USS Saratoga (CV-60), formerly CVB-60 and CVA-60, was a Forrestal-class supercarrier. She was the last aircraft carrier in the US Navy to be laid down as an axial-deck ship, and was converted while under construction to an angled deck ship.
For the next several months, Saratoga conducted various engineering, flight, steering, structural, and gunnery tests. On 18 August, she sailed for Guantanamo Bay and her shakedown cruise. On 19 December, she reentered the New York Naval Shipyard and remained there until 28 February 1957. Upon completion of yard work, she got underway on a refresher training cruise to the Caribbean Sea before entering her home port, Mayport, Florida.
On 6 June, President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower and members of his cabinet boarded Saratoga to observe operations on board the giant carrier. For two days, she and eighteen other ships demonstrated air operations, antisubmarine warfare, guided missile operations, and the Navy's latest bombing and strafing techniques. Highlighting the President's visit was the nonstop flight of two F8U Crusaders, spanning the nation in three hours and twenty-eight minutes, from the Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) off the West Coast to the flight deck of the Saratoga in the Atlantic.
The carrier departed Mayport on 3 September 1957 for her maiden transatlantic voyage. Saratoga sailed into the Norwegian Sea and participated in Operation Strikeback, joint naval maneuvers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries. She returned briefly to Mayport before entering the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for repairs.
On 1 February 1958, Saratoga departed Mayport for the Mediterranean Sea and her first deployment with the Sixth Fleet. From this date through 31 December 1967 she was to spend a part of each year in the Mediterranean on a total of eight cruises. The remainder of the time, she either operated off the coast of Florida or was in port undergoing restricted availability.
On the night of May 24th/25th 1960, the Saratoga collided with the German freighter Bernd Leonhardt off North Carolina. The freighter's bridge and superstructure were damaged by the carrier's flight-deck. The results of an investigation was never published, but repairs of the freighter, amounting to about 2.5 million German marks, were paid by the Navy.
While deployed with the Sixth Fleet on 23 January 1961, a serious fire broke out in Saratoga's number two machinery space which took seven lives. The fire, believed caused by a ruptured fuel oil line, was brought under control by the crew, and the ship proceeded to Athens, Greece, where a survey of the damage could be made. The ship continued on its patrol mission with reduced steam generation capability, returning to the U.S. as scheduled to offload its air group before repairs.
On 2 January 1968, Saratoga sailed for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an overhaul and modernization program which was to last 11 months. On 31 January 1969, she departed Philadelphia for Guantanamo, via Hampton Roads and Mayport, and extensive refresher training of the crew and air detachments.
On 17 May, Armed Forces Day, she was the host ship for President Richard Nixon during the firepower demonstration conducted by Carrier Air Wing Three in the Virginia Capes area. On 9 July, she departed Mayport for her ninth Mediterranean deployment. Underway, a Soviet surface force and a November class submarine passed in close proximity, en route to Cuba. Off the Azores on 17 July, Saratoga was shadowed by Kipelovo-based Soviet aircraft. They were intercepted, photographed, and escorted while in the vicinity of the carrier. She operated with Task Group 60.2 of the Sixth Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean during September in a "show of force" in response to the large build-up of Soviet surface units there, the hijacking of a Trans World Airlines plane to Syria and the political coup in Libya. Numerous surveillance and reconnaissance flights were conducted by Carrier Wing Three aircraft against Soviet surface units, including the helicopter carrier Moskva, operating southeast of Crete. Saratoga operated in this area again in October because of the crisis in Lebanon.
From her arrival at Mayport until 10 March 1971, she was in a "cold iron" status. She then operated off the Florida coast until 7 June when she departed for her eleventh deployment with the Sixth Fleet, via Scotland and the North Sea where she participated in exercise "Magic Sword II." She returned to Mayport on 31 October for a period of restricted availability and local operations.
On 11 April 1972, Saratoga sailed from Mayport en route to Subic Bay, and her first deployment to the western Pacific. She arrived in Subic Bay on 8 May and departed for Vietnam the following week, arriving at "Yankee Station" on 18 May for her first period on the line. Before year's end, she was on station in the Tonkin Gulf a total of seven times: 18 May to 21 June; 1 July to 16 July; 28 July to 22 August; 2 September to 19 September, 29 September to 21 October; 5 November to 8 December; and 18 December to 31 December. She had been reclassified as a "Multi-purpose Aircraft Carrier" (CV-60) on 30 June 1972.
During the first period, Saratoga lost four aircraft and three pilots. On the plus side, on 21 June, two of her F-4 Phantoms attacked three MiG 21s over North Vietnam. Dodging four surface-to-air missiles, they managed to down one of the MiG aircraft. Saratoga's planes attacked targets ranging from enemy troop concentrations in the lower panhandle to petroleum storage areas northeast of Hanoi. On her second line period, she lost an F-4 to enemy fire northeast of Hanoi with the pilot and radar intercept officer missing in action. During this period, her aircraft flew 708 missions against the enemy.
