Carrier Forrestal Headed For Scrap Heap


The decommisioned carrier Forrestal, the first of the Navy’s “supercarriers” and a technological marvel when it was launched in the 1950s, will begin its final journey on February 4th when it is towed out of Philadelphia for a trip to Brownsville, Texas, where the ship will be dismantled and recycled.

The Navy announced on Friday that the 1,067-foot carrier will be towed down the Delaware River, along the eastern seaboard, and across the Gulf of Mexico to All Star Metals, a company that’s expected to spend about two years dismantling the nearly 60,000 ton flattop.

The move is part of a long term effort by the Navy to get rid of up to seven decommissioned carriers, including the Constellation, which operated out of San Diego for most of its 41 years of service. The “Connie” is expected to be released to a salvage company this year. The Navy hasn’t announced which contractor will get the job. But it’s likely that the carrier will be towed from Bremerton, Washington to Brownsville, where about half of all “ship breaking” in the U.S. is done.

The Forrestal was commissioned in October 1955, the first in a new class of conventionally-powered carriers whose design reflected lessons learned during World War II, and the emergence of jet aircraft. The ship feature an angled flight deck that allowed the carrier to carry out more landings and launches, and a greater variety of flight operations. The same basic design was used for the two other ships in her class, the Ranger, which operated out of San Diego for years, and the Independence.

“Forrestal helped established naval superiority in the Cold War, and post-Cold War eras,” said Eric Wertheim, a defense analyst at the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent think tank in Annapolis, Maryland.

“The air superiority that Forrestal could project – even during her final years – was better than that of any foreign aircraft carrier operating today.”

The ship’s first deployments were largely uneventful. But things changed in the 1960s, when Forrestal became one of main carriers used to bomb sites in Vietnam. The ship also experienced tragedy. On July 29, 1967, while the carrier was in the Gulf of Tonkin, a rocket that had been fixed to an F-4 Phantom misfired and set off a fire that killed 134 people and injured 161 others. The injured included a little-known aviator named John McCain, who went on to become a U.S. senator, and a candidate for president.

The carrier also suffered a major fire in July 1972, while it was at dock in Norfolk, Virginia. The fire caused the Forrestal to list badly, and there was concern that the ship might capsize. The incident gave deeper meaning to the Forrestal’s nickname, the “Forest Fire.”

The fires detracted from the carrier’s otherwise stellar reputation for air operations.

The Forrestal was decommissioned in Philadelphia in September 1993. For awhile, it appeared that the ship might be moved to Baltimore and turned into a museum. But the plan didn’t pan out, leading to the Navy’s decision to release the Forrestal to a salvage company.

Wertheim was saddened by the thought of a once-bustling carrier heading for the scrap heap.

“It was a true city, with barbershops and dentists and doctors and a post office,” Wertheim said. “You had thousands of people going about their jobs for months at a time, and large crowds would gather when it came home from deployment. “The children of those sailors are now grandparents themselves.”

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