HARRISBURG, Pa (WHTM) — On January 28, the Navy held a keel authentication ceremony for one of its newest warships, the U.S.S. Harrisburg (LPD 30). When launched and commissioned, it will be the Navy’s 14th San Antonio class-amphibious transport dock ship. (We’ll explain that in more detail later.)
So, how many ships named U.S.S. Harrisburg has the Navy had?
The answer is kind of interesting. There has been only one other Navy ship named U.S.S. Harrisburg, and during her 35 years at sea, she had that name for just over a year. She was not a warship, though she did have guns mounted on her for a time, and in fact, she was not even built for the U.S. Navy.
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According to the Navy History and Heritage Command, the ship started life as an ocean liner named City of Paris. She was a steel-hulled three-masted schooner built in 1888 in Clydebank, Scotland for the Inman Line. She was one of the first transatlantic liners with twin propellers. In July 1893 she set the record for the Southampton-New York crossing.
That same year she was transferred to the American registry, and renamed simply Paris.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 the Navy leased the Paris from the American Line and was given a new name, U.S.S. Yale. She patrolled around Puerto Rico, capturing the Spanish merchant ship Rita, and got shot at by Spanish ships off San Juan. She then transported troops to and from Puerto Rico for the Army. She was decommissioned on September 2, 1898, and returned to the American Line, which changed her name back to Paris.
On May 21, 1899, she ran aground off England, in a set of treacherous rocks called the Manacles, off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. (There are a lot of shipwrecks there, which makes it a popular dive spot.) It took until July 11 to get her loose and take her to Belfast, Ireland, for an extensive refit. She left Belfast with new engines, two funnels instead of her original three, and a new name-Philadelphia.
When the United States entered World War I, the Navy again acquired the ship from the American Line. It was at this time she was renamed U.S.S. Harrisburg. She made four voyages to Europe carrying troops and supplies during the war; after the war ended, U.S.S. Harrisburg made six additional trips to bring “the doughboys” back home. She was returned to the American Line in September of 1919.
The career of the ship was near its end. In 1922 she was sold to the New York-Naples Steamship Company, then scrapped in 1923.
Now, on to the new U.S.S. Harrisburg (LPD 30). She will be an amphibious transport dock, also called a landing platform/dock, which is where the LPD designation comes from. She will be the 14th San Antonio class vessel in the fleet.
The main mission of amphibious transport dock ships is, as the name suggests, transport. They take Marines, their equipment, and their vehicles to combat zones. Vehicles, in this case, include aircraft; the ship includes a hanger and landing deck for VTOL airplanes and helicopters.
These are big ships. They have a length of 684 feet, beam (width for non-nautical types) of 105 feet, and a draft of 23 feet. (Just, by comparison, the largest battleships ever built by the United States, the Iowa class, had a length of 861 feet.) Their maximum speed is “in excess of” 22 knots. They carry a crew of 28 officers and 333 enlisted and can carry a landing force of 66 officers and 633 enlisted.
What used to be called a keel laying is now often called a keel authentication. The reason? Many modern ships don’t have keels in the old sense of a single massive piece of wood or metal stretching from bow to stern, serving as the base from which the ship is built up. Modern ships are usually modular assemblies, and the Authentication ceremony comes when the first two modules of a ship are joined together. Though the methods of assembly have changed, one important tradition continues-the ship’s sponsor. This is a female civilian who is invited to “sponsor” a vessel, bestowing good luck to the ship and its sailors. For the U.S.S. Harrisburg, the sponsor is Alexandra Curry, wife of Middletown mayor Jim Curry, who had her initials etched into the keel plate by welders.