Warship Wednesday, April 24, 2019: The Tiger with 17 Battle Stars to Prove It
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, April 24, 2019: The Tiger with 17 Battle Stars to Prove It
Here we see the Essex-class fleet carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) off Hampton Roads, Virginia, 26 June 1944 and two rebuilds later, as CVS-14 with her rails manned, circa 1970, following conversion to an anti-submarine warfare support aircraft carrier. What a difference 26 years makes!
To put into perspective the degree of change this was, look at these two shots of aircraft operating from her decks during her career. These blend Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat night fighters preparing to take off for strikes against targets in Manila Bay during the 5-6 November 1944 attacks (80-G-305244) and an A-4 Skyhawk landing on board, after a simulated strike on enemy forces during an operational readiness inspection, 18 January 1963 with an A-3B Sky Warrior and F-3 Demon are parked on the carrier’s after flight deck.
Ticonderoga was one of 24 Essex-class fleet carriers started during World War II that was completed. Another eight sister-ships never were. We have covered the Essex class before, with the Mighty Oriskany and the “Happy Valley” aka USS Valley Forge, but hey, these were some great ships and the Ticonderoga has one hell of a story.
Like many of the class, Ticonderoga owes her name to a Revolutionary War action, namely, the seizing of Fort Ticonderoga from the British on 10 May 1775, by Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” who held it for two years.
Three previous ships before our carrier shared the moniker:
During the War of 1812, Lt. Stephen Cassin’s 17-gun schooner Ticonderoga was in the battle line at the Naval Battle of Plattsburgh where the ship “played an important role in the victory. Her guns engaged nearly every British vessel on the line and raked the British flagship at a critical juncture in the battle,” according to NHHC. Cassin was awarded a gold medal for bravery by Congress and went on to become a Commodore with two later destroyers (DD-43 & DD-372) named after him.
Commissioned during the Civil War, the 2,500-ton Lackawanna-class screw sloop-of-war USS Ticonderoga went on to wave the flag in virtually all the world’s oceans and seas, only being sold for scrap in 1887.
In April 1917, the U.S. government seized the interned German flag merchant steamer Kamilla Rickmers and renamed her Ticonderoga (ID # 1958) in January 1918. Sadly, she was sunk after an epic two-hour gun battle, with the loss of 213 lives, by the German submarine U-152 on 30 September 1918, one of the most significant blows to the U.S. Navy in the Great War. Just 22 survivors spent four days in one lifeboat until a passing ship rescued them. Her skipper, LCDR James J. Madison, USNRF, received the Medal of Honor and the USS Madison (DD-425) was later named after him.
Laid down originally as Hancock on 1 February 1943 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. our subject was renamed Ticonderoga before she was even launched and commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 8 May 1944, CPT. Dixie Kiefer (USNA 1918) in command.
Kiefer was a carrier man through-and-through having made the first ever night take-off from a warship in 1924 and gone on to become the carrier Yorktown (CV-5)‘s XO, picking up the DSO at the Coral Sea and a Navy Cross at Midway. When Yorktown was during that battle, Kiefer shattered his right leg while escaping the doomed ship. He was a fighter and would go on to command a fighting ship.
She soon sailed for the Pacific, an ocean she would call home for 30 years and two lengthy, bitter wars during which her crew invariably labeled the ship Tyco or Tico and themselves Tigers. As such, she arrived at Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolines on the 29 October and embarked RADM A. W. Radford, Commander, Carrier Division 6, joining TF-38, and was part of the famed “Murderers Row ” photo.
She was soon pounding the Philippines, providing extended air cover for the ground forces capturing Leyte. DANFS notes that “Her planes bombed and strafed the airfields at Zablan, Mandaluyong, and Pasig. They also joined those of other carriers in sending the heavy cruiser Nachi to a watery resting place. In addition, Ticonderoga pilots claimed six Japanese aircraft shot down and one destroyed on the ground, as well as 23 others, damaged.”
Of course, being so close enough to strike Japanese targets meant that Japanese targets could also strike back at Tico.
She would soon come to raid Japanese ships and bases in occupied French Indochina (Vietnam), a region she would later come to know very well. “There, on the 12th [of January], they launched their approximately 850 planes and made a series of anti-shipping sweeps during which they sank a whopping 44 ships, totaling over 130,000 tons.”
Less than two weeks later, while attacking Japanese positions on Formosa, our carrier ran out of luck.
On 21 January 1945, Ticonderoga was hit by not one but two back-to-back Japanese kamikazes, suffering 144 killed and at least another 200 injured. The first plane crashed through the ship’s flight deck abreast of the No. 2 5-inch mount, and its bomb exploded just above her hangar deck. Kiefer responded by ordering flooding to put a 10-degree list on the ship, causing the flaming wreckage to slip overboard.
The second kamikaze smashed into carrier’s starboard side near the island, setting more planes on fire as the carrier was still recovering from the first. The resulting explosion injured Kiefer, with 65 wounds from bomb shrapnel and a broken arm, but the Captain who stuck it through until Yorktown went down remained on the bridge for another 11 hours. He would later receive the Distinguished Service Cross from Navy Secretary Forrestal who called him the “Indestructible Man.”
Still, Tico was soon underway under her own power with all fires out.
She headed back to the West Coast under her own steam, arriving at Puget Sound Navy Yard on 15 February. She would remain there for repairs, only heading back to Ulithi in May. There, she rejoined TF-38 and by June Ticonderoga‘s fighters were strafing airfields on Kyushu.
