With two of the nation's most storied shipyards toiling on its shores, Hampton Roads has long been known as the builder of some of the world's most historic naval vessels. Here are stand-out hulls from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which launched its first warship as Gosport Navy Yard in 1799, and Newport News Shipbuilding founded in 1886.
A famous frigate. Laid down at Gosport in 1798, the USF Chesapeake was the fourth and smallest of six original "super frigates" that began the U.S. Navy. Though embarrassed when a Royal Navy frigate attacked and boarded it off Cape Henry in 1807, the ship fought valiantly in a famously bloody 1813 battle with HMS Shannon, during which its dying captain uttered his immortal last command: "Don't give up the ship!"
A landmark ironclad. A Confederate super weapon designed to break the Union blockade, the Gosport-built CSS Virginia inflicted America's worst defeat before Pearl Harbor on the opening day of the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads. The following morning it fought the USS Monitor in the historic, if indecisive, first clash between ironclads.
America's first battleship. Built to counter the superior navy of Brazil as well as threats from Chile and Argentina, the USS Texas (BB-1) incorporated the most modern armament, armor and design principles of the era when construction began at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1889. But it was considered obsolete when commissioned in 1895, despite playing a prominent role in the Spanish-American War three years later.
A milestone battlewagon. Completed at Newport News in 1915, the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) was the lead vessel in a new class of "super dreadnought battleships" and the first major American warship armed with four triple-gun turrets, enabling it to carry 12 massive 14-inch guns.
Aircraft carrier No. 1. Converted from a collier at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the USS Langley (CV-1) was anchored in the York River when a Vought biplane piloted by Lt. V.C. Griffin conducted the Navy's first carrier take-off from its wooden flight deck on Oct. 17, 1922.
First purpose-built carrier. Launched at Newport News in 1933, the USS Ranger (CV-4) was the first Navy ship designed and built from the keel up as a carrier. Originally designed with a flush deck and folding stacks, the ground-breaking ship was fitted with an island during construction, establishing the distinctive profile of all American carriers that followed.
Most decorated carrier. The second of two famed Yorktown-class carriers completed at Newport News in the late 1930s, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) was notably longer and faster than the Ranger and incorporated lessons from real-world experience. A pioneer of round-the-clock flight operations, the "Big E" won an unprecedented 20 battle stars in World War II and helped transform naval warfare into a struggle of ship-launched air attacks.
Backbone of the fleet. The first in a new wartime class of still longer, wider and more powerfully armed carriers, the USS Essex (CV-9) was completed at Newport News in July 1942. It won 13 battle stars during 68 combat operations in the Pacific, leading the way as more than 20 sister ships became the backbone of the Navy.
The original "super carrier." Launched at Newport News on Dec. 11, 1954, the 1,039-foot-long USS Forrestal (CVA-59) was America's first "super carrier," the first carrier designed and built for jet aircraft and the largest ship in the world, eclipsing the giant Japanese carrier Shinano of World War II.
First nuclear-powered carrier. Commissioned on Nov. 25, 1961, the revolutionary USS Enterprise (CVN-65) became a legendary successor to its famous WWII ancestor during its extensive service around the world in the Cold War. At 1,123 feet long, the colossal warship still ranks as the longest naval vessel ever built.
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783.
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