Nuclear propulsion has always had a lure for warship construction. Of course the biggest payoff comes with nuclear powered submarines. Nuclear power allows them to stay underwater for an entire patrol as a true submarine rather than a submersible that has to bob up to the surface to replenish batteries. However, there has been operational benefits for surface ships to be nuclear powered. No longer would them have to be at the end of a leash from a fleet oiler. Carriers are the obvious recipients here. The USN looked at the smallest type surface warship that would support a nuclear plant from the very start of nuclear propulsion.
In August 1953 the Bureau of Ships stated to study the design characteristics of a nuclear propelled destroyer, dubbed DDN. The design was to carry the same reactor scheduled for the USN nuclear submarines, the Submarine Advanced Reactor (SAR). The desired size was to be that of a Forrest Sherman conventional destroyer. The project came to a dead end one month later with the realization that the weight of the reactor and associated machinery would be too heavy, as it alone would equal the displacement of a World War Two destroyer. The desire for the DDN was prompted by the need for extended range far greater than the 4,500 nm of the Forrest Sherman Class.
In January 1955 the DDN was given another look. A committee Bureau of Ships prepared sketches on a number of different types with different types of propulsion systems. In the sketches were nuclear powered destroyers, frigates and destroyer escorts. The nuclear designs were almost twice as expensive to build as the same ship powered conventionally. The following August 17 saw a change of attitude at the top of the USN hierarchy with the installation of a new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The new top navy man was Admiral Arleigh Burke who was keenly aware of destroyer operations and was able to foresee future requirements by thinking outside the box. The very next day after becoming CNO he specifically tasked the Bureau of Ships to prepare feasalbilities for nuclear powered frigates (DLG), missile cruisers and attack carriers. The report that came back stated that carriers and cruisers could certainly be equipped with nuclear plants but that the smallest destroyer design would come in at 8,500 tons with a length of 540 feet to be powered by half the nuclear plant of a carrier. The Bureau underestimated it by half as this frigate design became the 17,350 ton Long Beach.
Another proponent for nuclear powered destroyers was the new Commander of Destroyers Atlantic (ComDesLant). Admiral Burke had that position before becoming CNO and his replacement was Rear Admiral John C. Daniel. Daniel wanted a more balanced destroyer design capable of extended offensive action. To ensure a sufficient range of action, he insisted upon nuclear propulsion for destroyer designs. He went further in that he stated that destroyers should be given the first priority among surface types in receiving nuclear power plants. He thought that ideally the new design would be about the same size as the Forrest Sherman but that it would mount the Terrier SAM in lieu of two 5-inch/54 guns, plus have ASROC and a drone ASW helicopter. His contemporary in the Pacific, ComCruDesPac was of the opposite view. He wanted quantity and saw the nuclear destroyer as costing the same as three or four conventionally powered destroyers.
Based in the Atlantic, Admiral Daniel had a geographical advantage than his Pacific counterpart. He had frequent personal access to the CNO. He also had a very energetic staff that enlisted Admiral Rickover into supporting nuclear powered destroyers. Rickover had his people design an appropriate lightweight reactor designated the D1G to fit a Forrest Sherman size vessel. This proved impossible but the follow on D2G design was suitable for frigate size vessels. After writing weekly to Burke for some time, Daniel finally won approval for two preliminary designs. One was for Daniel’s DDN which needed an extremely light reactor and the other was for a larger, heavier frigate design, which had to be armed similarly to the USS Leahy on a 6,000 ton 30-knot hull.
The DDN design did not pan out. Using two SARs the design was only capable of 27-knots and came in with a displacement of 4,300 tons light. Some alternate designs were also prepared that used gas turbines and nuclear power. The turbines would be used to provide sprint speed of 30 knots. They were rejected because all nuclear power permitted more flexible tactics that fossil-fueled ships could not use. Burke foresaw that with the technology available, a larger DLGN was the smallest surface ship that could be feasibly fitted with nuclear propulsion. Bureau of Ships could not meet the requirements within the 6,000-ton limit. Their estimate required a ship of 6,900 tons light. The estimated price of $108,000,000 was almost twice that of the $59 million Leahy. The nuclear powered experimental prototype frigate was given the green light and became the USS Bainbridge. Vice Admiral Rickover was present when the keel of the Bainbridge was laid down. Cost over-runs eventually caused the Bainbridge to cost $163 million.
The Bainbridge, in effect a nuclear powered version of the conventionally powered Leahy got a seven month jump on the Leahy when she was laid down on May 15, 1959. She was launched on April 15, 1961 and commissioned on October 6, 1962. She was powered by two D2G reactors, which developed 60,000 shp. In January 1963 her first home port was Charleston, South Carolina as flagship of the first USN all missile destroyer squadron. She was immediately sent to the Mediterranean to operate with USS Enterprise.
