Constellation Strike Group
Constellation Battle Group
CVA / CV 64 Constellation
"Connie" / "America's Flag Ship"
Built at the New York Naval shipyard as the second ship in the "Kitty Hawk" class of aircraft carriers, USS CONSTELLATION had over 41 years of service, which have seen it sail from Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam to the Gulf of Oman in the Indian Ocean.
The "Connie" was christened 8 October 1960 by Mrs. C. A. Herter, wife of the Secretary of State; and commissioned 27 October 1961 under the motto "Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New", and was commanded by Capt. T. J. Walker. She was named for one of the six frigates bought by the Continental Congress in the late 1790s. It was in the last stages of her building at the New York Naval Shipyard, on 19 December 1960, a fire broke out on Constellation's hanagar deck. Fifty civilian workers died in the blaze.
The Constellation had been homeported at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego since July 1962 till her decommissioning on August 7, 2003.
Constellation deployed to the western Pacific from her homeport of San Diego on 5 May 1964. The first three months of that deployment brought normal operations, training and port calls. However, on 2 August, while operating in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, USS Maddox (DD-731) reported being attacked by units of the North Vietnamese Navy. Within minutes of her receipt of the message, USS Ticonderoga (CVA 14) dispatched four, rocket-armed F8E Crusaders to the destroyer's assistance. Upon arrival, the Crusaders launched Zuni rockets and strafed the North Vietnamese craft with their 20-millimeter cannons. The Ticonderoga airmen teamed up with Maddox gunners to thwart the North Vietnamese attack, leaving one boat dead in the water and damaging the other two.
Two days later, late in the evening of the 4 August, Ticonderoga received urgent requests from USS Turner Joy (DD-951), by then on patrol with Maddox, for air support in resisting what the destroyer alleged to be another torpedo boat foray. The carrier again launched planes to aid the American surface ships, and Turner Joy directed them. The Navy surface and air team believed it had sunk two boats and damaged another pair. President Johnson responded with a reprisal to what he felt at the time to be two unprovoked attacks on American seapower and ordered retaliatory air strikes on selected North Vietnamese motor torpedo boat bases. On 5 August, Ticonderoga and Constellation launched 60 sorties against four bases and their supporting oil storage facilities. Those attacks reportedly resulted in the destruction of 25 PT-type boats, severe damage to the bases, and almost complete razing of the oil storage depot. The strikes lasted for four hours. Constellation lost an A-1H Skyraider, whose pilot, Lt. j.g. Richard A. Sather, became the first Navy pilot to be killed in Vietnam, and an A-4E Skyhawk, flown byLt. j.g. Everett Alvarez who became the first Navy POW.
On 7 August 1964, Congress authorized President Johnson to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the United States .... [and] to assist any member or protocol state" of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). This resolution passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 416 to 0 and in the Senate by 88 to 2.
Constellation returned 1 February 1965. Her crew was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for actions in the Gulf of Tonkin. Constellation again deployed to the western Pacific from her home of San Diego on 12 May 1966 with Carrier Air Wing 15. On 1 July, three North Vietnam torpedo boats came out to attack USS Coontz (DLG 9) and USS Rogers (DD 876) operating about 40 miles off shore on search and rescue missions. Aircraft from Constellation and USS Hancock (CVA 19) made short work of the attackers, sinking all three with bombs, rockets, and 20mm cannon fire. After the attack, Coontz pulled 19 survivors from the water. Constellation returned from the WESTPAC deployment on 3 December 1966.
Constellation made her third deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam in 1967. She departed San Diego with with a new air wing, CVW 14, on 29 April 1967 and returned home on 4 December.
Constellation began her fourth deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam on 29 May 1968. It was during the initial stages of this deployment that she was visited in June by President Lyndon B. Johnson. On 1 November, as directed by President Johnson, all bombing of North Vietnam was halted at 2100 Saigon time. The last Navy mission over the restricted area was flown earlier in the day from Constellation by Cmdr. Kenneth E. Enney in an A-7 Corsair II. Constellation remained on deployment, returning home to San Diego on 31 January 1969. Following maintenance and training periods, the carrier once again stood out from southern California, this time on her fifth deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam on 11 August 1969.
On 28 March 1970, Lt. Jerome E. Beaulier and Lt. (j.g.) Stephen J. Barkley in an F-4 Phantom II of VF-142 off Constellation shot down a MiG-21 while escorting an unarmed Navy reconnaissance plane on a mission near Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam. This was the first North Vietnamese MiG kill since the 1 November 1968 bombing halt. Constellation returned home on 8 May 1970.
On 1 October 1971, Constellation sailed from San Diego to begin her sixth combat deployment to Vietnam. Seven months later, Lieutenant Randy Cunningham and Lieutenant (junior grade) Willie Driscoll became America's first aces of the war by downing three MiG fighters during vicious dog-fighting over North Vietnam, bringing their total to five enemy aircraft in four months. Alternating on Yankee Station, Constellation, USS Oriskany (CVA 34) and USS Enterprise (CVAN 65) provided 22 two-carrier days on the line by 1 November, delivering 1,766 ordnance-bearing strike sorties, twelve and nine of them into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, respectively. Two reconnaissance missions were flown during the month, with the airfield at Vinh the mission assignment. Escort aircraft on both missions expended ordnance in a protective reaction role against firing antiaircraft artillery sites near the field. Other protective reaction strikes were executed.
Constellation and Enterprise operated on Yankee Station together during the month until 10 December, when Enterprise was unexpectedly directed to transit to the Indian Ocean where she operated as flagship for the newly formed Task Force 74 for the possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from East Pakistan in connection with the Indo-Pakistani war. Constellation's tour was extended to the end of the month due to these new contingency operations. USS Coral Sea (CVA 43) joined Constellation on the line 15 December.
A total of 2,462 ordnance delivery strike sorties were flown during December 1971. The number of surface-to-air missile firing incidents increased and the bold excursions by MiG aircraft into Laos prompted both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to develop new tactics, combining efforts, to suppress the MiG threat. A major protective reaction strike effort by both USAF and USN commenced 26 December and terminated 30 December. In this period, TF-77 flew 423 strike sorties employing all-weather A-6A systems backed up by A-7Es as pathfinders, with Dong Hoi, Quang Khe and Vinh the major targets assigned to the Navy. During the month, the Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) was introduced by squadrons aboard Constellation. Initially, 16 trial LGB drops were road cuts, with subsequent targets antiaircraft artillery sites. In the coming year, LGBs were to be used effectively against heretofore seemingly indestructible targets in NVN, such as heavy steel bridge structures built into solid rock.
USS Enterprise rejoined Constellation on Yankee Station on 18 January 1972 following her tour in the Indian Ocean in December 1971. The next day, 19 January, Lieutenants Randall H. Cunningham and William P. Driscoll in an F-4 Phantom of VF-96 off Constellation shot down a MiG-21, the first enemy aircraft downed since the 28 March 1970 shoot-down of a MiG-21 by Lt. Jerome E. Beaulier and Lt. (j.g.) Stephen J. Barkley in an F-4 Phantom II of VF-142 off Constellation . The 19 January action occurred during a protective reaction strike in response to earlier antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile firings from the area which had menaced an RA-5C reconnaissance plane and its escorts. This accounted for the Navy's 33rd MiG shot down in the Vietnam war since the first shoot-down on 17 June 1965, downed by Commanders Louis C. Page and John J. Smith in an F-4 of VF-21 off USS Midway (CVA 41).
Throughout January 1972 Constellation, Coral Sea and Enterprise served intermittently on Yankee Station. With only light ground action, limited troop contacts and the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops continuing during the month, the level of air operations also remained low, a situation which continued generally throughout the first three months of the year. During January, a total of only eight Navy tactical air attack sorties were flown in South Vietnam. In North Vietnam, there was very little attack effort except for some protective reaction strikes.
During the following month, naval air attack sorties in South Vietnam had risen to 733 compared tothe eight during January. The increase was due to the preemptive operations by allied forces in preparation for an expected large-scale enemy offensive during Tet which did not materialize. Constellation, Coral Sea and Hancock served overlapping tours on Yankee Station, assuring two to three carriers on station at a time during most of February 1972.
Naval Air attack sorties in South Vietnam in March 1972 again dropped to 113. On 23 March the U.S. canceled further peace negotiations in Paris, France, because of a lack of progress in the talks. This was followed by the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam. This "Easter," or "Spring Offensive" was the result of the long buildup and infiltration of North Vietnamese forces during previous months and presaged some of the most intense fighting of the entire war. The North Vietnamese invasion prompted increased air operations by the carriers in support of South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. The carriers on Yankee Station when North Vietnam invaded on 30 March were Hancock and Coral Sea, which had rotated with Constellation and USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63).
Beginning on 5 April 1972, aircraft from Constellation, along with those from Hancock, Coral Sea and Kitty Hawk took part in Operation Freedom Train which involved Navy tactical air sorties against military and logistic targets in the southern part of North Vietnam that were involved in the invasion of the south. The operating area in North Vietnam was limited initially to between 17° and 19°N. However, special strikes were authorized against targets above the 19th parallel on various occasions. The magnitude of the North Vietnamese offensive indicated that an extended logistics network and increased resupply routes would be required to sustain ground operations by North Vietnam in their invasion of South Vietnam. Most target and geographical restrictions that were placed in effect since October 1968 concerning the bombing in North Vietnam were lifted gradually and the list of authorized targets expanded. Strikes in North Vietnam were against vehicles, lines of communication (roads, waterways, bridges, railroad bridges and railroad tracks), supply targets, air defense targets and industrial/power targets. By the end of April, operations were permitted in North Vietnam throughout the region below 20° 25'N and many special strikes above the 20th parallel had also been authorized.
By mid-April, the Navy was averaging 191 sorties per day in South Vietnam, a 97 percent increase over the previous week. Sorties concentrated west and north of Quangtri City with interdiction and direct air support flown in the area. Carriers on Yankee Station were Constellation, Hancock, Coral Sea, and Kitty Hawk. On 16 April, in Operation Freedom Porch, aircraft from Constellation and the other three carriers on Yankee Station flew 57 sorties in the Haiphong area in support of U.S. Air Force B-52 strikes on the Haiphong petroleum products storage area. From 25 through 30 April, Constellation's VA-146, VA-147 and VA -165 hit areas around the besieged city of Anloc in support of South Vietnamese troops, some only 40 miles outside the capital of Saigon. Targets attacked included artillery fire bases, enemy tanks, bunkers, troop positions, ammunition caches and gun emplacements.
On 9 May 1972, Operation Pocket Money, the mining campaign against principal North Vietnamese ports, was launched. Early that morning, an EC-121 aircraft took off from Da Nang airfield to provide support for the mining operation. A short time later, Kitty Hawk launched 17 ordnance-delivering sorties against the Nam Dinh railroad siding as a diversionary air tactic. Poor weather, however, forced the planes to divert to secondary targets at Thanh and Phu Qui which were struck at 090840H and 090845H, Vietnam time, respectively. Coral Sea launched three A-6A and six A-7E aircraft loaded with mines and one EKA-3B in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of Coral Sea at 090840H in order to execute the mining at precisely 090900H to coincide with President Richard Nixon's public announcement in Washington that mines had been seeded. The A-6 flight led by the CAG, Cmdr. Roger E. Sheets, was composed of Marine Corps aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Cmdr. Leonard E. Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Capt. William R. Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane, established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases.
The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H. Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment. All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President's public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy's ability to continue receiving war supplies.
On 10 May 1972, Operation Linebacker I, the heavy strike of targets in most of North Vietnam, evolved and lasted until restrictions on operations above 20°N were imposed 22 October. The operation was an outgrowth of Freedom Train and the President's mining declaration which also stated that the U.S. would make a maximum effort to interdict the flow of supplies in North Vietnam. On this first day of Linebacker I, the Navy shifted its attacks from targets in southern North Vietnam to the coastal region embracing Haiphong north to the Chinese border. In all, 173 attack sorties were flown in this region this day, although another 62 were directed into South Vietnam in continuing support of allied forces there.
It was the most intensified air-to-air combat day of the entire war. Navy flyers shot down eight MiGs. An F-4 Phantom II from VF-96 on board Constellation - Lt. Randall H. Cunningham, the pilot and Lt. (j.g.) William P. Driscoll - while engaged in aerial combat over Haiphong shot down three MiGs for the first triple downing of enemy MiGs by one plane during the war. These three MiG downings, coupled with their 19 January and 8 May downing of two MiGs, made Lt. Cunningham and Lt. (j.g.) Driscoll the first MiG aces of the Vietnam War. Three other kills were scored by planes of VF-96 and one by VF-92 off Constellation and one by VF-51 off Coral Sea.
During the five and one-half month period of Linebacker I, the Navy contributed more than 60 percent of the total sorties in North Vietnam, with 60 percent of this effort in the "panhandle", the area between Hanoi and the DMZ. Tactical air operations were most intense during the July-September quarter with 12,8ô5 naval sorties flown. Most attack sorties in North Vietnam fell into two classes - armed reconnaissance and strike. The former was directed usually against targets of opportunity within three main areas - near Hanoi, Haiphong and the Chinese border. Strike operations were preplanned and usually directed at fixed targets. Most types of fixed targets. not associated with armed reconnaissance, required approval by the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, or by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prior to attack. Principal Navy aircraft were the A-7 and A-6, which accounted for roughly 60 and 15 percent of the Navy's attack sorties, respectively. About 25 percent of the Navy's effort was at night. Carriers participating in the initial May to June operations from Yankee Station were Constellation, Coral Sea, Hancock, Kitty Hawk, Midway and USS Saratoga (CVA 60).
On 11 May 1972, Naval aircraft flying from Constellation, Coral Sea, Midway, and Kitty Hawk laid additional mine fields in the remaining ports of significance in North Vietnam: Thanh Hoa, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Hon Gai, Quang Khe and Cam Pha as well as the Haiphong approaches. This early mining was not confined solely to the seven principal ports. Other locations were also seeded early in the campaign, including the Cua Sot, Cap Mui Ron, and the river mouths, Cua Day and Cua Lac Giang, south of Don Son and the Haiphong port complex. The following day, 12 May, the 72-hour delay arming time on the initial mines laid at Haiphong was up at 120900H Vietnam time. Nine ships at Haiphong had taken advantage of the grace period to depart the port. Twenty-seven ships remained. Both Soviet and Soviet-bloc ships headed for Haiphong at the time had diverted to different destinations, thus avoiding a direct confrontation with the mine fields. Constellation was relieved at Yankee Station and returned home to San Diego, arriving on 30 June 1972. She received a Presidental Unit Citation from President Nixon in 1973.
On 5 January 1973, Constellation, along with Carrier Air Wing 9, began her seventh deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam. The Vietnam cease-fire, announced on 23 January went into effect on the 27th. Aircraft from Constellation and Oriskany operating on Yankee Station, the location of which was changed to a position off the coast of the northern part of South Vietnam, flew strikes against targets in southern Laos. Combat sorties from carriers on Yankee Station against targets in Laos had continued since the cease-fire in Vietnam. These combat support sorties were flown in support of the Laotian government which had requested this assistance and it had no relationship with the cease-fire. Constellation returned from this deployment on 11 October 1973.
Constellation again departed for WESTPAC on 21 June 1974, her eighth such deployment. On 19 November Constellation was part of an eight-ship force from the United States participating in the Central Treaty Organization Exercise Midlink 74. The exercise got underway as the largest naval exercise ever held in the Arabian Sea. Participating were forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. Constellation returned from this deployment on 22 December 1974.
On 31 January 1975, Constellation departed San Diego for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., to undergo on of the most extensive carrier overhauls ever undertaken, enabling her to carry the Navy's newest air supremacy fighter, the F-14A Tomcat, and the S-3A Viking, a submarine hunter. On 1 July 1975, she, along with all U.S. carriers, were redesignated as "CV" from "CVA." This change was made to improve the accuracy of designations in modern warfare. By removing the letter A, which stood for attack, the new designation CV could serve a multipurpose air, surface, and ASW role, depending on the type of aircraft carried. After 14 months at Puget Sound, Constellation departed the shipyard on 26 April 1976 to rejoin the Pacific Fleet.
On 3 July 1976, Constellation celebrated America's Bicentennial by hosting a nationally-telecast TV special from her flight deck. The special featured many major celebrities and guests.
A newly refurbished Constellation began her 10th deployment in April 1977, which included the first port call by a U.S. carrier to Pattaya, Thailand.
On 26 September 1978, "Connie" sailed west again beginning her 11th deployment. On 27 December, Constellation and her escort ships were directed to the vicinity of Singapore in response to the internal crisis in Iran and because of vital U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf area, but on 2 January 1979, the President directed Constellation and her escort ships to remain on station in the South China Sea and not enter the Indian Ocean. Constellation and her escorts were released from contingency operations in the South China Sea on 28 January. The crisis in Iran abated when the Shah of Iran departed for exile on 16 January. Due to the uneasy situation in Iran all U.S. government dependents and nonessential American citizens were ordered to evacuate the country on 30 January.
