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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3)

Named for: Belleau Wood, near Chateau Thierry, France, was the scene of a battle between the 4th Marine Brigade and elements of three German divisions in June 1918. This was part of the larger Battle of the Aisne, launched on 27 May by Germany in the hopes of defeating French forces near Paris before significant American forces could arrive at the front. The German Southern Army Group broke through the British and French divisions defending Chemin des Dames ridge on the first day of the attack, forcing the defenders across the Aisne and Vesle Rivers. German forces continued their advance, reaching the Marne River on 1 June before the offensive slowed.


Meanwhile, the American Army's 2d Division, with the 4th Marine Brigade attached, was ordered from its training areas north of Paris to a position northwest of Chateau Thierry. Attached to the French XXI Corps, the American troops took up positions astride the Paris-Metz highway on 1 June. The following day, a limited German attack rolled back the French outposts and occupied the towns of Tourcy and Bouresches, including the woods called Bois de Belleau between them, in front of the marine positions. As the French fell back through the marines, an officer advised Marine Corps Capt. Lloyd Williams to withdraw his men. Williams replied: "Retreat, hell! We just got here."


On 3 June, the German infantry advanced toward the 4th Brigade but were driven back by heavy artillery and long-range rifle fire. By the 5th, when it became clear that the Germans had shifted to the tactical defensive, the French corps commander ordered the 4th Brigade to attack Bois de Belleau. The month-long action remembered as the Battle of Belleau Wood began on 6 June with a battalion-level attack on a hill near Torcy. Although the assault companies suffered devastating enfilade fire, Hill 142 was taken after bloody hand-to-hand combat.


The following day, three battalions attacked the woods and Boureches from the southwest. Short on artillery support and hobbled by poor maneuver tactics, the marines again suffered heavy losses as they tried to clear the woods of machinegun nests. By evening, they held the edge of Belleau Wood and had cleared Boureches after desperate street fighting. Reinforced and resupplied, they held the town all night against repeated counterattacks. The day's fighting had cost the marines over 1,000 casualties, more than the Corps had lost in its entire history.


The 4th Brigade continued assaults into Belleau Wood for the next twelve days, fighting an attrition-style battle of platoons and squads in the confined wooded terrain. The advance slowed to a crawl as units were decimated in close combat and the entire brigade was forced to pull out of the fighting to regroup on 18 June. Returning to Belleau Wood on 25 June, the marines launched the final two-battalion assault that drove the last German battalion from its trenches. Early in the morning on the 26th, the tired marines reported "Belleau Wood now U.S. Marine Corps entirely."


Although the operation had cost 4th Marine Brigade 4,719 casualties, and over 1,000 killed, the marines had proved their courage to both the French and the AEF. Heartened by the American performance, the French awarded the division's infantry brigades, including 4th Marine Brigade, unit citations for "gallant action" and officially renamed the wood Bois de la Brigade Marine.


Ship name number:  II

The second ship to be assigned the name Belleau Wood. The first ship named Belleau Wood was designated CVL 24, commissioned 31 March 1943 and decommissioned on 13 January 1947.

Specifications: Include armament and major systems at time of commissioning.

LHA-3: displacement 39,300; length 820’; beam 106’; draft 26’; speed 20 + knots; complement 904; armament: three 5-inch/54 guns, two Basic Point Defense Missile Systems and six 20-mm machine guns; sensors: SPS-52 3D search radar, SPS-10 and SPS-40 search radars, SPN-35 Air/navigation radar, Integrated Tactical Amphibious Warfare Data System, and OE-82 satellite communications antenna, SSR-1 receiver and WSC-3 transceiver.

Built by: Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Keel Date: 5 March 1973

Launched: 11 April 1977

Sponsor (Christened) by: Mrs. James L. Holloway III, wife of former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral James L. Holloway III, 11 June 1977.

Commissioned: 23 September 1978

Redesignated: (n/a)

Decommissioned: 28 October 2005

Recommissioning date: (n/a)

Strike Date: 28 October 2005

Final Disposition: SinkEx on 13 July 2006 in the Pacific



Ship Insignia:

 

The plaque of Belleau Wood is a blend of symbols.

An image of a fighting U.S. Marine, in World War I battle dress, is at the center of the plaque. He carries a rifle with bayonet, and seems to be beckoning the viewer to follow him. Surrounding the figure are the cross, shield and swords of the Croix de Guerre, the French medal awarded to the Marines who distinguished themselves at Belleau Wood.

Twelve battle stars line the top of the plaque. They stand for the World War II record of LHA 3’s namesake, Belleau Wood (CVL-24). The gap between the sixth and seventh stars represents the ship’s only break in its war record. On 30 October 1944, while off Leyte Gulf, Belleau Wood was struck by a kamikaze. The ship then had to undergo repairs and an overhaul, hence the gap.

Blue and gold, the prevailing hues of the plaque, are the traditional colors of the Navy. The Tricolor reminds us that the battle of Belleau Wood occurred in France, and that the Marines who gave their lives at Belleau Wood did so in defense of another nation’s freedom. The segments—red, white, blue—bring to mind our nation’s colors as well.


Chronology and Significant Events:

23 Sep 1978: Commissioned at Pascagoula, Miss., as a General Purpose Amphibious Assault Ship (LHA), designed to embark, transport, and land elements of the landing force, with supplies and equipment, by means of helicopters, landing craft, and amphibian vehicles.

27 Sep 1978: A USMC CH-46 made the first helicopter landing on board.

28 Sep-28 Oct 1978: In transit, via the Panama Canal, to her new home port.

Dec 1978: Conducted AV-8 Harrier compatability evaluations to determine how Harriers could most effectively be operated from an LHA.

8 Jul 1979-9 May 1980: Underwent a Post Shakedown Availability at Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Mar 1981: Belleau Wood and her embarked Marine elements participated in Team Spirit 81, a joint amphibious exercise involving over 53 U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROKN) ships and over 170,00 men.

Apr 1981: Involved in two rescues of Vietnamese “boat people” whose craft were in distress. The two rescues involved more than 135 refugees. The ship received the Humanitarian Service Medal for these efforts.

Jun 1981: Spearheaded the Valiant Usher 81-4, a joint U.S.-Australian amphibious assault designed to improve combat readiness and promote cooperation between military elements of the participating nations.

Nov-Dec 1982: Participated in Valiant Usher 83-3 and Jade Tiger 83, the latter a combined military exercise that encompassed a full range of military training including amphibious operations.

22 Apr-5 Oct 1983: Conducted Selected Restricted Availability period at Long Beach Naval Shipyard. The primary reason for the yard period was the installation of a prototype Collective Protection System, designed to provide a toxic-free environment in the ship’s island structure following chemical, biological, or radiological attack.

Jan-Jul 1984: During her deployment to the Western Pacific she participated in seven exercises including Kernal Blitz 84-1, LANDEX at Zambales, Team Spirit, Valiant Usher 84-7 and various phases of Battle Week 84-3.

13 Mar 1985-28 Jan 1986: Entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a complex overhaul; in drydock from 13 March to 4 September.

22-30 Jan 1987: Participated in Kernel Potlatch 87-1, an integrated amphibious and carrier battle group exercise, the first winter amphibious exercise in the Aleutian Island chain since World War II. The operation also experienced a real world scenario when Belleau Wood air controllers directed the first AV-8B Harrier intercept of a Soviet Bear and Badger aircraft. During the exercise high seas, 18-24 foot waves, damaged the ship’s bow.

Jan-Jul 1987: During Belleau Wood’s Western Pacific deployment she participated in numerous exercises, including Kernel Potlatch 87-1, Valiant Usher 87-1, Team Spirit 87, and Pitch Black. Belleau Wood claimed numerous achievements and firsts during the deployment. Besides the items listed in the chronology entry for 22-30 Jan 1987 (above) they include: first to deploy with both AV-8B Harrier IIs and CH-53E helos, first LHA to accept an LCAC into her well deck, first LHA to deploy with 29 aircraft (the largest deck multiple ever for an LHA), and the first LHA to test the concept of Emergency Defense of the Amphibious Task Force by combining USMC Stinger Teams, AV-8B Harrier IIs and AH-1 Cobra helicopters..

