|USS Nitro (AE-2/AE-23) Association|
Command History of the
USS NITRO (AE-23)
Laid down by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's Sparrow's Point Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland on 20 May 1957, USS NITRO (AE-23) was the second U.S. Navy ship to bear the name.
NITRO (AE-23) was part of a revolutionary new class of ammunition ships, the first to be built since World War II, and the very first to be built from the keel up as Navy ammunition ships. Three of five cargo holds were totally outfitted for stowing palletized ammunition loads, and each of these holds had two cargo elevators for rapid break out of cargo, which provided redundancy in case of an elevator failure. Battery powered fork trucks were used for moving palletized loads, and in conjunction with the elevators provided safer more efficient handling of ammunition. With almost three times the shaft horsepower of the first NITRO and seventy percent more cargo capacity, AE-23 was capable of maintaining better than 20 knots and keeping far ranging fleets supplied with a wider variety and a larger quantity of ammunition. Vast improvements were also made in living spaces and habitability with full air conditioning. Elevators were installed to provide safer, more efficient handling of ammunition.
After commissioning on 1 MAY 1959, NITRO headed for shakedown in the Caribbean with Captain Warren C. Hall in command. NITRO operated out of her new home port at Davisville, Rhode Island, with various elements of the Second Fleet, until heading for a seven month Mediterranean deployment in February 1960, beginning what was to be a tradition of successful Sixth Fleet deployments. After another deployment to the Mediterranean the following year, NITRO headed for an operational and good will visit to Northern Europe in September 1962, returning to take part in the November quarantine of Cuba. In February of 1963 NITRO again became a unit of the Sixth Fleet, returning home seven months later. After an overhaul at Brooklyn Navy Yard, she operated in the Caribbean and off the east coast, until again deploying to the Mediterranean on 17 July 1964. Upon her return in February of 1965 she spent most of the rest of the year operating out of Davisville and in the Caribbean. She again set her course for Gibraltar to service the Sixth Fleet in November of that year, returning home in March 1966.
On 18 May 1966 NITRO's status was changed to "in commission in reserve' for an extensive conversion at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. in Baltimore. When she emerged in August 1967 NITRO had a new helo deck where her after gun mounts had been and an all new "FAST" system was installed. Designed to transfer missiles without their being touched by human hands, the "FAST" system provided a safer means of transferring missiles at sea. NITRO also received Standard Tension Replenishment Along-side Method (STREAM) equipment, which greatly increased NITRO's underway replenishment capability, especially during heavy seas.
On 16 October NITRO began operating off the east coast again and returned to Davisville by the end of the year. NITRO continued her Mediterranean rotation until August 1971 when she entered the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Boston for regular overhaul. After leaving the yards, NITRO spent a few short days in Davisville prior to heading for Earle, N.J. for load-out prior to Refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Before returning to Earle, N.J. on 10 March, 1972, NITRO visited Port Au Prince, Haiti. On 21 March 1972 NITRO left Earle, N.J. for exercises off Jacksonville, Florida. On 31 March 1972, NITRO stopped in Yorktown, VA for a Mediterranean load-out and then returned to Davisville, to make preparations for her upcoming Mediterranean deployment. But, when NITRO got underway for a load adjustment in Earle, New Jersey on 19 April, 1972, everyone knew NITRO would not be going to the Mediterranean this time. On 24 April NITRO set sail for the Panama Canal, packed with eight inch ammunition for the mighty NEWPORT NEWS, six inch projectiles for USS OKLAHOMA CITY and USS PROVIDENCE, and five inch ammo for the destroyers of the Seventh Fleet. On 29 April, 1972, NITRO transitted the Panama Canal for the first time, as her namesake had done many years before, After a short briefing from COMNAVSURFPAC, in Pearl Harbor, NITRO headed for Subic Bay on 12 May, 1972, making a slight detour to the remote Wake Island to MEDEVAC an injured sailor. On 25 May, 1972, NITRO arrived in Subic Bay and began a series of "line swings" (trips up and down the coast of Vietnam, dispensing ammunition to units of the Seventh Fleet) that were to continue until February 1973, when a truce was declared. While in the Seventh Fleet, NITRO had the opportunity to visit Koaksiung, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sattahip, Thailand (Bangkok), Okinawa, and Acustica, Japan before returning by way of the Panama Canal to her homeport of Davisville, Rhode Island on 12 March 1973. This ended a period of nineteen and one-half months in which NITRO was in homeport only a scant 19 days, including an almost eleven month deployment to WESTPAC. During the following year, NITRO underwent conversion to cleaner burning Naval Distillate fuel and her crew worked to restore the wear and tear brought about by a strenuous year in the Pacific. On 9 February 1974 NITRO headed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for Refresher Training in preparation for another Mediterranean deployment.
