USS Ranger (CV-61)

The eighth USS RANGER (CVA-61) was the third of the FORRESTAL class Super Carriers. Authorized in 1953, RANGER cost $275 million in 1953 currency. Today it would cost more than $3 billion dollars to build a conventional carrier equal to RANGER.

Built by the Newport New Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company as company Hull Number 514, RANGER's keel was laid 2 August 1954 in Shipway No. 10. Alongside, in Shipway No. 11, was the nearly complete USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59). When FORRESTAL was launched, the partially completed machinery box of RANGER was floated out of Shipway No. 10 and landied in Shipway No. 11 for completion. The unusual construction sequence was done to facilitate the early start of RANGER, but a move was required because Shipway No. 10 could not accomodate a FORRESTAL size vessel. RANGER was launched by flooding the graving dock on 29 September 1956. Her christening sponsor was Mrs. Arthur Radford, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Captain Charles T. Booth II became her first Commanding Officer at commissioning in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 10 August 1957.

Ranger joined the Atlantic Fleet 3 October 1957. Just prior to sailing 4 October for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for shakedown, she received the men and planes of Attack Squadron 85. She conducted air operations, individual ship exercises, and final acceptance trials along the eastern seaboard and in the Caribbean Sea until 20 June 1958. She then departed Norfolk, Va., with 200 Naval Reserve officer candidates for a 2-month cruise that took the carrier around Cape Horn. She arrived at her new homeport, Alameda, Calif., on 20 August and joined the Pacific Fleet.

The carrier spent the remainder of 1958 in pilot qualification training for Air Group 14 and fleet exercises along the California coast. Departing 3 January 1959 for final training in Hawaiian waters until 17 February, she next sailed as the flagship of Rear Adm. H. H. Caldwell, ComCarDiv 2, to join the 7th Fleet. Air operations off Okinawa were followed by maneuvers with SEATO naval units out of Subie Bay. A special weapons warfare exercise and a patrol along the southern seaboard of Japan followed. This was the only cruise with F4D Skyrays and FJ-4B Furys. During this first WestPac deployment, RANGER launched more than 7,000 sorties in support of 7th Fleet operations. She returned to San Francisco Bay 27 July.

During the next 6 months, RANGER kept herself in a high state of readiness through participation in exercises and coastal fleet operations. With Carrier Air Group 9 embarked, she departed Alameda 6 February 1960 for a second WestPac deployment and returned to Alameda 30 August.

RANGER departed Alameda in August 1961 on her third deployment, the second with CVG-9. This was RANGER's last deployment with F3Hs and AD-5Ns. This was also the last cruise with all eight 5" 54 caliber guns. The forward mounts were removed following this deployment.

The next 7 months were filled with intensive training along the western seaboard in preparation for operations in the troubled waters of Southeast Asia. RANGER departed Alameda on 9 November for brief operations off Hawaii, thence proceeded via Okinawa to the Philippines. She steamed to the South China Sea 1 May 1963 to support possible Laotian operations. When the political situation in Laos relaxed 4 May, she resumed her operations schedule with the 7th Fleet. Arriving at Alameda from the Far East 14 June 1963, she underwent overhaul in the San Francisco Naval Shipyard 7 August 1963 through 10 February 1964. Refresher training out of Alameda commenced 25 March, interrupted by an operational cruise to Hawaii from 1 q June to 10 July.

RANGER again sailed for the Far East 6 August 1964. It was also her first deployment with RA-5C aircraft. For the first time in a RANGER airwing both fighter squadrons were equipped with F-4B Phantoms. This was the last CVA-61 AD Skyraider deployment. Five aircraft and six aircrew were lost during RANGER's longest deployment ever, nine months and one day. This deployment came on the heels of the unprovoked assault against Maddox (DD-731) on the night of 2 August and, two nights later, against both Maddox and Turner Joy (DD-951) by North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. In retaliation for this aggression on the high seas by North Vietnam, President Johnson on 5 August directed the Navy to strike bases used by the North Vietnamese naval craft. As RANGER steamed from the western seaboard, some 60 attack sorties rose from the decks of TICONDEROGA (CVA 14) and CONSTELLATION (CVA-64).

RANGER made only an 10 hour stop in Pearl Harbor 10 August then hurried on to Subic Bay, thence to Yokosuka, Japan. In the latter port on 17 October 1964, she became flagship of Rear Admiral Miller who commanded Fast Carrier Task Force 77. In the following months, she helped the 7th Fleet continue its role of steady watchfulness to keep open the sealanes for the Allies and stop Communist infiltration by sea. Twenty-one aircraft were lost on this deployment, the most in RANGER history. Fifteen were lost to enemy action and six more in operational accidents.

