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Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)


Arleigh Albert Burke, born on 19 October 1901 in Boulder, Colo., entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 26 June 1919 and graduated on 7 June 1923. Joining battleship Arizona (BB-39) soon thereafter, he began his naval career as a junior watch and division officer, and was given command of Arizona’s turret IV. Over the next few years, he served as that battleship’s torpedo officer, assistant engineer, and ship’s secretary. During that time, he developed an interest in gunnery, and qualified as head of the ship’s plotting room, handling range direction for the battleship’s gunnery exercises. In the spring of 1927, Burke spent a month at the Ford Instrument Co. facility in New York City, studying that company’s new antiaircraft director.

His initial bid for post-graduate work having been denied, Burke instead received orders on 2 April 1928 to auxiliary vessel Procyon (AG-11), the flagship of Rear Admiral William W. Phelps, Commander, Fleet Base Force. After serving as assistant navigator and ship’s secretary, Burke became Admiral Phelps’ flag lieutenant and force personnel officer in June 1928. In October of the same year, the Bureau of Navigation approved Burke’s second request for post-graduate work, and on 17 June 1929, he reported to the Post-Graduate School at the Naval Academy to commence 15 months of rigorous course work first at Annapolis and, later, at Ann Arbor, Mich.

This intensive instruction in ordnance design, fire control, and ballistics culminated in his receiving an M. S. degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on 22 June 1931. He then spent a year visiting major private plants and military installations involved in developing, producing, and storing explosives.

In the spring of 1932, Burke received orders to heavy cruiser Chester (CA-27), and he remained in that ship for almost a year, serving as main battery officer. Ordered to the Base Force staff in April 1933 as assistant officer-in-charge of the Battle Force Camera Party, Burke worked in developing and using photographic equipment to “triangulate, tabulate, and analyze” the fall of shot in gunnery exercises, duty which required “meticulous accuracy and long days in preparation.” For two years, Burke served with the Battle Force Camera Party, until he received orders to the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) in Washington, D.C.

Burke labored next in BuOrd’s ammunition and explosives section, given the prime responsibility dealing with the purchase, storage, and distribution of ammunition charges acquired by the Navy. He also worked in the area of distributing ammunition for target practice, the design of a new storage area for high explosive ammunition, and research toward developing a more stable smokeless powder for use on board ships. Rear Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of BuOrd, lauded the young officer’s “keen grasp of ordnance in relation to the service,” and foresaw his becoming “an officer of exceptional value to the service.”

In May 1937, Burke became the prospective executive officer of the recently launched destroyer Craven (DD-382). He served in that new destroyer until June 1939, exhibiting considerable administrative talent in the fields of discipline and material, invaluable experience in handling small warships. Promoted to lieutenant commander in August 1938, while in Craven, Burke received his first sea command the following summer. On 5 June 1939, he assumed command of Mugford (DD-389), the flagship for Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 8, Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 4, Battle Force. Under his leadership, Mugford won the Destroyer Gunnery Trophy for 1939-1940, finished third in engineering, and high in communications.

Relieved on 30 July 1940, Burke returned to Washington to serve as an inspector at the Naval Gun Factory. He worked devotedly in this important shore billet, but, following American entry into World War II in December 1941, incessantly sought to return to sea. Finally, late in 1942, orders sent him to the South Pacific. After commanding in turn DesDiv 43, DesDiv 44, and DesRon 12, Burke received command of DesRon 23.

Burke soon emerged as a combat leader, earning the Navy Cross for leading the “Little Beavers,” as DesRon 23 came to be called, in the first bombardment of the Buka-Bonis area and the first daylight bombardment of Japanese positions in the Shortlands. During the night of 1 and 2 November 1943, an American force under Rear Admiral Aaron S. Merrill, of which DesRon 23 formed a part, met a more powerful Japanese unit, and defeated it decisively in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.

The “Little Beavers” also earned the Presidential Unit Citation under Burke’s leadership, and their commodore earned the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for his “indomitable fighting spirit and great personal courage.” DesRon 23 daringly defied Japanese aircraft and closed strongly fortified shores to deliver sustained shellings of Japanese coastal defenses and cover amphibious assaults. Burke later earned the Legion of Merit for his leadership of DesRon 23 in battle off Kavieng, New Ireland, and Duke of York Island on 17 and 23 February 1944. The ships of his squadron destroyed two Japanese auxiliary vessels, one large cargo ship, a minelayer, and four barges in addition to inflicting severe damage on enemy shore installations. DesRon 23 effected a skillful withdrawal without damage.

Having earned the nickname “31-knot Burke” for his high speed combat performance, he soon became chief of staff to Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, Commander, Fast Carrier Task Force, TF 58, in March 1944. He remained as Admiral Mitscher’s chief of staff into June 1945; during this time, he received promotion to commodore. Burke planned and executed a long series of offensive operations in the reduction of the perimeter of Japanese defenses in New Guinea, the Carolines, the Marianas, Halmahera and Philippine Islands; his “superb professional skill, tireless energy, and coolness of decision in that work earned him his second Legion of Merit. He then received his second DSM for his efficient control of the tactical disposition, the operation, the security and the explosive offensive power of TF 58 in its support of the landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and carrier air strikes on the Japanese homeland.