After two weeks in Guantanamo Bay, NITRO returned for a short preparation for overseas movement (POM) period in Davisville. She deployed again that April for the Mediterranean. This cruise lasted three months and called on such ports as Rota, Palma, Naples, Lisbon, Morocco, and Athens. In July 1974, NITRO returned to her new homeport of Earle, New Jersey.
On 15 November 1974, NITRO once again deployed to the Mediterranean. During this six-month cruise, over 1700 tons of ammunition were transferred, while serving 38 ships. While deployed the ship had an opportunity to visit Malaga, Valencia, Palma, Lisbon, and Naples. The high point of the cruise came on 27 February 1975, in Palma de Mallorca, when NITRO hosted a ceremony in honor of the American Consular Agent in Palma, Señor Bartomorleo, Jr. on behalf of the Chief of Naval Operations and in recognition of his thirteen years of dedicated service to the United States Navy.
After a brief stop in Rota, Spain, the ship returned to Naval Weapons Station Earle on 24 April 1975 for a much deserved rest of six weeks duration. NITRO then spent nearly two months in Norfolk conducting repairs as there were not facilities in Earle at that time. During the months that followed, NITRO provided services to numerous units of the Atlantic Fleet. She participated in COMTUEX in late November in Earle, and provided underway replenishment services to the aircraft carrier USS SARATOGA off the coast of Florida. Upon completion of these operations, NITRO returned to spend the Christmas holidays in her homeport, Earle, New Jersey.
On 15 April 1976, NITRO was underway for Rota, Spain and inchop to the SIXTH FLEET, arriving there 25 April 1976. After taking on her SIXTH Fleet Ordnance load, NITRO steamed to Naples, Italy for the first of three upkeep periods she had during this deployment.
After a 17 day stop at Palermo, Sicily, NITRO weighed anchor for Augusta Bay to commence her participation in National Week XXI, operating with the units of the SIXTH Fleet in wartime operation situations. During this period (23-27 August 1976) NITRO had the distinction of being the last unit in its particular force to be taken out of action in simulated exercises. She went undetected in all her maneuvers for almost two days.
On 16 November NITRO moored at Pier 2, Naval Weapons Station Earle, where she immediately commenced a pre-overhaul TAV, completed on 12 December 1976. On 13 December NITRO departed Earle for Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to begin preparations for regular overhaul scheduled to commence on 5 January 1977. In December 1977, with the overhaul nearly complete, NITRO got underway for the first time in a year to conduct sea trials.
In July 1978, NITRO once again moved back into the operational fleet. During July and August the ship sailed to Charleston, South Carolina to provide services to aircraft carriers EISENHOWER and SARATOGA. This was EISENHOWER's very first at-sea ammo onload. While at Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, Change of Command ceremonies were conducted on 9 August 1978.
NITRO's 1979 service was officially recognized by a second Deck Seamanship citation, plus similar departmental awards for excellence in Gunnery, Communications and Operations. Similar awards marked her performance over the following few years as she operated between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Fleets on a notional schedule.
While operating in the MED during the spring of 1981, NITRO suffered a class "B" fire in the engineering space on 1 June 1981 which caused a significant amount of damaged to the entire starboard side of the engineering space and many other spaces due to subsequent fires. Fortunately, only six personnel were injured. NITRO was towed to Souda Bay, Crete by the USNS NEOSHO where she started emergency repairs and off-loaded ammunition. The ship was then towed to Helenic Shipyard in Athens by the USS EDENTON where she underwent a 30 day availability for extensive repairs prior to returning to operations in the Med.
