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The USS Arkansas (CGN-41) was the fourth and last ship in the Virginia class of Nuclear Powered Guided Missile Cruisers. The cruiser was also the fourth ship in the U.S. Navy to be named after the state of Arkansas.
The keel of the USS Arkansas was laid on January 17, 1977, at Newport News, Virginia, by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. It was launched on October 21, 1978, and was commissioned on October 18, 1980, with Captain Dennis S. Read in command. The guided-missile cruiser spent the four months following its commissioning in the vicinity of Hampton Roads, Virginia. In March 1981, it completed contract trials and conducted a public relations call at Port Everglades, Florida. Until late 1982, the USS Arkansas underwent a number of other qualifications, certifications, and training operations, which saw it venture to the Caribbean and Brazil, as well as post-shakedown repairs. Between September 24 and October 16, 1982, the warship served as escort for aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) during an operational readiness exercise executed in the vicinity of Puerto Rico.
The Arkansas embarked upon its first tour of duty with the Sixth Fleet on November 10, 1982, completing the transatlantic voyage on November 30 and then setting out across the Mediterranean bound for the coast of Lebanon. Though the Arkansas spent most of its time supporting the multinational force ashore in its efforts to keep peace in Lebanon, it left the eastern Mediterranean occasionally for port calls and to participate in some of the Sixth Fleet’s freedom-of-navigation maneuvers into the Gulf of Sidra off the coast of Libya. On January 3, 1983, the Arkansas collided with the Italian merchantman Megara Ilea in the Strait of Messina and was slightly damaged on the port side.
On July 8, after a stint at Norfork, the Arkansas began the long voyage to its new base of operations at Alameda, California. Between February 12 and 14, 1984, the Arkansas made the passage from Alameda to Bremerton, Washington, entering the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a three-month repair period. The warship returned to Alameda in mid-May, and the crew readied it for a deployment that became a circumnavigation of the globe, putting to sea on June 1. En route to Hawaii, the warship participated in the multinational exercise Operation RIMPAC 84. After stops in the Philippines and Hong Kong, the Arkansas served almost three months in the Indian Ocean, primarily in the Arabian Sea, where the protracted war between Iraq and revolutionary Iran threatened to engulf their neighbors. The Arkansas was the first nuclear-powered vessel ever to pass through the Suez Canal.
Between February 17 and 19, 1985, the Arkansas sailed north to Bremerton for a four-month restricted availability during which it was armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and the Phalanx close-in air defense system. During time between cruises at the end of 1985, the Arkansas was designated as the Tomahawk test platform for the West Coast. The Arkansas made many ten- to fourteen-day trips off the coast of southern California to test fire the new Tomahawk missile.
After deployments to Hawaii, the Philippines, Singapore, and Pakistan in early 1986, the Arkansas transited the Suez Canal followed by the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN 65) and guided-missile cruiser Truxtun (CGN 35). On Memorial Day of 1986, the Arkansas crossed the “line of death” declared by Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi and entered the Gulf of Sidra for the first time. During the months of May and June, the Arkansas served with aircraft carrier Enterprise and guided-missile cruiser Truxtun off the coast of Libya in the wake of the air strikes launched on that country by the United States in retaliation for terrorist activity against Americans in Germany.
One of the Arkansas’s most noteworthy assignments came in 1987. The warship departed from Alameda, California, on April 27, 1987, for operations in the northern Pacific Ocean. Following a stop off at Pearl Harbor, the Arkansas got under way on May 8 for Operation Kennel Freelance, shadowed by two fast-attack submarines. The crew was told that they were heading for Adak, Alaska, but instead headed for the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) drew a straight line between two points that were located at the mouth of the Avacha Bay for its territorial waters, though this was disputed by the United States. The Arkansas was about to enter what the Soviets considered restricted waters near the top-secret Soviet naval base at Petropavlovsk. Within a few hours of dawn on May 17, 1986, the ship was surrounded by Soviet intelligence-gathering ships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and fighter aircraft. On the fourth day, the Arkansas crossed the Russian line, but the Arkansas was not rammed and no shots were fired.
In January 1988, the Arkansas steamed for Bremerton for overhaul. In May 1991, the Arkansas deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group. Five years later, the Arkansas was part of the Carl Vinson carrier battle group off the coast of Iraq and participated in the Rugged Nautilus exercise.
The USS Arkansas was decommissioned on July 7, 1998. The warship was disposed of on November 1, 1999, at the Nuclear-Powered Ships Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. The Arkansas had once been considered for preservation as a museum ship in its namesake state but, as an ocean-going vessel, would not have been able to navigate inland rivers, except during the springtime flood of the Mississippi River. Artifacts from the Arkansas, including the ship’s bell, the captain’s chair, and anchor, are on public display at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
“USS Arkansas (CGN-41).” Unofficial U.S. Navy Site. http://www.navysite.de/cg/cgn41.htm (accessed September 12, 2011).
“USS Arkansas (CGN-41).” NavSource Online: Cruiser Photo Archive. http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/1141/040141.htm (accessed September 12, 2011).
“USS Arkansas (CGN-41): Defender of Opportunity.” Hullnumber.com. http://www.hullnumber.com/CGN-41 (accessed September 12, 2011).
“USS Arkansas Ready to Sail after Repairs.” Arkansas Democrat, June 19, 1982, p. 1B.
Allen K. Kraft
Last Updated 12/7/2016
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