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U.S.S. Canberra CA-70 (Heavy Cruiser)

Originally named U.S.S. Pittsburgh while under construction at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy MA, the vessel was commissioned into the Navy in April, 1943 as U.S.S. Canberra, honoring an Australian cruiser which had been sunk during the Solomon’s campaign. Contrary to some reports, Canberra was not the only US Navy ship named for a foreign vessel, USS Boxer and several others share that distinction.

Arriving in the Pacific in early 1944, Canberra participated in several campaigns, supporting carrier task forces and providing shore bombardment. Damaged by a torpedo in October, Canberra entered the Boston Navy Yard for extensive repairs in February 1945, remaining there until October. The war ended, Canberra returned to the west coast and was decommissioned and placed into the reserve fleet at Bremerton.

In 1952 Canberra was re-designated CAG 2, classified as a guided missile cruiser, and taken by tow to Camden, NJ, to be converted. The aft gun turret and replaced with missile launchers and modern radar and electronics were installed. Canberra was re-commissioned in 1956 and served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Canberra carried President Eisenhower to a conference in Bermuda, continuing a long tradition of presidents traveling via naval vessels which ended during the Eisenhower administration with the advent of the air force providing transportation. Subsequent operations included peacetime training and fleet exercises. An around the world cruise in 1960, and support of the naval quarantine during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 were highlights during this period.

Transferred to the Pacific Fleet in 1963, Canberra made several combat tours to Vietnam, providing gunfire support for operations ashore and screening carrier operations on Yankee Station. In 1969, with the installed guided missiles deemed obsolete, Canberra was again designated CA 70 and classified as a heavy cruiser, rather than a guided missile cruiser. The missile systems and radar were removed.

Canberra was deactivated in 1970, remaining in reserve until 1978, when it was stricken from the naval registry. In 1980 Canberra was sold for scrap and broken up.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Canberra

U.S.S. Canberra was built in the Fore River Shipyard, which built hundreds of ships for the US Navy prior to and during the Second World War. (The ubiquitous “Kilroy” as in “Kilroy was here”, was named for a welding inspector working for the yard, who used it to mark work he had inspected.)

Asbestos in the construction of all ships was used for thermal insulation and fireproofing and was found in materials throughout the vessels. Pipe lagging in was made from asbestos cloth and wrapped around pipes, later to be painted. Peeling and chipping paint exposed the asbestos fibers to the air, where they would deteriorate into the atmosphere by dust to be distributed throughout the ship by ventilation and clothing. Asbestos-laden lagging was used throughout all ships.

Bulkheads and steel decks were often fireproofed with asbestos, and boilers were lined with it. Gaskets, tiles and fire curtains contained asbestos.

Serious asbestos abatement efforts did not begin until the 1970s, Canberra served its entire operational life prior to that decade.

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