8 Jan-7 Jun 1988: Entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a Selected Restricted Availability period.

Jan-Jun 1989: While deployed to the Western Pacific she participated in Valiant Usher 89-4 and 89-8, Team Spirit 89, and Valiant Mark. Of special note during this deployment was the outstanding performance of the ship’s hospital, that handled three major medical emergencies in which numerous military personnel were brought on board for treatment following mishaps during various exercises..

17 Mar 1989: While deployed to the Western Pacific, a CH-46 from the embarked HMM-161 crashed ashore, killing all four crewmen.

4 Oct 1989: The ship hosted the Soviet Minister of Defense and the Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., along with the Vice Chairman of the JCS and other U.S. military dignitaries. The visitors were given a tour of the ship, an AV-8B Harrier II demonstration, and lunch.

12-22 Oct 1989: While operating in northern California waters she participated in the Pacific Command Joint Anti-Drug Task Force and was under the operational control of Coast Guard District 13 in Seattle. A five-man USCG Law Enforcement Detachment was embarked during this operation.

May 1990: While participating in exercise RIMPAC 90 Belleau Wood’s embarked elements included the U.S. Army’s 1/27 Infantry Battalion as well as elements of the Ninth Marines.

13 Nov 1990-11 Oct 1991: Entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a Complex Overhaul. On 6 December she entered dry dock and remained there until 30 April 1991. The overhaul involved improvements to the ship’s weapon systems, engineering plant, and habitability spaces, as well as upgrades to several electronic systems to increase the ship’s combat capabilities, one of which was the installation of a “flag-configured” communications suite.

Sep 1992: Provided disaster relief to the island of Kauai following Hurricane Iniki.

Nov 1992: While deployed to the Philippine operating area the ship assumed all administrative and operational responsibilities of NAS Cubi Point in support of its final closure.

6 Oct 1993-28 Jan 1994: Underwent a Selected Restricted Availability yard period, receiving improvements to communications equipment, rehabilitation of all USMC and crew berthing spaces, and the installation of the Rolling Airframe Missile System.

29 May 1994: Lieutenant Mary Sobray, the first woman assigned to Belleau Wood’s crew, arrived, reporting for duty as the ship’s intelligence officer.

26 Nov-23 Dec 1994: During her operations in the waters off Singapore and exercise Tandem Thrust, she was alerted to possible duty off the coast of Somalia due to tensions in that country. The ship remained in Singapore for four days before receiving word that she could return to her home port in Sasebo. However, once she returned to Sasebo she remained on a 96-hour tether for possible duty in Somalia for the remainder of the month.

8 Feb 1995: Arrived off the coast of Mogadishu, Somalia, and participated in Operation United Shield, the landing of Marines ashore in Mogadishu for the evacuation of U.N. forces from the country. The withdrawal marked the end of two years of U.N. support for Somalia.

1-3 Mar 1995: Participated in the evacuation of U.N. forces and non-combatants from Mogadishu. She transported over 150 non-combatants to Mombasa, Kenya, on 4 March.

5 Aug-14 Nov 1995: Began Selected Restricted Availability at Sasebo. On 14 November the ship’s SRA came to an end and two days later she was underway for sea trials.

12-17 Aug 1996: Anchored at Vladivostok, Russia, for a historic port visit. The visit, Cooperation from the Sea ’96, involved a wreath-laying ceremony to honor American and Russian Navy veterans, sporting events, combined amphibious maneuvers with Russian counterparts, a tree-planting ceremony, and finally Russian helicopters performed numerous take-offs and deck landings on the ship.

31 Aug 1996-8 Apr 1997: Yard period; on 3 December entered a floating dry dock for Extended Drydock Selective Restricted Availability. On 4 March 1997, undocked from the Sagami Floating Drydock, and during the following two days, her 5-inch gun mounts were removed. Conducted sea trials during 6 to 8 April.

5 Aug-7 Oct 1998: In port Sasebo for Ship Repair Availability.

20 Oct 1998-18 Mar 1999: During a routine deployment for an annual exercise in Korean waters, Foal Eagle, Belleau Wood was heading south for a port visit to Hong Kong when she was ordered to return to Okinawa and off-load MAGTF 4 and load the 31st MEU Marines and then transit to the Persian Gulf. Belleau Wood’s new orders were to provide support for Operations Desert Thunder and Southern Watch—the monitoring of the U.N. imposed no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

16 Dec 1998: Participation in Operation Desert Fox began. The ship acted as the staging platform for Combat Search and Rescue Operations in case an American or Coalition plane was shot down during the four-day operation intended to neutralize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. She also provided support for Marines ashore in Kuwait.

14 Sep-8 Nov 1999: Operated off Indonesia in response to a crisis in East Timor, providing heavy-lift logistical support for the Australian-led U.N. Peace Keeping mission. By 1 October HMM-265, the ship’s assigned helicopter squadron, provided support for the International Forces on East Timor as part of Operation Stabilise. On 7 October, she relieved Mobile Bay (CG 53) and assumed responsibility of U.S. naval support for the operations in East Timor. The ship and her assigned units also provided humanitarian support for the International Peacekeeping forces in East Timor by ferrying cargo and people ashore..

15 Apr-30 Jun 2000: Commenced Restricted Availability period in Sasebo.

1 Jul 2000: Began “hull swap” with Essex (LHD 2), the largest hull swap and exchange of command in the U.S. Navy wherein Essex replaced Belleau Wood as the forward deployed Amphibious Assault ship. Belleau Wood’s crew, however, remained in Japan and transferred to Essex. The Essex crew transferred to Belleau Wood and sailed her back to San Diego, Calif., her new home port.

11 Aug-13 Oct 2000: Belleau Wood departed Sasebo, Japan, in route to her new home port of San Diego via operations in Korean waters, maintenance availability in Guam, stops at Saipan and Pearl Harbor.

17 Jan-16 Jun 2001: Belleau Wood conducted a five-month dry dock planned maintenance availability, during which time the ship had a fifth air conditioning system installed, upgraded collection holding and transfer systems, and revamped combat system and intelligence suites.

15 Jun-15 Dec 2002: Deployed to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While deployed, she participated in exercises Infinite Moonlight in Jordan and Eager Mace in Kuwait. She also provided humanitarian assistance off the east coast of Djibouti in October and off East Timor in November.

22 Jan-8 Oct 2003: Complex Overhaul, National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. She lay in dry dock from 11 March to 10 July.

27 May-24 Oct 2004: Deployed with an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Her deployment occurred a few weeks earlier than planned and demonstrated the flexibility of naval assets and the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), a plan whereby naval forces have been trained to immediately respond to a crisis or contingency with the required combat power and on short notice. The ESG was commanded by a Marine Corps General—the first time a Marine had been in command of an ESG and USN warships..

5 Jul 2004: Aviation elements in Belleau Wood conducted their first missions in support of the GWOT when they flew close-air support into Iraq. The missions were in support of the coalition forces who were continuing to perform security and stability operations in Iraq. The two AV-8B Harrier IIs flying the mission were from VMA-214 Det B, part of HMM-166 (Reinforced).


Home Port Assignments

Dates

San Diego, Calif.

28 Oct 1978

Bremerton, Wash. (Puget Sound)

15 Mar 1985

San Diego, Calif.

01 Feb 1986
Long Beach, Calif. 01 Nov 1990

San Diego, Calif.

04 Oct 1991
Sasebo, Japan 30 Sep 1992

San Diego, Calif.

