U.S.S. Barr BB-60 (Lawrence-Class Battleship)
The history of the U.S.S. Barr (BB-60):
When the Barr was first designed, she was to be one of the Buckley-class destroyer escorts. As the ebb of war in the Atlantic began to favor the advancing allies, it became evident that supplies were desperately needed in the European theater. The Buckley class also failed to meet with widespread approval, despite its importance in the Atlantic. Thus was born the “Lawrence” class of adaptable escort, and the U.S.S. Barr was eventually, successfully adapted to the Lawrence design. Regardless of its class, the Navy also counted on extensive use of asbestos to meet its production needs.
As the Barr and her crews won three battle stars, she proved her own versatility and an exceptional crew. Unfortunately, as the decades went on it also became apparent there were risks in the typical construction and repair of this era’s maritime workhorses. Asbestos was used in machinery and engine compartments. Wherever worry about insulation was present, so often was asbestos there, too.
The Barr’s keel was laid at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, in Hingham, Massachusetts. Built to the specs of the Buckley, the Barr could carry a full crew of around 215, allowing up to 23 knots.
But both the designs used at the Bethlehem shipyard rested on the use of asbestos in the Barr. Though some US Navy designs deemphasized asbestos, wartime needs to fight fire and high temperatures meant asbestos was seen as essential. So much asbestos was reported in some shipyards that later crew and shipyard workers described using “mountains” of asbestos in ships such as the Barr
Repairs and Upgrades
An example of how versatile the Barr’s crew could be was demonstrated as the Barr fought a pitched sub battle on May 29, 1944. Systems onboard the Barr helped notify other vessels of submarine movements. As with other equipment, experts later pointed out the common use of asbestos in this sensitive tracking equipment. The cat and mouse game went on for hours until finally, the German sub managed to hit the Barr with a torpedo.
At the same time, these advances in equipment helped save US vessels and soldiers’ lives, there was an unknown hazard of asbestos. Miles of equipment and pipes, electrical cables, and hundreds of tools were also coated in asbestos. The U.S.S. Barr was dead in the water as a sister ship patrolled the area to protect her. Eventually, a Dutch tug reached the Barr and towed her to safety in Casablanca. There, extensive but necessarily temporary repairs were made to weld on a steel hull patch. The Barr then limped across the Atlantic, skirting a fierce storm, and reached the Boston Navy Yard for an overhaul. Experts later identified these intense, war zone upkeeps as potential instances of when asbestos was replaced by crews acting under urgent demands to stay afloat or to get back into action.
Three months of repairs followed and the Barr was transformed into a High-Speed Transport. The rest of the war brought the Barr into the thick of fighting in the Pacific. After Okinawa, more repairs were required and the Barr went to Saipan. After serving as a barracks ship in Occupied Japan, the Barr was done with war zones. Ironically enough, crew members on other vessels have described the problems of sleeping on vessels of the time: they have pointed out sleeping “within inches” of exposed asbestos.
Her usefulness fulfilled, the Barr headed toward a final home, first in San Diego, and then eventual mothballing in Green Cove Springs, Florida. In 1960, the Barr was sunk as a target off the Florida coast.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Barr (BB-60)
Joining the “mothball fleet” had still meant making repairs to the Barr. These repairs also often meant exposure to asbestos risks. There was no permanent change to Navy asbestos policy until the early 1970s (and at least a full decade after the U.S.S. Barr left service).
Since both the classes of vessel that applied to the Barr’s design (Berkley and Lawrence) relied so heavily on asbestos, experts had sometimes missed the many surprising places asbestos was used. Known asbestos-exposing sources often included gaskets, or even inside bulkheads and throughout the ship hulls. Even some cables, and many miles of rope, have been shown to mean potential asbestos exposure.