The Beginning of the Nuclear Surface Navy: USS Enterprise CVAN-65, USS Long Beach CG-9, USS Bainbridge DLGN/CGN-25 and USS Truxton DLGN/CG-35

Iconic Photo of USS Enterprise CVAN-65,USS Long Beach CG-9 and USS Bainbridge DLGN-25 during Operation Sea Orbit 1964

Note: This is the first of four articles on the US Navy’s Nuclear Surface Force. Future articles will deal with Task Force One and Operation Sea Orbit, the Nuclear Cruisers and the Nuclear Carriers.

In the 1950s the US Navy recognized the Nuclear power could play a key role in the future Navy.  The operational flexibility of Nuclear powered ships which would not be dependent on underway replenishment provided by tankers or port calls to conduct high speed operations over vast expansions of the world’s oceans.  Orders were placed in the mid-1950s for an attack aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise CVAN-65, cruiser the USS Long Beach CLGN-160 and later CGN-9 and the USS Bainbridge DLGN, later CLG-25.  These ships would become the prototypes of a Navy which early advocates of nuclear propulsion hoped would become the future of the surface Navy.  This would become the case in regard to Aircraft Carriers but not in regard to cruisers pr smaller surface ships.  While seven more Nuclear Cruisers would be built none would be retained after the post Cold War reduction in force with all of the ships decommissioned, their nuclear plants recycled and hulks scrapped.  However they represented the pinnacle of surface ship design in their time and had the budgetary constraints of the post Cold War world taken place the likelihood is that at least six nuclear cruisers would still be in commission possibly upgraded with the Aegis Air Defense system making them the most versatile of surface ships.

Enterprise in 1978

The first Aircraft Carrier designed and built as a nuclear ship was the USS Enterprise.  Named after the heroic USS Enterprise CV-6, she dwarfed even the Super-carriers of the Forrestal class which preceded her and the Kittyhawk class which followed her.  Laid down February 4th 1958 and launched September 24th 1960 the “Big “E”” was commissioned on November 25th 1961.  At 1,101 feet overall and displacing over 85,000 tons full load she was the largest carrier built until the Nimitz class.  Her power plan was both experimental and revolutionary.  Equipped with 8 Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors generating 2800,000 SHP powering geared turbines the Enterprise was capable of 35+ knots.  With a air group of over 70 aircraft Enterprise would serve in the Cold War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Balkans and Middle East culminating in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Coming into her 50th year Enterprise still serves on active duty as the oldest warship in the US Navy.  She is scheduled to be replaced in the next few years by CVN-78, the USS Gerald R Ford.

Long Beach firing Missiles 1961

The USS Long Beach was the first nuclear guided missile cruiser and the only cruiser built following ships designed during World War II built as a large cruiser, all others would be on large destroyer platforms.  Previous guided missile cruisers had been converted from World War Two Light Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers, some of which retained their forward gun turrets while mounting missiles aft.  The Albany class also converted World War II ships had their entire main battery exchanged for missiles.  The long beach represented an entirely new type of cruiser.  Laid down December 2nd 1957, launched July 14th 1959 and commissioned September 9th 1961 she displaced over 15,000 tons full load. Large and fast equipped with 2 Westinghouse C1W reactors powering GE turbines producing 80,000 SHP she was capable of 30+ knots.

Long Beach after modernization in 1980s

She was equipped with a twin Talos missile launcher, 2 twin Terrier launchers two 5”/51 dual purpose guns in single mounts, the ASROC anti-submarine rocket system and six 12.75” ASW torpedo tubes.  Long Beach would serve until 1995, taking place in every major operation except the Balkans when she was decommissioned.  Her unique superstructure was razed, her nuclear plant recycled and her hulk remains, the trim cruiser lines still in evidence awaiting the scrappers torch at Bremerton Washington.

The hulk of teh ex-Long Beach at Bremerton Naval Shipyard

Bainbridge 1971

The USS Bainbridge originally classified as a Guided Missile Destroyer Leader and a nuclear powered ship of the Leahy class. Bainbridge displaced 8,500 tons and 565 feet long she mounted two twin launcher Terrier missile systems, ASROC, six 15.5 inch ASW torpedo tubes and four 3” dual purpose guns and crewed by 475 men she like Long Beach had the capability of managing the air defense of the battle group.  She was equipped with 2 GE 2DG nuclear reactors powering geared turbines capable of 60,000 SHP which drove her at 30+ knots.  She was laid down May 5th 1959 and launched April 15th 1961 and commissioned on October 6th 1962.

Bainbridge transiting the Suez Canal 1992

She like Long Beach and Enterprise would serve in most every major operation undertaken by the US Navy and during the post Cold War draw down would be decommissioned on September 13th 1996, her nuclear plant recycled and her hulk scrapped at Bremerton Washington.   She would be modernized throughout her career with upgraded radars, missiles and having her 3” guns replaced by Harpoon Surface to Surface Anti-Ship Missiles and given the facilities to operate LAMPS helicopters.