Jul 2000

Commanding Officers

Date Assumed Command

CAPT Ted C. Steele

23 Sep 1978

 CAPT James C. Hayes

8 Jul 1980

CAPT Henri B. Chase 24 Apr 1982
CAPT Francis R. Donovan 1 Aug 1983
CAPT Charles M. Barker 31 Jul 1984
CAPT Luther F. Schriefer 10 Jul 1986
CAPT Hubert F. Tahaney, Jr. 11 Dec 1987
CAPT Paul G. Love III 19 Jan 1990
CAPT Douglas J. Bradt 2 Jul 1991
CAPT Harry M. Highfill 6 Jul 1993
CAPT John W. Townes III 27 Jan 1995
CAPT Frederic R. Ruehe 4 Jun 1996
CAPT Ward L. Harris, Jr. 9 Jan 1998
CAPT Thomas A. Parker* 2 Apr 1999
CAPT Robert J. Gilman* 26 Jul 2000
CAPT Craig R. Solem 19 Nov 2001
CAPT Earl L. Gay 30 May 2003
CAPT Robert L. Ford 28 Oct 2004

 

* During the hull swap between Belleau Wood (LHA 3) and Essex (LHD 2) the commanding officer of Belleau Wood, Captain Parker and the commanding officer of Essex, Captain Gilman, exchanged commands of the two ships on 26 July 2000. Captain Gilman became commanding officer of Belleau Wood and Captain Parker became commanding officer of Essex.


Changes in armament and major systems (Weapons and radar/sonar equipment):

During the 1988 SRA the two Basic Point Defense Missile Systems were removed and replaced by the Close-In Weapons System. A Rolling Airframe Missile System was installed in late 1993. In 1996 the ship had the following: 2 21 Cell Rolling Airframe Missile Systems, 2 5-inch 54 cal DP Mk 45 Mod 1 guns, 2 20-mm Close In Weapons Systems Block 1 (CIWS), 6 20-mm AA Mk 67 guns, 2 SLQ-25 NIXIE, and 6 Mk 36 Mod 12 Super Rapid-Blooming Off Board Chaff Systems (SRBOC). The sensors included Mk 86 gun Fire Control System Mod 10, Mk-23 Target Acquisition System (TAS) Mod 5, SPG-60 radar, SPQ-9A radar, SPS-67 surface search radar, SPS-40B air search radar, SPS-48E 3-D air search radar, SPS-64 surface search radar, SPN-35A aircraft control/approach radar, SPS-43B long range aircraft control/approach radar, SLQ-32(V)3 electronic warfare suite and URN-25 TACAN. In 2002 the Weapon Systems included: 2 21 Cell Rolling Airframe Missile Systems, 2 20-mm Close In Weapons System Block 1, 4 .50-cal mounts, 4 .25-mm mounts, 2 SLQ-25 NIXIE, and 6 Mk 36 Super Rapid-Blooming Off Board Chaff Systems. The sensors included: Mk-23 Target Acquisition Systems (TAS) Mod 5, SPS-67 surface search radar, SPS-40E air search radar, SPS-48E 3-D air search radar, SPS-64 navigation radar, SPN-35A aircraft control/approach radar, SPN-43C aircraft control/approach radar, SLQ-32(V)3 electronic warfare suite, URN-25 TACAN and Furuno navigation radar. Following the ships overhaul in 2003 the weapon systems and sensors remained the same as those listed above for 2002.

Major Overseas Deployments (or deployments away from home port for more than 2 months)

