U.S.S Tortuga (LSD-26)

Tortuga was a Casa Grande-class dock landing ship. She served in the Korean and Viet Nam wars.

Construction

She was laid down on October 16, 1944 at the Boston Navy Yard and commissioned June 8, 1945.

Service

Tortuga reported to the Pacific as soon as possible, but she was en route on August 15, when Japan surrendered. Her services were still needed in the occupation of Japan and her territories, and the ship set to work supporting these operations. After just two years of service, the ship was sent to San Diego for deactivation. She was decommissioned on August 18, 1947.

Like many of her sisters, Tortuga was called back into service after the start of the Korean War in 1950. Recommissioned on September 15, the ship worked up quickly and sailed for Sasebo, Japan, arriving on February 3, 1951. From there, she sailed for Korea and conducted a false landing operation to take attention away from the assault on Inchon. After this, Tortuga took on a unique mission. U.S. strategists began to evaluate the possibility that China might try to take advantage of circumstances in Korea and stage an invasion of Taiwan. It was surmised that Chinese would use junks, a traditional sailing vessel, to conduct the invasion. These wooden craft were surprisingly tough when encountered off Korea, so Tortuga was asked to recover eight sunken hulls for testing purposes.

With this work complete, Tortuga reported to Inchon, where she gave support to the ongoing landings there. On October 13, she reported to Kojo for another false landing operation, which lasted for three days. She then stood off Wonsan to support minesweepers. In 1953, following the Panmunjom Armistice, Tortuga participated in the exchange of POWs. She finished out 1953 with exercises off Japan and the U.S. west coast.

Tortuga’s participation in the long, bloody struggle for Viet Nam started earlier than most of her contemporaries. In 1954, French colonial forces lost their battle against the communist Viet Minh. Tortuga was sent to Viet Nam to evacuate French nationals, arriving August 21. She would make four trips between August and October, transporting refugees from the communist North to U.S. bases in the western Pacific.

The landing ship spent the remainder of the 1950s and the first part of the 1960s on deployments to the western Pacific. It was during one of these deployments in 1964 that she received word of the Tonkin Gulf incident. Two U.S. Navy destroyers, Maddox and Turner Joy were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats off Viet Nam. Tortuga loaded combat supplies and headed west. She sailed from Okinawa immediately and began cargo and troop runs between Okinawa and Japan, building up for the massive influx of U.S. personnel into Viet Nam. After more supply missions and training in 1965, the ship sailed from Long Beach for Vietnamese waters.

She relieved Belle Grove as command and supply ship at Vung Tau on March 1, 1966. She moved into the Mekong River on June 12 and began work as a repair ship for PBR river patrol boats and UH-1 Huey helicopters. Tortuga received many special guests while operating on the Mekong, including Army General Westmoreland, Rear Admiral Ward, and U.S. Ambassador to Viet Nam Henry Cabot Lodge. She returned to San Diego on November 7 for overhaul.

Repairs were completed in April 1967, and Tortuga was back “in country” on 5 September. She relieved Monticello in Amphibious Ready Group B, landing Marines for operations “Fortress Sentry” and “Formation leader”. Upon completing her duties here, Tortuga detached from the group on November 9 and took aboard damaged CH-46 helicopters for repair. She concluded this tour with cargo runs between Japan and Viet Nam. Tortuga arrived back at Long Beach on March 9, 1968.

In February 1969, the ship departed for another Viet Nam deployment. She made port at Yokosuka, where a full suite of destroyer radar equipment was loaded for transport to Subic Bay. Tortuga made way for Da Nang, which had been attacked by rocket the previous day. The ship doubled her security efforts and prepared for the worst. As she approached on the night of 14 March, flares were sighted over the harbor, and the ship went to battle stations. Fortunately, a second attack didn’t materialize, but Tortuga was offloaded quickly and rushed back to the Philippines.

Back at Subic Bay, she took on a dredge for use on the Saigon River. In order to get the dredge in place, the ship would have to travel through Viet Cong controlled stretches of the river. She proceeded up the river with a tug and the dredge, and once again her crew found themselves on edge at general quarters. Once again, Tortuga avoided danger and made the drop at Nha Be. On May 5, the landing ship loaded Marines for landings on Barrier Island, fifteen miles south of Da Nang. After landing her men, Tortuga took over command of the assault. She led two more attacks on and around Barrier Island until September, when she headed home.

Fate

Tortuga arrived at Long Beach on September 12. She offloaded a group of Marines from Viet Nam and proceeded north to Mare Island for decommissioning. She left naval service on January 26, 1970 and was struck from the Navy List on October 15, 1976. She was scuttled on August 21, 1988.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Tortuga was a steam-powered ship built during WWII. As such, asbestos insulation would have been present throughout her hull, particularly in her engineering spaces. When damaged or worn, this insulation breaks down into tiny fibers that can travel through a ship via her ventilation system.

Inhalation of asbestos is a proven cause of mesothelioma, a malignant cancer of the lung. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but treatments such as chemotherapy can be used to fight the disease. If you or someone you know served aboard Tortuga or worked on her in a shipyard and has contracted mesothelioma, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page to receive free information regarding you rights to compensation.

Resources/Further Reading

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