July 29, 1967: The USS Forrestal catches fire. The ship was named for James Forrestal, the first US Secretary of Defense. USS Forrestal is an aircraft carrier and was launched on December 11, 1954. The new class of aircraft carrier, also called Forrestal, replaced the Shinaro (a Japanese carrier during World War II) as the largest aircraft carrier built to date. She was the first to support jet aircraft. Her nickname was The FID, for First in Defense, referring to her namesake. She was also the landing site for a C-130 in 1963 making her the largest ship having the largest plane with a full stop landing.
The ship had sailed from Norfolk, Virginia in early June. She first stopped near Brazil and then sailed around the horn of Africa. Forrestal stopped in the Philippines before sailing to “Yankee Station” in the Gulf of Tonkin, along the coast of Vietnam. For four days, Air Wing 17 carried out about 150 missions from the Gulf to targets in North Vietnam. There was a shortage of 1,000 pound bombs and so Composition B bombs (an older type of bomb) were used. Rather than using the Composition H6 bombs which could stand higher heats, the older ammo was being onloaded from the USS Diamond Head.
Preparations for the second strike of the day were underway at 10:50 local time. There was an electrical power surge as power was switched from external to internal on an F-4 Phantom II. That surge caused an unguided 5-inch Mk-32 “Zuni” rocket to fire. The rocket flew across the flight deck and struck an external fuel tank on an A-4 Skyhawk waiting to launch. The tank did not explode but tore the wing off the plane. Sparks caused an immediate flash fire to start due to escaping jet fuel igniting. Nearby external fuel tanks overheated and ruptured. Two 1,000 pound bombs were dislodged and sat amidst the flames.
Nine bomb explosions occurred on the flight deck, eight of them by Composition B type bombs. Large holes were torn in the flight deck. Not only was the ship damaged, but planes and armament were jettisoned to halt more explosions. Twenty-one aircraft sustained enough damage to be stricken from the naval inventory. They lost seven F-4 Phantom IIs and eleven A-4E Skyhawks as well as three RA-5 Vigilantes. The ship was repaired at the cost of $72 million (not including the cost of the aircraft) which is about $467 million today. The even greater cost was to the personnel. There were 134 sailors killed along with another 161 injured.
In principal, having carrier capability is desirable and ditto for nuclear propulsion. An aircraft carrier is all about presence and adds to the navy’s capability. – Uday Bhaskar
Maverick: [to Cougar and Merlin while up in the air] Any of you boys seen an aircraft-carrier around here? – from the movie, Top Gun
It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top. – Hunter S. Thompson
There is nothing quite so good as burial at sea. It is simple, tidy, and not very incriminating. – Alfred Hitchcock
Also on this day: