USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) was the lead ship of her class and type and the first amphibious assault ship to be designed and built from the keel up as a dedicated helicopter carrier. She carried helicopters and typically embarked USMC elements of a Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU)/later Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) principally the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) to conduct heliborne operations in support of an amphibious operation. There was no well deck to support landing craft movement of personnel or equipment to/from shore. Iwo Jima was the second of three ships of the United States Navy to be named for the Battle of Iwo Jima, although the first to be completed and see service (the first was cancelled during construction).

USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2)
USS Iwo Jima off the United States East Coast in April 1979
United States
NameIwo Jima
NamesakeBattle of Iwo Jima
BuilderPuget Sound Naval Shipyard
Laid down2 April 1959
Launched17 September 1960
Commissioned26 August 1961
Decommissioned14 July 1993
Stricken24 September 1993
FateScrapped, 18 December 1995
General characteristics
Class and typeIwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship
Length592 ft (180 m)
Beam84 ft (26 m)
Draught27 ft (8.2 m)
  • 2 × 600 psi (4.1 MPa) boilers,
  • one geared steam turbine,
  • one shaft,
  • 22,000 shaft horsepower
  • (16 MW)
Speed22 knots (41 km/h)
Range11,118km (6,000nm) at 18 knots
Aircraft carried25 helicopters

First cruises and Cuban Missile Crisis


Iwo Jima was laid down on 2 April 1959 by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington; launched on 17 September 1960, sponsored by Mrs. Harry Schmidt; and commissioned on 26 August 1961.

Following shakedown training, she spent the rest of 1961 off the California coast in amphibious exercises. In April 1962, the ship joined Joint Task Force 8 in the Johnston Island-Hawaii area for an important series of nuclear tests. Iwo Jima evacuated several islands and took part in the test evaluation. On 26 July, she sailed from the test area to Pearl Harbor, and continued on to San Diego, where she arrived on 10 August 1962.

In September, the ship took part in full-scale amphibious exercises in California, departing from San Diego on 17 October for her first deployment to the western Pacific. However, as the crisis flared up on 19 October over the introduction of offensive missiles into Cuba, Iwo Jima returned to San Diego, embarked Marines 22 to 27 October, and departed quickly for the Caribbean. As part of America's powerful and mobile force afloat, she cruised in a "ready" status until December brought an easing of the Cuban situation. She arrived in San Diego on 13 December.

WestPac cruises


Iwo Jima operated out of her home port during the first half of 1963, carrying out amphibious exercises and training. She departed on 30 August on her long-delayed Western Pacific cruise. Joining the 7th Fleet, she ranged from Hawaii to the Philippines and Taiwan.

On 31 October 1963, Iwo Jima departed Philippine waters for special operations along the coast of South Vietnam, standing by to protect American nationals during a period of increased strife. She returned to Subic Bay on 12 November. The following months, she sailed with Special Landing Forces of Marines for rigorous amphibious assault and landing raids practice off the coasts of Taiwan and Okinawa. After unloading ammunition at Sasebo, Japan, she departed on 13 April 1964 to return to San Diego, arriving on 28 April. Following amphibious training with Marines along the California seaboard, she overhauled in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. This work was completed by 7 December 1964, when Iwo Jima began amphibious refresher training ranging to the Hawaiian Islands. On 13 March 1965, she departed Pearl Harbor for San Diego, arriving six days later.

Vietnam War

2/4 Marines board HMM-363 UH-34s, 12 March 1968

Iwo Jima received tons of supplies and scores of Army helicopters, tanker trucks, and vehicles in her hangar and flight deck spaces. Nearly 1,000 troops were embarked for her western transit, which began on 12 April 1965. She stopped at Pearl Harbor for a few hours on the 17th to off-load 50 Marines and their equipment. On 1/2 May, she steamed off Vũng Tàu, South Vietnam, flying off 77 Army helicopters loaded with troops and combat cargo. From there, she proceeded to Subic Bay in the Philippines, where troops and equipment were received for amphibious landing and by helicopter at Chu Lai, Vietnam, on 12 May 1965.

Iwo Jima remained off Chu Lai for a month, protecting Marines and Seabees establishing an air field on the sandy shore. Besides helicopter support ashore, including defense perimeter patrol, she was a support center for laundry, showers, fresh provisions, store, and mail service. She also supervised the continual off-load of ships over the beach for the entire month, then on 7 June 1965, landed squadron personnel and helicopters ashore at Phu Bai Combat Base, some 30 miles north of Da Nang. After a few days rest in Subic Bay, she was routed to Sasebo, thence to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, where she embarked Marines and equipment. This was completed on 26 June 1965, when she sailed for Qui Nhon, Republic of Vietnam, in company with USS Talladega and USS Point Defiance. These ships were designated Task Group 76.5, that part of the 7th Fleet that carries the Marine Special Landing Force. On the 30th, she arrived at Qui Nhon, about 100 miles south of Chu Lai. The following day, Marines landed ashore to take up defensive positions for the protection of Army engineers and communications units.

Iwo Jima remained off Qui Nhon for defensive support until 20 July 1965, then steamed for Pratas Reef about 240 miles southwest of Taiwan. Arriving the morning of the 22nd, her helicopters were immediately pressed into service to aid the salvage of destroyer USS Frank Knox. The close approach of typhoon "Gilda" pounded the grounded destroyer so badly that it was impossible for small boats to get alongside her. Extra men were heli-lifted off the destroyer while surf rose 12 feet high to break completely over the stern of Frank Knox. Support given by Iwo Jima included such items as hot food, clothes, water, pumps, hose, gasoline, air compressors, welding machines, damage control equipment, and technicians. Feed water was heli-lifted in special tanks constructed by the destroyer tender USS Prairie, which had faint hope of keeping the destroyer's boiler alive. Detached from this duty on 1 August 1965, Iwo Jima made a brief call at Hong Kong, then proceeded to the Philippines.

On 17 August 1965, Iwo Jima steamed out of Subic Bay for Vung Tau, Republic of Vietnam, to join in Operation Starlite, a five-day search-and-destroy operation that killed some 600 Viet Cong. The successful Navy-Marine Corps amphibious operation, backed by gunfire support from the cruiser USS Galveston and two destroyers, came to a close late on 24 August. Iwo Jima's evacuation and surgical teams kept the American casualties down to a very low percentage. During transit back to Subic Bay, she learned the Frank Knox had been refloated, good news for the crew who had put in so many hard and long hours at Pratas Reef. She landed her Marine Special Landing Force at Chu Lai on 1/2 September, embarked 800 Marines of a rotation draft, and sailed for Buckner Bay.

Iwo Jima landed the rotation troops at Okinawa, then came off Qui Nhon, 10 September 1965, to cover the landing of the Army's 1st Air Cavalry Division. She had supported three amphibious assault search-and-destroy raids along the coast by 1 October, when she steamed to southern waters, remaining in stand-by status for possible evacuation of U.S. nationals in revolt-torn Indonesia. Eight days later, she sailed for Danang for a helicopter squadron exchange, thence to Subic Bay where she was relieved by USS Valley Forge. Following a visit to Yokosuka, she departed 1 November for return to San Diego, arriving 17 November 1965. Several months later, she again joined the 7th Fleet Amphibious Ready Group, a fast-moving assault force that had completed more than 20 search-and-destroy operations along the South Vietnamese coast between March 1965 and September 1966. One of these missions, Operation Deckhouse IV hit only 3 miles south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone to search out and decimate a regiment of the People's Army of Vietnam 342B Division, which had infiltrated into South Vietnam.

During the first three months of 1966, Iwo Jima was at San Diego for upkeep and improvement changes. From April through June, extensive refresher training occupied all hands as Iwo Jima prepared for her forthcoming Western Pacific deployment. On 24 July, steaming with a task group, she passed the island of Iwo Jima, on board was one of the Marine groups that had landed on Iwo Jima over two decades earlier. After operations in the Vietnam area, she sailed for Japan. Iwo Jima was on the line and underway for special operations in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam by 30 December once again, in a Navy-ready group with a two-pronged punch. Early in January 1967, the commanding officer, Captain Nils W. Boe, was relieved by Captain F. X. Timmes. On his departure, Captain Boe said of his crew in a family-gram to mothers and wives, "I want to thank each of you for letting me borrow these magnificent young men for a little while. They have made me feel ten feet tall." On 1 July 1967, Iwo Jima was reassigned to Amphibious Squadron 3 from Amphibious Squadron 1, with which she continued to sail with the Pacific Fleet.

Pacific recovery forces (Task Force 130)

Crews on the Iwo Jima hoisting the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey on board.

On 17 April 1970, Iwo Jima was the flagship of Task Force 130 that waited for the Apollo 13 spaceship's astronauts after their memorable "successful failure" mission and splashdown near American Samoa.

In the 1995 film Apollo 13, Iwo Jima was played by her sister ship, New Orleans (LPH-11). Iwo Jima's skipper, Captain Leland Kirkemo, is portrayed by the film's central protagonist, Captain Jim Lovell.[1]

Multinational Peacekeeping Force


From 10 May 1983 to 8 December 1983, Iwo Jima operated off the Lebanese coast as part of Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group 2-83 (Marg 2-83). The ships hosted the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (24th MAU), the main body of which disembarked on 29 May to take position in and around Beirut International Airport, relieving the 22nd MAU as the principal US component of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.[2] On 23 October 1983, an attack on the Marine's barracks caused the death of 241 US servicemen and wounded a further 60. The ship's commanding officer at the time was Arden W. Jones, CAPT USN. During the deployment, it served as the flagship for Amphibious Squadron Eight (PHIBRON-8), with Morgan France, CAPT USN serving as squadron commander (AKA Commodore").

Friendly fire incident


On 11 October 1989, El Paso (LKA-117) was conducting a live fire exercise off the east coast of the United States using the Phalanx against a target drone. The drone was successfully engaged, but as the drone fell to the sea, the CIWS re-engaged it as a continued threat to El Paso. Rounds from the Phalanx struck the bridge of Iwo Jima, killing one officer and injuring a petty officer.[3][4][5]

Catastrophic boiler accident


In October 1990, Iwo Jima was in the Persian Gulf, as part of the buildup for Operation Desert Shield. After two months of operation there she developed a leak in a steam valve which supplied steam to a stand-by electrical generator. She docked in Manama, Bahrain, where the valve was repaired by a local contractor under US government inspection.

Repairs were completed towards the end of October. On 30 October, as she raised steam to get underway and rejoin the fleet, the valve began to leak once more. The bonnet blew off the valve, flooding the boiler room with steam from two boilers. Ten of the eleven crewmen in the room were killed during or immediately after the incident, with the last surviving until 23:30 that evening.

The cause of the accident was determined to be the use of fasteners of the wrong material (namely black oxide coated brass) on the valve, combined with a lack of proper inspection.[6][7]



Iwo Jima was decommissioned on 14 July 1993, and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 24 September. She was sold for scrap on 18 December 1995. The ship's island was at the Museum of the American GI in College Station, Texas, for several years but due to no funding for maintenance it was scrapped.

Potential role in the Falklands War


A July 2012 article by USNI News of the United States Naval Institute revealed that the Reagan Administration offered the use of Iwo Jima as a replacement in case either of the two British carriers, Hermes and Invincible, had been damaged or destroyed during the 1982 Falklands War. This top-secret contingency plan was revealed to the staff of the Naval Institute by John Lehman, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy at the time of the Falklands War, from a speech provided to the Naval Institute that Lehman made in Portsmouth, UK on 26 June 2012. Lehman stated that the loan of Iwo Jima was made in response to a request from the Royal Navy, and it had the endorsement of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. The actual planning for Iwo Jima loan-out was done by the staff of the U.S. Second Fleet under the direction of Vice Admiral James Lyons, who confirmed Lehman's revelations with the Naval Institute staff. Contingency planning envisioned American military contractors, likely retired sailors with knowledge of Iwo Jima's systems, assisting the British in manning the U.S. helicopter carrier during the loan-out. Naval analyst Eric Wertheim compared this arrangement to the Flying Tigers. Significantly, except for U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, the U.S. Department of State was not included in the loan-out negotiations.[8][9]




  1. ^ "James A. Lovell, Jr". Time and Navigation. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  2. ^ Ferraro, Peter J. (1997). "Beirut, Lebanon: 24th MAU, May-Dec 1983".
  3. ^ "Accidental Shelling Kills Officer". Los Angeles Times. 12 October 1989. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  4. ^ Egan, Timothy (16 November 1989). "Quiet Falls on Bases As Navy Asks Itself What's Gone Wrong". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  5. ^ Wilson, George C. (15 November 1989). "Navy Activities Halted to Reexamine Safety". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  6. ^ Cummings, Timothy (3 December 2012). "The Highest Level of Essentiality – When USS IWO JIMA Lost Ten of Her Own". Mission Essentials. Plano, Texas. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  7. ^ David Peterson (13 May 2013). Anatomy of a Catastrophic Boiler Accident. 82nd General Meeting Speaker Presentation. National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors.
  8. ^ "Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for '82 Falklands War". United States Naval Institute. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Reagan 'cleared US ship for Falklands'". 29 June 2012. Archived from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 13 July 2012.


  • Doa, Tom (1996). "Question 25/93: USN/USCG Collisions with Merchant Vessels". Warship International. XXXIII (3): 319. ISSN 0043-0374.
  • Jackson, Robert (2004). Fighting Ships of The World. London: Amber Books. p. 376. ISBN 978-1-84013-647-0.

  This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.