Warship Wednesday Dec. 24, 2014, Remembering that Cold Winter in the Valley
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Dec. 24, 2014, Remembering that Cold Winter in the Valley
Here we the “long-hulled” Essex-class anti-submarine aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CVS-45) as she appeared in 1959 as the centerpiece and flagship of U.S. Navy Task Group ALFA with Secretary of the Navy William B. Franke embarked. Ships include Valley Forge in center, two submarines, and seven destroyers. Identifiable among the latter are USS Eaton (DDE-510) at left front, USS Beale (DDE-471) following Eaton, USS Waller (DDE-466) in the center foreground, and USS Conway (DDE-507) at right front. Aircraft overhead include two four-plane formations of S2F “Trackers” and three HSS-1 “Seabat” helicopters from the Valley Forge air group, plus one shore-based P2V “Neptune.”
Valley Forge was one of 24 Essex-class fleet carriers started during World War II that were actually completed. Another eight sister-ships never were. We have covered the Essex class before, with the Mighty Oriskany last year, but hey, these were some great ships and the “Happy Valley” is fitting for its namesake and today’s date.
As you remember from the history books and 3rd grade, Valley Forge (now a National Historical Park) is the site of the third winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, taking place from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.
While no battles were fought there, it was the turning point of the war as the unorganized and defeated Army that Washington led to camp that winter emerged as a hardened force, ready to do combat after being buoyed by news of an alliance with the French and turned into a mature outfit through the strict winter drills of German mercenary Baron von Steuben.
While the Essex-class carried the war from Guadalcanal to Tokyo and in large part help win it, Valley Forge would come too late. Laid down fittingly at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, near the location of her namesake on 14 September 1943.
Also in an ode to old-school patriotism, the Navy did not have to cough up a dime for her as War Bonds collected from the Eastern Pennsylvania area paid for the carrier. Further, Valley Forge received, according to reports, “the finest State Silver Service ever presented to the Navy.” The service was designed and made by Philadelphia silversmiths in 1904 and was originally placed aboard the old armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania by the Commonwealth. Carried by the battleship of the same name until it was transferred ashore for safekeeping in WWII (after all the Pennsylvania BB-38 was almost lost at Pearl Harbor), it was entrusted to Valley Forge.
Work slowed on her after her July 1945 launch and she wasn’t completed until 3 November 1946– some 14 months and one day after the end of World War II. Unlike other Essex boats, she would not be extensively modified in the 1950s to accommodate modern jet fighters, which rather made her a time capsule of WWII carrier technology.
Nevertheless, the Happy Valley didn’t let that get in her way. Afloat in Hong Kong when word the balloon went up at the 38th Parallel came down, she rushed to Korean waters.
On 3 July 1950, planes from her carrier air group conducted the first naval air strike of the war. Her 96-plane Air Group 5 was a hybrid of old and new aircraft that included the Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter, Douglas Skyraiders, and the classic F4U Corsair, which was enjoying its swan song over Korea.
The first Soviet made Yak-9 ever downed by U.S. planes was splashed that day by Lt (JG) Leo Plog as he flew is F9F-3 Panther of Fighter Squadron (VF) 51 from Valley Forge that day. In another first, Lt (JG) W. Boyd Muncie on 19 July 1950, became the first Naval Aviator to be shot down by North Korean anti-aircraft fire. He spent two and a half hours in the water before being returned to the carrier by helicopter, another first.
During Korea, the brand-new ship earned no less than 8 battle-stars as her aircraft held the line at Pusan, generating more than 5,000 sorties in just five months in 1950 then returning in 1951 to generate another 2500 then returning time and time again to drop it like it was hot through 1953. She went on to be the scourge of the North Korean railway system with her pilots severing the lines in over 5,346 places.
She covered the landings at Inchon, and the UN counter offensive all the way to the Yalu and back making daily visits when needed along Hungnam, Chungjin, Kojo, and the Chosin Reservoir. She was so busy in fact that just seven years after her commissioning, Commander C.V. Johnson made the carrier’s 50,000th landing when he touched his Skyraider down on her deck in May 1953.