Truxton 1979

The USS Truxton DLGN/CG-35 was a nuclear powered variant of the Belknap class DLG/CGs and equipped with the same power plant but mounted a 5”/51 single mount gun forward and one twin dual purpose launcher for Terrier and ASROC aft. She would also be designed with helicopter facilities to operate a LAMPS helicopter and like Bainbridge be modernized throughout her career.  Laid down June 17th 1963 and launched December 13th 1964 she would not be commissioned until May 27th 1967.  She also would serve in most of the major operations conducted by the Navy until she was decommissioned on September 11th 1995, her nuclear reactor recycled and her hulk scrapped.

Truxton being “recycled”

Enterprise alone remains of these pioneering ships but each would contribute to the future of US Navy shipbuilding.  Next: Task Group 1 and Operation Sea Orbit.

17 Comments

Filed under Military, Navy Ships

17 responses to “The Beginning of the Nuclear Surface Navy: USS Enterprise CVAN-65, USS Long Beach CG-9, USS Bainbridge DLGN/CGN-25 and USS Truxton DLGN/CG-35

  1. Frank E E Kasper

    I was proud to serve aboard her from 1961 till I was discharged in 1963 . I was onboard for her commissioning in 1961 and would to here from any one of my old ship mates . Thank you and god bless .

  2. Richard Freeman

    I have been looking for a picture of the four nuclear surface ships in Vietnam. I was on the USS TRUXTUN

  3. Richard Freeman

    I served onboard the USS TRUXTUN when all four surface nuke were in the Gulf of Tongin. Anyone have a picture of this?

    • padresteve

      Sir

      I do not have any of those pictures. You might see if the Navsource photo archieves have them. It is a tremendous resource for pictures of US Navy ships. The wen address is http://www.navsource.org

      Blessings

      Padre Steve+

    • Jerome Long

      Mr. Freeman,
      Were you a sonar technician?

      J. Long formerly ST 1

      • Don Freeman

        As I was researching information on nuclear naval vessels I came across your comment. My name is Don Freeman and I served with you onboard the Truxtun as a sonar tech. Contact me at jrsengine@att.net. It would be nice to chat.

  4. Dallas Hightower

    I served on the USS Truxtun (CGN-35) from 1983-86. The picture labeled “Truxton 1979” is labeled incorrectly–aside from the spelling, the Phalanx CIWS was not installed until the 1983 overhaul where I first embarked. The CIWS is on the forecastle up behind the gun.

    Great memories. I have pictures if anyone’s interested. Broke my heart when I heard she was scrapped–but it’s inevitable.

    • padresteve

      Dallas
      Thanks, I’ll have to look at the photo source (Navsource.org) and double check. I think that that was how they had it labeled but I will fix it. If you have a really good couple of photos I would be glad to post them and credit you as the source. Blessings
      Padre Steve+

      • Bill Johnson

        I agree with Dallas, I served on the Truxtun from 9/76 to 12/79 as a Gunner’s Mate…. Harpoon replaced the 3″/50 mounts amidships in the summer of 1979, but no Phalanx until after I got off….

      • Bill Johnson

        Just as an FYI, I have a piece of her keel in my closet. I received it as co-chairman of the first USS Truxtun Reunion in San Diego in 2000…

  5. Glenn Holmgren

    I was a TALOS FTM on board Long Beach from 1969 to 1973 and took pictures form the 010 level bridge in 1972 when Nuclear Task force left the Tonkin Gulf for the South China Sea for a “group” photo opp. The Enterprise was dead astern with the Bainbrige to the right and the Truxtun to the left when I took the photos – they were color slides. I have one shot of the Enterprise with a sunburst coming through the clouds right over the Enterprise. The weather was overcast with moderate swells and white caps, and it took what seemed like a couple of hours before the clouds to clear enough the the plane taking the pictures to get a good shot. I took pictures as the ships were trying to line up abreast of each other for the photo. I remember the day well and understood even then that this photo was a historic one.

  6. Tony Mach

    I was an AG (Aerographer Mate) stationed aboard USS Long Beach CGN-9 (not CG-9) 1965-1966. The Long Beach was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface warship.

    Where can I see some of the photos mentioned in these comments?

    • padresteve

      Tony, Many of these photos can be found on the Nav Source Photo Index and also the US Navy History Center… Blessings, Padre Steve+

  7. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    In honor of the inactivation of the USS Enterprise. A look back at a history making moment…

  8. David Elk

    I was on the USS Bainbridge (CGN25) fm 3 Apr 1972-10 Oct 1975. All 4 ships, Enterprise, LBeach and Truxtun were together in a photo on Nov 22, 1972. I’ve only seen a photo of that once. Anybody know where it can be found? David Elk PN2

    • Hi there, I came across your wonderful page. I am the author of an illustrated complete history of Big E, design, crew, sensor, availability, air wing, organizational, operational and deployment history. I spent 18 years and 6 visits to Big E, 3 were intra-deployment at sea embarks. I was lucky to obtain the original photos of the four ship- All Nuclear Task Force operating in South China Sea November 16, 1972. I published them in the book “USS Enterprise CVA(N)/CVN-65: The Worlds First Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier” Published 2013, by Willsonscott publishing international. It is available in U.S. via Amazon, or via the USS Enterprise Association, where a discount of $25 to the purchaser, and a donation is made to the association. If interested please contact. If you need more information from me or wouls like the scanned image file for the photos , please e mail me at zebede@es.co.nz
      I was also lucky to see Truxtun and Long Beach when they visited NZ in 1979 and early eighties.
      Roger out Dr Dave McKay

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