The Oriskany (CV-34) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier serving the United States Navy from 1950 through the Vietnam era. She was commissioned in September 1950 under the command of Captain Percy H. Lyon.
There were a total of 24 Essex-class carriers constructed during the Second World War and the years immediately following. Oriskany's construction differed in many significant ways however, to the point that she is often considered to be of a different class altogether (Ticonderoga).
Part of the reason this happened was because construction on the vessel was suspended after her launch, when she was only 85% completed. Oriskany slid into the water in October 1945, two months after the war. By 1947, the prop-driven planes for which she had been designed were starting to be replaced by new jet aircraft (though prop-driven planes such as the 4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang would continue in service through the Korean War). Construction stopped in August 1947 while major alterations were planned. Ultimately, she became the prototype for the SCB-27 modernization that would ultimately be performed on most of the Essex-type carriers as well as their successor, the Midway-class. In addition to updated aircraft facilities (elevators, catapults and arresting gear), the vessel got a new island as well as hull blisters that added stability and allowed for greater aviation fuel storage.
Measuring 904 feet from stem to stern, Oriskany had a beam of 129 feet and displaced 30,800 tons. She was driven by four Westinghouse steam turbines and carried a crew of 2600.
Repairs and Upgrades
Eighteen months after her launch, Oriskany underwent a number of significant modifications during at the New York Naval Shipyard in March and April of 1951. From November of that year until May 1952, she returned to New York for upgrades to her flight deck, her steering system, and the command bridge.
Her next overhaul was completed at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard between April and October of 1954. From October 1958 until March 1959, Oriskany was again at San Francisco for an SBC-125-A modernization, which included the addition of an angled flight deck, steam catapults and an enclosed "hurricane bow." During her third stay at the San Francisco yard in 1961, she became the first carrier to be equipped with the new computerized Naval Tactical Data System, which essentially automated the task of gathering information about enemy craft.
From March 1964 until April 1965, Oriskany underwent an overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
From November 1966 until March 1967, Oriskany was in the San Francisco yard for repairs following a major shipboard fire. After a Vietnam deployment, she returned to San Francisco for an eight-month maintenance cycle.
Oriskany was finally decommissioned at Bremerton in 1976 and put into mothballs. She was sold to a start-up company at Mare Island for scrap in 1995, but the US government repossessed the vessel when the company failed to make adequate progress on her disassembly. She was ultimately sunk in 2004 in order to form an artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Coast.
Oriskany's first deployment took her to the Mediterranean in 1950. In May 1952, she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, ultimately joining Task Force 77 off the coast of Korea. After her one combat tour of Korea, Oriskany returned home, then back to Korea for peacekeeping duties after the cease-fire in the summer of 1953.
The next several years were spent alternating periods of operations along the West Coast and deployments to the Far East. During the late 1960s, she made a number of combat deployments to Vietnam.
She was decommissioned in 1976 and was laid up at Bremerton until disposed of in the 1990s.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Oriskany (CV-34)
The major event during Oriskany's career that would have posed the greatest asbestos risk occurred in late October 1966 off the coast of Vietnam, in which a magnesium parachute flare exploded in a hangar bay. The tragedy occurred when a novice seaman accidentally lighted the flare, then tossed it into a locker; this caused several others to explode as well. Forty-four crewmen, including a number of experienced combat pilots, were killed in the mishap.
Installing asbestos insulation in the design of marine vessels was required by law in the US in the 1930s, after a fire at sea on a luxury liner killed 137 people. When an asbestos-based product is damaged it becomes friable, which means that fibers can be broken off and escape into the atmosphere, where they can be inhaled or ingested by crewmen and dockworkers, increasing the chances of contracting 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).