The USS Tarawa (CV-40) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier serving the United States Navy, and was one of twenty-four such carriers. Although Essex-class carriers were the foundation of the US Navy's carrier strength though the Vietnam era, Tarawa's career was relatively short, spanning only fifteen years. Tarawa was commissioned in December 1945 under the command of Captain Alvin Malstrom.
Tarawa was built at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard between March 1944 and May 1945. 888 feet long and 147 feet wide at flight deck level, the carrier displaced over 27,000 tons. Her power plant consisted of eight boilers manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox (now owned by Siemens AG) and four geared steam turbines from Westinghouse.
Capable of carrying up to 100 prop-driven planes, she had a crew compliment of 3448 officers and seamen.
Repairs and Upgrades
Unlike other Essex-type carriers, Tarawa was never extensively modernized or altered after World War II. Like most vessels, she underwent a brief yard period following her shakedown trials (known as a "post-shakedown availability") at the facility where she was built in June of 1946.
After a year-and-a-half in mothballs, Tarawa was reactivated in November 1950. On October 1952, she began undergoing conversion to an attack aircraft carrier and was redesignated as CVA-40.
In December 1955, she was ordered to the Boston Naval Shipyard for a second conversion, this time for anti-submarine warfare. Yard work continued into the following summer. Tarawa underwent no further major work or repairs for the remainder of her career.
After shakedown trials off the coast of Cuba, Tarawa underwent a post-shakedown availability, then got underway from Norfolk for the Pacific in the summer of 1946. During her seven months in the former combat zones, the vessel carried out routine operations, including war games. Returning to San Francisco in April 1947, she remained in operation along the California coast until September 1948. At the point, she left San Diego for a circumnavigation of the globe, sailing westward and arriving at back NS Norfolk the following February.
After eighteen months in reserve status, Tarawa was reactivated in November 1950 for the Korean War. Her primary function during the conflict, however, was to replace carriers in the Atlantic and Mediterranean that had been ordered to the combat zone. Tarawa eventually made it to Korea over a year after the cease-fire was in place.
That trip to Korea was her last voyage to Asian waters. She returned to the Atlantic after six months in the Far East in September 1954. Her remaining years were spent carrying out routine missions to the Atlantic and Caribbean out of NS Norfolk and NS Quonset (Rhode Island). The high point of those years was her participation in Operation Argus, a series of high-atmosphere nuclear tests during the late summer of 1958.
Following her deactivation, Tarawa was laid up at the Inactive Ship Facility in Philadelphia until October 1968. Her hulk was sold to Boston Metals Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Tarawa (CV-40)
Beyond the usual asbestos risks associated with marine vessels of that time, there were no serious events aboard Tarawa during her career that would have exacerbated such risks.
The use of asbestos insulation in the construction of oceangoing vessels was ordered by Congress in the 1930s, after a fire at sea aboard a luxury liner caused the deaths of more than 100 passengers and crew. Tarawa made use of asbestos-containing materials heavily in engines and engine spaces, and in fireproofing all through the vessel. The mineral asbestos has long been known for its resistance to fire and heat; however, it has also been demonstrated to be the only known cause of such serious illnesses like lung cancer and peritoneal 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).