1995 to Pegasus International, a start-up company at the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. The contractor towed the ship from Bremerton to Vallejo, but the contract was terminated for default on 30 July 1997, because of lack of progress. While berthed at Mare Island in rusted and decrepit condition, she was used as a setting for the Robin Williams film, What Dreams May Come (1998) as part of the representation of Hell.

The Navy took back possession of the ship and after a few more years at the former Mare Island Navy Yard, she was towed in 1999 to the Maritime Administration's Beaumont Reserve Fleet in Beaumont, Texas, for storage pending availability of funding for her disposal.

2004 – artificial reef[edit]

Oriskany arrives at Pensacola in December 2004. The original intention was for the ship to be sunk in the summer of 2005, but an EPA assessment meant that more work was required to make her environmentally safe for disposal.

The Navy announced on 5 April 2004, that it would transfer the former aircraft carrier to the State of Florida for use as an artificial reef. In September 2003 the Navy awarded a contract to Resolve Marine Group/ESCO Marine Joint Venture for the environmental remediation work necessary for sinking the ship as an artificial reef. The contractor towed the ship to Corpus Christi, TX in January 2004 and completed the environmental preparation work in December 2004.

Oriskany was the first United States warship slated to become an artificial reef, under authority granted by the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 108-136). Oriskany was towed to Pensacola in December 2004 and was originally scheduled to be sunk with controlled charges 24 mi (39 km) south of Pensacola by June 2005. Exhaustive ecological and human health studies were conducted by Navy scientists in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demonstrate no adverse impact from reefing the ship. Failure to gain EPA approval caused a delay, so Oriskany was then towed back to Texas in June to ride out the 2005 hurricane season.[14] Completion and peer review of a complex Prospective Risk Assessment Model developed in consultation with EPA, the first for any ship reefing project, was necessary to support EPA's February 2006 decision to issue a risk-based PCB disposal approval for the estimated 750 lb (340 kg) of polychlorinated biphenyls contained in solid form, mostly integral in the insulation layers of the electrical cabling throughout the ship.

Based on EPA's approval, after a public comment period, the ship was towed to Pensacola, FL in March 2006 for final preparations for sinking under a Navy contract. A team of Navy personnel accomplished the sinking of the ship on 17 May 2006, supported by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Escambia County Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Pensacola Police Department, and several sheriff departments of Escambia County and surrounding counties. A Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from Panama City, FL detonated C-4 explosive charges of approximately 500 lb (230 kg) net explosive weight, strategically placed on 22 sea connection pipes in various machinery spaces. The ship sank stern first 37 minutes after detonation in 210 ft (64 m) of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

As was intended, the ship came to rest lying upright. The flight deck was at a depth of 135 ft (41 m), and its island rose to 70 ft (21 m).[15] Following Hurricane Gustav, the ship shifted 10 feet deeper leaving the flight deck at 145 feet (44 m).[16] The island structure is accessible to recreational divers, but the flight deck will require additional training and equipment.[16] It is now popularly known as the "Great Carrier Reef",[17] a reference to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The Times of London named the Oriskany as one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world.[18] The New York Times Web video Diving the U.S.S. Oriskany explored the Oriskany wreck two years after its sinking.[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://navysite.de/cruisebooks/cv34-70/223.htm
  2. ^ Olsen, Erik (19 August 2008). "Out of Commission Above Water, but Not Below It". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Williams, Carol J. (May 10, 2006). "Carrier Will Sink to Serve". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved September 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ Jordan, Corey C. (2001). "Panthers Prevail". A Frozen Hell... The Air War Over Korea. 
  5. ^ US Military Aviation - Images US Navy late 40s-50s
  6. ^ "The on-board drama of the fire that racked 'Oriskany' - A Carrier's Agony — Hell Afloat". Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Over the Beach, by Zalin Grant, pages 101–103
  8. ^ http://navysite.de/cruisebooks/cv34-70/016.htm
  9. ^ http://navysite.de/cruisebooks/cv34-70/222.htm
  10. ^ Gonavy.jp, Carrier Air Wing 19
  11. ^ Inflated values automatically calculated.
  12. ^ United States General Accounting Office (1981-04-20). "Update of the Issues Concerning the Proposed Reactivation of the Iowa class battleships and the Aircraft Carrier Oriskany" (PDF). United States General Accounting Office. pp. 3–18. Retrieved 2005-05-25. 
  13. ^ Japanese plan to buy U.S. carrier
  14. ^ [1][dead link]
  15. ^ Barnette, Michael C. (2008). Florida's Shipwrecks. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-5413-6. 
  16. ^ a b "Oriskany's Shift Endangers Pensacola Scuba Divers". FirstCoastNews.com. Associated Press. 2008-11-11. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  17. ^ "Warship now a home for fish: U.S.S. Oriskany, The Great Carrier Reef, is largest vessel ever sunk to make a reef | WcP Blog". Worldculturepictorial.com. 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  18. ^ Ecott, Tim (2007-03-03). "World's best wreck diving". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  19. ^ Diving the U.S.S. Oriskany

Further reading[edit]

Art Gilberson. The Mighty O: USS Oriskany CVA-34. Patriot Media Publishing, 2011.

External links[edit]