CVS-11 Nuclear Policy/Ops

The Visit by USS Intrepid (CVS-11) to Copenhagen, 1971

The USS Intrepid (CVS-11) arrived in Copenhagen in July 1971, only three years after Denmark’s non-nuclear policy was tested by the crash of a nuclear-armed bomber in Greenland. The visit created little controversy and the Danish government turned a blind eye to what appears to be one of the clearest violations of Denmark’s prohibition against nuclear weapons in its ports.

The USS Intrepid was converted from an attack carrier (CVA) to an anti-submarine carrier (CVS) in 1969 following operations against North Vietnam. The ship was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet and home ported in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, then the center of all carrier-based anti-submarine forces in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. As an anti-submarine carrier the mission of USS Intrepid was to hunt down and destroy Soviet submarines. In the North Atlantic training for this mission brought the ship deep into the Baltic Sea and high up into the Norwegian Sea in 1971 and 1972 on exercises.

The 1971 Deployment

The USS Intrepid formed the center of Task Force 83.2, which during the extended overseas deployment encountered “considerable Soviet surveillance.” Embarked on the USS Intrepid during the 1971 deployment were Air Antisubmarine Squadron TWENTY-FOUR (VS-24) and Air Antisubmarine Squadron TWENTY-SEVEN (VS-27) wings. The task force also included several other nuclear-capable warships, including the diesel submarine USS Greenfish (SS-351) which also carried nuclear weapons during the deployment and visited Århus, Denmark, while the carrier was in Copenhagen. The extensive deployment reached from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea and Barents Sea.

USS Intrepid (CVS-11) Operations – April-Octobeer 1971

The task force left Quonset Point on April 16 for a visit to Lisbon, Portugal, after which it steamed north for NATO exercise Rusty Razor and a port visit to Plymouth in the United Kingdom. After Plymouth, USS Intrepid and part of Task Force 83.2 entered the Kattegat, transited the narrow Danish Straits on May 16 to became the first U.S. aircraft carrier to conduct operations in the Baltic Sea.

During the operations in the “Sea of Peace,” the USS Intrepid conducted flight operations and sailed to within only 20 miles of the Soviet coastline. Continuous anti-submarine operations were conducted and “numerous Soviet submarines were detected, prosecuted and kept under surveillance.” An anti-submarine warfare demonstration was performed for Kontra-Admiral Kierkegaard and visiting Swedish dignitaries. The operations in the Baltic were later heralded by U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Zumwalt to be “superb in a situation that demanded no less.”

After the Baltic operations and a four-day visit to Kiel, West Germany, USS Intrepid left the Baltic and sailed south to the Mediterranean Sea where it conducted port visits in France, Italy, and Spain. During an anti-submarine exercise with the USS Greenfish, an “intruder submarine contact was detected, prosecuted for 3 hours, photographed and evaluated as a Soviet Victor Class SSN.”

On July 6, the USS Intrepid sailed north again to Hamburg, West Germany, after which the carrier continued to Copenhagen where it arrived on July 21 for a week stay.

On July 28, the USS Intrepid departed Copenhagen enroute Greenock, Scotland, and after a week in port the carrier sailed north into the Norwegian Sea for NATO exercise Alert Lancer. During the exercise, the carrier’s anti-submarine squadron gained numerous contacts with Soviet November class and diesel submarines.

Following a visit to Portsmouth in the United Kingdom and Bergen in Norway, USS Intrepid  steamed far north into the Norwegian Sea for NATO exercise Royal Night. This was an advanced strike fleet exercise where USS Intrepid joined forces with two other aircraft carriers (USS Independence and HMS Ark Royal). USS Intrepid’s mission was to “sanitize” the waters for enemy submarines to enable the strike carriers to sail far enough north for their aircraft to strike the Kola Peninsula.