In July, “her planes joined those of other fast carriers in striking ships in the Inland Sea and airfields at Nagoya, Osaka, and Miko. During those raids, TF 38 planes found the sad remnants of the once-mighty Japanese Fleet and bagged battleships Ise, Hyuga, and Haruna as well as an escort carrier, Kaiyo, and two heavy cruisers. On 28 July, her aircraft directed their efforts toward the Kure Naval Base, where they pounded an aircraft carrier, three cruisers, a destroyer, and a submarine.”
Early August saw raids on Tokyo and she entered the Bay there at peace on 6 September. After a series of Magic Carpet missions taking returning GIs home to the states, she was placed out of commission on 9 January 1947 and berthed with the Bremerton Group of the Pacific Reserve Fleet.
The war was the end of Dixie Kiefer. The hard-to-kill carrier man died at age 49 on 11 November 1945 in the crash of a transport plane on Mount Beacon, New York. He is buried at Arlington.
After a period in mothballs, Tico was returned to service during the Korean War and sent for an SCB-27C conversion to better suit the new jet planes that filled the Navy’s hangars, installing catapults and better aircraft handling systems. On 11 September 1954, Ticonderoga recommissioned but was soon further converted to SCB-125 format– one of just 14 such Essex-class carriers given the angled deck/hurricane bow improvements. This earned her a new designation, as an attack carrier (CVA 14).
By late 1957, she was on her first West Pac deployment since 1945. She would make six more by 1964.
In the first U.S. naval action off Vietnam, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, Tico was there. On 2 August 1964, she sent rocket-armed F-8E Crusaders to respond to urgent calls from the destroyer Maddox (DD-731), who had reported being attacked by North Vietnamese Navy PT boats, leaving one boat dead in the water and damaging the other two. A few days later her planes reportedly destroyed another 25 boats at dock in a retaliatory strike.
When she would return to Vietnam in 1965, it would be as a full-time warfighter, delivering some 10,000 combat sorties from her position on Dixie and Yankee Stations, losing 16 planes to enemy fire and accident.
Just days after the first major U.S. engagement in Vietnam, at the of Ia Drang Valley, near Christmas 1965, Bob Hope and his cast of supporting acts landed on Tico and entertained her 2,000-man crew, famously hitting golf balls off her deck.
As reported by Stars and Stripes “Some of the men, exhausted from launching strike after strike recently, were almost too tired to watch the show. One rolled over and mumbled to a buddy, ‘wake me when the broads come on.’
The 2-hour long Christmas Special was broadcast at home on NBC for the country to get a soda straw window into Vietnam through the carefully controlled lens.
Back to Yankee Station in 1966-67, her airwing would run another 11,650 combat sorties, earning a Navy Unit Commendation, her second. Her 1968 deployment saw 13,000 sorties. By early 1969, Tico was on her fifth consecutive combat deployment (third Navy Unit Commendation) to Southeast Asia.
In 1970, she would be given a reprieve from operating A-4s, F-8s and the like off Vietnam and Ticonderoga was re-designated (CVS-14), tasked with ASW combat for which she carried SH-3 sub-hunting helicopters and S-2 Tracker patrol planes. Her next two West Pac cruises were spent in exercises with allied nations and in the quieter past-time that was keeping tabs on Soviet subs.
It was during this time she came to be loaned out to support NASA on three different, but noteworthy occasions.
In April 1972, HC-1 Sea Kings from USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14) recovered Apollo 16, returning from an 11-day mission to the moon that brought back 213 lbs. of lunar material.
The mission was repeated in December 1972 with Apollo 17. Then, HC-1 was used about 200 miles east of Pago Pago in the South Pacific to recover the last manned mission to the moon (a footnote that still stands).
Another key facet of Apollo 17 was the space vessel’s Command Module Pilot, CAPT. Ronald E. Evans, USN, established a record of more time in lunar orbit than anyone else in the world, a record that stands to this day. As a happy coincidence, Evans was flying Vietnam combat operations with VF-51 in F-8 Crusaders aboard Ticonderoga when he heard of his selection to NASA in 1966.
In June 1973, Tico was tapped again to support NASA and picked up the three-man all-Navy crew (CAPT Charles Conrad Jr., CDR Joseph P. Kerwin, and CDR Paul J. Weitz, USN) of Skylab 2, the first U.S. manned orbiting space station after they had completed 404 orbits.
On 1 September 1973, the old carrier, which had picked up 17 battle stars (5 WWII, 12 Vietnam) was found to be unfit for further naval service. Her name was struck from the Navy List on 16 November 1973 and she was sold for scrap the next year to Zidell Explorations Corp. for a bid of $601,999.99 (she had originally cost Uncle $78 million in 1944 dollars to build).
Her bell is preserved aboard Naval Station North Island.
As for her sisters, only four (of 24) remained with the fleet longer than Tico did– Intrepid (decommissioned 1974), Hancock (1976), Oriskany (1976) and Lexington (1990). Today, four Essex-class carriers are semi-preserved (Intrepid, Lexington, Yorktown, and Hornet) as floating museums.
Tico is remembered in several works of maritime art in the public collection.
After Tico‘s removal from the fleet, a new class of guided missile cruisers was commissioned, beginning with the lead ship (CG-47) named Ticonderoga.
Both the carrier and cruiser’s flames are kept alive by the well-organized USS Ticonderoga Veterans’ Association who are actively requesting a new warship be named after their vessels.
Of the men Tico brought back home from space, Navy CAPT. Eugene Andrew Cernan, the last man to walk on the lunar surface, died in 2017, aged 82. The former Skylab 2 crew, Kerwin- Conrad-Weitz, have all since joined their friends on the wall. This leaves just Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, and Charles “Charlie” Duke, both 83, of Apollo 16 and 17, respectively, still on this side of the wall.
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) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
Aircraft carried: As built:
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