An especially exciting day occurred on 16 December, 1983 when the NITRO was tasked to deliver 16 inch powders and projectiles to the Battleship New Jersey. Less than 40 hours after the USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) had responded to a call for fire to protect reconnaissance aircraft from hostile AA Batteries in Lebanon, NITRO was delivering ammo to the NEW JERSEY from both STREAM stations 2A and 8A. This marked the first rearming at sea of NEW JERSEY's 16 inch/50 ammunition by an Atlantic Fleet MLSF unit since her recommissioning. A USO Show Tour Troupe of Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders performed on NITRO's flight deck the day after Christmas 1983.
Subsequently, heavy fighting continued throughout Lebanon, and USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) fired her massive guns in support of Marines ashore. On 11 February 1984, while enroute to Augusta Bay, Sicily for 16 inch ammunition to rearm NEW JERSEY, NITRO spotted, reported and tracked a surfaced Libyan Foxtrot-class submarine until relieved by a P-3C ORION aircraft. For her efforts NITRO received a "Bravo Zulu" from Commander, U.S. Forces Sixth Fleet. NITRO was called upon once again while enroute to Haifa, Israel to supplement the Marines withdrawing from Beirut. Numerous pallets of ammunition were received from the Marines stationed ashore via vertical replenishment. Afterward, she proceeded to a port visit in Israel.
Upon leaving Israel, NITRO received several pallets of books onboard destined for Casablanca, Morocco as part of a CNO Special "Handclasp" Project. The books were given as a gesture of goodwill with the hope they might promote a higher level of education in Morocco. On 19 April 1984 NITRO delivered the books to Casablanca as the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco extended his appreciation for NITRO's participation in this program of international goodwill.
On 9 October 1984 NITRO was nominated for another CNO Special Project and sailed to aid in the testing of equipment onboard the space shuttle, Columbia. NITRO's services were again called upon to upload ammunition to USS SARATOGA (CV-60) on 15 October 1994 returning to Earle on the 20th. NITRO distinguished herself by becoming the first ammunition ship to upload both the USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) and the USS IOWA (BB-61) since the Korean War era during a transfer of 16 inch ammunition to the IOWA. NITRO also had the rare opportunity to conduct an alongside transfer with USS HERCULES (PHM-2).
NITRO rejoined the carrier task force of the Sixth Fleet on the nineteenth of June 1985, and proceeded in great haste towards the eastern Mediterranean in response to the hijacking of a TWA aircraft. For the next forty-five days, the fleet remained on station at peak readiness until the resolution of this situation. During this time crew members of the NITRO completed thirty conventional underway replenishments and forty-seven VERTREPS (helicopter transfer replenishments), which amounted to an accumulated total of over ten tons of ammunition to the fleet.
When the TWA crisis was brought to a close, NITRO departed the NIMITZ Battle Group and arrived on 19 July, 1985 in Golcuk, Turkey for a RAV. The stay in the Glocuk Naval Yards lasted approximately three weeks, during which time many improvements were made in engineering and deck equipment.
In 1988, NITRO spent Thanksgiving holiday in port, and was underway in early December to deliver ammunition to USS WISCONSIN (BB-64). This was the first underway weapons onload for the WISCONSIN since her recommissioning.
In the summer of 1990, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and his military force overran the small neighboring country of Kuwait. With only limited initial response from the outside world, Hussein became over confident, allowing him to underestimate to what extent the world would except his invasion of Kuwait. President Bush quickly began organizing an allied coalition to oppose Hussein. To back this, forward deployed U.S. forces were positioned in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States; a massive recall of reservists was begun; and supply ships wee put at the ready.
NITRO arrived on Lisbon, Portugal on 7 January 1991, to quickly onland Walleye Missiles and 16" gun ammunition. There was no longer any doubt as to where NITRO was headed---the only deployed ships with 16" turrets, the battleships WISCONSIN and MISSOURI, were in the Persian Gulf. At 0300 on the 16th of January, mount 32 personnel reported 5 jet aircraft about 500 yards from the ship. A missile was reported launched toward shore. The contacts were reported; warnings were issued; the aircraft were outbound. Only those people on watch were aware of the danger and realized that NITRO was at war.
On January 20th, NITRO and MISSISSIPPI reversed course to meet USS VREELAND (FF-1068). An exchange of escorts on 23 January left NITRO with VREELAND while MISSISSIPPI returned to the Red Sea. On February 17th, something strange happened--NITRO entered the REALM of Neptunas Rex. Wogs were captured and punishment was carried out. No wogs survived. Only loyal shellbacks remained to complete NITRO's transit to Diego Garcia. During her deployment to the Persian Gulf, USS NITRO moved over 6,700 lifts, more that 13 million pounds.
