NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- On April 15, 1961, Bethlehem Steel Company launched the world’s first nuclear-powered frigate, USS Bainbridge (DLGN 25/CGN 25), from Fore River Shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts. Bainbridge was the fourth of five ships, at the time, to bear the name “Bainbridge,” in honor of Commodore William Bainbridge.
The world’s first nuclear-powered frigate came armed with an impressive array of weapons and significant technological advancements, including two pressurized water reactors, two twin Terrier missile launchers, two twin three-inch .50 caliber radar controlled gun mounts, two torpedo mounts, an anti-submarine rocket (ASROC) launcher and a state-of-the-art electronic and communications suite.
Bainbridge completed its shakedowns, a nautical term used when the performance of a ship is tested, in only three weeks’ time. This test set the standard for the future in terms of how fast and efficiently the shakedown period for a ship should be.
After her shakedowns, Bainbridge arrived at her first homeport in Charleston, South Carolina, in January 1963, and joined Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Twelve, becoming the Navy’s first all-missile destroyer squadron. The following month in February 1963, she began her maiden deployment.
During Bainbridge’s second deployment, she joined USS Long Beach (CGN 9) and USS Enterprise (CVN 65), forming the world’s first nuclear-powered task group, Task Group One. This first nuclear task group began a 30,565-mile, 65-day around-the-world cruise, called Operation “Sea Orbit,” and became the first ships of the U.S. Navy to sail around the world since the “Great White Fleet” in 1908.
Bainbridge accomplished this circumnavigation without a single refueling or replenishment. This accomplishment showcased the capability of nuclear-powered surface ships and their ability to operate in remote areas of the world.
Bainbridge took part in the first group of nuclear-powered ships to enter actual combat during her first Pacific Fleet deployment in December 1965, in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, along with Enterprise. The ships engaged in air strikes on North Vietnam.
Following her first “West Pac” cruise in June 1966, she later departed her homeport of Long Beach, California, to her second Pacific cruise. During this cruise, Bainbridge averaged a speed of 29.9 knots, sailing over 6,600 miles in less then two weeks, setting a speed-distance record for Navy ships.
In Bainbridge’s first five years of service, she covered over 300,000 miles of ocean and, because of her endurance and speed, was awarded the nickname “Grey Ghost of the Orient.”
In 1972, Bainbridge was awarded the Navy’s “Environmental Protection Award,” an award presented to commands annually for achievements in areas of environmental quality and cleanup, natural resources conservation, cultural resources management, pollution prevention, and recycling.
On June 30, 1975, Bainbridge was declared to be a cruiser instead of a frigate. After the change in ship designations, DLGN 25 became CGN 25.
After a long 33 years of service, Bainbridge would go out to sea for the last time under her own power on April 29, 1995, and in May 1995, Bainbridge would have her reactors shut down for the final time. Bainbridge was towed to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for defueling and preparation for the final resting place of her hull in Bremerton, Washington.
All information in this story and more about USS Bainbridge’s (DLGN 25/CGN 25) 33 years of service can be found at www.ussbainbridgeassociation.org/index.php/about/ship-history, and www.navsource.org/archives/04/1125/040125.htm.
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