USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was the final Essex-class aircraft carrier to enter service with the US Navy. Though intended for use during World War II, the carrier was not completed until late 1946, long after hostilities had ended. Valley Forge was serving in the Far East in 1950 and was the first American fleet carrier to take part in the Korean War. The vessel saw extensive service during the conflict before being converted to an antisubmarine carrier later in the 1950s. Further change came in 1961 when Valley Forge was modified into an amphibious assault ship. In this role it conducted multiple deployments to Southeast Asia during the early years of the Vietnam War. Decommissioned in 1970, the ship was sold for scrap the following year.
A New Design
Conceived in the 1920s and 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were intended to fit the tonnage limitations put in place by the Washington Naval Treaty. This enacted restrictions on the sizes of different types of warships as well as placed a cap on each signatory's total tonnage. This scheme was re-examined and extended by the London Naval Treaty in 1930. As international tensions increased in the 1930s, Japan and Italy elected to leave the treaty system.
With the collapse of the treaty structure, the US Navy moved forward its efforts to design a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which used lessons learned from the Yorktown-class. The new type was wider and longer as well as incorporated a deck-edge elevator system. This had been employed earlier on USS Wasp (CV-7). In addition to carrying a larger air group, the new class possessed a stronger anti-aircraft armament. Work commenced on the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), on April 28, 1941.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and US entry into World War II, the Essex-class quickly became the US Navy's principal design for fleet carriers. The first four ships after Essex used the class' initial design. In early 1943, the US Navy elected to make several changes with goal of improving future vessels. The most noticeable of these changes was lengthening the bow to a clipper design which allowed for the inclusion of two quadruple 40 mm mounts.
Other alterations saw the addition of improved ventilation and aviation fuel systems, the combat information center moved under the armored deck, a second catapult installed on the flight deck, and the mounting of an additional fire control director. Referred to as the "long-hull" Essex-class or Ticonderoga-class by some, the US Navy made no distinction between these and the earlier Essex-class ships.
The first vessel to begin construction with the enhanced Essex-class design was USS Hancock (CV-14) which was later re-named Ticonderoga. This was followed by several additional carriers including USS Valley Forge (CV-45). Named for the location of General George Washington's famed encampment, construction commenced on September 14, 1943, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Funding for the carrier was provided by the sale of over $76,000,000 in E Bonds throughout the greater Philadelphia region. The ship entered the water on July 8, 1945, with Mildred Vandergrift, wife of Battle of Guadalcanal commander General Archer Vandergrift, serving as sponsor. Work progressed into 1946 and Valley Forge entered commission on November 3, 1946, with Captain John W. Harris in command. The ship was the last Essex-class carrier to join to the fleet.
USS Valley Forge (CV-45) - Overview:
- Nation: United States
- Type: Aircraft Carrier
- Shipyard: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
- Laid Down: September 14,1943
- Launched: July 8, 1945
- Commissioned: November 3, 1946
- Fate: Sold for scrap, 1971
- Displacement: 27,100 tons
- Length: 888 ft.
- Beam: 93 ft. (waterline)
- Draft: 28 ft., 7 in.
- Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
- Speed: 33 knots
- Complement: 3,448 men
- 4 × twin 5 inch 38 caliber guns
- 4 × single 5 inch 38 caliber guns
- 8 × quadruple 40 mm 56 caliber guns
- 46 × single 20 mm 78 caliber guns
- 90-100 aircraft
Completing fitting out, Valley Forge landed Air Group 5 in January 1947 with a F4U Corsair flown by Commander H. H. Hirshey making the first landing on the ship. Departing port, the carrier conducted its shakedown cruise in the Caribbean with stops at Guantanamo Bay and the Panama Canal. Returning to Philadelphia, Valley Forge underwent a brief overhaul before sailing for the Pacific. Transiting the Panama Canal, the carrier arrived at San Diego on August 14 and formally joined the US Pacific Fleet.
Sailing west that fall, Valley Forge took part in exercises near Pearl Harbor, before steaming to Australia and Hong Kong. Moving north to Tsingtao, China, the carrier received orders to return home via the Atlantic which would permit it to make an around the world voyage. Following stops in Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Trincomalee, Valley Forge entered the Persian Gulf for a goodwill stop at Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. Rounding the Arabian Peninsula, the carrier became the longest ship to transit the Suez Canal.
Moving through the Mediterranean, Valley Forge called at Bergen, Norway and Portsmouth, UK before returning home to New York. In July 1948, the carrier replaced its complement of aircraft and received the new Douglas A-1 Skyraider and the Grumman F9F Panther jet fighter. Ordered to the Far East in early 1950, Valley Forge was in port at Hong Kong on June 25 when the Korean War commenced.
Three days after the start of the war, Valley Forge became flagship of the US Seventh Fleet and served as the core of Task Force 77. Having provisioned at Subic Bay in the Philippines, the carrier rendezvoused with ships from the Royal Navy, including the carrier HMS Triumph, and commenced strikes against North Korean forces on July 3. These initial operations saw Valley Forge's F9F Panthers down two enemy Yak-9s. As the conflict progressed, the carrier provided support for General Douglas MacArthur's landings at Inchon in September. Valley Forge's aircraft continued to pound North Korean positions until November 19, when, after over 5,000 sorties had been flown, the carrier was withdrawn and ordered to the West Coast.
