Thursday, July 31, 2014

50th Anniversary of an All-Nuclear Task Force

"This Day in History"

July 31, 1964

"The Beginning of the Nuclear Surface Navy"

Operation Sea Orbit was a 64 day mission by the United States Navy for Task Force One to orbit the earth without refueling or resupplying.  This task force consisted of the following ships: an attack carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65), a guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9), and a guided missile frigate USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25).  This mission covered 30,500 miles with 57 actual steaming days crossing the equator four times.

Photograph of USS Enterprise, USS Long Beach, and USS Bainbridge.
Photograph courtesy of

The purpose of Operation Sea Orbit, according to Rear Admiral Bernard M. Strean, U.S. Navy Commander, Task Force One, stated simply were:
  • To test the capability of these nuclear powered ships to maintain high speeds for indefinite periods over long distances in all environments of weather, seas, and seasons, without refueling or replenishment of any kind.
  • To demonstrate the mobility, flexibility, and strength of this element of U.S. power for keeping the peace.
  • To show these powerful, modern ships, and aircraft to peoples in remote areas of the world.
  • To familiarize Navy personnel with infrequently visited ocean areas.
  • To provide training and experience designed to improve our staying power at sea, particularly in remote areas.
  • To demonstrate our ability to reinforce or to bring U.S. power quickly to areas far from established bases, and to arrive with that power ready to fight.
  • To enhance the military and political image of the United States.
The motto of the cruise was "Nuclear Power for Peace."  Enterprise hosted "underway" visits from foreign government officials which included briefings and a view of an air fire-power demonstration.  These governments included: Morocco, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.  These friends of the United States were able to view first hand the powerful and modern ships and up-to-date weapons and aircraft available to the United States Navy in 1964.

Operation Sea Orbit map courtesy of U.S. Navy All Hands magazine January 1965.

While the ships did not resupply during the cruise the crews did enjoy liberty in Pakistan, Australia, and Brazil.  The Task Force One's complement was 6,057 officers and enlisted men.  These liberties did not have a single incident that involved a U.S. sailor and members of the local populations; which is quite a feat.

Operation Sea Orbit allowed the United States Navy to display its nuclear power force to the world during the Cold War.  The U.S. Navy has not looked back.  The Naval Historical Foundation produced a video to salute the accomplishments and legacy of the 1964 Operation Sea Orbit cruise.  The video was created by J. Mark Huffman at 26th Street Media.  Click here to watch the 6 1/2 minute video.


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