USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) - nicknamed Mighty O, The O-boat, and Toasted O - was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carrierscompleted during or shortly after World War II for the United States Navy. The ship was the third US Navy ship to bear the name, and was named for the Revolutionary War Battle of Oriskany.
The history of Oriskany differs considerably from that of her sister ships. Originally designed as a "long-hulled" Essex-class ship (considered by some authorities to be a separate class, theTiconderoga class) her construction was suspended in 1947. She eventually was commissioned in 1950 after conversion to an updated design called SCB-27 or "27-Charlie", which became the template for modernization of 14 other Essex-class ships.
She operated primarily in the Pacific into the 1970s, earning twobattle stars for service in the Korean War, and five for service in theVietnam War. In 1966 one of the worst shipboard fires since World War II broke out on Oriskany when a magnesium flare was accidentally ignited; forty-four men died in the fire.
Oriskany's post-service history also differs considerably from that of her sister ships. Decommissioned in 1976, she was sold for scrap in 1995, but was repossessed in 1997 because nothing was being done (lack of progress). In 2004 it was decided to sink her as anartificial reef off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. After much environmental review and remediation to remove toxic substances, she was carefully sunk in May 2006, settling in an upright position at a depth accessible to recreational divers. As of 2008 the Oriskany is "the largest vessel ever sunk to make a reef."
Oriskany departed New York on December 6, 1950, for carrier qualification operations off Jacksonville, Florida, followed by a Christmas call at Newport, Rhode Island. She resumed operations off Jacksonville through January 11, 1951, when she embarkedCarrier Air Group 1 for shakedown out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After major modifications at New York Naval Shipyard from March 6 to April 2, she embarked Carrier Air Group 4 for training off Jacksonville, then departed Newport on May 15, 1951, for Mediterranean deployment with the 6th Fleet.
Having swept from ports of Italy and France to those of Greece and Turkey, from there to the shores of Tripoli, Oriskany returned to Quonset Point, Rhode Islandon 4 October 1951. She entered Gravesend Bay, New York on 6 November 1951 to offload ammunition and to have her masts removed to allow passage under the East River Bridges to the New York Naval Shipyard. Overhaul included the installation of a new flight deck, steering system, and bridge. Work was complete by May 15, 1952, and the carrier steamed the next day to take on ammunition at Norfolk, Virginia from May 19-22. She then got underway to join thePacific Fleet, steaming via Guantanamo Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Horn, Valpara so, and Lima, arriving San Diego, California on 21 July.
Following carrier qualifications for Air Group 102, Oriskany departed San Diego on September 15, 1952, to aid UNforces in Korea. She arrived Yokosuka on October 17 and joined Task Force 77 off the Korean Coast on October 31. Her aircraft struck hard with bombing and strafing attacks against enemy supply lines and coordinated bombing missions with surface gunstrikes along the coast. Her pilots downed two Soviet-built MiG-15 jets and damaged a third on November 18.
Strikes continued through February 11, attacking enemy artillery positions, troop emplacements, and supply dumps along the main battlefront. Following a brief upkeep period in Japan, Oriskany returned to combat on March 1, 1953. She continued in action until March 29, called at Hong Kong, then resumed air strikes on April 8. She departed the Korean Coast on April 22, touched at Yokosuka, and then departed for San Diego on May 2nd, arriving there on May 18th.
Following readiness training along the California coast, Oriskany departed San Francisco on September 14 to aid the7th Fleet watching over the uneasy truce in Korea, arriving in Yokosuka on October 15th. Thereafter, she cruised theSea of Japan, the East China Sea, and the area of the Philippines. After providing air support for Marine amphibious assault exercises at Iwo Jima, the carrier returned to San Diego on April 22, 1954. She entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard for overhaul; the overhaul was completed on October 22nd, when she stood out to sea for the first of a series of coastal operations.
Oriskany arrived at Yokosuka on April 2, 1955, and operated with the Fast Carrier Task Force ranging from Japan andOkinawa to the Philippines. This deployment ended on September 7th, and the carrier arrived NAS Alameda, California, on September 21st.
She cruised the California Coast while qualifying pilots of Air Group 9, then put to sea from Alameda on 11 February 1956 for another rigorous Western Pacific (WestPac) deployment.
Oriskany again left San Diego for the Far East on May 26, 1966, arriving in Yokosuka, Japan, on June 14th. She steamed for "Dixie Station" off South Vietnam on June 27th. Wearisome days and nights of combat shifted to "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin on July 8th. In the following months there were brief respites for replenishment in Subic Bay, then back into the action that saw her launch 7,794 combat sorties.
The carrier was on station the morning of October 26, 1966, when a fire erupted on the starboard side of the ship's forward hangar bay and raced through five decks, killing 44 men. Many who lost their lives were veteran combat pilots who had flown raids over Vietnam a few hours earlier. Oriskany had been put in danger when a magnesium parachute flare exploded in the forward flare locker of Hangar Bay 1, beneath the carrier's flight deck. Subsequent investigation showed the flare functioned as designed and the cause of the fire was human error. A seaman accidentally ignited the flare, and in a panic, threw it into the weapons locker where the flares were kept for storage, instead of throwing it over the side into the water; this ignited all the flares in the locker and caused horrific damage. Some of her crewmen jettisoned heavy bombs which lay within reach of the flames, while others wheeled planes out of danger, rescued pilots, and helped quell the blaze throughout the next three hours. Medical assistance was rushed to the carrier from aircraft carriers Constellation and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later investigation by Captain John H Iarrobino of the Oriskany and analysis by the Naval Ammunition Depotin Crane, Indiana, showed that one in every thousand flares could ignite accidentally if jarred. Five crew members werecourt-martialed as a result of the incident but were acquitted. After this incident and others, the flare design used by the Navy was changed to a safer design immune to accidental ignition, and crews were increased to stabilize numbers so all activities could be properly supervised.