October 12, 2017

USS LONG BEACH (CGN 9)

Written By:  Andrew Eide

In 1974, while serving on Active Duty in the United States Navy, I was assigned to the Staff of the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group ONE. When we made a deployment with our ships assigned to our Group Staff, we would “embark” on one of the ships. By the term “embarking” it means we are guests on the ship and not part of the ship’s crew.

One of the ships we embarked upon during our service in the Vietnam was the USS LONG BEACH (CGN 9) which was one of the nuclear powered ships the United States Navy had at that time.

The USS LONG BEACH was the first nuclear powered surface warship in the world and the first large combatant ship of the United States Navy with its main battery of weapons consisting entirely of guided missiles.

The USS LONG BEACH was commissioned on September 9, 1961, which means when I was on board the ship with Cruiser-Destroyer Group ONE the ship was already 13 years old. The LONG BEACH was finally decommissioned on May 1, 1995, after having served the United States Navy for nearly 34 years.

USS LONG BEACH, the third ship in the Navy to bear the name, was the first nuclear powered surface warship in the world and the first large combatant in the US Navy with its main battery consisting entirely of guided missiles. She was also the first American cruiser since the end of World War II built entirely new from the keel up, and, when completed, boasted the highest bridge in the world. She was also the last warship to be fitted with teakwood decks.

I will relate two interesting incidents we had while serving on board the USS LONG BEACH (CGN 9).

The first is since the ship had a very large boxy superstructure this made the ship top-heavy. Even when anchored in the harbor in Hong Kong the ship would rock heavily, side-to-side, up to 20 degrees at a time. When underway the rocking of the ship was even more pronounced with 30 degrees being common.

The Admiral in charge of Cruiser-Destroyer Group ONE where I served was Admiral James D. Watkins who later became the Chief of Naval Personnel. During our time on board the LONG BEACH they were to undergo a major Nuclear Engineering inspection for continued certification of their propulsion plant.

During this inspection one of the things the Engineers needed to accomplish was to switch from Reactor Number 1 to Reactor Number 2 while underway. The concept is that you are to coordinate between the two Reactors to ensure that you take one Reactor off-line at the same instant you place the other Reactor on-line. The inspectors are under strict regulations that if you scram the Reactor, which basically means an EMERGENCY SHUT-DOWN procedures which causes the Reactor to shut down quickly without causing damage or release of radiation. The inspection criteria is if you scram the Reactor you immediately fail the inspection.

Well the Engineers scrammed the Reactor and we sat dead in the water for several hours until they could get both Reactors up and running and back online. Did the ship fail the Engineering Inspection? Nah! We had Vice Admiral James D. Watkins, who was the Commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group ONE on board, and he didn’t allow that to happen to the LONG BEACH as his specialty in the United States Navy is Nuclear power.