Reaching the United States, Valley Forge's stay proved brief as the Chinese entry into the war in December required the carrier to immediately return to the war zone. Rejoining TF 77 on December 22, planes from the carrier entered the fray the next day. Continuing operations for the next three months, Valley Forge aided United Nations forces in halting the Chinese offensive. On March 29, 1951, the carrier again departed for San Diego. Reaching home, it was then directed north to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a much needed overhaul. This was completed that summer and after embarking Air Group 1, Valley Forge sailed for Korea.
The first US carrier to make three deployments to the war zone, Valley Forge resumed launching combat sorties on December 11. These were largely focused on railway interdiction and saw the carrier's planes repeatedly strike at Communist supply lines. Briefly returning to San Diego that summer, Valley Forge commenced its fourth combat tour in October 1952. Continuing to attack Communist supply depots and infrastructure, the carrier remained off the Korean coast until the final weeks of the war. Steaming for San Diego, Valley Forge underwent an overhaul and was transferred to the US Atlantic Fleet.
With this shift, Valley Forge was re-designated as an anti-submarine warfare carrier (CVS-45). Refitted for this duty at Norfolk, the carrier commenced service in its new role in January 1954. Three years later, Valley Forge executed the US Navy's first ship-based aerial envelopment exercise when its landing party was shuttled to and from a landing zone at Guantanamo Bay using only helicopters. A year later, the carrier became flagship of Rear Admiral John S. Thach's Task Group Alpha which focused on perfecting tactics and equipment for dealing with enemy submarines.
In early 1959, Valley Forge sustained damage from heavy seas and steamed to New York Naval Shipyard for repairs. To expedite the work, a large section of flight deck was transferred from the inactive USS Franklin (CV-13) and transferred to Valley Forge. Returning to service, Valley Forge participated in the Operation Skyhook testing in 1959 which saw it launch balloons to measure cosmic rays. December 1960 saw the carrier recover the Mercury-Redstone 1A capsule for NASA as well as provide assistance to the crew of SS Pine Ridge which split in two off the coast of Cape Hatteras.
Steaming north, Valley Forge arrived at Norfolk on March 6, 1961 to undergo conversion into an amphibious assault ship (LPH-8). Rejoining the fleet that summer, the ship commenced training in the Caribbean before embarking its complement of helicopters and joining the US Atlantic Fleet's ready amphibious force. That October, Valley Forge operated off the Dominican Republic with orders to aid American citizens during a period of unrest on the island.
Directed to join the US Pacific Fleet in early 1962, Valley Forge airlifted its Marines into Laos in May to aid in thwarting a Communist takeover of the country. Withdrawing these troops in July, it remained in the Far East until the end of the year when it sailed for the West Coast. Following a modernization overhaul at Long Beach, Valley Forge made another Western Pacific deployment in 1964 during which it won a Battle Effectiveness Award. Following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August, the ship moved closer to the Vietnamese coast and remained in the area into the fall.
As the United States escalated its involvement in the Vietnam War, Valley Forge began ferrying helicopters and troops to Okinawa before making a deployment to the South China Sea. Taking up station in the fall of 1965, Valley Forge's Marines participated in Operations Dagger Thrust and Harvest Moon before playing a role in Operation Double Eagle in early 1966. After brief overhaul following these operations, the ship returned to Vietnam and assumed a position off Da Nang.
Sent back to the United States in late 1966, Valley Forge spent part of early 1967 in the yard before commencing training exercises on the West Coast. Steaming west in November, the ship arrived in Southeast Asia and landed its troops as part of Operation Fortress Ridge. This saw them conduct search and destroy missions just south of the Demilitarized Zone. These activities were followed by Operation Badger Tooth near Quang Tri before Valley Forge shifted to a new station off Dong Hoi. From this position, it participated in Operation Badger Catch and supported the Cua Viet Combat Base.
The early months of 1968 continued to see Valley Forge's forces take part in operations such as Badger Catch I and III as well as serve as an emergency landing platform for US Marine helicopters whose bases were under attack. After continued service in June and July, the ship transferred its Marines and helicopters to USS Tripoli (LPH-10) and sailed for home. Receiving an overhaul, Valley Forge commenced five months of training before ferrying a load of helicopters to Vietnam.
Arriving in the region, its forces took part in Operation Defiant Measure on March 6, 1969. With the conclusion of that mission, Valley Forge continued to steam off Da Nang as its Marines conducted a variety duties. Following training off Okinawa in June, Valley Forge arrived back off the northern coast of South Vietnam and launched Operation Brave Armada on July 24. With its Marines fighting in Quang Ngai Province, the ship remained on station and provided support. With the conclusion of the operation on August 7, Valley Forge debarked its Marines at Da Nang and departed for port calls at Okinawa and Hong Kong.
On August 22, the ship learned that it would be deactivated following its deployment. After a brief stop at Da Nang to load equipment, Valley Forge touched at Yokosuka, Japan before sailing for the United States. Arriving at Long Beach on September 22, Valley Forge was decommissioned on January 15, 1970. Though some efforts were made to preserve the ship as a museum, they failed and Valley Forge was sold for scrap on October 29, 1971.