B57 Nuclear Strike/Depth Bomb

The light-weight B57 nuclear strike/depth bombs carried onboard USS Intrepid (CVS-11) during its port visit to Copenhagen in 1971 each had a yield of 15-20 kilotons


Nuclear Weapons Operations

After the visit to Copenhagen and the completion of the extended deployment deep into the Baltic Sea and Norwegian Sea, the USS Intrepid returned on October 15 to its homeport in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, on the U.S. East Coast. Two more nuclear weapons security exercises were held inport before the ship sailed to Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Earle in New Jersey to offload all weapons prior to a shipyard period. The weapons offloaded at Earle included the ship’s complement of nuclear weapons, an operation that took approximately three hours to complete. The ship’s deck log explicitly mentions that the offload included nuclear weapons and that it was the Chopsticks team that carried out the operation: “12:15 Went to CHOPSTICKS stations for offload of NucWeapons. 15:12 Secured from CHOPSTICKS.”

USS Intrepid (CVS-11) Nuclear Weapons Offload After Copenhagen
Excerpt from USS Intrepid (CVS-11) Deck Log documenting offload of nuclear weapons after an extended overseas deployment and port visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1971. Click the image to download high-resolution PDF-version of deck log pages (requires Adobe Acrobat).

Even if one believe that the USS Intrepid offloaded the nuclear weapons in another port before arriving in Copenhagen and then picked them up again after the visit — something retired U.S. Navy officials have always insisted the U.S. Navy never did, the route of the USS Intrepid rules out that possibility: None of the ports visited prior to Copenhagen were re-visited after Copenhagen . There is also no mentioning in the documents that the weapons were offloaded to another warship — something retired U.S. Navy officials also have insisted the U.S. Navy avoided — prior to the arrival in Copenhagen.

The nuclear operations of the USS Intrepid around the time of its 1971 port visit to Copenhagen, as recorded in the ship’s command history, deck log, and other official documents, are listed in the following table:

