This post has been updated with entries for USS Guardian and USS Bonhomme Richard.
The Navy’s Nov. 20, 2020 decision to scrap USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) after the warship suffered a five-day-long fire adds it to the list of U.S. warships the service has lost since the close of World War II.
Between December 1941 and September 1945, over 350 U.S. Navy warships and patrol craft were sunk or damaged beyond repair. In the nearly seven decades since less than 30 ships have been lost directly due to enemy action or accidents. These are a few of the notable incidents:
On the same day that the city of Hiroshima was reduced to ash by the first atomic bomb, the USS Bullhead (SS-32) became the last U.S. Navy ship sunk by the enemy during WWII. The submarine is thought to have been hit by depth charges dropped by a Japanese plane on Aug. 6, 1945 off the coast of Bali. The wreck of the submarine has never been found.
Commissioned in 1943, PC-815 would go on to earn the name “The Jinxed Sub-Chaser”. Lt (j.g.) L. Ron Hubbard (the future founder of Scientology) was the first man to take the helm, only to be relieved of command three months later following a series of embarrassing incidents (including the shelling of Mexican territory) that caused his superiors to lose faith in his ability. The next few years were uneventful for the PC-815 until Sept. 11, 1945 when it collided with the destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), burst into flames and sank.
USS Magpie (AMS-25) blew up after striking a mine off the coast of Korea on Sept. 29 1950, claiming the lives of 21 members of the crew. Ships hitting mines during the Korean Conflict would also cost the U.S. Navy the USS Pirate (AM-275), USS Pledge (AM-277), USS Sarsi (ATF-111) and USS Partridge (AMS-31). Mines continue to be the biggest threat to the world’s navies and account for most ship losses other than accidents.
The first ship in a new class of advanced nuclear “hunter-killer” submarines, USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost at sea near Cape Cod on 10 April 1963. An inquiry concluded that leaking water likely shorted out electrical systems, leading to a loss of propulsion that caused the sub to exceed its test depth and implode. The tragic loss of the Thresher with all 129 hands resulted in the Navy launching the SUBSAFE program, which was developed to assure that submarines were able to recover from flooding. In 2008, oceanographer Bob Ballard revealed that his search for the Titanic in 1985 was actually the cover for a secret mission to further investigate the wrecks of the Thresher and the USS Scorpion (see entry below).
In an incident that still evokes heated debate today, 34 crewmen were killed and 171 were wounded when USS Liberty (AGTR-5) was attacked by Israel Defense Forces on June 8, 1967 while conducting intelligence operations in the Mediterranean near Sinai. The Liberty returned to the US after emergency repairs, but the severity of the damage resulted in the ship being decommissioned and scrapped. The U.S. government officially accepted the Israeli position that the attack was purely an accident due to confusion in a tense environment, but many maintain that the Israelis intentionally targeted the Liberty because the ship could intercept and inadvertently share information concerning Israel’s activities during the Six-Day War.
On Jan. 23, 1968, North Korean forces swarmed and captured the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), claiming that the intelligence ship had violated its territorial waters. The Pueblo was taken to the port of Wonsan and the U.S. crew was forced to sit for propaganda photos in which they posed with extended middle fingers, telling their North Korean captors that the gesture was “a Hawaiian symbol for good luck”. The crew was released almost one year later, but the North Koreans kept the Pueblo and still display it as a trophy. In 2007, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) proposed trading a Korean battle flag captured during the largely forgotten US -Korea War of 1871, but the deal was never officially offered.
While returning to the U.S. from a Mediterranean deployment in May 1968, the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) disappeared near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. The Navy conducted an extensive search, but on June 5 declared that the submarine and crew of 99 were presumed lost. The wreckage was eventually discovered, but the cause of the sub’s destruction still has not been determined. Some investigators believe that a malfunctioning torpedo may have been to blame, but others theorize that the sub was involved in a confrontation with a Soviet sub in which the Scorpion was fatally damaged in a collision. A more extreme theory holds that the Soviets suspected that the U.S. was responsible for the sinking of the K-129 earlier in the year, so the Scorpion was sunk in retaliation.
USS Frank E Evans
During an exercise in the South China Sea on 3 June 1969, inexperienced officers standing watch aboard the destroyer USS Frank E Evans became confused while making emergency maneuvers and placed the ship directly in the path of the Royal Australian Navy carrier HMAS Melbourne. The Melbourne split the Evans in two, sending the bow to the bottom of the ocean along with 74 sailors. 199 personnel were rescued from the stern that fortunately had managed to stay afloat. The subsequent investigation put a strain on U.S.-Australian relations because the Australians believed the U.S. Navy tried to attribute too much blame to Melbourne’s commander. Melbourne’s commander was cleared of wrongdoing in the accident but three officers from the Evans were charged with dereliction of duty.
While in dry dock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Miami SSN-755) suffered a fire set by a shipyard worker Casey James Fury who was attempting to get off work. The May 23, 2012 fire caused $700 million in damage to the attack boat and resulted in the decision for the Navy to decommission the submarine rather than repair it. Fury plead guilty to setting the fire.
The mine countermeasures ship was underway in the Sulu Sea near the Phillippines at night when it ran aground on Jan. 17, 2013, on the Tubbataha reef system. The Navy determined the 250-ton USS Guardian (MCM-5) could not be safely removed from the reef and began a two-month long process of dismantling the ship.
A report on the grounding found “this tragic mishap was wholly preventable and was the product of poor voyage planning, poor execution, and unfortunate circumstances. This investigation uncovers no single point of failure; instead, there were numerous links in the error chain leading up to the grounding. Had any one of which been appropriately addressed, the grounding would have been prevented.” The Navy was required to pay the government of the Phillippines $1.97 million in damages to rebuild the relief.
USS Bonhomme Richard
On Nov. 30, 2020, the Navy announced it would not repair the amphibious warship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) after a five-day fire in July gutted the hull while the ship was pier-side in San Diego. To repair the damage from the fire, cause still unknown, the Navy estimated would cost between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion and take five to seven years. The ship had just completed a $250 million repair period when the fire broke out.
Other Navy ships lost since WWII
USS Solar (DE 221) scuttled after being damaged in an accidental explosion, April 30, 1946
USS Chehalis (AOG-48) capsized after a gasoline tank exploded and killed 6, Oct. 7, 1949
USS Benevolence (AH-13) sunk after colliding with the SS Mary Luckenbach, April, 25 1950
USS Hobson (DMS 26) broke in half and sunk after collision with USS Wasp (CV 18), 176 killed, April 26, 1952
USNS Mission San Francisco (T-AO-123) collided with the Liberian freighter Elna II and exploded, March 7, 1957
USNS Mission San Miguel (T-AO-129) ran aground Oct. 8, 1957 and declared unfit for further naval service
USS Stickleback (SS-415) sunk in collision with USS Silverstein (DE-534) off Hawaii, May 29, 1958
USS Grouse (AMS-15) ran aground on Sept. 12, 1963 and then destroyed with explosives when attempts to dislodge failed
USS Bache (DD-470) wrecked and abandoned at Rhodes during heavy seas, Feb. 7, 1968
USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton (T-AKV-5) ran aground on a reef and abandoned, Sept. 23, 1973
USS La Moure County (LST-1194) ran aground in Chile and damaged beyond repair, Sept. 12, 2000