The USS Belleau Wood(CVL-24) was an Independence-class aircraft carrier serving the United States Navy. She was named for a forest in northern France where U.S. Marines fought a month-long battle against German forces in June of 1918.
The Belleau Wood was one of nine Independence-class vessels that were converted during construction from hulls that were intended for Cleveland-class light cruisers. Displacing 11,000 tons and measuring just over 630 feet, these vessels became, along with the larger Essex-class carriers, the mainstay of the U.S. Navy during the war against the Japanese Empire between 1942 and 1945.
The vessel was laid down as the USS New Havenby the New York Shipbuilding Corporationof Camden, New Jersey. Redesignated in February 1942, Belleau Woodwas launched in December of that year and commissioned at the end of March 1943. The carrier's first commander upon her commissioning was Captain A.M. Pride.
Repairs and Upgrades
Even "light" carriers such as Belleau Wood require extensive maintenance and repairs at frequent intervals. During her time in the water, Belleau Wood underwent major overhauls at Pearl Harbor during the month of July 1944 and at Hunters Point near San Francisco between November 1944 and January 1945.
Belleau Wood suffered battle damage on 30 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf when a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashed on her aft flight deck, setting off explosive ordinance and killing over 90 crewmen. Temporary repairs were made at Ulithi between 2 and 11 November 1944.
During 1946, Belleau Wood was docked at various naval facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area as she was prepared for deactivation.
Because of the urgency of the war, Belleau Wood's shakedown trials were brief. After reporting to the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Belleau Wood proceeded to the South Pacific. During the autumn months of 1943, the crew and pilots of the Belleau Wood engaged the enemy at Baker Island, Tarawa and Wake, then joined Task Force 50 for the invasion of Japanese strongholds on the Gilbert Islands.
Over the next several months, Belleau Wood took part in operations against Japanese positions on Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, the Marianas, Jayapura (formerly Hollandia on New Guinea) and both Bonin raids. During the two day Battle of the Philippine Sea in June of 1944, the pilots of Belleau Wood sent the Japanese carrier IJN Hiyo to the bottom.
During the last half of 1944, Belleau Wood was active in the South China Sea; her crew and pilots participated in attacks on Japanese positions on the Palaus, Okinawa, Luzon and Formosa (present-day Taiwan) as well as the Battle of Cape Engano in the Philippines.
Belleau Wood remained active until the end of the war, taking part in the last strikes against the Japanese home islands. A pilot from the carrier downed the last Japanese plane to be destroyed prior to the Japanese surrender.
In the months immediately following the end of the war, Belleau Wood took part in Operation Magic Carpet, transporting several thousand servicemen and women home from occupied Japan and Guam between October 1945 and January 1946. She was stored at the Alameda Naval Air Station in January 1947, remaining there until being loaned to the French Navy in 1953. Upon her return to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in October 1960, she was stricken from the Navy list and sold to the Boston Metals Company seven weeks later.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24)
The use of asbestos throughout the construction of marine vessels was mandated by federal law in the mid-1930s. Prior to that time, asbestos had been used primarily in the engine room around boilers and steam turbines. After the Morro Castle tragedy, during which over 120 crew and passengers died, Congress passed legislation requiring that asbestos insulation be used throughout all ships - a safety measure that ironically had the result of exposing hundreds of thousands of Navy, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard, and civilian sailors to high levels of asbestos, an exposure strongly linked to the development of mesothelioma in individuals who inhale the asbestos fibers.
There are a number of types of mesothelioma, but the most common forms among those exposed to asbestos fibers are pleural mesothelioma, which attacks the tissues surrounding the lungs, and peritoneal mesothelioma, which attacks the tissues around the stomach. Both of these forms of malignant mesothelioma are unfortunately very deadly, and the prognosis for mesothelioma patients is rarely positive. However, medical science is always working to find new treatments and new cures, and so mesothelioma patients should not abandon hope. Sailors, dock workers, shipfitters and others who served and worked on the Belleau Wood should know that there are options.
To help mesothelioma patients and their loved ones during a difficult time, we have created a Mesothelioma Information Kit, with extensive information about the disease, its cause, the various treatments and palliative care options, and the legal implications of a mesothelioma diagnosis. We provide this kit at absolutely no charge – to get your copy of the Mesothelioma Information Kit, simply fill in the form on this page and we will rush your copy to you, absolutely free.Sources
Francis, Timothy. "Belleau Wood I." Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b4/belleau-wood-i.htm Updated 24 February 2006. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
Friedman, Norman. U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)