USS America CVA-66 (later CV-66) - Page Two
USS America CVA-66 (later CV-66) - Chronology and Significant Events October 1981-1988
On 21 October 1981, America commenced the northbound transit of the Suez Canal. This transit, unlike the comparatively light-hearted one of 6 May, proved more tense. As a result of the unsettled conditions in Egypt following the 6 October 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian government accorded America's passage through the Suez Canal the utmost security considerations. The Egyptian Navy provided a patrol vessel to escort the carrier, while an Egyptian Air Force helicopter conducted reconnaissance flight over both banks of the waterway. Egyptian Army units patroled the adjacent canal roads. Additionally, liaison officers on board the carrier maintained constant touch with the security forces by radio.
Making the passage of the canal without incident, America continued on across the Mediterranean, reaching Palma de Mallorca on 25 October. After a three-day port call, the carrier conducted exercises with Spanish forces, and subsequently sailed for home on 1 November, departing the Mediterranean the following day. She arrived at Norfolk on 12 November.
Following a short standdown, America conducted carrier qualifications in the Virginia capes operating area, before she moored at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 14 December. Emerging from the naval shipyard on 20 April 1982, America operated locally off the Virginia capes. Departing Norfolk on 10 May, the ship steamed to the Guantanamo Bay operating area and returning to her home port on 28 May.
Following further carrier qualifications off the Virginia capes, the carrier then steamed south to conduct type training in the West Indies, interspersing these evolutions with a port visit to St. Thomas. Returning to Norfolk on 8 July, America operated locally between 22 and 24 July, before she sailed on 22 August, with CVW-1 embarked, to participate in joint NATO exercises "United Effort" and "Northern Wedding 82."
America visited Edinburgh, Scotland, from 15 to 21 September, and proceeded thence to Portsmouth, England, arriving there on the 23d. Sailing for the Mediterranean on the 26th, the carrier operated briefly with the 6th Fleet, participating in exercise "Display Determination" between 30 September and 8 October. She then sailed for the United States, and, following her operational readiness evaluation in the Caribbean operating areas, reached Mayport to disembark CVW-1. America returned to Norfolk on 4 November.
America departed Norfolk on 8 December, proceeded to the Virginia capes operating area and embarked CVW-1, and set out across the Atlantic. Visiting Palma de Mallorca on 22 December, America remained there through the Christmas holiday, weighing anchor on 28 December to sail for the Lebanese coast, where she was to take up duty in support of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in strife-torn Lebanon. Relieving Nimitz on station on 2 January 1983, America spent the next 18 days off Lebanon, before Nimitz took over on 20 January. Steaming thence to Pireaus, Greece, America, along with Dale (CG-19) and Savannah (AOR^), anchored there on 23 January for a five-day port visit to Athens.
Underway on 29 January, the carrier transited the Sea of Crete en route to an overnight anchorage at Port Said. Transiting the Suez Canal on 31 January, America reached the Red Sea the same day and reported for duty with the 7th Fleet on 4 February. On 9 February, the carrier and her accompanying battle group conducted exercise "Beacon Flash 83-3." Subsequently, on 28 February, America and her consorts conducted a "Weapons Week" exercise in the vicinity of Diego Garcia. Following those evolutions, the carrier visited Colombo, Sri Lanka, anchoring on 7 March. Weighing anchor on 12 March, America resumed operations in the Indian Ocean soon thereafter, culminating in "Beacon Flash 83-4," and a subsequent port visit to Masirah Island, Oman.
Steaming thence to Mombasa, Kenya, and a five-day port visit, America departed that port for a week of intense flight operations, followed by participation in "Beacon Flash 83-5" on 19 April. Returning to anchor at Masirah Island again three days later, the carrier and her battle group operated in the northern Arabian Sea, en route to the Suez Canal. Transiting that waterway on 4 May, America headed for Souda Bay, reaching an anchorage there on 7 May. Five days later, the carrier got underway for Malaga, Spain, reaching her destination on 14 May for a nine-day port visit. The ship subsequently departed Malaga on 23 May, and reached Norfolk on 2 June 1983.
America then entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 8 July. For four months, the ship underwent a period of repairs and alterations, emerging from the yard on 28 October 1983. She then operated locally off the Virginia capes with CVW-1 embarked, before she proceeded thence to Mayport, and, ultimately, to Puerto Rican waters for refresher training. Subsequently visiting Nassau, in the Bahamas, for a five-day port visit, America returned to the east coast of the United States, reaching Mayport on 8 December. She then conducted carrier qualifications for both east and west coast squadrons en route to her home port, reaching Norfolk on 14 December 1983.