On 6 August, Lieutenant Jim Lloyd of VA-105, flying an A-7 Corsair on a bombing mission near Vinh, had his plane shot out from under him by a SAM. He ejected into enemy territory at night. In a daring rescue by helicopters supported by CVW-3 aircraft, he was lifted from the midst of enemy soldiers and returned to the Saratoga. On 10 August, one of the ship's CAP jet fighters splashed a MiG at night using AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.
During the period 2 September to 19 September, Saratoga's aircraft flew over 800 combat strike missions against targets in North Vietnam. On 20 October, her aircraft flew 83 close air support sorties in six hours in support of a force of 250 Territorials beleaguered by the North Vietnamese 48th Regiment. Air support saved the small force, enabled ARVN troops to advance, and killed 102 North Vietnamese soldiers. During her last period on station, Saratoga's aircraft battered targets in the heart of North Vietnam for over a week.
Saratoga departed "Yankee Station" for Subic Bay on 7 January 1973. From there she sailed for the United States via Singapore and arrived at Mayport on 13 February 1973 where she joined the Atlantic Fleet.
In the beginning of 1975, Saratoga took part in the Locked Gate-75, a NATO operation meant to contain the influence of the Portuguese Communist Party in Portugal after the Carnation Revolution. Along with several foreign vessels, she entered the Tagus River delta and anchored in front of the Presidential Palace of Belém.
Saratoga sailed from Mayport, FL January 1976 for another Med cruise. On board her was VS-22 with the first deployment of the S-3A Antisubmarine aircraft. She also took part in operations during the Lebanon crisis in 76.
In March 1980, Saratoga and embarked airwing CVW-3 departed on their 16th Mediterranean deployment. Highlights of the deployment included major exercises with the USS Forrestal (CV 59) battle group, and visits by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Thomas C. Crow. Then-commanding officer, Capt. James H. Flatley III, made naval aviation history on 21 June 1980 when he completed his 1,500th carrier arrested landing. To make the event special, Midshipman James H. Flatley IV, the Captain's son, rode in the back seat.
On 28 September 1980, only one month after her return from deployment, Saratoga departed Mayport and headed north to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where she underwent the most extensive industrial overhaul ever performed on any Navy ship. Saratoga was the first ship to go through the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) overhaul that would last 28 months. She conducted sea trials on 16 October 1982, and left Philadelphia with much fanfare on 2 February 1983 with her new nickname — "Super Sara."
Saratoga's 18th deployment was anything but ordinary. After departing Mayport in August 1985, Saratoga steamed toward the Mediterranean for what was scheduled to be a routine deployment. But on 10 October, Saratoga was called into action.
PLF terrorists had found and struck an Italian luxury liner, Achille Lauro. The ship had just departed Alexandria, Egypt, on a pleasure cruise of the Mediterranean. A few hours later, terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the ship. After tense negotiations and the killing of an American tourist, the hijackers traveled in a battered tugboat to the city of Port Said, Egypt, after Achille Lauro anchored just off the coast. Egyptian authorities made hasty arrangements for the terrorists to depart the country. They boarded an Egypt Air 737 jetliner at the Al Maza Air Base, northeast of Cairo.
On orders from President Ronald Reagan, seven F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 "Bedevilers" and VF-103 "Sluggers" were launched from Saratoga. Supporting the Tomcats continuously were VA-85 KA-6D air tankers and VAW-125 E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. Off the coast of Crete, the F-14s, without the use of running lights, eased up beside and behind the airliner. On command, the Tomcats turned on their lights and dipped their wings — an international signal for a forced landing. The E-2 Hawkeye radioed the airliner to follow the F-14s. Realizing they were in a "no-win" situation, the hijackers allowed the pilot to follow the Tomcats to Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Italy.
One hour and 15 minutes later, the jetliner landed and the hijackers were taken into custody. Seven hours after the fighter jets were scrambled, all Saratoga aircraft returned home without a shot fired.
On 23 March 1986, while operating off coast of Libya, aircraft from the Saratoga, and crossed what Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi had called the "Line of Death." The very next day at noon, three U.S. Navy warships crossed the same 32° 30' navigational line.
Two hours later, Libyan forces fired SA-5 surface-to-air missiles from the coastal town of Surt. The missiles missed their F-14 Tomcat targets and fell harmlessly into the water. Later that afternoon, U.S. aircraft turned back two Libyan MiG-25 fighter planes over the disputed Gulf of Sidra. Soon after, aircraft from the three carriers fought back in defense.
A heavily-armed A-6E Intruder fired Rockeye cluster bombs and a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile at a Libyan missile patrol boat operating on the "Line of Death." Later that night, two A-7E Corsair II jets attacked a key radar installation at Surt. At the conclusion, three Libyan patrol boats and a radar site were destroyed by Navy aircraft.
