USS Princeton underway as LPH-5
|Namesake:||Battle of Princeton, 1777|
|Builder:||Philadelphia Naval Shipyard|
|Laid down:||14 September 1943|
|Launched:||8 July 1945|
|Commissioned:||18 November 1945|
|Decommissioned:||21 June 1949|
|Recommissioned:||28 August 1950|
|Decommissioned:||30 January 1970|
|Renamed:||Valley Forge to Princeton|
|Reclassified:||CVA-37, CVS-37 and LPH-5|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap in 1971|
|Class and type:||Essex-class aircraft carrier|
|Speed:||33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)|
|Complement:||3448 officers and enlisted|
USS Princeton (CV/CVA/CVS-37, LPH-5) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during and shortly after World War II for the United States Navy. The ship was the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name, and was named for the Revolutionary War Battle of Princeton. Princeton was commissioned in November 1945, too late to serve in World War II, but saw extensive service in the Korean War, in which she earned eight battle stars, and the Vietnam War. She was reclassified in the early 1950s as an attack carrier (CVA), then as an Antisubmarine Aircraft Carrier (CVS), and finally as an amphibious assault ship (LPH), carrying helicopters and marines. One of her last missions was to serve as the prime recovery ship for the Apollo 10 space mission.
Although she was extensively modified internally as part of her conversion to an LPH, external modifications were minor, so throughout her career Princeton retained the classic appearance of a World War II Essex-class ship. She was decommissioned in 1970, and sold for scrap in 1971.
Construction and commissioning
The ship was laid down as Valley Forge — one of the "long-hull" Essex class — on 14 September 1943 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She was renamed Princeton on 21 November 1944 to commemorate the light carrier USS Princeton (CVL-23), which was lost at the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 24 October 1944. The new Princeton was launched on 8 July 1945, sponsored by Mrs. Harold Dodds, and commissioned on 18 November 1945, Captain John M. Hoskins in command.
Attack carrier (1945–1954)
Then transferred to the Pacific Fleet, she arrived at San Diego, departing again on 3 July 1946 to carry the body of Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon back to Manila for burial. From Manila, Princeton joined the 7th Fleet in the Marianas, becoming flagship of Task Force 77 (TF 77). In September and October 1946, she operated in Japanese and Chinese waters, then returned to the Mariana Islands where she remained until February 1947. In 1947 she had Carrier Air Group 13 on board, and in October 1948 evacuated dependents from Tsingtao, returned to San Diego Dec 1948 and unloaded CAG13 Maneuvers in Hawaiian waters preceded her return to San Diego until 15 March. She cruised the West Coast, Hawaiian waters, and the Western Pacific (1 October – 23 December) in 1948. She then prepared for inactivation, and on 20 June decommissioned and joined other capital ships in the Pacific Reserve Fleet.
Reactivated with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea 15 months later, Princeton recommissioned on 28 August 1950. Intensive training refreshed her Reservist crew, and on 5 December she joined TF 77 off the Korean coast, her planes and pilots (Air Group 19) making possible the reinstitution of jet combat air patrols over the battle zone. She launched 248 sorties against targets in the Hagaru area to announce her arrival, and for the next six days continued the pace to support Marines fighting their way down the long, cold road from the Chosin Reservoir to Hungnam. By the 11th, all units had reached the staging area on the coast. Princeton's planes, with other Navy, Marine, and Air Force squadrons, then covered the evacuation from Hungnam through its completion on the 24th.
Interdiction missions followed, and by 4 April Princeton's planes had rendered 54 rail and 37 highway bridges inoperable and damaged 44 more. In May, they flew against the railroad bridges connecting Pyongyang with Sunchon, Sinanju, Kachon, and the trans-peninsula line. Next, they combined close air support with raids on power sources in the Hwachon Reservoir area and, with the stabilization of the front there, resumed interdiction. For much of the summer they pounded supply arteries, concentrating on highways, and in August Princeton got underway for the U.S., arriving at San Diego on the 29th, after collecting Destroyer Division 51 at Pearl Harbor.
On 30 April 1952, Princeton rejoined TF 77 in the combat zone. For 138 days, her planes flew against the enemy. They sank small craft to prevent the recapture of offshore islands; blasted concentrations of supplies, facilities, and equipment behind enemy lines, participated in air-gun strikes on coastal cities, pounded the enemy's hydroelectric complex at Suiho on the Yalu River to turn off power on both sides of that river, destroyed gun positions and supply areas in Pyongyang; and closed mineral processing plants and munitions factories at Sindok, Musan, Aoji, and Najin.
Reclassified CVA-37 (1 October 1952), Princeton returned to California on 3 November for a two-month respite from the western Pacific. In February 1953, she was back off the Korean coast and until the end of the conflict launched planes for close air support, "Cherokee" strikes against supply, artillery, and troop concentrations in enemy territory, and against road traffic. She remained in the area after the truce on 27 July, and on 7 September got underway for San Diego.
