The History of the U.S.S. Alaska: Motto, “We Stick Together”

The third Alaska-named US Naval vessel entered into service in the rapidly changing post-World War II period. In fact, Pearl Harbor had been attacked only 10 days before the Alaska’s keel was laid. As the unknown was at hand, many safety practices were put aside. Many years passed before it became apparent, however, that the extensive uses of asbestos in ships such as the U.S.S. Alaska had been another unknown danger in preparing to face the Japanese.

Construction

The U.S.S. Alaska had her keel laid in Camden, New Jersey, at the storied New York Shipbuilding Corporation. Though heavily borrowing from earlier ship designs, the Alaska was also known to be an innovative “hybrid.” Though carrying 1930’s armaments, the vessel also was speedier than the earlier breed. Technically a large cruiser, the Alaska was also 17 feet narrower than the Navy’s more common South Dakota class.

Interestingly, the Alaska was not immediately brought into Naval service. The intended class of “Alaska” vessels must have raised concerns with the Navy since the entire class ended up being only three vessels. Nevertheless, as an expected battle on the Japanese mainland developed, the Alaska was brought into service in June of 1944. In eight months of Pacific service, the ship and crew earned three battle stars.

Repairs and Upgrades

Carrying less armor contributed to increased speed, but also added to the issues associated with dangerous repairs. The Alaska’s increased fire-power also added extra asbestos as a fire retardant and insulation. Though known to many shipbuilders at the time, there was more urgency in keeping vessels in service than dealing with the potential risks of asbestos.

For the Alaska, urgently needed for its anti-aircraft support, there was little chance to effect repairs at any distant home ports. Even as the crew of the Alaska participated in heavy fire fights (shooting down many Japanese aircraft over Okinawa), the crew labored to manage repairs in cramped quarters. As protection against potential fire, crew members on such vessels often worked and slept within mere inches of literally tons of exposed asbestos.

Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Alaska (CB-1)

Within a year of final service off of Korea, the Alaska was mothballed by the Navy, in Bayonne, New Jersey. The Alaska was decommissioned from the Navy in 1947. The process of what to do with decommissioned vessels, and their slow deterioration, may have also helped to finally uncover the dangerous uses of asbestos. Within a month of being stricken from the rolls in 1960, the Alaska was cut into scrap metal by the Lipsett Division. As the 1960s went on, and more Naval vessels were scrapped, Lipsett also acquired more safety procedures to remove the tons of asbestos used in the ducts, wiring, and mechanical systems of vessels such as the Alaska.

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