Asbestos in the military

USS Alabama BB-60

USS-Alabama-BB-60Description:  History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Alabama (BB-60), nicknamed “Lucky A,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy in 1939.  Her keel was laid down at Norfolk Navy Yard on February 1, 1940.  She was launched two years later on February 16, 1942, and she was commissioned on August 16 of the same year with Captain George B. Wilson in command.

The South Dakota-class battleship conducted shakedown training in Chesapeake Bay and operational training in Casco Bay, Maine before returning to Norfolk Navy Yard for availability and logistics support in 1943.  After this, she was assigned to Task Group 22.2 (TG 22.2), so she returned to Casco Bay for tactical maneuvers.

USS Alabama temporarily joined the British Home Fleet to help cover their northern convoy routes as they prepared for the World War II invasion of Sicily.  She was accompanied by her sister ship, the USS South Dakota, and five destroyers.  Together with the British Home Fleet units, these ships covered the reinforcement of the garrison on the island of Spitsbergen and participated in Operation Governor, which was a diversion meant to lure the German battleship Tirpitz out of Norway to draw attention away from Sicily. Operation Governor failed, and Tirpitz remained in Norway.

On August 1, 1943, USS Alabama was detached from the British Home Fleet. She and her accompanying ships returned to Norfolk Navy Yard for overhaul and repairs.  When repair work was completed, the USS Alabama headed for the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal.

USS Alabama completed a month and a half of exercises and training at Efate in the New Hebrides with fast carrier task groups.  She moved on to Fiji on November 7, 1943 before taking part in Operation Galvanic four days later, an assault on the Gilbert Islands, which were held by the Japanese. The battleship screened the fast carriers as they attacked the airfields in the Marshall Islands.  On November 20, she supported landings on Tarawa Atoll, and then later helped secure Betio and Makin.  On November 26, she opened fire twice to head off enemy aircraft approaching her formation.

The USS Alabama participated in the first Pacific gun strike by its particular type of warship on December 8, 1943.  She fired 535 rounds at the enemy as she and her sister ships assaulted the enemy phosphate-producing center at Nauru Island.  USS Alabama took the destroyer USS Boyd alongside when it received a hit from the Japanese, bringing three men who were injured aboard for treatment.  She then returned to Efate with the USS Bunker Hill and USS Monterey, then left for Pearl Harbor on January 5, 1944.  At the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, she underwent dry docking to perform routine maintenance and replace her port outboard propeller.

In 1944, USS Alabama rejoined the Pacific Fleet. She was assigned to TG 58.2 to participate in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshall Islands.  The battleship fired 330 rounds at Japanese targets, and patrolled the area to the north of Kwajalein Atoll.  Along with the USS Bunker Hill, USS Alabama launched an attack at Truk, causing heavy damage to enemy shipping based there.

Several days later, the USS Alabama headed toward the Mariana Islands to help in the strikes on Tinian, Saipan, and Guam.  When gun mount No. 9 accidentally fired into gun mount No. 5, five men were killed and another 11 were injured.

The USS Alabama continued to be in the thick of battle over the next few months, aiding in strikes agains Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, Caroline Islands, Hollandia, Wakde, Sawar, Sarmi, Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, Humboldt Bay, Truk, and Ponape.  She returned to Majuro on May 4, 1944 for exercises and refitting to prepare for the invasion of the Marianas.

USS Alabama participated in Operation Forager with TF 58 in June 1944.  She screened the carriers striking Saipan and took part in six hours of pre-invasion bombardment to soften defenses and cover minesweeping operations.  She was involved in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in which she sent up the first warning to TF 58 of the incoming Japanese air strike.  The battleship and the rest of the formation were under enemy fire, and one bomb strike killed 21 men and injured 23, though the damage to the ship was minimal.

On August 30, 1944, the USS Alabama screened the USS Essex for Operation Stalemate II, the seizure of Palau, Ulithi, and Yap.  She was later involved with strikes on the Carolines, Cebu Island, Leyte, Bohol, Negros, and the Manila Bay area.

The USS Alabama supported the liberation of the Philippines on October 6, 1944 as part of TF 38.  She then covered other ships in her formation as they struck at Okinawa.  She supported operations at Luzon, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, Panay, and Mindanao.

Later that month, USS Alabama helped support air operations against the Japanese Southern Force and the Japanese Central Force.  She returned briefly to Ulithi on October 30 for replenishment before screening carriers that struck Japanese airfields and installations on Luzon on November 3, preparing for a landing on Mindoro Island.  She again returned to Ulithi on November 24.

During the month of December, the USS Alabama was engaged in routine maintenance and training exercises.  After supporting the strikes on Luzon, she headed for refueling only to be caught in a typhoon on December 18, 1944.  Two of her OS2U floatplanes were damages, and three destroyers were lost: USS Hull, USS Monaghan, and USS Spence.  The battleships arrived back at Ulithi on Christmas Eve, then continued on to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul.

USS Alabama was dry docked from January 18 to February 25, 1945.  Repair work continued until March 17, when the ship began standardization trials and refresher training.  She completed more training exercises at Pearl Harbor in April before returning to Ulithi.

The USS Alabama supported the forces that had landed on Okinawa and screened carriers as they struck at the Ryukyus and on Kyushu.  She sustained cosmetic damage during another typhoon in June 1945 before aiding in strikes at Minami Daito Shima, Tokyo, Honshu, Hokkaido, and Kyushu.  Retired Rear Admiral Richard Byrd was onboard to observe the bombardment at Honshu.

After World War II ended, USS Alabama participated in Operation Magic Carpet to repatriate sailors and Seabees. After returning to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for inactivation overhaul, she was decommissioned at Naval Station Seattle on January 9, 1947.  She remained a part of the Bremerton Group of the U.S. Pacific Reserve Fleet until she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on June 1, 1962.

USS Alabama received nine battle stars for her service in World War II.  She was towed to Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Alabama, where she now serves as a museum ship.  The battleship was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.  She has been used as an occasional hurricane shelter, and she did suffer some damage during Hurricane Katrina.  The USS Alabama was used to film battleship scenes for the 1992 film Under Siege.

Like virtually all other ships built during the World War II era, asbestos was used extensively in the construction of the USS Alabama. Because it was a cheap insulator, asbestos can be found in ship components like boilers, incinerators, turbines, gaskets, valves, fire doors, plumbing and electrical insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and electrical wiring.  Anyone who has served aboard the USS Alabama or has participated in her repair or overhaul has been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos exposure.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs.  This can cause some very serious illnesses, like asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma is a dangerous form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.

USS Alabama workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked on or around the USS Alabama, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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