The Proud History of a Proud Ship

During the Revolutionary War, General Burgoyne, who was advancing south from Canada, committed the tactical error of out-marching his own supply teams. As he neared Saratoga, he detached a force of Hessians under Lt. Col. Braun to capture the supplies, munitions and horses held by the Revolutionaries at a nearby supply depot in Vermont. This force was met and decisively defeated by a brigade of New Hampshire Militiamen led by Colonel John Stark, a victory which contributed to Burgoyne’s ultimate defeat at Saratoga. The time was mid-August 1777, the battleground was Bennington, Vermont.

In its first tribute to this victory, the Navy assigned the name BENNINGTON to 1700 ton gunboat, sister ship of the gunboats LEXINGTON and CONCORD. Commissioned in 1891, the vessel was built as a three masted steam schooner and armed with six guns. She operated in South Atlantic and European waters until 1894 when she joined the Pacific Fleet.

Based out of Mare Island, BENNINGTON operated along the Pacific Coast of North and Central America and the Hawaiian Islands until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. On 17 January 1899, while en route to the Philippines, she took formal possession of Wake Island. BENNINGTON cruised in Philippine waters assisting the U.S. Army in suppressing the insurrection until her return to Mare Island on 3 January 1901 when she was decommissioned. Recommissioned on 2 March 1903, she again cruised along the Pacific coast of North and South America until 17 August 1905 when the first USS BENNINGTON was permanently decommissioned.

The second ship to bear this historic name was the aircraft carrier BENNINGTON (CV-20) commissioned on 6 August 1944.

On 15 December, BENNINGTON got underway from New York and transited the Panama Canal on her voyage to the Pacific. The carrier arrived at Pearl Harbor on 8 January 1945 and then proceeded to Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, where she joined Task Group 58.1 on 8 February. Operating out of Ulithi, she took part in the strikes against the Japanese home islands (16-17 and 25 February), Volcano Islands (18 February – 4 March), Okinawa (1 March), and the raids in support of the Okinawa campaign (18 March – 11 June). On 7 April, BENNINGTON’S planes participated in the attacks on the Japanese task force moving through the East China Sea toward Okinawa which resulted in the sinking of the Japanese Battleship Yamato and four destroyers.

On 5 June, the carrier was damaged by a typhoon off Okinawa and returned to Leyte for repairs arriving on 12 June. Her repairs completed, BENNINGTON left Leyte, 1 July, and during 12 July – 15 August, took part in the final raids off the Japanese home islands. She continued operations in the West Pacific supporting the occupation of Japan until 21 October. On 2 September, she launched 78 aircraft which participated in the mass flight over USS MISSOURI (BB-63) and Tokyo during the surrender ceremonies. BENNINGTON arrived at San Fransisco on 7 November 1945, and early in March 1946, transited the Panama Canal en route to Norfolk. Following pre-inactivation overhaul, she was decommissioned and placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Norfolk 8 November 1946. After 4 years in preservation, BENNINGTON on 30 October 1950, steamed from Norfolk to the New York Naval Shipyard for modernization prior to re-commissioning. For two years she received major alterations which expanded her operating capabilities as well as making significant changes to her dimensions and appearance. BENN now displaced 40,500 tons and gained 43 feet in overall length and 8 feet at the beam, a stronger flight deck, stronger elevators, and higher capacity catapults. BENNINGTON was prepared for her new role as a jet attack carrier, CVA-20.

On 26 May 1954, the port catapult accumulator burst, releasing hydraulic fluid under tremendous pressure throughout the adjacent spaces. Scarcely flammable in a liquid state, the fluid becomes highly explosive when in this vaporized form. Ignition from an undetermined source set off a series of violent explosions which rocked the forward part of the ship. Damage control parties quickly isolated and began battling fires. Casualties were treated at emergency dressing stations set up in hanger bay three. Despite damage to the propulsion system, the ship was able to continue underway, launching all her aircraft, and then with the wind abaft the beam, proceeded to Quonset Point. In all, 103 officers and men were killed or died of injuries received in the catastrophe. Over 200 others were injured.

The ship moored at the New York Naval Shipyard to undergo damage repairs and modernization. While there, Captain Raborn held Meritorious Mast during which 188 BENNINGTON sailors received Meritorious Mast Citations and letters of commendation. Captain Raborn gave special praise to these men who performed services far beyond the call of duty at a time when “heroism was commonplace.”

BENNINGTON operated off the East Coast from April until September 1955, conducting readiness training, carrier qualifications and evaluations of her mirror landing system which was installed in July of that year. Finally, on 8 September, BENNINGTON set forth on a 14,000 mile journey around Cape Horn to her home-port of San Diego arriving 20 October.

Her stay was brief, for 11 days later she passed Ballast Point heading towards the Far East and a return to the scene of her former triumphs more than ten years earlier.

BENNINGTON made two deployments to the Far East during the next two years. The first from 31 October 1955 until 16 April 1956, and the second from 12 October 1956 until 22 May 1957. During the latter cruise, she visited Sydney, Australia, taking part in the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. A three month routine yard overhaul at Hunter’s Point lasted until September followed by a period of nine months operating off the California Coast and performing shipboard training and carrier qualifications of West Coast Navy and Marine air groups. This training period was terminated in May, 1958, when the ship sailed for Hawaii and received her Operational Readiness Inspection. After successfully completing this exercise, BENNINGTON proceeded to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she attended the Centennial Celebration of British Columbia. The ship, along with units of British and Canadian navies, was reviewed by Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret of Great Britain.

On 21 August, BENNINGTON made an additional deployment to the Far East, this time on less than a week’s notice. The ship, with Air Task Group 4 embarked, formed part of the famed Seventh Fleet during the Quemoy crisis. During the initial period of watchfulness, BENNINGTON steamed constantly for 43 days, launching around the clock patrols guarding the straits. After rest and recreation visits to various Far East ports, she returned to San Diego on 13 January 1959.

BENNINGTON has since become the most-up-to-date anti-submarine warfare carrier in the Pacific, home-ported in Long Beach since early 1963. Her history illustrates her tradition – a proud tradition of a carrier.

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