The USN built three nuclear powered surface types for prototypes, the USS Enterprise CVN-65 for the carriers, the USS Long Beach CGN-9 for the cruisers and USS Bainbridge DLGN-25. The three were formed as Task Force One on Bainbridge’s second tour of the Mediterranean and undertook a round-the-world cruise to prove the benefits of nuclear powered surface ships. Called Operation Sea Orbit the trio passed the Straits of Gibraltar on July 31, 1964 and turned south. For the next 65 days they circumnavigated the world or almost as the trip ended at Norfolk, traveling 30,565 miles without replenishment of any kind. During this period they crossed the equator four times and crossed the Pacific Ocean at an average speed of 25 knots. In October 1964 Bainbridge returned to Charleston.
In the 1960s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara slowed the development of nuclear powered escorts. He thought that the size and costs of these escorts, as well as conventionally powered escorts, were growing far too quickly. He wanted numbers of ships and demanded detailed studies that would quantify the increased effectiveness of nuclear powered escorts. He was never convinced in this cost-effectiveness analytical approach that nuclear powered escorts justified their substantial extra cost. As a result of this skepticism from McNamara and successors, only a handful of nuclear powered escorts were ever constructed and even those are gone now.
In November 1965 the home port of Bainbridge was shifted to Long Beach, California and the next month she rejoined Enterprise but this time in the South China Sea running combat operations off of Vietnam. This first West Pac tour ended in June 1966 after she had steamed 72,000 miles. By the end of the year she was on her second tour of "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was during this tour that Bainbridge set a speed distance record, traveling over 6,660 miles at an average speed of 29.9 knots, something a conventionally powered ship could not hope to emulate. In the summer of 1967 she was rebased at Vallejo, California and went in for her first refueling at Mare Island in August 1967. In her service of five years before her refueling Bainbridge had traveled over 300,000 miles and acquired the nickname of the Gray Ghost of the Orient. Her reactors were back on-line in April 1968 and the following January went on another West Pac tour. She was with Enterprise when the carrier suffered a disastrous deck fire in Hawaiian waters on January 14, 1969. For two days Bainbridge looked for survivors but the Big E had lost 28 crewmen and 15 planes in the incident when nine bombs cooked off in the fire started when a rocket accidentally exploded on her fantail.
In August 1969 her home port again became Long Beach. In late 1973 with the end of American participation in the Vietnam War her new tour area was "Gonzo Station" in the Arabian Sea. In the 1970s the Bainbridge received a significant modernization at Puget Sound in the FY74 budget. From June 30, 1974 until September 24, 1976 she was reworked in the yard. The refit was completed in San Diego in April 1977. When she emerged from her refit in April 1977 she carried a far larger aft superstructure, an additional level on the forward superstructure, a new mainmast, and different radars. The twin 3-inch/50 guns on either side of the aft superstructure and temporarily replaced by 20mm guns. In 1979 these in turn were replaced by and quadruple Harpoon SSM canisters. She was also fitted to operate LAMPS helicopters. On June 30, 1975 during the refit, Bainbridge was retyped as a cruiser and given the designation CGN-25. Home port was moved to San Diego and she made a number of tours of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. On November 1982 Bainbridge was awarded the Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Award, which is awarded every six years to the best surface combatant in the Pacific Fleet.
feet (172.21m) oa; Beam -
56 feet (17.57m); Draught
at sonar, 19.5 feet (7.3m) at hull; Displacement
- 6,900 tons light, 7,600 full load
Two General Electric D2G Nuclear Reactors; two propellers, 70,000shp: Maximum
Speed - 30+ knots
Two Mk 15 Vulcan/Phalanx 20mm gattling guns CIWS were added during a subsequent and last refit from October 1983 to April 1985. The Bainbridge received more changes in radar fit, a helicopter platform, new fire control systems and the Mk 16 ASROC ASW system was deactivated. After 19 years in the Pacific she went back to the Atlantic Fleet with the home port of Norfolk, Virginia. In 1990 she was assigned to escort two freighters carrying nerve gas from Wilhelmshaven, Germany to the Pacific where it would be incinerated. The Truxton relieved her of the escort duties at the Galapagos Islands. During Operation Dessert Storm Bainbridge was an escort in the Eisenhower Battlegroup. In 1994 she was assigned to enforce a partial embargo under UN sanctions against Yugoslavia. She made 104 boardings without an incident. In early 1995 the crew of Bainbridge was informed that the nuclear plants would be shut down in April for decommissioning the following October. Her last active mission was from April 7 through 11 as plane guard for the USS George Washington. In late April she started unloading missiles and ammunition and on April 29 in the last cruise under her own power, she took crew dependants on a cruise of the Virginia Capes area. In May her reactors were shut down for the last time and Bainbridge was towed to Norfolk to remove the nuclear fuel. She was decommissioned and stricken from the navy list on September 13, 1996.
