Home for Christmas: 9 Flattops at Norfolk

Home for Christmas: 9 Flattops at Norfolk naval base, December 20, 2012.

With the returns from deployment of the carrier DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER on Dec. 19, and the amphibious ships IWO JIMA and NEW YORK on Dec. 20, the piers at Norfolk’s naval base are about as full up as they’ll ever be.

Five aircraft carriers, four big-deck amphibious assault ships, a full cast of “small boy” surface warships, along with nuclear submarines and support ships, are crowding the base, giving a comfortably snug feeling to the waterfront. Similar scenes — although not with the gathering of flattops seen here — are taking place at other fleet concentration areas like San Diego and Pearl Harbor. 

The Navy makes a point of trying to gives its shipboard crews a chance to spend Christmas with their families, and for a few days  the percentage of ships underway drops to the lowest point it will be all year. But many of these ships will be gone in two weeks as the pace of operations picks up again.

In a decade or so, scenes such as this at Norfolk could become quite rare, as the fleet is in the midst of a gradual shift from the Atlantic to Pacific. Within a few years, about sixty percent of the U.S. Navy’s ships will be homeported at a Pacific base – virtually a mirror image of the Cold War emphasis on the Atlantic.

Aerial photos courtesy the U.S. Navy, by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott, and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin J. Steinberg.

The DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER makes a hard left turn on Dec. 19 to pull into her pier abreast the GEORGE H. W. BUSH.

Tugs help center up IKE as she maneuvers slowly to the pier. The aircraft of Carrier Air Wing Seven had already flown off to their shore bases.

EISENHOWER, at the far end in this photo, eases into her berth on Dec. 19. In the foreground is HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75), with ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72), BATAAN (LHD 5), ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) and GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN 77).

EISENHOWER, at far right, being pushed by tugs the last few yards into her berth. Left to right are WASP (LHD 1), HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75), ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72), BATAAN (LHD 5), ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN 77) and EISENHOWER. Newport News and the James River are across Hampton Roads behind EISENHOWER.

The scene on Dec. 20 after the IWO JIMA’s arrival brought the flattop total to nine ships.

From bottom to top, front to back, or left to right:

Aircraft carrier DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69)

Aircraft carrier GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN 77)

Aircraft carrier ENTERPRISE (CVN 65)

Amphibious assault ship BATAAN (LHD 5)

Aircraft carrier ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72)

Aircraft carrier HARRY S TRUMAN (CVN 75)

Amphibious assault ship WASP (LHD 1)

Amphibious assault ship KEARSARGE (LHD 3)

Amphibious landing platform dock NEW YORK (LPD 21)

A T-AKE dry cargo ammunition ship

Amphibious assault ship IWO JIMA (LHD 7)

and various cruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Also across Hampton Roads but not in these photos are two other carriers at Newport News Shipbuilding:  THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71), now finishing up a three-and-a-half-year refueling overhaul, and the new GERALD R. FORD (CVN 78), first ship of a new class of carriers, that will launch in mid-2013.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER’s deployment to the Persian Gulf region was extended recently when her replacement, the Pacific carrier NIMITZ, needed to undergo emergency repairs. IKE is home for about two months to have her flight deck resurfaced, then will return to Central Command’s Fifth Fleet.

ENTERPRISE returned from her final deployment on Nov. 4, and began her deactivation process on Dec. 1. She will eventually move to Newport News for further dismantling.

Sheds cover the ABRAHAM LINCOLN’s flight deck as she prepares to cross to Newport News early next year to begin a three-and-a-half-year refueling overhaul, the most comprehensive refit a carrier will undergo in its 50-year service life.

HARRY S. TRUMAN has completed most of her training and is expected to deploy to the Fifth Fleet region later this winter. GEORGE H. W. BUSH completed a major overhaul in early December and is in the early stages of deployment work ups.

All four of the Atlantic Fleet’s big-deck amphibs are in the pictures — an event perhaps even rarer than a gathering of five carriers.

The WASP is in port after supporting Hurricane Sandy relief operations off New York and New Jersey in early November. KEARSARGE is seen in the act of berthing, with several tugs around her, returning from rudder repairs at BAE Systems’ shipyard in Norfolk. BATAAN will begin her workups for a deployment in 2013, and the IWO JIMA, along with the NEW YORK, returned to Norfolk hours before these pics were taken, back from a nearly nine-month deployment to the Fifth Fleet and Mediterranean theaters.

The ENTERPRISE, in the center with her “65” hull number and big “E” painted on her island, was the U.S. Navy’s oldest ship in active commission when she was deactivated on Dec. 1.

While not unheard of, it’s always an event when so many carriers are in port at the same time. Parking near the ships gets to be at a premium.

The carrier lineup is reminiscent of the famous “murderer’s row” shots of World War II carriers at their anchorage in Ulithi Atoll.

Beyond the naval base are Norfolk’s container piers. The Elizabeth River stretches in the distance to the left towards downtown Norfolk.

Home is where the heart is. Cmdr. Matt Barker’s family embraces him as he steps out of his F/A-18C Hornet strike fighter Dec. 18 at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va. Barker is executive officer of VFA-131, a strike fighter squadron of Carrier Air Wing 7 aboard the DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Antonio P. Turretto Ramos)

Christopher P. Cavas
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Christopher P. Cavas

If it's on, over, under or around the water, I write about it. Ships and aircraft, units, tactics, leadership, strategies, acquisition, politics, industry. In the USA and around the world.
Christopher P. Cavas
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