On 11 May 1945, two suicide planes crashed Admiral Mitscher’s flagship, aircraft carrier Bunker Hill (CV-17). Burke unhesitatingly proceeded to a compartment in which men were trapped, and despite fire and heavy smoke, succeeded in evacuating the sailors there. He received a letter of commendation for his courage and promptand efficient action “with utter disregard for his own personal safety . . .” in rescuing the men. Three days later, after Admiral Mitscher had transferred his flag to the famed carrier Enterprise (CV-6) on 14 May, a kamikaze crashed that ship; Burke again arranged for the transfer of command, and “in spite of all difficulties . . . maintained tactical control of the Task Force ...” For his conspicuous gallantry on both occasions, on 11 and 14 May, Burke was awarded the Silver Star.

In July 1945, Burke returned to Washington and served as BuOrd’s Director of Research and Development, before he went to the Mediterranean in January 1946, as the chief of staff to Vice Admiral Mitscher, Commander, Eighth Fleet. He served in that capacity until March 1946, when Mitscher (promoted to admiral) was given command of the Atlantic Fleet. Burke remained with that great carrier leader in the same capacity until Mitscher’s death in February 1947.

Following service on the General Board, Burke took command of light cruiser Huntington (CL-107); but soon returned to shore duty to head the new Organizational Research and Policy Division (OP 23) under the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), established to advise CNO during efforts to implement the National Security Act of 1947. During this time, he coordinated the Navy’s defense in the B-36 controversy in 1949. He then served as Navy Secretary on the Defense Research and Development Board.

After the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Burke became deputy chief of staff to Commander, Naval Forces, Far East, that September, bringing to the task a “sound knowledge of naval administration and professional skill” that aided in the reorganization of the staff to meet ever-increasing responsibilities in the Korean War. He received a third Legion of Merit for his service in that capacity.

In May 1951, Burke was given command of Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 5 off the coast of Korea, but only served in the post until July, at which time he joined the United Nations delegation to the truce talks in Korea. From 9 July to 5 December 1951, Burke's keen discernment and decisive judgment proved of inestimable value in “countering enemy intransigence, misrepresentation and evasion with reasoned negotiation, demonstrable truth, and conciliatory measures.” As advisor to the chief delegate on all phases of the armistice talks, Burke offered “timely recommendations for solutions to the varied intricate problems encountered” by the negotiators; his services in that capacity earned Burke an Oak Leaf cluster from the Army in lieu of a fourth Legion of Merit.

Early in December 1951, Burke returned to Washington to head CNO’s Strategic Plans Division. Command of CruDiv 6 in the Mediterranean and the position of Commander, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, followed in turn before President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Burke as CNO, promoting him over 92 more senior flag officers. Serving in that office from 17 August 1955 to 1 August 1961, he is the only officer to hold that post through three two-year terms. During Burke’s tenure as CNO, he acted as a major force in developing the Navy’s Polaris submarine missile program and keeping it under that service’s control, and utilized the Forrestal (CV-59)-class aircraft carriers in the nuclear deterrence role.

On 1 August 1961, Burke retired from the Navy and resided in Washington, D.C., devoting part of his time to advisory committees and boards of directors of such worthwhile activities as veterans organizations, patriotic groups, and educational institutions, as well as to the Navy he had served so well. Admiral Burke died on 1 January 1996, and was buried three days later at the Naval Academy Cemetery, Md. For additional information see: The first ship named Arleigh Burke.

Admiral Burke as the CNO, 15 December 1958.
Admiral Burke as the CNO, 15 December 1958. (KN-12924 (Color), Photographic Section, Naval History & Heritage Command)

For the ship's Command Operations Reports see (

(DDG-51: displacement 8,960; length 505'; beam 66'; draft 31'; speed 30+ knots; complement 356; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 8 RGM-84 Harpoons, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft operate (but not embark) 1 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawk; class Arleigh Burke)

Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) was laid down on 6 December 1988 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 16 September 1989; sponsored by Mrs. Roberta Burke, wife of Adm. Arleigh A. Burke; and commissioned on 4 July 1991 at Norfolk, Va., Cmdr. John G. Morgan Jr., in command.


Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) Ship's Seal
Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) Ship's Seal


Blue and gold represent the Navy. The orle, symbol of distinction, stands for the outstanding achievements in battle of Admiral Burke against the Japanese fleet. The fist and mace symbolize the offensive and defensive power of the new destroyer. The mace, also a symbol of authority, represents Admiral Burke’s outstanding service as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). It also refers to Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, an influential figure and mentor, for whom Admiral Burke served as Chief of Staff. Admiral Burke’s Destroyer Squadron 23, represented by the bordure of 23 bezants, became the only United States Destroyer Squadron awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, signified by the canton of blue, yellow, and red. The bezants also refer to the year 1923 in which Arleigh Burke graduated from the United States Naval Academy. Twenty-three also reflects Admiral Burke’s distinguished service on the staff of the CNO as OP-23.