No one ever doubted the operational benefits of nuclear powered frigates. As escorts, they could keep up with the nuclear carriers without being hamstrung by the frequent fueling needs of conventional ships. What was doubted was the costs associated with the nuclear plant. They did prove significantly more expensive to build than an equivalent fossil-fueled ship. In the end conventionally powered warship designs were selected for escorts as they could be constructed more cheaply. (Bulk of history for the USS Bainbridge from Combat Fleets of the World 1995 edited by A.D.Baker III; U.S. Destroyers, An Illustrated Design History, 1982 by Norman Friedman; Warships in Profile Volume 2, USS Enterprise by Commander W.H. Cracknell; USS Bainbridge Association Web Site, http://ussbainbridgeassociation.com/)
The JAG Bainbridge CGN-25
If you have seen a JAG kit before, you know what to expect for their 1:700 scale kit of the Billy B. If you have not seen one, you will find that the JAG hull casting is of exceptional detail, crispness and requires very little clean up, which amounts to removing a minute amount of flash along the waterline and one or two places on the superstructure. In examining other JAG kits, I have never found any defect, however, my copy of the Bainbridge had a very, very minor imperfection with a small area on the port hull abreast the ASROC mount having a very faint dimpling. If you look at the photo of the amidship profile of the model, it is very easy to miss as it is very faint. A light touch up to this one small area and some quick cleaning of minute amounts of flash are all that is necessary to get the JAG Billy B ready for assembly.
As always JAG casts a tremendous amount of detail integral to the hull casting and this fine detail is dripping off the JAG Bainbridge. The model is a real treat in the amount of detail that it packs on the hull and the extraordinary quality and crispness of execution of the casting. The Bainbridge had a very clean hull. In common with most modern designs there are no series of portholes found on the hull sides. However, the ship and model have very prominent knuckles on each side of the bow, which JAG compliments with detailed anchor hawse openings and detail on the rounded stern.
The JAG casting really pops with the detail on the decks and on the superstructure. The forecastle has a mass of detail. In the first inch from the tip of the bow, there are over 31 separate fittings cast onto the hull, not including the anchor chain, and each one is perfectly formed, crisp and totally without defect. These include bollards, closed cleats, capstans, anchor windlass and other fittings. The forecastle is the primary area where the deck detail is concentrated but the same high quality is found in the casting detail of the other main deck and quarterdeck fittings on the model. Both fore and aft SAM bases have very delicate support ribs cast to the base.
The detail on the different superstructures is among the best if not the best in the industry. It really is a pleasure to look at the detail that JAG has lavished on the superstructure. Starting with the forward SAM reload position each area of superstructure abounds in fine detail. Of course you get the forward reload doors but also all of the complex angles but all of the top detail, side detail, fore and aft detail you could want are present in the casting of the reload superstructure. Very thin spray shields are cast forward of the access doors. However, that detail is just the salad for the main course of the main superstructure. The detail found on the forward face of the bridge cannot be excelled in quality or quantity. The doors, fittings and especially the bridge windows with their clearly defined framing are simply outstanding in their execution.
On the sides of the forward superstructure, there are at least four platforms on each side with significant undercuts. They are perfect with very thin platforms cast as part of the superstructure with zero imperfections. Undercuts can be extremely difficult to achieve in resin casting without a least a little resin splash but JAG has pulled it off without a hitch or hiccup. The side and rear faces also come with their own sets of fine detail and there are more perfectly executed undercuts on the rear face of the forward superstructure. If anything, the detail on the aft superstructure is even better. You’ll find portholes, access doors, panel lines, life buoys, vertical ladders, fire hoses, piping and some excellent ventilation louvers cast as part of this area. The two cylindrical bases for the aft SAM fire control and tracking radars are so nice that they beg to have their radars added. The solid bulkheads at the break of the main deck and quarter deck as well as all the bulkheads on the superstructure are exceptionally thin and error free.
Smaller Resin Parts
White Metal Castings
The four missile tracking radars, one for each SAM arm, are of two parts. One part is the cradle and the other part of the radar itself. The radar parts have mount detail as part of the casting. Even with the other small white metal parts, such as the life raft canisters have the detail you would expect from JAG.
Number one items are the two lattice masts. Both are impressive structures but the foremast is particularly intricate with platforms, yards and equipment located all over the structure. A great number of the other parts on the fret are additional struts and supports for the masts. The topping comes in the form of intricate search radar and other electronic arrays. The finished assemblies will be complex but spectacular. The second most visually significant area on the fret are the flight deck safety nets. There is a lot of it and it is very finely done with open netting. Throw in a lot of small details such as spray shielding, missile fins, unrep supports, cable support, anchor, NTDS antenna & other antennae, boat cradles and other detail and the fret is crammed with detail. All of the photo-etch parts are identified in the instructions and on the fret by letters.
The reverse side has a total parts manifest with each lettered or numbered part being described and also, for the resin parts, shown in separate drawings that clearly show the shape of each resin part. This side also has an isometric assembly drawing, which concentrates on the aft half of the ship with separate assembly drawings for the complicated lattice masts. Everything on both sides is very professionally done and is quite clear with well-done drawings. The third smaller sheet is printed on one side only. It includes detailed text assembly notes as well as a ship’s history.