USS Forrestal (CV-59) was ordered on July 12th, 1951 as part of a new generation of American aircraft carriers categorized as "supercarriers". Her keel was laid down on July 14th, 1952 by Newport News Shipbuilding and she was launched on December 11th, 1954. The Navy took ownership on September 29th, 1955 and held an official commissioning on October 1st of that year beginning nearly forty years of service. Forrestal proved significant for she was the first American carrier to feature the now-standard starboard-to-port side angled flight deck and her other notable systems included a steam catapult launching arrangement and her designed-from-the-outset support of jet-powered aircraft.
Her name came from James Forrestal (1892-1949), the first United States Secretary of Defense (United States Secretary of the Navy was used prior to this).
NOTE: USS Forrestal served under three distinct designations during her time at sea. Initially she carried "CVA-59" but was changed to "CV-59" in the 1970s. Before the end of her tenure, she was known as "AVT-59" when thought was given to make her a dedicated training aircraft carrier.
As completed, Forrestal set the standard for American carriers to come. She featured her island superstructure offset to starboard with multiple hangar elevators used to service the flight deck and hangar decks below. Four aircraft could be launched simultaneously and her stock generally consisted of fleet defenders/interceptors, attack platforms, special missions aircraft and cargo haulers. She could also launch and retrieve helicopters with ease. The crew complement numbered 552 officers with 4,988 enlisted. The vessel displaced 60,610 tons under standard load and 82,402 tons under full load. Measurements included a length of 1,067 feet, a beam of 129.3 feet and a draught of 37 feet. Power was served from 8 x Babcock & Wilcox boilers feeding 4 x Westinghouse geared steam turbines developing 260,000 to 280,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts (Forrestal was conventionally-powered and not nuclear). This provided the warship with a maximum speed of 33 knots in ideal conditions and ranges out to 9,200 miles.
Armament originally included 8 x 5" /54 caliber Mk 42 guns which were later removed. Aircraft defense then fell to the 20mm Mk 15 "Phalanx" Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) and Mk 29 NATO "Sea Sparrow" Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) launcher installations.
Early on, Forrestal engaged in various training and exercise sorties but was also placed on-call during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and during the Lebanon unrest of 1958. The Vietnam War (1955-1975) commitment then pulled Forrestal into combat service where her warplanes were used in anger against North Vietnamese targets. However, it was during this tour when stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin during 1967 that her first infamous fire broke out - the cause being a "Zuni" rocket misfiring from a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II into a fully-laden Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The Skyhawk's fuel tank ruptured and ignited causing the first of several notable fires. Tragically, the even cost the lives of 134 personnel and went on to injure 161. Additionally, some twenty-one USN aircraft were written off.
During the 1970s, Forrestal served in Mediterranean waters and undertook humanitarian assistance roles, patrols and served as a deterrent. In July of 1972, while berthed at Norfolk, Virginia, another fire struck her though this outbreak was deliberately set by a crewman. The damage was such that it forced her into repair and she waited months before being put into service again. She replaced USS John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean. On June 30th, 1975, she was officially redesignated as "CV-59" and, in 1977, underwent a period of overhaul.
On April 8th, 1978, another fire was reported which originated in her machine room. Steam had apparently ignited her insulation but personnel were quick to extinguish the flames and limit damage. On April 11th, yet another fire emerged, this time at one of her steam catapults and this was joined by a second fire located in a storeroom. Again the crew responded professionally and had the fires under control with minimal damage in time. On May 10th, the vessel began flooding which cost most of her food stores and tens of thousands of dollars (USD) in damage. For the latter part of the decade, Forrestal continued partaking in various NATO exercises and training endeavors.
USS Forrestal was available and at-the-ready for Operation Desert Storm (1991) but her services were not called into play until late May. She was redesignated to "AVT-59" to serve as a training carrier and succeed USS Lexington (CV-16) in the same role. A fourteen-month overhaul greeted her in 1992 until her formal decommissioning order came down in early 1993. She was formally decommissioned on September 11th, 1993 though efforts to preserve her as a floating museum failed and she was given up for scrap in 2013 - sold for one cent.
Because of her many onboard fires, the vessel earned herself the unflattering nicknames of "Firestal", "Zippo" and "Forest Fire".