As it launched from the Bethlehem Steel Company’s Fore River Yards in Quincy, Massachusetts, in December of 1942, the USS Bunker Hill became the second US Naval ship to bear this name. The Essex class aircraft carrier (CV-17) was placed in to commission in early 1943 and routed to the Atlantic. However, it wasn’t until she entered the Pacific war zone to take part in what the Japanese referred to as Operation R (the attacks on the Rabaul Harbor, located in the Australian Territory of New Britain) that she became significant.
Action in World War II
At the end of 1943 through mid-1944, the USS Bunker Hill conquered the Gilberts, raided Truk and the Marianas, and supported attacks on Japanese bases in the Central Pacific through the Hollandia and New Guinea areas. The USS Bunker Hill converged with other US Naval carriers to invade Saipan, moving forward to defeat the Japanese to bring an end to the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
This CV-17 received light bomb damage as she continued to deliver her planes through strikes against the Palau Islands and in to Leyte, the Visayas group of Philippine Islands. She then returned to the U.S. for repairs. Returning to active duty in January 1945, the USS Bunker Hill took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima and raids on Japan. As the flagship of the Task Force 58, under the command of Admiral A. Mitscher with Chief in Staff Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, she helped to capture Okinawa and brings in the aircraft to sink the Yamato, a Japanese battleship. It is during this time that two kamikaze planes hit the USS Bunker Hill. Four hundred crewmen were killed; however, despite the continuing fires on ship, she was able to return to the U.S. under her own power for repairs.
After the War
After Japan surrendered, the USS Bunker Hill transported men back to the U.S. from the Pacific. She never returned to active war duty, however, and became reclassified as an Attack Carrier (CVA-17) in 1952, an Antisubmarine Carrier (CVS-17) in 1953, and an Auxiliary Aircraft Landing Training Ship (AVT-9) in 1959.
Removed from the Naval Vessel Register in 1966, she was the home for the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center for the balance of the 1960s to the early 70s. Efforts were made in 1972 to save her as a museum ship; however, this did not come about. The USS Bunker Hill was sold for scrap metal in 1973.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, aircraft carriers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.