Country: United States
The Forrestal-Class of aircraft carriers were significantly larger than their predecessors, the Midway Class. This was because the US Navy stipulated that the same number of aircraft should be carried as during the Second World War despite the newly introduced jet aircraft being larger and heavier. The larger and heavier aircraft needed more hangar space, longer decks and more powerful lifts and catapults.
As well as their size, the class had many innovations. The USS Ranger was the first carrier to ever be laid-down as an angled-deck carrier, (as opposed to being converted). The Class’s armoured flight deck, enclosed bow and integrated island and funnel were all new. Forrestal-Class carriers were also the first to have no internal aircraft lifts, only four external ones, although this proved far from ideal.
Despite being classed together, the Forrestal-class vessels were not identical, individual vessels having different dimensions, armament, power output and appearance.
Because of their size and weight the Forrestal Class were christened ‘Super carriers’. On 25 August 1959 an A3D Skywarrior took-off with a gross weight of 38,000kg (84,000lb), a record weight for an aircraft taking-off from a carrier but in November 1963 this was impressively beaten when a Lockheed C-130F operated off USS Forrestal for trials.
All four Forrestal-Class vessels saw service during the Cold War in various theatres. The USS Ranger operated in the Pacific but the others three East-coast homes and Mediterranean patrol areas. The USS Forrestal was on station for both the 1956 Suez and 1958 Lebanon crises while the USS Independence took part in the 1962 blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis. The USS Saratoga also took part in the Lebanon Crisis and the Cuban blockade. The USS Ranger was deployed to the South China Sea in May 1963 in support of operations in Laos and returned to the area in August 1964 in the wake of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
As the Vietnam War escalated and American involvement increased all four Forrestal-class vessels were sent to the area and involved in offensive operations, the USS Independence being the first Atlantic based carrier to be so deployed. Two Forrestal Class carriers suffered fires while operating in the combat zone. The USS Ranger had to withdraw from combat operations in Vietnam after suffering a fire on 13 April 1965 while a much more serious fire swept through USS Forrestal on 26 July 1967. One hundred and thirty four lives were lost in the latter incident.
After the Vietnam War the Forrestal vessels returned to their previous deployment areas. In the Mediterranean, the USS Forrestal provided air cover for the evacuation of US nationals from Cyprus during the July 1974 Turkish invasion. The USS Saratoga took part in Operation “Locked Gate-75”. She sailed up the River Tagus to Lisbon and anchored in front of the Presidential Palace. This show of force was intended to limit the influence of the Portuguese Communist Party after that country’s 1975 “Carnation Revolution”.
During the 1980s the US Navy put the four carriers through a Service Life Extension Programme, (SLEP), designed to extend their service life for another two decades.
With the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait all four Forrestal-Class carriers deployed to the Arabian Gulf region in 1991 as part of Operation “DESERT STORM”. While the other three provided air support to the coalition forces in southern Iraq and Kuwait USS Forrestal provided air cover for Operation “PROVIDE COMFORT” and the upholding of a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.