USS Enterprise: A proud name with a very long and amazing history

The Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was decommissioned last week after 55 years of meritorious service under 10 U.S. presidents. Deployments ranged from the Cuban Missile Crises in 1962 to first-strike operations after 9-11.

The “Big E” was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and upon commissioning became the world’s longest ship at 1,100 feet. The video shows highlights of the Enterprise and last week’s observance.

I was not aware until last week’s ceremonies that eight ships named Enterprise have served the United States since before the country was founded. I’m providing a summary, below, of the missions and adventures of all eight ships. For much of the information, thanks goes to Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Lockwood of the Navy’s History and Heritage Command.

Enterprise 1 // Image: USS Enterprise CVN 65 website

It’s nice to know that the Enterprise tradition will live on with a new Enterprise, already being planned. It will be the third aircraft carrier in the Gerald R. Ford class and the first supercarrier not named after a person since the carrier America was commissioned in 1966. The new Enterprise, CVN-80, should be under construction in Newport News, Va., by the end of next year. It is scheduled for service beginning in 2027, maintaining no more than 11 active carriers (Congressional Research Service, PDF 20.7 mb).

The new USS Enterprise is scheduled to replace the USS Nimitz, currently home-ported in Bremerton.

Enterprise 2 // Image: USS Enterprise CVN 65 website

The first Enterprise, 1775-1777, was a sailing ship captured from the British by Capt. Benedict Arnold on May 18, 1775. Until then, the supply ship was known as George. Outfitted with guns, the Enterprise defended American supply routes in New England.

The ship was involved in disrupting the British invasion of New York later that year. One of five ships to survive the two-day battle, the Enterprise was run aground and burned to prevent recapture during the evacuation of Ticonderoga on July 7, 1777.

Enterprise 3 // Image: U.S. Navy

The second Enterprise, 1776-1777, was a schooner purchased for the Continental Navy in December of 1776. The ship operated mainly as a transport vessel in Chesapeake Bay. Limited records suggest the ship was turned over to the Maryland Council of Safety in February 1777.

The third Enterprise, 1799-1823, was a schooner used to capture pirate ships during the Barbary Wars. The daring raid to burn the frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli in 1804 was led by Lt. Stephen Dacatur Jr., commanding officer of the Enterprise.

Refitted as a brig, the ship served during the War of 1812, including a skirmish with the British brig Boxer on Sept. 5, 1813, when both British and American commanding officers were killed. After chasing smugglers, pirates and slavers from 1815 to 1823, the Enterprise became stranded and broke up in the West Indies without loss of any crew members.

Enterprise 4 // Image: USS Enterprise CVN 65 website

The fourth Enterprise, 1831-1844, was a schooner built by the New York Navy Yard and protected U.S. shipping routes throughout the world, including Brazil and the Far East. In 1839, the ship rounded the Horn, stopped over in Argentina and returned to the U.S. Following a short deactivation, the Enterprise sailed back to South America in 1840 before a final deactivation in 1844, when the ship was sold.

The fifth Enterprise, 1877-1909, was a bark-rigged sloop-of-war constructed at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in Maine. Launched in 1874 and commissioned in 1877, the ship conducted hydrographic surveys along shorelines and rivers throughout the world, including the Amazon and Madeira rivers in South America. In 1891 and ’92, the Enterprise served as a training platform for cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Enterprise 5
Photo: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

For the next 17 years, the ship was placed on loan to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and used as a maritime school. The Enterprise was returned to the Navy in 1909 and sold five months later.

The sixth Enterprise, 1916-1919, was a 66-foot motor patrol craft purchased by the Navy in 1916. The noncommissioned motorboat conducted patrol duties in Newport, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass. In 1919, the boat was transferred to the Bureau of Fisheries.

The seventh Enterprise, 1938-1947, offered a vast difference from its previous namesake. The Yorktown-class aircraft carrier earned 20 battle stars during World War II, more than any other warship in operation during the war years. Battles included Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.

Enterprise 6 // Photo: USS Enterprise CVN 65 website

During the Battle of Guadalcanal, the carrier took three direct hits, killing 74 and wounding 95 crew members. In October 1942, when the aircraft carrier Hornet was abandoned during the Battle of Santa Cruz, the Enterprise was able to take those orphaned aircraft.

During much of 1943, the Enterprise was relieved of duty while undergoing an overhaul at Bremerton’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In June of 1944, the ship was one of four carriers engaged in the largest carrier aircraft battles in history, the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Enterprise 7 // Photo: U.S. Navy

Damaged by a bomb in March 1944 and by a kamikaze attack the following April, both events required repairs. In May, another kamikaze attack destroyed the forward elevator, killed 14 and wounded 34 in the ship’s last battle of the war.

After repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the carrier sailed to Hawaii, then on to New York via the Panama Canal, where 1,141 sailors were discharged from duty in October 1945.A series of three voyages to Europe brought home more than 10,000 veterans. Decommissioning was in February 1947. Private groups were unable to raise enough money for preservation and the ship was sold for scrap in July 1958.

Enterprise 8 // Photo: U.S. Navy

The eighth Enterprise, 1961-2012, was powered by eight nuclear reactors, two for each of its four propeller shafts. It was a major engineering accomplishment, and the designers were not sure that it would work until testing began on the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Highlights of the ship’s legendary history are outlined in a timeline published by the Virginia Pilot in Norfolk, Va. Enterprise trivia questions are available in Maritime Executive magazine.

There is one other proud Enterprise, a fictional spacecraft called the Starship Enterprise. Of course, I’m talking about the primary setting for the Star Trek television series and movies. The Enterprise carried the registry numbler NCC-1701, designating it as a civilian aircraft, the first to be built in the 17th federation series.

Three versions of the Starship Enterprise were developed for the original Star Trek series along with the first through seventh films. Three ships were featured in the “Next Generation” series, and several others were shown in alternate timelines.

Starship Enterprise
Image: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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