Anti-submarine carrier (1954–1959)
In January 1954, Princeton was reclassified CVS-37 and, after conversion at Bremerton, Washington, took up antisubmarine/ Hunter-Killer (HUK) training operations in the eastern Pacific. For the next five years she alternated HUK exercises off the West Coast with similar operations in the western Pacific and, in late 1957-early 1958, in the Indian Ocean–Persian Gulf area.
Amphibious assault carrier (1959–1970)
Reclassified again, 2 March 1959, she emerged from conversion as an amphibious assault carrier, LPH-5. Capable of transporting a battalion landing team and carrying helicopters in place of planes, Princeton's mission became that of vertical envelopment—the landing of Marines behind enemy beach fortifications and providing logistics and medical support as they attack from the rear to seize critical points, cut enemy supplies, sever communications, and link up with assault forces landed on the beaches. Since this was a Marine Corps mission, Marines made up a major portion of the ship's company in the Air, Operations, and Supply Departments.
From May 1959 – January 1960, Princeton trained with Marine units from Camp Pendleton, then deployed to WestPac to train in Okinawan waters. For the next three years, she followed a similar schedule, gaining experience in her primary mission. Interruptions came in October 1961 when she rescued 74 survivors of two merchantmen Pioneer Muse and Sheik grounded on Kita Daito Shima and in April 1962 when she delivered Marine Corps advisors and helicopters to Sóc Trăng in the Mekong Delta area of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). From September–November 1962, Princeton served as flagship of Joint Task Force 8 during the nuclear weapons test series, Operation Dominic.
In October 1964, Princeton exchanged WestPac training for the real thing as she returned to Vietnam and joined the Pacific Fleet's Ready Group in operations against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (VC) forces. Combat operations, interrupted in November for flood relief work, continued into the new year, 1965, and culminated in May off Chu Lai as she carried out her primary mission, vertical envelopment, for the first time in combat.
Returning to her homeport, Long Beach, California, after that operation, she transported Marine Aircraft Group 36 to Vietnam in August, and in February 1966 got underway for another tour in the combat zone. Relieving Okinawa as flagship for the Amphibious Ready Group, she engaged the enemy in operations Jackstay, 26 March – 6 April, to clear the Rung Sat Special Zone of Viet Cong guerrillas, and Osage, 27 April – 4 May, to protect Vietnamese in the Phu Loc area from VC harassment.
Search and destroy missions against Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam units followed as Princeton provided transportation, medical evacuation, logistics and communication support for the amphibious operation Deckhouse I, 18 – 27 June, in the Song Cau district and the Song Cai river valley, then supported 1st Cavalry and 101st Airborne units engaged in Operation Nathan Hale to the south of the Deckhouse I area. Operation Deckhouse II and support for Operation Hastings followed as Navy, Marine, and Army units again combined, this time to impede enemy infiltration from the DMZ.
After Operation Hastings, Princeton sailed for home, arriving on 2 September. She deployed again to Vietnam from 30 January–19 June 1967, and again ranged along the coast. In March, she assisted in countering an enemy threat to the Marine artillery base at Gio Linh and evacuated wounded from Con Thien. In April, she participated in Operation Beacon Star, in the Khe Sanh area, and supported search and destroy operations in conjunction with Operation Shawnee. In May, her helicopters lifted Marines to the DMZ to block enemy forces withdrawing across the Bến Hải River.
A much-needed overhaul followed Princeton's return to the west coast, and in May 1968 she again sailed west to Vietnam. There, as flagship for Amphibious Ready Group Alpha, she provided amphibious assault carrier services for operations Fortress Attack III and IV, Proud Hunter, Swift Pursuit, and Eager Hunter. In December, she returned to the United States and in April 1969 she was designated the prime recovery ship for Apollo 10, the lunar mission which paved the way for Apollo 11 and the first manned landing on the Moon. Apollo 10 was recovered in the South Pacific on 26 May.
On 30 January 1970, Princeton was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register, and sold for scrapping in May 1971.
Princeton received the Navy Unit Commendation for four periods: 5 December 1950 to 10 August 1951, 15 April to 18 October 1952, 13 March to 15 May 1953, and 11 June to 27 July 1953.
The flag of USS Princeton is now in Princeton University in the University Chapel.
USS Princeton was used during the filming of the 1952 Monogram Pictures feature Flat Top.
After the ship was sold for scrapping, some of the steel deck plate was acquired by Fermilab in 1972 for use in its experimental areas. In 1978, Robert R. Wilson used portions of that steel to create the "Broken Symmetry" sculpture that stands over one of the laboratory's gates.
- Associated Press, “Home-Coming Carrier Greeted At San Diego”, ‘’The San Bernardino Daily Sun’’, San Bernardino, California, Thursday 30 August 1951, Volume LVII, Number 312, page 2.
- "21 Tons of Art," Ferminews, June 22, 1978, Volume 1, Number 7, page 2-3. 
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Navy photographs of Princeton (CV-37)