Date of Departure

Return Date

Detachments On Board

Area of Operation

3 Jan 1979

27 Jan 1979

HMM-262

Hawaii

9 Jun 1979

19 June 1979

West Coast Ops

12 Jul 1980

26 Jul 1980

Ops Victoria, BC

22 Jan 1981 4 Aug 1981 HMM-165 WestPac/IO
4 Oct 1981 15 Oct 1981 Cruise to Mexico
18 Jun 1982 1 Jul 1982 Local 3rd Flt Ops
24 Aug 1982 24 Feb 1983 HMM-262 WestPac/IO
17 Jan 1984 27 Jul 1984 HMM-265 WestPac
9 Jan 1987 9 Jul 1987 HMM-163 (C) WestPac
12 Jan 1989 19 Jun 1989 VMFA-513, HMM-161 WestPac
4 Oct 1989 28 Oct 1989 Ops Northern Calif.
12 Mar 1990 30 Mar 1990 HMM-262, HMH-464 Ops Mexico
27 Apr 1990 20 Jun 1990 HMM-262, HMH-464 Ops Hawai
31 Aug 1992 31 Dec 1992* HMM-262 WestPac
28 Oct 1992 1 Dec 1992* Philippines area
3 Dec 1992 17 Dec 1992* Honk Kong area
11 Jan 1993 12 Feb 1993* Guam & Korea
28 Feb 1993 25 Mar 1993* Korea
4 May 1993 9 Jun 1993* Thailand
7 Jul 1993 29 Sep 1993* SoPac
15 Mar 1994 2 Apr 1994* Hong Kong area
5 Jul 1994 5 Aug 1994* Guam
5 Oct 1994 10 Nov 1994* Philippines area
26 Nov 1994 23 Dec 1994* Singapore area
20 Jan 1995 4 Jun 1995* HMM-262 Indian Ocean
21 Jul 1995 4 Jun 1995* Hong Kong area
4 Jan 1996 4 Mar 1996* WestPac
10 May 1996 25 May 1996* Philippines area
10 Jun 1996 25 Jul 1996* Okinawa, Korea
5 Aug 1996 23 Aug 1996* Sea of Japan
24 Apr 1997 9 Jun 1997* SoPac
9 Jul 1997 8 Aug 1997* Local Ops
17 Oct 1997 25 Nov 1997* Korea, Hong Kong
14 Jan 1998 1 May 1998* SoPac
11 May 1998 12 Jun 1998* Thailand
20 Oct 1998 19 Mar 1999* IO/Persian Gulf
26 Jul 1999 26 Aug 1999* Local Ops
14 Sep 1999 8 Nov 1999* HMM-265 SoPac
8 Feb 2000 1 Apr 2000* Singapore, local ops
11 Aug 2000 13 Oct 2000* WestPac
15 Jun 2002 14 Dec 2002 HMM-161 WestPac/IO
27 May 2004 24 Oct 2004 HMM-166 (R) WestPac/IO

 

* On 30 September 1992 Belleau Wood’s home port was changed from San Diego, Calif., to Sasebo, Japan. Belleau Wood became the only forward deployed Amphibious Assault Ship. The time frame reflects her permanent forward deployment and operations in Western Pacific waters.


** On 11 August 2002 Belleau Wood departed Sasebo, Japan, in route to her new home port of San Diego, Calif. This change of home port involved the largest hull swap and exchange of command in the U.S. Navy. USS Essex (LHD 2) replaced Belleau Wood as the forward deployed Amphibious Assault ship. However, the crew that has served aboard Belleau Wood remained in Japan and transferred to Essex. The Essex crew that had sailed the ship to Japan transferred their seabags and personal items to Belleau Wood and sailed the ship back to the States and its new home port.


Unit Awards Received

Dates

Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal     

8 Feb 1995 - 4 Mar 1995

 

22 Nov 1998 - 24 Feb 1999

Humanitarian Service Medal

4 Dec 1980

Navy Expeditionary Medal      

28 Apr 1981 - 11 Jun 1981

Joint Meritorious Unit Commendation

 8 Feb 1995 - 4 Mar 1995

Navy Unit Commendation 16 Dec 1998 - 20 Dec 1998
Meritorious Unit Commendation 22 Jan 1987 - 20 Jan 1987
1 Sep 1992 - 1 Oct 1993
Navy Battle (E) 1 Jul 1980 - 31 Dec 1981
1 Jul 1983 - 31 Dec 1981
1 Jul 1986 - 31 Dec 1981
1 Jan 1988 - 31 Dec 1981
1 Jul 1989 - 31 Dec 1981
1 Jan 1991 - 31 Dec 1992
1 Jan 1993 - 31 Dec 1993
1 Jan 1994 - 31 Dec 1994
1 Jan 1995 - 31 Dec 1995
1 Jan 1996 - 31 Dec 1996
1 Jan 1998 - 31 Dec 1998
1 Jan 2004 - 31 Dec 2004
SecNav Letter of Commendation 1 May 1999 - 1 Oct 2000

 

Command Histories Submitted:

 1978-2005


2007