Following her extended maintenance availability ending in mid-January 1992, NITRO implemented extensive self-improvement programs. Having completed a satisfactory Light-Off Inspection (LOE), demonstrating competence in fire fighting techniques, and impressing COMLOGGRU TWO's STREAM Team with successful in-port and underway Ship Qualification Trials (SQT's) in 1992, it was time to make her mark for 1993.
USS NITRO began working toward perfection with extensive underway training, holding numerous main space fire drills and even more Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises (BECCES) in preparation for the Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE). This OPPE was finally passed with flying colors, receiving impressive grades from the Propulsion Examining Board, and a two year certification. NITRO returned to port for a brief celebration and stores onload prior to UNREP's of opportunity with USS BUTTE; USS ANZIO; USS BOULDER; USNS CONCORD; and USS LASALLE. This underway replenishment with USS LASALLE was especially memorable, as it included transfer of 16 porta-potties along with download of ammunition from "THE GREAT WHITE GHOST OF THE ARABIAN COAST" as she returned to CONUS for the first time in over a decade.
After a short maintenance availability, NITRO was ready to deploy to the Eastern Atlantic for ammunition roll-backs from Glen Douglas, Scotland; and Rota, Spain. NITRO transitted the Atlantic independently for much of the way, providing fuel to USS ELROD, and conducting flight operations with her helos.
In Scotland, over 2000 lifts of ammunition were onloaded from the NATO facility at Naval Ammunition Depot bunkers in Glen Douglas in less than five days. Early completion of the onload allowed NITRO's crew to spend the remaining three days of the scheduled eight day evolution exploring the local area. Tours included such landmarks as Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and Lochness.
The mission in Scotland complete, NITRO headed south for the warmth of Rota, Spain, to offload ammunition destined for the U.S. Air Forces in Spain. NITRO finished with impressive efficiency, again affording ample opportunity for tours and sightseeing.
NITRO returned to New Jersey to down load cargo ammunition and hold a change of command ceremony on 01 November, passing command to what would be her last Commanding Officer, CDR Craig M. Huber, USN. Immediately after which, preparations began for a second roll-back mission of ammunition from the European theater on 17 November.
The return trip was very rough, with the ship transmitting four major storm depressions. In spite of the high seas and winds encountered, NITRO successfully refueled USS HANCOCK, to allow her to continue independently for her Mediterranean deployment. Following this second highly successful ammo roll-back mission, NITRO returned from the arctic North Atlantic to find similar weather in Earle, NJ. The crew was rewarded with a short holiday stand-down, which was the first break in operations since departing for the Gulf War nearly three years earlier.
Early 1994 found NITRO in Norfolk, VA for a Training Readiness Availability (TRAV). This afforded the majority of the crew to attend career enhancing schools and saved the Navy many thousands of dollars in TAD funds over sending them individually to school. Enroute back to homeport, the ship conducted their first ever overnight COED dependents cruise - a hugh success. NITRO returned to Scotland for a third time in March 1994 to finish the removal of the remaining ammunition from NAD Glen Douglas. With a brief port visit to Lisbon, Portugal and another to Rota, Spain, she returned to home port to off-load her wares and prepare to download the USS SARATOGA. Following the brief availability and down-load NITRO again prepared to return across the Atlantic, this time returning to the MED for the first time since the Gulf war. With Rota Spain, Souda Bay Crete, and Augusta Bay, Sicily designated as working ports the crew was rewarded with two liberty ports. The first liberty port was Naples, Italy and afforded the crew a chance to visit the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, the ruins at Pompeii and other sites along the Amalfi coast. The ship them headed to Kerkia, Corfu (Greece) with its beautiful beaches and natural scenery it proved to be an outstanding liberty spot.
Upon return to homeport only three weeks remained to make final preparations for her decommissioning INSURV inspection. Although found "Fit for further Service" NITRO commenced decommissioning stand-down on December 3, 1994. The early months of 1995 were spent closing-out spaces and off-loading various equipment and supplies while the crew members prepared themselves for transfer, separation, or retirement. The ship decommissions on 28 April 1995 after 36 years of honorable service to the United States Navy and the nation.
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