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USS Biloxi (CL-80)

The first U.S. Navy ship to be named for the city in Mississippi, the USS Biloxi (CL-80) was a light cruiser commissioned in 1943. She served in the Pacific during World War II and earned nine battle stars. The ship was an important player in the Pacific theater, and although most of the Biloxi was scrapped, her superstructure and bell are memorialized in the city of Biloxi.

Like many other ships built for the navy, the USS Biloxi contained asbestos in hundreds of her components. This asbestos was important for fireproofing and insulation, but it also caused a lot of harm. The sailors serving on the Biloxi and in the war were put at risk of being exposed to this harmful mineral. As a result of this and other ships, U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

About the USS Biloxi

The USS Biloxi was a light cruiser, designated CL-80, and was a member of the Cleveland Class of cruisers used in and after World War II. The Cleveland ships were the most numerous of any other cruiser class and were built to improve on the Brooklyn class of ships. The Biloxi and other Cleveland cruisers were designed to go farther than previous cruisers, to have anti-aircraft weapons, and to use torpedoes. The Cleveland ships also had radar added.

The Biloxi was laid down in 1941 and was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Under the command of Captain Daniel M. McGurl, she was commissioned on August 31, 1943, in the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia. She was 610 feet long, displaced 14,358 tons at capacity, and carried 1,255 men. She was decommissioned on August 29, 1946, but was put in reserve until 1961 when she was officially struck from the Naval Register. She was then sold for scrap in 1962.

World War II Deployments

Shakedown training for the Biloxi took place in the Chesapeake Bay, during which a man fell overboard but was rescued. Training continued in the Caribbean, but the ship suffered damage when one of her floatplanes crashed while attempting to land. Following training, the Biloxi returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard for final repairs before heading to the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean.

The Biloxi joined the Fifth Fleet in January of 1944. Her first action in the war was as part of Operation Flintlock, in which the fleet attacked Japan in the Marshall Islands. The Biloxi participated by providing shore bombardment on several atolls. In June of 1944 the Biloxi participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. She helped to bring down some of the 300 or more Japanese aircraft in the incident known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. She then helped to recover American pilots that were unable to land successfully in the dark on the night of June 21.

The Biloxi continued to provide anti-aircraft fire and shore bombardment throughout 1944, hitting various targets, including oil storage, airfields, and vehicle depots. She also provided cover for aircraft carriers to support aircraft missions. She recovered many men who went down in their planes. At the end of the year the Biloxi weathered a typhoon and while the fleet suffered extensive damage as a result, the Biloxi only lost one aircraft.

In early 1945 the Biloxi sailed for Iwo Jima to participate in operations there. She provided gunfire to support the troops headed ashore. During these operations, one of the ships guns fired into another, causing some injuries and destroying one of the gun mounts. With the damage, the Biloxi carried on and steamed to Tokyo to help attack airfields and aircraft factories there. Bad weather forced the group to retreat, and the Biloxi was able to undergo repairs to the gun mount.

The Biloxi headed back to the U.S. for repairs in the spring of 1945 and was not with the fleet as Japan surrendered. She returned after the war and helped to evacuate American prisoners of war as well as some members of allied forces. She steamed back to Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco in November and was inactivated and put in reserve at Port Angeles in Washington. She was decommissioned in 1946, struck in 1961 and scrapped the following year.

Asbestos in the Ship

Asbestos use in ships was common for many decades and U.S. Navy ships like the Biloxi were no exception. The Biloxi contained asbestos in 300-plus components and parts from the smallest gaskets to the insulation surrounding the pipes that ran all throughout the ship. Asbestos was used especially in ships built for World War II because the government and military had been stockpiling it in the 1930s in anticipation of the war. Asbestos was inexpensive at the time and was known for being a lightweight insulation and fireproofing material that was prized for ships of all types.

The Biloxi was powered and propelled by four steam boilers and four turbines, and this equipment was heavily insulated with asbestos because of the heat it generated and the potential for fires. Asbestos was also used in insulation on other parts of the ship and in firefighting gear and gunner protective gear, like gloves. It was used in flooring materials and adhesives, in ropes and deck matting, and in many other parts of the ship.

Exposure to Asbestos on the USS Biloxi

Asbestos exposure can occur any time fibers of the mineral are able to break loose and mingle with dust in the air and on surfaces. Materials that contain asbestos can lose fibers when they are disturbed, such as during accidents or just regular maintenance and repairs. They can also simply wear down over time and release fibers. On ships like the Biloxi, any of these were possible and could easily have caused anyone on board to be exposed to the fibers of asbestos.

Ships also generally have poor ventilation, and this increased the risk further, especially for those men working in the engine and boiler rooms. These spaces had poor ventilation and were filled with asbestos. One recorded claim to the Veterans Administration described a veteran’s time on the Biloxi, which included working in the boiler room. He later developed asbestosis and died from lung cancer.

Also at an elevated risk were the men who made repairs and conducted maintenance on the Biloxi. These workers sometimes had to work with and near asbestos, often breaking into it to make the fixes. Anyone working in the shipyards where the Biloxi was constructed or repaired was also put at risk of being exposed.

If you served or worked on the Biloxi or other ships in the U.S. Navy that were made with asbestos, you could have been put at risk of later developing asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. You can make a claim with the VA to get compensation. If you lost a spouse to one of these illnesses after serving, you can also make a claim.

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