Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ghost Fleets

This is one of the "Ghost Fleets" which are scattered about the United States. They consist of older naval ships in need of extensive repair, and in some cases, modernization of the operating systems aboard them. My old ship, the USS Milwaukee, was part of the ghost fleet in the James River until it was sold for scrap and dismantled about 2 years ago.

The Ghost Fleet pictured above, which is administered by the U.S. Maritime Administration, sits off Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, right across from the Norfolk Naval Station, which is where the USS Milwaukee was homeported during my time aboard her. It was begun in 1919, after the hostilities of the First World War were over, and the troops shipped home. With so many ships idled there was nothing else to do but "mothball" them for future use, or sale as scrap. Some of those ships were used in the earliest days of the Second World War, when the United States was supplying the British with the materials of war under the "Lend Lease Act." We were actually buying time until we could build newer ships of our own to ferry men and supplies to Europe. England, with the aid of the Ghost Fleet, bought us that time.

By the end of World War Two, when the problem of too many ships presented itself once again, the Ghost Fleet numbered well over 700 ships. And that was just in Virginia! There were other Ghost Fleets, most memorably for me the one near Philadelphia, which my parents took us to see when I was about 10 years old.

During the Korean War some of the ships were actually used in atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. Others were used for target practice, which, once sunk, were turned into artificial reefs. Some of the other vessels were sold for scrap, while in 1964, 120 of the old Liberty Ships became "silos" for the surplus wheat our government had bought as a means of price control.

When Vietnam became a major conflict some of the older ships were pressed back into service for a bit before being sold off. By the end of the war there were only about 300 ships left. Today there are only 23 of these vessels left, nested together in groups of 2 and 3. Since 2001, more than 800 ships have been sold to keep pace with the goal of getting rid of the ones that leaked, or were about to start leaking, oil and PCB's into the James River. Obviously, that goal has been met.

I'm not sure how I feel about the demise of the Ghost Fleets. The past is always present, and history repeats itself much too often for my tastes. If it were up to me these ships would have remained in place, with appropriate maintenance to ensure their avalability in the future, should the need arise. But then again, there are "experts" who know more about this than I. I just read a lot of history. And of course, I'm not that objective, I just really loved those old ships.

Photo coutesy of kitsune @

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