The USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier constructed for WWII and serving in the US Navy between 1945 and 1966. She was commissioned ten weeks before the surrender of the Japanese Empire and thus was too late to see combat service in the Pacific, but did participate in significant Cold War events during her twenty-one years at sea. She was named for a naval battle that took place during the War of 1812 and was the second naval vessel to bear the name.
Champlain was built at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard between March 1943 and November 1944. Being of the "long-hull" type, she was 888 feet long, 93 feet wide at her waterline and displaced 27,100 tons. She was propelled by four Westinghouse geared steam turbines and eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers (the latter company is still in existence and maintains headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina). With a crew compliment of 3,448 officers and seamen, she was capable of handling up to 100 planes.
Repairs and Upgrades
The Champlain was in some ways a relic throughout her career. She did undergo a two-year SCB-27 conversion at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company between August 1950 and September 1952 which consisted of an entire rebuild of her superstructure, enabling her to launch and recover the new jet fighters coming into service during this period. However, she never underwent the SCB-125 conversion, which would have given her a modern, enclosed "hurricane bow" and an angled flight deck, which enables more advanced carriers to land one aircraft as another is taking off. This made her the last operational US Naval carrier with an axial flight deck and an open bow, differing little from the configuration of carriers in use during WWII. (This earned her the nickname "The Straightest and the Greatest.")
During the summer of 1957, Champlain underwent conversion for anti-submarine warfare. Another overhaul was undertaken at Mayport between November 1958 and June 1959.
Entering service in June 1945, Champlain did not see action in the Pacific, but did serve as a transport ship during Operation Magic Carpet. During this time, she set a speed record for crossing the Atlantic, making the voyage from West Africa to NS Norfolk in four days and nine hours.
After Magic Carpet, Champlain was mothballed at Norfolk starting in February 1947. She returned to service following modernization in September 1952. Following shakedown trials in the Caribbean, Champlain got underway for Korea, sailing eastward by way of the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. After a five-month combat tour, she returned to the states sailing westward by the same route, dropping anchor at Mayport, Florida in December 1953.
During the rest of the 1950s, Champlain was deployed to the Mediterranean several times for NATO exercises and patrols as Cold War tensions rose in that region. Champlain' s home port was changed to Quonset Point, Rhode Island in September 1959.
1962 was particularly eventful; in May, Champlain was the recovery vessel for the first manned US space mission, Freedom 7. Six months later, she was ordered to Cuba as part of the blockade during the October missile crisis. Less than a year later, she was back in the Caribbean to provide humanitarian relief to Haitians after Hurricane Flora.
Champlain's last Mediterranean deployment was in 1964. The following year, the Navy proposed modernizations for the aging vessel, but then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara refused to authorize it, considering Champlain obsolete.
Champlain ended her career as the recovery ship for the Gemini V space mission in August 1965. After this, she was ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to stand down, and was decommissioned in May 1966. She was sold for scrap six months later.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Lake Champlain (CV-39)
Aside from the usual asbestos risks aboard naval vessels of that period, Champlain did not suffer any serious mishaps or battle damage that would have exacerbated exposure during her service.
After medical science proved that asbestos insulation was a health hazard to everyone breathing it, the Navy began finding substitutes for the installation of this substance in ships and shore facilities, and by the early 1980s asbestos was usually not found. Navy ships like Champlain used asbestos insulation heavily in ship's boilers and engine spaces, and in fireproofing all over the vessel. When asbestos is inhaled or swallowed, tiny fibers find their way to the mesothelium, a narrow body of cells which wraps around and buffers the heart, lungs, and stomach, and in time this foreign material leads to mesothelioma cancer.
At the present time doctors have not yet found a mesothelioma cure; however, dedicated doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker are always working to create new treatment modalities. To aid malignant mesothelioma sufferers in finding the right care and treatment choices, we have created a free Mesothelioma Treatment Guide with information about conventional and experimental treatments, clinics, and doctors. Information about mesothelioma is not easy to unearth, so we have produced a mesothelioma information packet with complete information on legal options and medical options, as well as a list of mesothelioma clinics in the United States. All you have to do is fill in the form on this page and we will send your free package to you.Sources
Friedman, Norman. US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).