Gen. William Westmoreland, commanding the Military Advisory Command in Vietnam, visited RANGER on 9 March 1965 to confer w ith Rear Admiral Miller. RANGER continued air strikes on enemy inland targets until 13 April when a fuel line broke, ignited, and engulfed her No. 1 main machinery room in flames. The fire was extinguished in little over an hour. There was one fatality. She put into Subie Bay 15 April and sailed on the 20th for Alameda, arriving home on 6 May. She entered the San Francisco Naval Shipyard 13 May and remained there under overhaul until 30 September.

Following refresher training, RANGER departed Alameda on 10 December 1965 to rejoin the 7th Fleet. She and her embarked Carrier Air Wing 14 received the Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service during combat operations in Southeast Asia from 10 January to 6 August 1966.

RANGER departed the Gulf of Tonkin 6 August for Subic Bay, thence steamed via Yokosuka for Alameda, arriving on the 25th. She stood out of San Francisco flay 28 September and entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 2 days later for overhaul. The carrier departed Puget Sound 30 May 1967 for training out of San Diego and Alameda. On 21 July 1967, she logged her 88,000th carrier landing.

From June until November, RANGER underwent a long and intensive period of training designed to make her fully combat ready. Attack Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) embarked on 15 September 1967 for the first of fourteen RANGER deployments, The attack component of the airwing brought two new aircraft, the A-7A Corsair II and the A-6A Intruder, giving the ship three types of attack aircraft, the previous two and the A-4C Skyhawk. Another addition to the airwing was the electronic warfare capability of the EKA-3B Skywarriors. From carrier refresher training for CVW-2, RANGER proceeded to fleet exercise "Moon Festival." From 9 to 16 October, the carrier and her air wing participated in every aspect of a major fleet combat operation.

Her efficiency honed to a fine edge, RANGER departed Alameda 4 November 1967 for WestPac. Arriving Yokosuka 21 November, she relieved Constellation and sailed for the Philippines on the 24th. After arriving at Subie Bay on 29 November, she made final preparations for combat operations in the Tonkin Gulf. Commander, Carrier Division 3, embarked on 30 November as Commander, TG 77.7, and RANGER departed Subic Bay on 1 December for Yankee Station.

Arriving on station 3 December 1967, RANGER commenced another period of sustained combat operations against North Vietnam. During the next 5 months, her planes hit a wide variety of targets, including ferries, bridges, airfields, and military installations. Truck parks, rail facilities, antiaircraft guns and SAM sites were also treated to doses of Air Wing 2's firepower. Bob Hope's "Christmas Show" came to RANGER in Tonkin Gulf on 21 December. Another welcome break in the intense pace of operations came with a call at Yokosuka during the first week of April. Returning to Yankee Station on 11 April, RANGER again struck objectives in North Vietnam.

After 5 months of intensive operations, RANGER called at Hong Kong 5 May 1968 and then steamed for home. There followed a shipyard availability at Puget Sound that ended with RANGER's departure 29 July for San Francisco. Three months of leave, upkeep, and training culminated in another WestPac deployment 26 October 1968 through 17 May 1969. This was the RANGER's last A-4 Skyhawk cruise.

For the second consecutive work-up cycle, RANGER was home just 5 months before returning to the combat zone in October 1969. She departed Alameda on yet another WestPac deployment in December 1969 and remained so employed until 18 May 1970 at which time she returned to Alameda, arriving 1 June. There were four combat losses on the deployment and all were shot down over Laos.

RANGER spent the rest of the summer engaged in operations off the west coast, departing for her sixth WestPac cruise 27 September. She returned to Alameda on 7 June 1971 and remained in port for the rest of 1971 and the first 5 months of 1972 undergoing regular overhaul.

In November 1972, RANGER left for her seventh and final Vietnam combat cruise. The 17 month turnaround was due in part to sabotage of Number 3 main engine's reduction gear set. However, she deployed in time to arrive on station for the heavy bombing raids ordered by President Nixon in December 1972. There were four RANGER aircraft losses during the deployment, three of which were operational. At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, four attack carriers rendezvoused at sea for a group photograph. The ships were the RANGER, USS ORISKANY (CVA-34), USS ENTERPRISE (CVA(N)-65), and USS AMERICA (CVA-66). It would be nearly two decades before four carriers would again rendezvous at sea, but it would be in the Arabian Gulf, and two of the four carriers were the same, RANGER and AMERICA.

In May 1974, RANGER made her last deployment from Alameda, as San Diego became her new homeport during the next workup cycle. E-2A Hawkeyes returned to the airwing and a full ASW helicopter squadron, HS-4, was assigned.

RANGER departed San Diego on her thirteenth WESTPAC deployment in January 1976. This was the first cruise with an EA-6B Prowler squadron.

From: USS RANGER (CV-61) 1992-93 Western Pacific / Arabian Gulf Cruisebook, "Ranger's Last Ride".

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