Sixty year ago, on 2 August 1954, the first truly modern aircraft carrier from the keel to the truck was laid down. The Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Ranger (CV-61) was the first aircraft carrier to have been built from the beginning with an angled deck (unlike her two older sisters, Forrestal (CV-59) and Saratoga (CV-60) which were laid down as axial-deck carriers), putting one of the final pieces of the current carrier formula in place.
USS Ranger in reserve at Bremerton ship facility, Washington (Photo: James Gleason)
(2 August is an auspicious day for aircraft carriers – on that day in 1917, the first landing of an aircraft onto a ship at sea took place, when Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning successfully landed a Sopwith Pup aboard HMS Furious).
In the 36-year career that followed, Ranger saw a great deal of service in Vietnam and the Gulf, humanitarian missions and exercises, and gained a reputation as ‘The Pacific’s Top Gun’. Along with her sisters and near-sisters of the Kitty Hawk-class, Ranger proved a formidable tool for power projection. Her aircraft staged many strike missions into Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in a record 233 sorties in one day on 10 March 1971, and over 9,000 in a single deployment in that period. Ranger was awarded numerous commendations during this conflict, and 13 battle stars – more than any carrier since the Second World War.
Ranger worked with the Royal Navy in exercises with HMS Hermes in 1963, and swapped aircraft for a period, with her Phantoms landing aboard the British carrier, and the Fleet Air Arm Sea Vixens flying from the much larger supercarrier.
Ranger was one of two US carriers in the Persian Gulf when hostilities against Iraq began in 1991, and her aircraft were among the first to strike at Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait.
USS Ranger in mothballs at Bremerton with her three sister ships, and a Nimitz-class carrier on the right (Photo: Google Earth)
She decommissioned in 1993, and was placed in reserve in Bremerton, Washington with her three sisters. Forrestal has now left, having transferred to Texas for scrapping, and Saratoga is apparently to follow shortly, which will leave Ranger and Independence (CV-62).
Today, there’s a fight to save Ranger from the scrapman’s torch. The heritage value of Ranger is hard to underestimate. Of the original wave of supercarriers, Ranger is in the most original condition, and the best. Indeed her condition is described as ‘outstanding’, particularly her interior, which makes conversion to museum ship status an attractive proposition. She retains her original machinery of Westinghouse steam turbines and Babcock and Wilcox boilers, and her configuration is much as it was when she was launched, unlike her three sisters, which needed service-life extending modifications in the 1980s. When she was mothballed, a considerable programme of sealing and maintaining the ship and protecting it from deterioration was carried out by the shipyard, which has helped maintain Ranger in a superb state.
A closeup satellite image of USS Ranger in reserve (Photo: Google Earth)
The ‘Save USS Ranger’ campaign has worked hard to bring Ranger‘s unique qualities to the attention of the authorities in the interests of saving her as a museum ship. In September 2012 it looked as though this would come to naught, as the US Navy withdrew the possible donation of the carrier and designated it for dismantling.
However, in 2013, an application was made to place the Ranger on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places (see links below), which was successful, and again served to highlight the ship’s special status. Unfortunately, this does not place any obligations on the US Navy to rethink their plans to send the carrier for scrap. Nevertheless, the campaign has started a petition to call on the Navy to reconsider. This needs 8,000 signatures, and currently over 2,100 people have signed it.
It’s not hard to see the challenge inherent in preserving Ranger. She is huge – more than double the displacement of USS Intrepid, and considerably bigger even than USS Midway, surely one of the largest if not the largest museum ships in existence. Finding a space big enough to keep her is a difficult enough challenge, even more so the requirements of maintaining such a huge vessel.
The superbly preserved bridge of USS Ranger (Photo James Gleason)
Yet it is partly that size that makes her so significant. The ambition of creating a class of carriers so much bigger than the previous generation is easy to overlook, but the dominance of the supercarrier as epitomised by the current Nimitz-class is owed to the success of Ranger and her sisters. Apart from the adoption of nuclear power from USS Enterprise (CV-65), US supercarrier design has largely improved in small increments from the then-radical Forrestal-class to the latest Gerald R. Ford-class carriers. It’s hard to comprehend the earthquake in naval aviation that must have resulted from the creation of carriers a full 25,000 tons larger than their predecessors, with a plethora of innovations, and just after a global war when many navies were subject to cutbacks and belt-tightening. Ranger was in many respects the Dreadnought of aircraft carriers, and went on to carve out an enviable record for herself.
Click here to download the application for Historic Place status, which includes many excellent photographs and a comprehensive rundown of the history of the ship and its significance