Warriors in Waiting

By Gault, Owen | Sea Classics, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Warriors in Waiting


Gault, Owen, Sea Classics


Sleeping giants who long roved the world's seas maintaining a balance of power in a precarious peace, the carriers FORRESTAL (CV-59) and SARATOGA (CV-60) and battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) now await uncertain fates. No longer needed in a vastly down-sized Navy, their age makes them expensive to maintain, their size difficult to properly man and their usefulness questioned in an ever changing naval doctrine.

Recently towed to new anchorages at Coddington Cove, Rhode Island, these three mighty warriors loom like forlorn vestiges of the past, lifeless and unmanned, bereft of the crews that once made them the foremost warriors of the US Navy.

Late in September 1998 the WWII battleship IOWA was towed to Narragansett Bay and maneuvered into place beside the carrier FORRESTAL by a halfdozen tugs as hundreds watched. FORRESTAL and sister-ship SARATOGA themselves are recent arrivals at Aquidneck Island, also towed from the Philadelphia Navy Yard only weeks earlier.

To the spectators watching from the shore the scene was reminiscent of Newport's naval past when the city featured a flourishing naval base and was awash in sailor's whites. "If you can't have an active duty fleet this is the next best thing," commented Navy Captain Ronald Bogle. "But to walk through these gaunt warships now is depressing. They're just giant masses of metal without the crews that made them come alive." The Captain's statement was shared by many of the onlookers, several of whom had served aboard these vessels in the glory days of the trio's long and distinguished careers.

USS IOWA, class leader of four war-built 48,425-ton battleships is now powerless, a decommissioned hulk whose powerful 16-inch guns ominously stab into the azure sky; awesome relics of another age. Once manned by 1550 enlisted men and 62 officers, IOWA's empty decks and passageways are now deathly silent. Yet it takes little imagination to hear a ghostly clarion's call to `battle stations' or the footsteps and eerie echos of voices of men who once sailed this giant warship in harm's way.

First commissioned in 1943, IOWA served as a battle group fleet flagship through 1949, was briefly deactivated, then returned to duty for Korean War service from 1951 through 1958. The year 1984 saw the IOWA completely refurbished with Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles for the ambitious 600 naval ship goal of the Reagan Administration. From the period of her recommissioning in April 1984 until being mothballed in October 1990, IOWA fired 2034 rounds of 16 inch ammunition.

Following a tragic mishap in her forward 16-inch turret which killed 47 sailors in 1989, IOWA was again deactivated and placed in reserve. This accident unfortunately prevented the IOWA from taking part in the 1991 Gulf War in which sisters WISCONSIN and MISSOURI played key roles as powerful gun platforms and missile ships. …

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