There she was converted January 1954 into an anti-submarine warfare carrier (CVS-45) and tasked with carrying sub-buster planes as her Corsairs were being put out to pasture. This led to the Task Force picture at the beginning of this post.
Interestingly it was during her operations as an ASW carrier in 1959 that she had a large part of her flight deck destroyed by fierce waves in the Atlantic. This led her to have the affected area cut away and the forward port portion of the flight deck of the old USS Franklin (CVS-13) fitted in her place.
At about the same time Valley Forge participated in the Balloon Wars launching at least one GENETRIX spy balloon that carried a gondola of two 600-pound recon cameras. These were largely released from NATO ally land sites in Norway and Turkey but a few of the 516 giant balloons came from the decks of naval ships such as the VF.
Her life as a sub-buster was short-lived however and soon things started turning real green for Valley Forge. She was reclassified as LPH-8 on 1 July 1961 and made an amphibious landing helicopter carrier. In this capacity, she could carry up to a battalion of Marines as well as a force of some 30 choppers and put them all ashore using a concept known as vertical envelopment, which meant for the first time Uncle’s Devil Dogs could get where they needed to go without getting their feet wet.
1962 saw her landing Marines in Laos and she stuck around for the next great conflict in the area, being involved in Vietnam near continuously from 1965-69 winning another nine battle-stars that included Tet 68 and Tet 69.
She shuttled Marines back and forth from Okinawa to Vietnam, participated in Operations Blue Marlin, Dagger Thrust, Fortress Ridge, Harvest Moon, Badger Tooth, Badger Catch, Swift Saber, Defiant Measure and Double Eagle as a floating base of operations from which her choppers ran men and material all along the coast as something of a fire brigade– rushing from one hot zone to another, putting out fires. She also served as a “Hero Haven” evacuation point, which allowed choppers from bases ashore that were too hot to bug out to her safer decks.
As part of the draw-down from Vietnam, she left Southeast Asia, with her choppers and Marines disembarked and arrived back in California in Sept. 1969. With the new Iwo Jima-class purpose-built LPHs coming online that could do the same job she did for the Marines, and her flight deck frozen in 1946 keeping her from operating fast moving jets, there really wasn’t a need for the old Valley Forge anymore. She was never operational again and on 15 January 1970, she was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List. Plans to keep her around as a museum on the West Coast fell through but she did have a final shot at living on forever.
While on red lead row in Long Beach, she was leased to a Universal for two weeks in 1971 and her interiors were used for the wide shots of a sci-fi movie, Silent Running, starring a young Bruce Dern and a group of tiny robot drones (manned by little person actors) living out their lives on a lonely starship by the name of the (wait for it) Valley Forge.
The producers of that classic film later went on to challenge the Star Wars franchise copied a number of items from the earlier movie.
Regardless of who copied whom, the Maritime Administration sold the USS Valley Forge on 29 October 1971 to the Nicolai Joffre Corporation, of Beverly Hills, California, for her value in scrap. She was only 25 years old but was born in one World War and fought through two terrible conflicts in her short but hard life. Rather like the Continental Army in the winter of 1777-78.
Her memory is kept alive by a very active reunion club while a number of her sistership to include the USS Lexington, Intrepid, Yorktown, and Hornet are preserved as museum ships.
And that beautiful 1904 silver service? When Valley Forge was decommissioned the Navy handed it back to the Keystone State for safekeeping once more and they still have it, on display at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The Museum is about 80 miles from Valley Forge, PA but if you go there– be sure to bundle up.
It gets cold there this time of year.
Displacement: As built:
27,100 tons standard
Length: As built:
888 feet (271 m) overall
Beam: As built:
93 feet (28 m) waterline
Draft: As built:
28 feet 7 inches (8.71 m) light
Propulsion: As designed:
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp (110 MW)
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h)
Complement: 3448 officers and enlisted
Armament: As built:
4 × twin 5 inch (127 mm)/38 caliber guns
4 × single 5 inch (127 mm)/38 caliber guns
8 × quadruple Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
Armor: As built:
4 inch (100 mm) belt
2.5 inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5 inch (40 mm) protectice decks
1.5 inch (40 mm) conning tower
Aircraft carried: As built:
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