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Princeton VI (CG-59)


A Revolutionary War battle fought 2-3 January 1777 at Princeton, New Jersey.

The sixth ship named Princeton. The first Princeton, a screw steamer, served from 1843-1849. The second Princeton, a clipper-built ship, served from 1852-1866. The third Princeton, a composite gunboat, served from 1898-1919. The fourth Princeton, a small aircraft carrier, was laid down as light cruiser Tallahassee (CL–61) on 2 June 1941; reclassified to CV–23 on 16 February 1942; renamed Princeton on 31 March 1942; and served from 1943-1944. The fifth Princeton (CV–37), an aircraft carrier, was laid down as Valley Forge on 14 September 1943; renamed Princeton on 21 November 1944; reclassified to an attack aircraft carrier (CVA–37) on 1 October 1952; reclassified to an antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier (CVS-37) on 1 January 1954; and reclassified to an amphibious assault ship (LPH-5) on 2 March 1959; and served from 1945-1970.


(CG-59: displacement 9,600; length 567'; beam 55'; draft 33'; speed 30+ knots; complement 363; armament 2 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 8 RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile canister launchers, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft 2 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawks; class Ticonderoga)

The sixth Princeton (CG-59) was laid down on 15 October 1986 at Pascagoula, Miss., by Ingalls Shipbuilding Division, Litton Industries; launched on 2 October 1987; sponsored by Mrs. Susan Bradley, mother of Senator Warren W. Bradley of N.J.; and commissioned on 11 February 1989, Capt. Edward B. Hontz in command.

Princeton shifted from the Atlantic Fleet to the Pacific Fleet when she sailed from Pascagoula on 15 February 1989. A major failure in the No. 1 Lube Oil Cooler compelled the ship to sail on a single shaft during most of the voyage. She refueled at Rodman Naval Base in the Panama Canal Zone, and then passed through the canal, on 19 February. A gale swept into the Gulf of Tehuantepec on 23 February. Fifteen-foot swells crashed into the ship, opening a six-foot long crack in her forecastle deck on the port side just forward of the superstructure, tearing numerous exterior drain pipes lose from their mounts, rupturing a firemain pipe, and causing additional minor fractures in the aluminum superstructure. The tempest delayed Princeton’s arrival to Acapulco, Mexico, where she briefly visited the port (25-27 February), and the cruiser reached her new home port of Naval Station Long Beach, Calif., on 3 March. The ship then completed storm repairs and replaced her lube oil coolers, though she continued to experience associated problems, such as issues with her No. 2 Lube Oil Purifier.

Princeton, Capt. Hontz in command, and with two SH-60B Seahawks of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 47 Detachment 8, Lt. Cmdr. Jon Berg-Johnsen officer-in-charge, embarked, deployed (8 December 1990-8 June 1991) for Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. She sailed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf on 13 January 1991. At 0130 on 17 January, nine ships in the Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf, and Red Sea fired the first of 122 BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles at preprogrammed Iraqi targets. Those battles marked the first combat launch of the Tomahawks. Meanwhile, aircraft carriers America (CV-66), John F. Kennedy (CV-67), and Saratoga (CV-60) sailing in the Red Sea, Midway and Ranger in the Arabian Gulf, and Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) en route to the Gulf, launched 228 combat sorties. Princeton supported Midway and Ranger, and then (29 January) joined in the crescendo of bombardment and fired three Tomahawks at Iraqi military targets from her operating area in the central Arabian Gulf. In addition, she coordinated a total of 11 aerial attacks that resulted in sinking six Iraqi naval vessels.

The Iraqis mined the coastal waters of the western Arabian Gulf and Princeton accordingly took preventive measures: her crew drilled in damage control and combat systems damage recovery techniques using the Navy’s Shock Trial Program, and secured missile hazards. The coalition tentatively identified one crescent-shaped minefield that prevented them from launching amphibious landings against the Iraqi left flank, and the allies consequently began sweeping an approach lane to “Point Echo” (29°7'N, 48°53'15"E) about 30 miles off the Kuwaiti coast.

On the night of 17 February 1991, Capt. Peter Bulkeley, Commander Destroyer Squadron 22, received an intelligence report indicating that the Iraqis had deployed a Silkworm surface-to-surface missile battery along the Kuwaiti coast within range of the allied minesweepers and minehunters. The ships came about to open the range, and Bulkeley ordered Princeton, that operated as the local antiair warfare commander for the minesweeping and naval gunfire support ships, to protect them. The cruiser refueled from British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA)-manned fast fleet tanker Olna (A.123) in the ad-Dorra oilfield, then sailed westward at high speed to intersperse herself directly between the reported Silkworm battery and the coalition ships. “In that position,” Hontz reported, “we would be able to shoot down any Silkworm missile fired at the minesweepers.”

During the mid watch on 18 February 1991, the allies resumed sweeping operations at 0240, but at 0435 a mine damaged the forward section of amphibious assault ship Tripoli (LPH-10), the flagship of the ’sweeping operations in the northern Arabian Gulf. Her crewmen, however, contained the flooding and the ship continued fighting for five days before sailing to a dry dock at Bahrain, where she completed repairs. Although Tripoli suffered no fatalities, four men sustained injuries.

