The Leyte (CV-32) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier serving the United States Navy during the early years of the Cold War. She was commissioned in April 1946 under the command of Captain Henry MacComsey.
One of the "long-hull" Essex-type carriers, Leyte was built at the Newport News Shipbuilding company yard near Norfolk, Virginia between February 1944 and August 1945. Initially named Crown Point, she was renamed in commemoration of the World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Essex-class was the most numerous of US naval carriers; 24 were built between 1941 and 1950, and the last one (USS Lexington) was not retired until 1991. These vessels were powered by Westinghouse steam turbines; their eight boilers were manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox. At the time of her launch, Leyte was 888 feet long and measured nearly 150 feet across at flight deck level. She carried up to 100 aircraft and a crew compliment of 3,448 officers and seamen.
Repairs and Upgrades
Other than periodic scheduled maintenance, Leyte never underwent significant modernizations, retaining her World War II configuration until the day she was decommissioned. However, while laid up at the Boston Navy Yard between February 1953 and January 1954, she did receive minor upgrades as part of a process to convert her for anti-submarine warfare.
Following her single Korean War deployment, Leyte underwent maintenance at the Norfolk Navy Yard from late February 1951 until the following August. Just prior to her retirement, Leyte underwent a pre-inactivation overhaul to make her ready in case of a national emergency.
During her shakedown trials in the late spring and summer of 1946, Leyte's first mission was a diplomatic one as she accompanied the battleship USS Wisconsin to South America. The years leading up to the Korean War were spent in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, participating in battle-readiness exercises and "showing the flag" as Cold War tensions ratcheted up in that part of the world.
With the outbreak of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, Leyte was ordered home. After two weeks of outfitting and last-minute repairs and maintenance at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Leyte got underway for the Far East. Of historical interest was the presence of an air wing that included the US Navy's first African-American fighter pilot, Ensign J.L. Brown, who was killed in action in December 1950.
Following the Korean conflict, Leyte returned to Norfolk; after a six-month maintenance period, she resumed her deployments to the Mediterranean until February 1953. Following her conversion for anti-submarine warfare, Leyte remained in operation along the Atlantic coast and the Caribbean until decommissioned in May 1959.
Leyte was sold to a shipbreaker in September 1970.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Leyte (CVN-32)
Only one incident took place aboard Leyte that would have resulted in additional asbestos exposure (aside from the everyday risks aboard every vessel), an accident that occurred in mid-October during conversion work at the Boston Navy Yard. An explosion occurred in the port catapult machinery room, resulting in a major fire and almost 70 casualties.
The installation of asbestos in the design of marine ships was mandated by law in the US in the 1930s, after a fire at sea on the SS Morro Castle caused the deaths of 137 passengers and crew. Navy ships like Leyte used asbestos insulation frequently in boilers and engine spaces, and to insulate compartments all through the vessel. Asbestos has been known for centuries for its resistance to fire and heat, but it was also demonstrated to be the primary cause of life-threatening conditions such as asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma.
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Friedman, Norman. U.S. 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).