Following Saratoga's 19th Mediterranean deployment in June 1987, she was overhauled once again at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard at a cost of $280 million.
Saratoga along with embarked airwing, CVW-17, participated in Operation Desert Storm, primarily in the Red Sea. Before the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, the Saratoga suffered a loss of 21 crewmembers in a ferry boat accident off the coast of Haifa, Israel. During the war, the USS Saratoga (CV 60) set what were at the time, several records. She completed 6 transits of the Suez Canal and completed approximately 11,000 aircraft launch and recovery cycles. Saddam Hussein claimed on Iraqi television that Saratoga had been sunk, along with several other Coalition vessels. On one occasion during the war, a missile, possibly a Scud, was launched in the general direction of the Saratoga in the Red Sea, but it was either unguided, or launched on a hunch, as it was determined early in its flight path it would miss by more than . Saratoga was also the launching point of several highly publicized flights during the war, including the first American aircraft lost over Iraq, the F-18 of LCDR (later promoted to Captain) Scott Speicher, who was originally thought to have been killed, but has since been restored to missing in action status as his aircraft has been found and indicates that he likely was able to eject. His remains still have not been found. Another Saratoga aircraft shot down was an A-6E Intruder. Navigator-Bombardier LT Jeffrey Zaun was the American paraded before cameras after having been beaten about the face by Iraqi security forces either at the time of his capture or shortly after. He was eventually returned to American forces and was able to return to the Saratoga. Saratoga also played host to a detachment of US Navy SEALs who conducted the first wartime boardings of merchant shipping in the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield.
During the fall of 1992, the United States, Turkey, and several other NATO members participated in "Exercise Display Determination 1992", a combined forces naval exercise under the overall command of Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda of the United States Navy. The forces of participating nations were assigned to either of two multinational teams. Vice Admiral T. Joseph Lopez of the United States Navy led the "Brown Forces", which included Saratoga. The opposing "Green Forces", including the Turkish destroyer minelayer TCG Muavenet, former USS Gwin (DM-33), were under the direct control of Admiral Kroon of the Netherlands.
During the "enhanced tactical" phase of the training exercises, the Brown Forces were to attempt an amphibious landing at Saros Bay in the Aegean Sea against the resistance offered by the Green Forces. Admiral Boorda ordered the units comprising each force to actively seek and "destroy" each other. Both task force commanders had full authority to engage the enemy when and where they deemed appropriate and to use all warfare assets at their disposal to achieve victory. Needless to say, all confrontations were intended to be simulated attacks.
On 30 September 1992 the Combat Direction Center Officer aboard Saratoga decided to launch a simulated attack on nearby opposition forces utilizing the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile system. After securing the approval of Saratoga's Commanding Officer and the Battle Group Commander, Rear Admiral Philip Dur, the Combat Direction Center Officer implemented the simulated assault plan. Without providing prior notice, officers on Saratoga woke the enlisted Sea Sparrow missile team and directed them to conduct the simulated attack. Certain members of the missile firing team were not told that the exercise was a drill, rather than an actual event.
As the drill progressed, the missile system operator used language to indicate he was preparing to fire a live missile, but due to the absence of standard terminology, the responsible officers failed to appreciate the significance of the terms used and the requests made. Specifically, the Target Acquisition System operator issued the command "arm and tune", terminology the console operators understood to require arming of the missiles in preparation for actual firing. The officers supervising the drill did not realize that "arm and tune" signified a live firing. As a result, shortly after midnight on the morning of 1 October, Saratoga fired two live Sea Sparrow missiles at Muavenet. The missiles struck Muavenet in the bridge, destroying it and the Combat Information Center, killing five, including the commanding officer, and injuring most of the Turkish ship's officers. Navy officials have recommended that the captain of the aircraft carrier Saratoga and seven other officers and sailors be disciplined for the missile firing which was followed through.
Saratoga was decommissioned at the Naval Station, Mayport, Florida, on 20 August 1994, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was towed to Philadelphia in May 1995, then, upon deactivation of the Philadelphia Navy Yard in August 1998, to Newport, Rhode Island. There, she was first placed on donation hold, then her status was changed to "disposal as an experimental ship", and finally she was returned to donation hold on 1 January 2000. While a hulk at Newport, ex-Saratoga, like her sisters, has been extensively stripped to support the active carrier fleet. There is an active effort to make her a museum ship in Quonset Point in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Previous efforts to establish the ship as a museum in Jacksonville, Florida failed to raise even half of the start up costs. Jacksonville civic leaders attempted to funds, but the fundraising campaign, "Save Our Sara", fell short of the $3 million goal. At the time, efforts were abandoned when startup costs increased from $4.5 million to $6.8 million. Officials had wanted to place the ship in downtown Jacksonville, on the St. Johns River along the Southbank Riverwalk.