USS Intrepid Nuclear Operations Around Denmark Visit, 1971
Date Description & Remarks
01/07/71 Following a brief shipyard period to repair storm damage, a nuclear weapons accident exercise was held onboard while inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 14:37 Broken CHOPSTICKS drill. Material condition ZEBRA set.
01/18-02/01/71 Conducted antisubmarine training against the nuclear submarines USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and USS Skate (SSN-578).
02/08/71 Inport Quonset Point, RI. Designated nuclear weapons personnel returning to the ship included Gunner’s Mate Technician (GMT) Greenovich, D B160924. [The Deck Log entry is listed on 9 February.]
02/18/71 An ammunition onload took place while inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 14:00 Secured pier to automobile traffic while loading ammunition. 14:45 Ammunition load complete.
02/25/71 Nuclear weapons handling was conducted onboard while the ship was underway off the U.S. East Coast.
Deck Log: 12:30 Called away CHOPSTICKS stations. 12:55 Commenced operation CHOPSTICKS.
02/28/71 Underway as before. More nuclear weapons handling conducted.
Deck Log: 8:30 Called away CHOPSTICKS.  10:13 Secured from CHOPSTICKS.
03/04/71 Another 28 degree roll is suffered during a storm following an exercise off the East Coast. The roll “caused considerable damage throughout the ship.”
03/22/71 Inport Quonset Point, RI, where ammunition was loaded onboard.
Deck Log: 8:20 Commenced taking on ammunition.15:45 Secured from taking on ammunition.
03/30/71 Another ammunition onload occurred while inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 10:00 Commenced loading ammunition. 11:30 All ammunition on deck. Ammunition onload complete.
04/05/71 More ammunition was loaded onboard.
Deck Log: 13:40 Commenced loading ammunition. 14:10 Completed ammunition on load.
04/13/71 A nuclear weapons accident exercise was held while inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 11:00 Commenced CHOPSTICKS operation. 13:45 Commenced Broken CHOPSTICKS and general quarters. 14:20 Secure from CHOPSTICKS.
04/16/71 Departed Quonset Point, RI, for a six-month deployment of extended overseas operations in the Mediterranean, Eastern Atlantic, and Baltic Sea operations IAW COMASWGRU FOUR OPORD 4-71.
During this cruise, the ships Weapons Department included a Special Weapons (W) Division team of 19 personnel. Air Antisubmarine Squadrons TWENTY FOUR (VS-24) and TWENTY SEVEN (VS-27) were embarked. The escort includes the conventionally powered submarine USS Greenfish (SS-351).
04/16/71 A nuclear weapons accident exercise was conducted onboard while underway from Quonset Point, RI, enroute Portugal.
Deck Log: 14:03 Commenced Broken CHOPSTICKS drill. Sounded general quarters. 14:23 Set CIRCLE WILLIAM throughout the ship. 14:56 Relaxed CIRCLE WILLIAM. 15:09 Set material YOKE. 15:20 Secured from general quarters.
04/17/71 Another nuclear weapons security exercise while underway enroute from Quonset Point, RI, to Lisbon, Portugal.
Deck Log: 7:00 Called away CHOPSTICKS stations. 9:19 Penetration. 9:23 Secure from penetration drill. 15:26 Secured from CHOPSTICKS.
05/03/71 After Lisbon, Portugal, the ship departed for Plymouth, England, in company with units of Task Group 400.1. Transit IAW RUSKY RAZOR Joint Exercise OPORD 1-71.
05/16/71 Following a visit to Portsmouth, England, the ship continued to a port visit to Kiel, West Germany, and operations in the Baltic Sea. The transit to Kiel was done IAW COMASWGRU FOUR OPORD 4-71.
The USS Intrepid become the first U.S. carrier to conduct flight operations in the Eastern Baltic.  Escorted by three other U.S. warships, the operations brought the ship to within only 20 miles of the Soviet coastline. Soviet surface, submarine and air surveillance was considerable. Admiral Zumwalt, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, subsequently praised the ship’s performance as “superb in a situation that demanded no less.” Numerous Soviet submarines were detected, prosecuted and kept under surveillance. During operations in the Baltic the ship passed through the Bornholmsgat from the Baltic Sea.
When transiting the Danish Straits, the Danish pilots Captain Jørgensen and Hansen were brought onboard by helicopter.
05/26/71 Following the visit to Kiel, West Germany, the USS Intrepid was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea where a Soviet Victor class SSN was detected and photographed. The transit occurred IAW COMASWGRU FOUR LOI 4-71.
During passage out through the Danish Straits, the Danish pilots Captain Thesmer and Captain Nielsen embarked.
07/21-28/71 In Copenhagen, Denmark, following a transit from the Mediterranean. Also present was USS N. K. Perry (DD-883).
Danish docking pilot was Captain Jacobsen, and Channel Pilot was Captain Petersen.
Upon arrival the ship received visits from several high-ranking officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Danish Chief of Defense, Commander of Copenhagen Captain Kisum and Captain Prause.
The inport period only lasted until 25 July, when the ship was moved outside port and anchor was dropped at Middelgrund, still in Danish territorial waters. This move occurred while the U.S. Ambassador was onboard.
When departing, Danish pilots were Captain Thodsen and Captain Albertsen.
09/22-25/71 Inport Bergen, NorwayAlso present were USS Kennedy (DD-850) and USS Taussig (FF-1030). During the port call the ship was visited by Norwegian Minister of Defense and the German Minister of Defense.
The visit took place following operations in the Norwegian Sea against the submarines USS Bluefish and USS Sirago and “Soviet vessels of opportunity.” Numerous contacts were made with Soviet November class and diesel submarines. The U.S. Ambassador to Norway and Norwegian Minister of Defense officials visited the squadron during this period.
Following the visit the ship participated in NATO exercise Royal Knight.
10/15/71 Returned to Quonset Point, RI.
10/16/71 While inport Quonset Point, RI, the ship offloaded ammunition.
Deck Log: 13:06 Commenced offloading ammunition. 14:19 Completed offloaded ammunition.
10/20/71 A nuclear weapons security drill was held while inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 1137 Conducted penetration drill. 11:41 Secured from penetration drill.
10/28/71 Another nuclear weapons security drill was conducted. Inport Quonset Point, RI.
Deck Log: 14:02 Held Penetration drill. 14:07 Secured from penetration drill.
11/30-12/01/71 At NAD [NWS] Earle, NJ, for ammunition offload prior to shipyard period. Weapons offloaded included nuclear weapons.
Deck Log: (11/30) 9:50 Commenced offload of ammunition. (12/01) 00-04 Ammunition off-load is in progress. 12:15 Went to CHOPSTICKS stations for “offload of NucWeapons.” 15:12 Secured from CHOPSTICKS. 15:15 Completed offloading of ammo, 283 tons total.

