The USS Forrestal (CV-59) was the first of the post-World War II "supercarriers" serving in the US Navy. The lead ship of her class, she was the first carrier built especially to accommodate jet aircraft. She was commissioned in December 1954 under the command of Captain R.L. Johnson.
As jet-powered aircraft made prop-driven planes obsolete in the years immediately following WWII, many carriers were modified to accommodate them – but the need for a specially-designed carrier was soon apparent. The Forrestal was ordered by the Navy in July 1951. Construction on the mammoth vessel began almost exactly one year later at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company in Virginia. The completed vessel was launched in December of 1954.
The first US carrier to be designed with an angled flight deck and integrated steam catapults, Forrestal displaced over 81,000 tons when fully loaded, and measured 1,067 feet in length at flight deck level. Her crew compliment consisted of 552 officers and 4,988 seamen.
Repairs and Upgrades
A massive carrier such as Forrestal requires frequent extended periods in port and in drydock for repairs, upgrades and refits. This is particularly true in light of rapid changes in technology and tactics. During her first yard period in 1959, the carrier underwent and overhaul and refit that included new aviation, command and control systems.
The vessel suffered two serious fires, one in 1967 and the other in 1972. Repairs for damages from the first fire were completed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard between September 1967 and April 1968. After the second incident, the Forrestal was sent to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine, where she remained from July through September of 1972.
Forrestal underwent a nine month overhaul in 1977, which was completed in September of that year.
From January 1983 until May 1985, the Forrestal was laid up at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). The ship was essentially gutted (it is likely asbestos was removed at this time) and virtually all equipment and facilities were upgraded or replaced.
In September 1990, immediately following a "restricted availability" in drydock the previous summer, the Forrestal entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for repairs and alterations that would allow her to accommodate the new F/A-18 Hornet.
On 14 September 1992, Forrestal reported to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to begin a complex overhaul following her redesignation as a training vessel. However, the expense was too great, and she was decommissioned a year later.
Initially based in Norfolk, Forrestal made several trips to the Mediterranean and northern Europe for NATO exercises, tests and diplomatic missions during her first years. She was sent to the Gulf of Tonkin in 1967, then returned to her Mediterranean deployments after 1968, operating along the east coast between deployments.
Her final years were spent in a number of different ways, including missions to the Arabian Sea and the North African coast. She was decommissioned in September 1993, and as of 2010 is laid up at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Inactive Ship Facility.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Forrestal (CV-59)
The Forrestal has been nicknamed the "Forrest Fire" and "Firestal" due to the fact that several fires have broken out aboard her over the years – begging the question of just how useful the many thousands of pounds of asbestos insulation really was. Fires and other damages resulting from combat and training accidents can result in the release of asbestos fibers, heightening the already high risk of exposure. The most infamous incident aboard the Forrestal occurred in July 1967 during a Vietnam deployment. A rocket from one of the fighter planes accidentally misfired, hitting the fuel tank of a second aircraft and causing a massive fire that took several hours to contain. There here nearly three hundred casualties as a result; in addition, 21 aircraft were destroyed.
A second fire occurred while the Forrestal was tied up at Pier 12 in Norfolk in July 1972. The fire broke out in a computer room beneath the flight deck; containing the fire required cutting a hole in the flight deck in order to pump water into the room. Although no lives were lost, all computer equipment was destroyed and the vessel required $7 million worth of repairs. A third fire occurred in October 1989 in a primary command and trunk space, injuring 11 and resulting in $2.5 million in damage.
Installing asbestos fireproofing in the design of marine vessels was required by law in the United States in the 1930s, after a deadly fire on a cruise ship caused the deaths of 137 passengers and crew. Forrestal made use of asbestos heavily, especially in ship's boilers and engineering compartments, and to insulate pipes all over the ship. When this asbestos became friable, it could lodge in the lungs of those who breathed it, leading to the development of mesothelioma.
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Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).
N/A. "USS Forrestal (CVA-59, later CV-59 and AVT-59), 1955-__" Naval Historical Center. (http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-f/cva59.htm) Updated 21 September 2001. Retrieved 14 December 2010.