The carrier operated locally from Norfolk into February 1984, alternating periods of upkeep in port with carrier qualifications and exercises. She then conducted two periods of type training (6 to 20 February and 25 March to 8 April), interspersing these with an in-port period at Ft. Lauderdale from 21 to 24 February and then calling at St. Thomas upon conclusion of the second period of training. Returning to Norfolk on 22 March, America spent the next month preparing for her next deployment, and got underway to participate in exercise "Ocean Venture" on 24 April. Visiting Caracas, Venezuela, upon conclusion of that evolution, America departed on 9 May for the Mediterranean.
Reaching Malaga, Spain, on 21 May, the carrier commenced her transit of the Mediterranean on 29 May and reached Port Said on 3 June. Transiting the Suez Canal on the following day, she passed through the Red Sea and joined the 7th Fleet on 8 June, relieving Kitty Hawk (CV-63). Returning to the 6th Fleet on 29 August, America transited the Suez Canal on 2 September, bound for Naples.
The carrier visited Monaco from 13 to 22 September before she participated in one phase of NATO exercise, "Display Determination." After stopping briefly to Naples, America returned to sea soon thereafter, and took part in the second phase of "Display Determination" before visiting Catania. Ultimately reaching Augusta Bay on 27 October, she was relieved by Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on that date, sailing soon thereafter for the United States.
Arriving at Norfolk on 14 November, America conducted carrier qualifications in the Virginia capes operating areas from 29 November to 17 December before returning to port on the 18th. The ship remained in an upkeep status until 18 January 1985, when she shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for overhaul.
Emerging from the yard on 13 May for sea trials off the Virginia capes, America remained at Norfolk until 28 May, when she sailed to conduct refresher training. Then, following a port call at Port Everglades, Fla. (13 to 17 June), America conducted carrier qualifications before returning to Norfolk on 25 June. The ship operated locally out of Norfolk through mid-August.
America sailed on 24 August to participate in "Ocean Safari," a six-week NATO exercise which ultimately took her to Norwegian waters. After visiting Portsmouth, England, upon conclusion of her training, America returned to Norfolk on 9 October. She spent the remainder of the year 1985 alternating periods of upkeep at NOB, Norfolk, with local operations in the Virginia capes operating area.
As the new year, 1986, began, tensions in the Mediterranean basin would result in America's sailing to deploy with the 6th Fleet one month earlier than planned. On 7 January 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered all American citizens out of Libya, and broke off all remaining ties between the two nations. At the same time, the President directed the dispatch of a second carrier battle group to the Mediterranean, and directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to look into military operations against Libya, a country strongly suspected of fomenting terrorist activity.
Operations near Libya began at the end of January. These evolutions, collectively named "Attain Document," were carried out between 24 and 31 January 1986 and between 10 and 15 February, by surface ships and aircraft. America, with CVW-1 embarked, and her accompanying battle group departed Norfolk on 10 March 1986, and arrived in the Mediterranean in time to participate in the third phase of "Attain Document," a freedom of navigation (FON) exercise in the Gulf of Sidra.
Late on 23 March, American planes flew south of latitude 30° 30'—the "Line of Death" proclaimed by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. On 24 March, Ticonderoga (CG-47), accompanied by two destroyers. Scott (DDG-995 and Caron (DD-970), moved south of the "Line," covered by fighter aircraft, at 0600.
A Libyan missile installation near Surt (Sirte) launched two Soviet-made SA-5 "Gammon" surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at 0752, toward F-14A "Tomcats" of America's VF-102. Later that afternoon, the installation at Surt (Sirte) fired additional SAMs at American planes, but, like the first pair, went wide of their mark. About 1430, a Libyan missile-equipped Combattante II G-type patrol craft, sortied from Misratah, Libya, and approached Ticonderoga and her consorts. Two Grumman A-6E "Intruders" from America's Attack Squadron (VA) 34 fired "Harpoon" missiles at the craft and sank her in the first use of the "Harpoon" in combat. Shortly thereafter, when American radars detected the Libyan installation at Sirte activating its target acquisition radars, two A-7E "Corsairs" from Saratoga's VA-81 put the site out of action with "HARMs" (high-speed anti-radiation missiles).
One hour after the first patrol boat had sortied, a Soviet-built Nanuchka-type patrol craft began heading out into the Gulf of Sidra. "Intruders" from VA-34 and Saratoga's VA-85 attacked with "Rockeye" cluster bombs, but the craft sought refuge alongside a neutral merchant ship, and avoided destruction. Damaged, she returned to the port of Benghazi after nightfall.