The mounted figure of St. George recalls Admiral Burke’s celebrated victory in the Battle of Cape St. George over Japanese ships. His mantle bears a gold cross for the Navy Cross awarded to the Admiral. The birth branch on the helmet represents Admiral Burke himself, a reference to his name derived from the Scandinavian patronym Bjorkegren. The red sea dragon symbolizes Japanese naval power assaulted by the forces under Commander Burke’s command. It is gorged with the two gold stars he was awarded for outstanding service. The lance impaling the dragon signifies ordnance on target. The full armor and equipment of the warrior St. George symbolize the capabilities of the new destroyer. The number 31 on the horse’s harness recalls the Admiral’s nickname “31-knot Burke.”

Arleigh Burke steams smoothly through a calm sea. (Navy Forces)
Arleigh Burke steams smoothly through a calm sea. (Unattributed or dated U.S. Navy photograph, Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), Navy Forces website)

On 14 April 1993, Former President George H. W. Bush, his wife Barbara, two of their sons, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III arrived in Kuwait to participate in ceremonies commemorating the allied victory in Gulf War I. The Kuwaitis arrested and charged 17 men with an attempt to assassinate the chief executive and Kuwaiti Emir (Sheikh) al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah with a car bomb. On 29 April, the CIA reported that the bomb bore the evidence of Iraqi origins. Guided missile cruiser Chancellorsville (CG-62) therefore launched nine BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) from the Northern Arabian Gulf, and destroyer Peterson (DD-969) fired 14 more missiles from the Red Sea, in a coordinated attack against the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters building in Baghdad, Iraq, on the night of 26 June. At least 13 missiles struck the walled compound. During a press conference Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, described the attack as a “proportionate” response to the Iraqi assassination plot. The U.S. subsequently dispatched aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and Arleigh Burke to reinforce allied forces deployed to the Red Sea.

Arleigh Burke deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom I and on the night of 21 March 2003, she joined 29 other U.S. and British ships and submarines that fired TLAMs against multiple Iraqi military targets.

A Seahawk flying from Arleigh Burke over the Central Arabian Gulf spotted an Iranian dhow in distress on 9 October 2007. The helo called the destroyer, which in turn notified the Maritime Emergency Mutual Aid Center, which then alerted Iranian coast guardsmen. While they awaited the arrival of the Iranians, the helo’s crew provided fresh water to the stranded mariners.

Pirates using a pair of skiffs seized Panamanian-flagged Japanese chemical tanker Golden Nori off Socotra in the Indian Ocean, on 28 October 2007. The multi-national crew of Golden Nori, which consisted of twelve Burmese, nine Filipinos (including the master), and two Koreans, radioed for help. The allies grew concerned that terrorists might seize the benzene carrier and ram the ship and her highly flammable cargo into oil rigs or a port. Guided missile destroyer Porter (DDG-78) took action and opened fire to disable the skiffs, which the brigands had tied to the stern of their prize. The fires spread and sank both vessels but missed the benzene. One of Golden Nori’s crewmembers purportedly dove overboard and spent two days in the water before searchers rescued him. Arleigh Burke relieved Porter to shadow the pirates, and on 12 December the Americans persuaded the pirates to abandon the vessel. “We’re responsible mariners and we help all sorts of people,” Fifth Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Lydia R. Robertson told reporters. “…When we get a distress call, we respond.”

Waves crash over Arleigh Burke’s bow, 26 November 2013. (131126-N-AP176-033)
Waves crash over Arleigh Burke’s bow as she carries out a simulated strait transit in column with the George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) Carrier Strike Group while being evaluated for her readiness to deploy, 26 November 2013. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeff Atherton, U.S. Navy Photograph 131126-N-AP176-033, Navy NewsStand)
Arleigh Burke battles heavy seas as she simulates passing through another strait, 10 December 2013. (131210-N-EI510-198)
Arleigh Burke battles heavy seas as she simulates passing through another strait, 10 December 2013. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Barnes, U.S. Navy Photograph 131210-N-EI510-198, Navy NewsStand)

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advances across Iraq and Syria in 2014 led the coalition to launch strikes to destroy the Islamic extremist organization. Arleigh Burke meanwhile deployed independently to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, North Arabian Sea, and Arabian Gulf (15 February-17 October 2014). The ship principally carried out maritime security operations and theater cooperation operations, and at times operated with aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). On 8 August, George H.W. Bush launched armed close air support and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions that supported thousands of American servicemembers and civilians consolidating in Baghdad against the ISIL advance. Guided missile cruiser Philippine Sea (CG-58) and Arleigh Burke, operating in the North Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, respectively, fired 47 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) during these initial strikes, the devastating combination of air and missile strikes slowing the ISIL thrust in northern and central Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition gradually expanded these battles to contain ISIL, subsequently designating the fighting as Operation Inherent Resolve.

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans


Published: Thu Jun 18 13:54:25 EDT 2015