Constellation and her escorts were ordered to the Gulf of Aden on 7 March 1979 in response to the conflict between North and South Yemen. The Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Gulf were considered vital waterways for the passage of petroleum products to the U.S. and her allies. On 16 April, Constellation was relieved by Midway as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier. Constellation returned to San Diego 17 May 1979. The deployment had twice been extended and her service earned her the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medals.
Constellation began her 12th deployment to the western Pacific on 26 February 1980. On 18 April, the carrier and her battle group departed Subic Bay, the Republic of the Philippines, to relieve Coral Sea in the Indian Ocean, doing so on 30 April. Coral Sea had been on station for 89 days in connection with the Iranian crisis. On 4 November 1979, a mob of Muslim "students," adherents of the Ayatollah Khomeini's fundamentalist revolution, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and seized the Americans in the compound, including 14 Marine guards. The students announce that they will release their hostages if the United States will extradite the deposed Shah, who is undergoing medical treatment in New York, for trial by a revolutionary tribunal. President Jimmy Carter refuses to concede to the Iranians' demands. On 19 November, the Iranians occupying the Teheran embassy free three American hostages: a woman and two black Marines. Ten more of the Americans are freed the following day, but fifty-three remained in captivity for a total of 444 days, being released on 20 January 1981 as President Ronald Reagan took office.
Constellation herself set a new endurance record in 1980 remaining on station in the Indian Ocean for an exhausting 110 consecutive days. Midway relieved Constellation on 17 August, and the ship began her voyage home, arriving 15 October .
Constellation began her 13th deployment in October 1981, returning to San Diego in May 1982. Before the deployment, in late summer 1981, the carrier played host to President Ronald Reagan. During this visit, Mr. Reagan presented a Presidential Flag to the ship and proclaimed her "America's Flagship." While operating in the Gulf of Oman, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the Chief of Naval Operations paid Constellation a visit.
In December 1982, Constellation again sailed north to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., to begin a 14-month complex overhaul. During the overhaul, Constellation was modified to carry the Navy's newest strike fighter, the FA-18 Hornet. Connie was the first carrier to receive the new aircraft. She was also fitted with the new Phalanx radar-guided gattling-gun, two new flush deck catapults and the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System. Constalltion completed the $235 million overhaul two weeks early and under budget, something which a carrier had not accomplished since the 1940s, according to the shipyard.
Constellation set sail on her 14th deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Ocean on 21 February 1985. This was the first operational deployment of the F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter and the LAMPS, which used the SH-60B Seahawk ASW helicopter. The Hornets replaced the A-7E Corsair IIs operated by two squadrons assigned to CVW-14, making Constellation the Navy's first carrier to have F/A18s assigned to her air wing. The SH-60B Seahawk helicopter operated as the air subsystem of the LAMPS MK III weapon system, deployed aboard the frigate USS Crommelin (FFG 37). In addition to the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, the cruise included port visits to Singapore, Kenya and Western Australia. Constellation returned to her homeport of San Diego In late August. For her performance during this cruise, the carrier's crew earned the Meritorious Unit Commendation. The ship also received the Secretary of the Navy's Environmental Protection Award.
With the cruise and two major awards, 1985 was a pretty good year for Constellation, but 1986 would be even better. During the first part of this year Constellation earned the Golden Anchor Award for retention excellence and a second consecutive Environmental Protection Award. The most Important award, though, came when the ship earned the U.S. Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency Award covering her outstanding performance from January 1985 to June 1986.
Constellation began a two-month Northern Pacific Cruise (NOPPAC) in September 1986. In early September, the ship spent five days in Vancouver, British Columbia, where many members of the crew visited EXPO '86. In late September the ship spent four days in Anchorage, Alaska. It was the first carrier to ever visit that port. During these port visits, the ship hosted over 15,000 visitors.
Constellation's final port visitwas in Seattle, Wash., where an estimated 45,000 visitors walked her decks while America's Flagship celebrated the Navy's 211th birthday. Connie returned home to Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego in time for her 25th birthday. On 27 October 1986, Constellation celebrated her Silver Anniversaiy on board with a concert, ceremony and a giant cake.
On 11 April 1987, Constellation once again made her way west to the western Pacific and Indian Oceans. But this cruise, her 15th major deployment, took her on up into the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.
On 2 August 1988, Constellation successfully fought a severe fire in the main engineering space using the installed HALON firefighting equipment; this was the first carrier use of the system in fighting a fire.
