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U.S. Navy ships classified as amphibious or amphibious warships are those that were designed to travel the oceans and discharge ground forces, cargo, and vehicles. Also known as the “gator freighters” of the navy these ships have been crucial in war efforts by transporting troops and equipment and providing cover, defense, and a variety of types of support to troops on the ground.
Many U.S. Navy ships, including amphibious ships that were built in the decades from the 1930s to the 1970s were made using asbestos in hundreds of components. The asbestos used on these ships was intended to keep crew and troops safe by insulating against heat, fireproofing, and providing firefighting and weapon protective gear. All the many parts that contained asbestos were later found to have put personnel at risk of inhaling the fibers of the mineral and of getting seriously and often terminally sick many years later.
About Amphibious Ships in the Navy
There have been many types and classifications of amphibious ships, and several that are still in service today, but generally the purpose of these ships is to land, transport, and provide cover and support for ground forces going into enemy territory. Today’s fleet of these ships is known as the Navy Amphibious Force. The design of amphibious ships was based on aircraft carriers and they can often resemble these larger ships, but the purpose of each is very different.
They do have flight decks, but while amphibious ships often carry helicopters, these don’t have the same purpose as the aircraft on the carriers. Those aircraft are for assaults on enemy forces. The helicopters carried by amphibious ships are used to land forces on the ground. There may be some crossover, though, and amphibious vessels may carry fighter jets and anti-submarine warfare helicopters depending on the type of ship and its mission.
The operations that amphibious ships carry out in war time are among the most complicated of all military operations. They require coordination between a lot of moving parts and very few naval forces in the world have ever successfully used these operations. The U.S. Navy and the United Kingdom’s navy are the two that have used amphibious operations most often and with the most success in warfare.
Throughout its history in warfare, the navy has had several classifications for different types of amphibious ships. Some have continued to be used in the modern forces while others have been retired. The U.S. Navy currently has several types and classifications of amphibious ships with different purposes:
- Wasp Class (LHD). The Landing Helicopter Dock ships are multi-purpose and large amphibious ships. They are often the command ship in a group and resemble a small aircraft carrier. They can launch an amphibious assault, support Special Operations, and aid in evacuations and other humanitarian operations.
- Tarawa Class (LHA). General purpose amphibious vessels, the Landing Helicopter Assault ships are smaller than the LHDs but can still carry a complement of 30 helicopters and participate in similar missions. 
- San Antonio Class (LPD). The San Antonio ships are amphibious transport docks, also known as landing platform docks. These are high-tech ships with a water-level well deck and a flight deck.
- Dock Landing Ships (LSD). The Dock Landing Ships are support vessels with the most capacity for landing aircraft. They also provide support for smaller water craft with areas for docking. 
- Amphibious Command Ships (LCC). Amphibious Command Ships are equipped with technology for intelligence gathering and communications for coordinating operations with other ships. 
History of Service
Amphibious ships have been around since the late 1800s, but they were largely not specialized and had varying degrees of success in landing troops. The deployment of troops at Gallipoli in 1915 during World War I was an example of how badly a landing could go without specialized amphibious vessels. Modern weapons on enemy territory required that a new style of amphibious ship be designed and utilized in the next great war.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 by the Japanese, an event that led to the U.S. entering World War II, the U.S. Navy did not have any specialized amphibious ships. The navy had to work fast to design and build the vessels that would become so important in the war. These were based on the ships the British navy already had in operation.
The first use of helicopters with amphibious ships was in 1956 during the Suez War in Egypt. The vessels had to be redesigned to carry and use this type of aircraft. The U.S. Navy further developed this design and the use of helicopters during the Vietnam War. Today the modern amphibious ships have well decks that allow the landing of craft in rough waters and other advances that make these ships more useful in modern warfare.
The newest amphibious ships are the America-class assault ships, including the most recent USS Tripoli, designed to host the Marine F-35B Joint Strike Fighters as well as other aircraft. It will be the largest amphibious vessel in the navy, and in fact may be considered more of a small aircraft carrier. It will be able to carry a crew of over 1,200 as well as more than 1,800 troops.
Asbestos Use on Amphibious Ships
Amphibious vessels made for the U.S. Navy before the 1970s when restrictions were put on asbestos use and the health risks of the mineral were known were often made with asbestos. Documentation shows that most ships built from the 1930s through the 1970s were made with nearly 300 parts that contained asbestos. These include things like insulation, pipe insulation, gaskets, cables, boilers, valves, decks, flooring, ceiling materials, packing materials, and more.
Asbestos Exposure on Amphibious Ships
U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses in the country. This is because of the extensive use of asbestos on navy ships, including amphibious ships. These men had to work with and around asbestos materials for months at a time in confined spaces with little air ventilation. Any disturbance in the asbestos could release fibers into the air that crew and troops could inhale. In some people who were exposed in this way, illness came on decades later.
Amphibious Ships That May Have Used Asbestos
Records of shipbuilding, parts, repairs, and claims veterans made to the Veterans Administration all contribute to information about which ships contained asbestos. This includes most ships build during the decades of the 1930s through the 1970s. This is just a partial list of amphibious vessels that were made using asbestos:
- USS Anchorage, commissioned 1969, sunk
- USS Blue Ridge, commissioned 1970
- USS Casa Grande, commissioned 1944, sold
- USS Catamount, commissioned 1944, scrapped
- USS Charleston, commissioned 1968, inactive reserve
- USS Cleveland, commissioned 1967
- USS Comstock, commissioned 1945, sold to Taiwan
- USS Denver, commissioned 19698
- USS Donner, commissioned 1945, scrapped
- USS Durham, commissioned 1969, inactive reserve
- USS El Paso, commissioned 1970
- USS Fort Mandon, commissioned 1945, sold to Greece
- USS Francis Marion, commissioned 1960, sold to Spain
- USS Goodhue, commissioned 1944, scrapped
- USS Inchon, commissioned 1970, sunk
- USS Iwo Jima, commissioned 1961, scrapped
- USS Kleinsmith, commissioned 1945, sold
- USS Lenoir, commissioned 1944, sold
- USS Mobile, commissioned 1969, inactive reserve
- USS Mount McKinley, commissioned 1944, scrapped
- USS Nashville, commissioned 1970, in reserve
- USS New Hanover, commissioned 1944, sold
- USS Newman, commissioned 1943, scrapped
- USS Okinawa, commissioned 1962, sunk
- USS Rockbridge, commissioned 1944, scrapped
- USS Rushmore, commissioned 1944, sunk
- USS Saipan, commissioned 1977, scrapped
- USS San Marco, commissioned 1945, sold to Spain
- USS Shadwell, commissioned 1944, training ship
- USS Spiegel Grove, commissioned 1956, sunk
- USS St. Louis, commissioned 1969, inactive reserve
- USS Starr, commissioned 1944, scrapped
- USS Stokes, commissioned 1944
- USS Tate, commissioned 1944, sold
- USS Tortuga, commissioned 1945, scuttled
- USS Whetstone, commissioned 1946, scrapped
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.