Vietnam War: USS Oriskany (CV-34)

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USS Oriskany (CV-34), 1950. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: New York Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: May 1, 1944
  • Launched: October 13, 1945
  • Commissioned: September 25, 1950
  • Fate: Sunk as artificial reef in 2006

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 30,800 tons
  • Length: 904 ft.
  • Beam: 129 ft.
  • Draft: 30 ft., 6 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 Westinghouse geared turbines, 4 shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Range: 20,000 miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,600 men

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Aircraft

  • 90-100 aircraft

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Construction:

Laid down at the New York Naval Shipyard on May 1, 1944, USS Oriskany (CV-34) was intended to be a "long-hull" Essex-class aircraft carrier. Named for the 1777 Battle of Oriskany which was fought during the American Revolution, the carrier was launched on October 13, 1945 with Ida Cannon serving as sponsor. With the end of World War II, work on Oriskany was halted in August 1947 when the vessel was 85% complete. Assessing its needs, the US Navy redesigned Oriskany to serve as the prototype for the new SCB-27 modernization program. This called for the installation of more powerful catapults, stronger elevators, a new island layout, and the addition of blisters to the hull. Many of upgrades made during the SCB-27 program were intended to allow the carrier to handle the jet aircraft that were coming into service.

Completed in 1950, Oriskany was commissioned on September 25 with Captain Percy Lyon in command.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Early Deployments:

Departing New York in December, Oriskany conducted training and shakedown exercises in the Atlantic and Caribbean into early 1951. With these complete, the carrier embarked Carrier Air Group 4 and began a deployment to the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet that May.

Returning in November, Oriskany entered the yard for an overhaul which saw changes to its island, flight deck, and steering system. With the completion of this work in May 1952, the ship received orders to join the Pacific Fleet. Rather than use the Panama Canal, Oriskany sailed around South America and made port calls at Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, and Callao. After conducting training exercises near San Diego, Oriskany crossed the Pacific to support United Nations forces during the Korean War.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Korea:

After a port call in Japan, Oriskany joined Task Force 77 off the coast of Korea in October 1952. Commencing air strikes against enemy targets, the carrier's aircraft attacked troop positions, supply lines, and artillery emplacements. In addition, Oriskany's pilots had success in combating Chinese MiG-15 fighters. With the exception of brief overhaul in Japan, the carrier remained in action until April 22, 1953 when it left the Korean coast and proceeded to San Diego. For its service in Korean War, Oriskany was awarded two battle stars. Spending the summer in California, the carrier underwent routine upkeep before returning to Korea that September. Operating in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea, it worked to maintain the uneasy peace which had been established in July.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - In the Pacific:

Following another Far East deployment, Oriskany arrived at San Francisco in August 1956. Decommissioned on January 2, 1957, it entered the yard to undergo a SCB-125A modernization. This saw the addition of an angled flight deck, enclosed hurricane bow, steam catapults, and improved elevators. Taking over two years to complete, Oriskany was re-commissioned on March 7, 1959 with Captain James M. Wright in command. After conducting a deployment to the Western Pacific in 1960, Oriskany was overhauled the following year and became the first carrier to receive the US Navy's new Naval Tactical Data System. In 1963, Oriskany arrived off the coast of South Vietnam to safeguard American interests following a coup d'etat which saw President Ngo Dinh Diem deposed.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Vietnam War:

Overhauled at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1964, Oriskany conducted refresher training off the West Coast before being directed to sail for the Western Pacific in April 1965. This was in response to the American entry into the Vietnam War. Largely carrying an air wing equipped with LTV F-8A Crusaders and Douglas A4D Skyhawks, Oriskany began combat operations against North Vietnamese targets as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. Over the next several months the carrier operated from either Yankee or Dixie Station depending on the targets to be attacked. Flying over 12,000 combat sorties, Oriskany earned the Navy Unit Commendation for its performance.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - A Deadly Fire:

Returning to San Diego in December 1965, Oriskany underwent an overhaul before again steaming for Vietnam. Resuming combat operations in June 1966, the carrier was struck by tragedy later that year. On October 26, a massive fire erupted when a mishandled magnesium parachute flare ignited in the forward flare locker of Hangar Bay 1. This flare led to the explosion of around 700 other flares in the locker. Fire and smoke quickly spread through the forward part of the ship. Though damage control teams were finally able to extinguish the fire, it killed 43 men, many of them pilots, and wounded 38. Sailing to Subic Bay, Philippines, the wounded were removed from Oriskany and damaged carrier began the voyage back to San Francisco.

USS Oriskany - Back to Vietnam:

Repaired, Oriskany returned to Vietnam in July 1967. Serving as the flagship of Carrier Division 9, it resumed combat operations from Yankee Station on July 14. On October 26, 1967, one of Oriskany's pilots, Lieutenant Commander John McCain, was shot down over North Vietnam. A future senator and presidential candidate, McCain endured over five years as a prisoner of war. As had become a pattern, Oriskany completed its tour in January 1968 and underwent an overhaul at San Francisco. This complete, it arrived back off Vietnam in May 1969.

Operating from Yankee Station, Oriskany's aircraft attacked targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail as part of Operation Steel Tiger. Flying strike missions through the summer, the carrier sailed for Alameda in November. In dry dock over the winter, Oriskany was upgraded to handle the new LTV A-7 Corsair II attack aircraft.

This work complete, Oriskany commenced its fifth Vietnam deployment on May 14, 1970. Continuing attacks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the carrier's air wing also flew diversionary strikes as part of the Son Tay rescue mission that November. After another overhaul at San Francisco that December, Oriskany departed for its sixth tour off Vietnam. En route, the carrier encountered four Soviet Tupolev TU-95 Bear strategic bombers east of the Philippines. Launching, fighters from Oriskany shadowed the Soviet aircraft as they moved through the area. Completing its deployment in November, the carrier moved through its usual pattern of upkeep in San Francisco before returning to Vietnam in June 1972. Though Oriskany was damaged in a collision with the ammunition ship USS Nitro on June 28, it remained on station and took part in Operation Linebacker. Continuing to hammer enemy targets, the carrier's aircraft remained active until January 27, 1973 when the Paris Peace Accords were signed.

USS Oriskany (CV-34) - Retirement:

After conducting final strikes in Laos in mid-February, Oriskany sailed for Alameda in late March. Refitting, the carrier began a new mission to the Western Pacific which saw it operate in the South China Sea before conducting training in the Indian Ocean. The ship remained in region until mid-1974. Entering Long Beach Naval Ship Yard in August, work began to overhaul the carrier. Completed in April 1975, Oriskany conducted a final deployment to the Far East later that year. Returning home in March 1976, it was designated for deactivation the following month due to defense budget cuts and its old age. Decommissioned on September 30, 1976, Oriskany was held in reserve at Bremerton, WA until being struck from the Navy List on July 25, 1989.

Sold for scrap in 1995, Oriskany was reclaimed by the US Navy two years later as the buyer had made no progress in demolishing the ship. Taken to Beaumont, TX, the US Navy announced in 2004 that the ship would be given to the State of Florida for use as an artificial reef. After extensive environmental remediation to remove toxic substances from the vessel, Oriskany was sunk off the coast of Florida on May 17, 2006. The largest vessel to be used as an artificial reef, the carrier has become popular with recreational divers.

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