The following day, 25 March, at 0200, another Nanuchka-11-type patrol boat entered International waters and came under attack from "Intruders" from VA-85 and Coral Sea's VA-55; the latter utilized "Rockeyes" in the attack, the former then sank the craft with a "Harpoon." The same squadrons then attacked and damaged a second Nanuchka-II, forcing her to put into Benghazi.
"Attain Document III" came to a close at 0900 on 27 March, three days ahead of schedule and after 48 hours of largely unchallenged use of the Gulf of Sidra by the United States Navy. Thence steaming to Augusta Bay, Sicily, America relieved Saratoga on station, and subsequently visited Livorno, Italy, from 4 to 8 April 1986.
In the meantime, intelligence information, however, in the wake of the strikes designed to let Col. Qaddafi know that the United States had not only the desire but the capability to respond effectively to terrorism, indicated that Qaddafi intended to retaliate. Such retaliation occurred soon thereafter.
On 5 April 1986, two days after a bomb exploded on board a Trans World Airways (TWA) flight en route to Athens, from Rome, killing four American citizens, a bomb exploded in the La Belle Discoteque in West Berlin, killing two American servicemen and a Turkish civilian. Another 222 people were wounded in the bombing—78 Americans among them. Col. Qaddafi threatened to escalate the violence against Americans, civilian and military, throughout the world.
Repeated efforts by the United States to persuade the Libyan leader to forsake terrorism as an instrument of policy, including an attempt to persuade other western nations to isolate Libya peacefully failed. Rumors of retaliation by the United States were soon followed by Gaddafi's threat to take all foreigners in Libya hostage, to use them as a shield to protect his military installations. In light of that threat, and of the failure of means to gain peaceful sanctions against Libya, and citing "incontrovertible evidence" of Libyan complicity in the recent terrorist acts, President Reagan directed that attacks on terrorist-related targets in Libya be carried out.
Operation "Eldorado Canyon" commenced early on the afternoon of 14 April 1986, as tanker aircraft took off from bases in England to support the Air Force North American F-111F and EF-111 planes that soon followed them into the air and began the long 3,000-mile trip 19 the target. Later that afternoon, between 1745 and 1820, America launched six "Intruders" (strike aircraft) from VA-34 and six A-7E "Corsair Us" (strike support); Coral Sea launched her strike/strike support aircraft, eight A-6Es from VA-55 and six F/A-18 "Hornets" between 1750 and 1820. Both carriers launched additional aircraft to support the strike to provide a combat air patrol (CAP) and other functions.
"In a spectacular feat of mission planning and execution," the Navy and Air Force planes, based 3,000 miles apart, reached their targets on time at 1900. The "Hornets" from Coral Sea and "Corsair Us" from America launched air-to-surface "Shrike" missiles and "HARMs" against Libyan SAM sites at Benghazi and Tripoli. Moments later, VA-34's "Intruders," roaring in at low-level in the blackness, dropped their Mk.82 bombs with near surgical precision on the Benghazi military barracks, reckoned to be an alternate command and control facility for terrorist activities and a billeting area for Qaddafi's elite Jamahiriyah Guard, as well as a warehouse for components for MiG aircraft. VA—34's attack heavily damaged the warehouse, destroying four crated MiGs and damaging a fifth.
Following that counter-terrorist strike, America visited Naples between 28 April and 4 May, and then participated in NATO Exercise, "Distant Hammer" with units of the Italian and Turkish Air Forces, and visited Cannes upon conclusion of the evolution. During June, the carrier operated with Coral Sea and the newly arrived Enterprise (CVN-65), and took part in a "Poop Deck" exercise with Spanish and United States Air Force units
off the coast of Spain, arriving at Palma de Mallorca soon thereafter.
Participating in a NATO exercise, "Tridente," in late June, America visited Naples beore she participated in a "National Week" exercise. Subsequently visiting Catania and operating in the central and western Mediterranean, the carrier wound up the month of July at Benidorm, Spain, before returning to sea for further operations at sea in that region. Visiting Naples between 11 and 17 August, America spent the rest of her deployment in operations in the western and central Mediterranean before John F. Kennedy relieved her at Rota between 28 and 31 August. America arrived back at Norfolk on 10 September 1986, and after local operations, interspersed with in-port upkeep, entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 20 November 1986 for an overhaul which lasted until 11 February 1988. She spent the remainder of that year operating along the east coast and in the Caribbean.
America received five battle stars for her service in the Vietnam War.