In February 1990, Constellation left San Diego, returning to the east coast for a three-year overhaul. The $800-million Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), completed in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1993, added an estimated 15 years to the carrier's operational life. The overhaul saw upgrades to virtually every system on the ship. Constellation departed the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard 4 March 1993, the fifth and last carrier to complete SLEP. Back in San Diego, the carrier was visited on 18 August by Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton on his first trip to southern California. Following a similar trip two days earlier to east coast commands, the Secretary also Naval Station San Diego, Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Naval Air Station Miramar, Naval Submarine Base San Diego and other area commands.
USS Constellation is slated for replacement by the new CVN-76 Ronald Reagan in 2003. In early April 2002 it was reported that the Navy was considering an option to extend the life of the Constellation beyond 2003. According to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, the extension would require about $150 million in additional maintenance funds, and about $500 million for each additional year of operations.
The Constellation departed San Diego for the last time on September 12, 2003 as it headed north to be mothballed.
The First Constellation
The name Constellation is one of the most famous in U.S. naval history. The first ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy; the first to put to sea; and the first to engage, defeat and capture an enemy vessel was the three-masted U.S. Frigate CONSTELLATION.
It started on March 27, 1794, when a special act of Congress provided for building the U.S. Navy its first new ships. The six frigates were given symbolic names which the new country could rally around - names such as CONSTITUTION, CONGRESS, CHESAPEAKE, UNITED STATES, and PRESIDENT. But the first to be commissioned received the name held in highest esteem by the fledgling Congress - the name for the "new constellation of stars" on the American flag.
The USF CONSTELLATION was built at Harris Creek Shipyard in Baltimore's Fells Point. She was designed with a main battery of 36 guns, had a crew complement of 340 men, and displaced 1,278 tons with a beam of 41 feet and length of 164 feet.
On September 7, 1797, CONSTELLATION was launched just in time as the United States entered its first naval war. The "Quasi War" (1798-1801) with France was largely CONSTELLATION's war. On February 9, 1799, CONSTELLATION fought and captured the 36-gun frigate L'INSURGENTE, the fastest ship in the French Navy. Under the command of the legendary Captain Thomas Truxtun, it was the first battle by one of the original six frigates. This great achievement for a young U.S. Navy was the first major victory by an American-designed and American-built warship.
There were many more victories to follow. CONSTELLATION fought a second single-ship action in February 1800: a night encounter with France's 54-gun frigate LA VENGEANCE. CONSTELLATION was again victorious, winning a bloody and violent 5-hour battle. French sailors, amazed at her expert sailing ability because she could attain the thrilling speed of 14 knots while sailing under nearly an acre of canvas sails, nicknamed her "Yankee Racehorse."
CONSTELLATION continued to serve with distinction in the Barbary Wars against Tripoli and the War of 1812 against Great Britain. In 1840, CONSTELLATION completed a historic voyage around the world, which included being the first U.S. warship to enter the inland waters of China. After more than 50 years of service, CONSTELLATION was thoroughly worn out. In 1853 she was broken up at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Va.
But the name of CONSTELLATION would live on. In 1854, the U.S. Sloop of War CONSTELLATION was launched from Gosport. With similar dimensions to her famous predecessor, she carried 23 guns and had a crew compliment of 20 officers, 220 Sailors and 45 Marines.
The new ship's first assignment was interdicting the slave trade off the coast of Africa. She captured three slave ships and released the imprisoned slaves. At the outbreak of the Civil War, CONSTELLATION made the first Union Navy capture, overpowering the slaver brig TRITON in coastal waters off Africa.
After the war, CONSTELLATION saw various duties such as carrying famine relief stores to Ireland and carrying precious American works of art to the Paris Exposition of 1895.
After being used as a practice ship for U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, CONSTELLATION became a training ship in 1894 for the Naval Training Center in Newport, R.I., where she helped train more than 60,000 recruits during World War I.
Decommissioned in 1933, CONSTELLATION was recommissioned as a national symbol in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Shortly after the country's entry into World War II, she became the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King and Vice Admiral Royal Ingersoll.
The treasured warship was decommissioned in 1955 and was taken "home" to her permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor. Now a National Historic Landmark, she is the last existing Civil War-era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship built by the U.S. Navy. Coincidentally, just as the aircraft carrier USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) was beginning her 19th overseas deployment, the U.S. Sloop of War CONSTELLATION completed a $9-million restoration project in July 1999. The restoration will allow a new generation of Americans to learn about the important role CONSTELLATION had in our nation's history.
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