Princeton, meanwhile, steamed east of Kuwait City. “The ship was…barely maintaining steerageway,” Hontz recalled, “in order to allow maximum reaction time if a mine was spotted.” The ship did not proceed at Battle Stations but her sailors manned both 5-inch guns and enabled the missiles. At 0715, the captain instructed his crew to be especially vigilant, but a Manta mine detonated a minute later beneath Princeton’s stern on the port side. The explosion sent shockwaves radiating along the ship’s keel, throwing the aft lookout into the water and the forward lookout 10 feet into the air. The ship’s historian reported that she “whiplashed along the longitudinal axis, much like a fiberglass fishing pole, with the bow and stern receiving the most motion.” The blast pushed the quarterdeck upward, bending and snapping I-beams that helped the cruiser’s structural integrity and ripping through high-tensile steel deck plating. Within several seconds, the shock waves triggered a second mine that exploded about 350 yards off the ship’s starboard bow, the blast inflicting a side-to-side motion on the hull that nearly split Princeton in half and tossed men about for seven seconds.

The explosions and concussion ruptured internal fuel tanks as well as the stern fire main, located near Frame 472, pouring water onto No. 3 Electrical Distribution Switchboard, dousing the board and causing a fire and shock hazard, and damaged the rudder and propeller shaft. The ship sounded General Quarters, and her damage control parties fought the spilling fuel while working in pools of the volatile liquid and filthy water. Automatic sprinklers in the vicinity of Mount 52 (the aft gun) activated but added to the flooding. Crewmen nonetheless contained the flooding and fires within two hours, pumping the water overboard, patching and shoring the leaking fuel tanks, and gradually bringing her radars and combat systems back online. Most of the crew were in the least vulnerable center area of the ship, that reduced the casualties, but the explosions injured three sailors seriously enough to warrant their being evacuated to British RFA-manned aviation training ship Argus (A.135), that operated as a primary casualty receiving ship.

Shortly after the mines detonated, ocean minesweeper Adroit (MSO-509) cautiously threaded her way through the minefield, identifying a number of mines in the process, while she led salvage tug Beaufort (ATS-2) to the stricken cruiser. Divers from Beaufort inspected Princeton’s hull and determined that she would stay afloat, but the cruiser drifted with the current. “It quickly became apparent,” her historian tersely summarized their plight, “that the three ships were in the middle of a minefield.”

Adroit searched the area of the drift for mines, while Princeton’s after steering team restored the starboard rudder, using innovative techniques to bring the jammed port rudder to a centerline position. The ship proceeded under her own power on a single shaft, but Beaufort took her under tow to eastward to avoid additional mines. Adroit discovered so many mines that she ran out of flares and began to mark them with chemical-lights. Princeton’s exhausted crewmen manned their Battle Stations until Beaufort towed their ship clear the following day.

In retrospect, while the Iraqis failed to properly defend their minefield with aircraft and missiles, the allies had blundered into harm’s way. Battleship Missouri (BB-63), meanwhile, turned away from the minefield barely 3,000 yards before she entered the danger zone. Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragons swept limited channels through Iraqi mines while in the Arabian Gulf, but the helicopters moved more rapidly than ships and accordingly covered more water.

Guided missile cruiser Valley Forge (CG-50) relieved Princeton as the local antiair warfare commander on 19 February 1991. Princeton carried out repairs at Bahrain, then (1 March) offloaded her ammunition at Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, and carried out extensive repairs to the port shaft, midships superstructure, the ravaged switchboard, and various damaged decks and bulkheads while at Dubai Drydocks (6 March-10 April). The ship completed her sea trials on 23 April, and guided missile cruiser Texas (CGN-39) escorted Princeton as she passed outbound through the Strait of Hormuz on 24 April.

During the opening months of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, allied planners concerned about al-Qaeda terrorists escaping from the bombing in Afghanistan via ships developed Leadership Interception Operations to catch suspicious vessels off the Iranian and Pakistani coasts. Princeton accomplished some of the first of those operations near Gwadar, off southwestern Pakistan (28 November-8 December 2001). The Canadians and Italians largely commanded sectors. Aircraft from aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) searched for some of these smugglers, and ships from her group participated in patrols and interceptions.

Pirates seized Antigua-Barbuda-flagged, German-owned, merchantman Magellan Star in the Gulf of Aden on 8 September 2010. The following day, Princeton and Turkish frigate Gökçeada (F.494) supported Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force, embarked in amphibious transport dock Dubuque (LPD-8) and deployed with Combined Task Force 151, while they boarded Magellan Star, rescuing all 11 crewmembers and capturing nine pirates. The Marines transferred the pirates to Princeton.

Princeton (CG-59) VI  1989-100909-N-0037F-001
Dubuque stands by (in the background) while Cobra helicopter gunships cover Marines as they board Magellan Star, 9 September 2010. (Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class William Farmerie, U.S. Navy Photograph 100909-N-0037F-001, Navy NewsStand)
Princeton (CG-59) VI 1989-130918-N-KE148-098
Princeton searches for pirates and terrorists while deployed to the Fifth Fleet in the Indian Ocean, 18 September 2013. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Bartlett, U.S. Navy Photograph 130918-N-KE148-098, Navy NewsStand)

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans

4 September 2014

Published: Mon Aug 24 14:15:15 EDT 2015