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USS Forrestal

(CV-59) the first U.S. "super-carrier"

USS Forrestal

Basic Facts

Builder Newport News Shipbuilding
Ordered July 12, 1951
Keel Laid July 14, 1952
Launched December 11, 1954
Commissioned October 1, 1955

Namesake James Vincent Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense

Displacement 81,101 tons (fully loaded)
Total Length 1,067 feet
Beam 129 feet 4 inches (at waterline)
Draft 37 feet
Maximum Flight Deck Width 252 feet

Engines 4 steam turbines
Top Speed
33 knots

Crew 552 officers; 4,988 enlisted
Aircraft approximately 85

When commissioned, the Forrestal was the largest warship ever constructed and the first specifically designed and built to accomodate jet aircraft.

Service History

The Forrestal spent her first twelve years with the 2nd and 6th Fleets, with deployments in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. During that period she served primarily as a training and "show the flag" ship, although she was on "standby" in the eastern Atlantic during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Lebanon Crisis of 1958 and in the western Atlantic during the Brazilian crisis of 1964.

Forrestal during NATO naval exercises in 1957
Forrestal during NATO naval exercises in 1957

The Forrestal made both naval and aviation history on November 8, 1963, when a C-130 Hercules landed on its flight deck. The largest and heaviest airplane to ever land on an aircarft carrier, the Hercules made a total of 21 full-stop landings and takeoffs onto and off the Forrestal, on the 8th, 21st, and 22nd. The purpose of the landings and takeoffs was to determine the feasibility of using a Hercules as a "Carrier Onboard Delivery" (COD) aircraft, one capable of delivering a full compliment of supplies to a carrier operating in mid-ocean. Although the plane had no trouble landing or taking off from the Forrestal, its size proved to be more of an obstacle than a benefit and the Navy chose to develop a COD aircraft specifically designed for use on carriers.

C-130 on the Forrestal's flight deck
C-130 on the Forrestal's flight deck

On June 6, 1967, the Forrestal departed from its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, with Carrie Air Wing 17 and about 80 aircraft aboard. She arrived in the Gulf of Tonkin, off Vietnam, on July 25 and immediately began combat operations. On June 29, while planes were being readied for their missions over Vietnam, a 5-inch ZUNI rocket was somehow fired from an F-4 Phantom parked on the starboard side of the ship. The rocket hit an A-4 Skyhawk parked on the port side, dislodging and rupturing a 400-gallon external fuel tank. The burning jet fuel was bad enough, but the rocket impact also caused a 1000-pound bomb to drop off the Skyhawk, and that bomb exploded about 90 seconds after the initial rocket impact. That explosion resulted in a chain reaction and over a dozen more 1,000- and 500-pound bombs detonated within just a few minutes. Some of those subsequent explosions punched holes through the 3-inch armor plating of the flight deck, allowing the burning fuel to get into the aft hanger bay, causing even more explosions (of ammunition and small warheads). It took some 13 hours for crewmen to fully extinguish all of the fires, by which time 134 men had been killed and another 161 had been injured. It remains the worst accident ever suffered by a U.S. Navy surface vessel in terms of both loss of life and extent of damage.

last firefighting efforts on July 29, 1967
last firefighting efforts on July 29, 1967

Despite suffering serious damage to her flight deck and aft hangar bay, the Forrestal was able to sail back to Norfolk under her own power, and reached her home port on September 15. She returned to active service on April 8, 1968, and remained a key part of the U.S. Navy's fleet until being decommissioned on September 11, 1993.

Attempts to turn the Forrestal into a museum failed, and in 2003 the U.S. Navy slated the ship for sinking as an artificial reef. That plan also failed, and in 2013 the ship was sold to a Brownsville, Texas, firm as "scrap metal."

Unofficial US Navy Site
U.S.S. Forrestal Association
The Virtual Wall

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The Robinson Library >> Naval Science >> Ships of the United States Navy, A-Z

This page was last updated on 02/16/2018.