Operations in 1972 and 1973

The USS Intrepid returned to Europe and to Copenhagen in 1972, and the documents strongly suggest that the ship was once again nuclear armed. The Chopstick deck handling crew was drilled in how to respond to a nuclear weapons accident. The drill was preparation for a subsequent nuclear weapons certification inspection which the ship must pass in order to have nuclear weapons onboard.

The Nuclear [Navy] Technical Proficiency Inspection (NTPI) was passed in May 1972 “with the Squadron’s loading teams performing their loads satisfactorily.” Yet the documents reveal that part of the carrier’s response to a simulated nuclear weapons accident was not sufficient, so before USS Intrepid was allowed to leave for Europe with nuclear weapons onboard, the crew underwent additional training to pass the certification. Finally, in late June, only a month before the ship arrived in Copenhagen, the USS Intrepid passed its certification inspection. While underway to Denmark, a nuclear weapons security practice was held onboard. USS Intrepid arrived in Copenhagen on July 25 for a week long visit.

After the visit, USS Intrepid steamed north into the Norwegian Sea to conduct anti-submarine operations. During the operations in the Norwegian Sea, the carrier crossed the Arctic Circle and sailed as high north as 75N 27.16E and as far east as 72.25.2N 31-40.8E, the farthest east a U.S. aircraft carrier had ever been in that region up to that time. “Needless to say, Soviet interest in the ship’s activities was extremely high,” the ship’s Command History stated.

USS Intrepid (CVS-11) Underway
During operations in the Noregian Sea in 1972, the USS Intrepid (CVS-11) sailed farther east toward the Soviet Kola Peninsula than any other U.S. aircraft carrier until that time.

After a visit to Bergen in Norway, USS Intrepid returned to its home ports in Quonset Point, RI. During the transit, more nuclear weapons training was held onboard. Once back in the United States, the USS Intrepid began upgrading from anti-submarine carrier to strike carrier. The air wing was added more A-4E Skyhawk strike aircraft which “gave the INTREPID a strike capability and enabled her to subsequently commence phasing into the ‘CV’ concept.” The anti-submarine mission was retained as well.

The new strike mission was practiced during an overseas deployment to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea beginning in November 1972. A few days before arriving in Athens, Greece, the crew practiced bringing nuclear weapons up from the Special Weapons Magazine to the strike aircraft on the flight deck. During the Mediterranean deployment, the USS Intrepid conducted “two launch Sequence Plans and numerous single aircraft special weapons loads.”

The 1973 Mediterranean cruise would be USS Intrepid’s last overseas deployment. The carrier returned to the U.S. East Coast in May 1973, but before it arrived in its homeport the USS Intrepid conducted a unique offload of nuclear weapons and other ammunition at sea to the ammunition ship USS Santa Barbara (AE-28). The nuclear portion of the weapons transfer took three and a half hours. It is unclear why the navy decided to conduct this risky nuclear operation at sea, a procedure the U.S. Navy normally tried to avoid, rather than offloading the nuclear weapons at NAD Earle as it was done in 1971.

The USS Intrepid finally returned to NAS Quonset Point, RI, two days later where it began  preparations for transferring to the reserve fleet and eventually decommissioning a year later on 15 March 1974.

© Hans M. Kristensen | | 2004-2005

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