TARAWA class gallery

Tarawa class amphibious assault ships became the largest ships in service after the US Navy aircraft carriers. Five vessels were built, from nine planned, that entered service between 1976 and 1980 and were decommissioned between 2005 and 2011. The class consisted of: LHA-1 Tarawa, LHA-2 Saipan, LHA-3 Belleau Wood, LHA-4 Nassau and LHA-5 Peleliu ships, and names were chosen in honor of major operations conducted by the Marines in WWI and WWII.
It can be seen that sides of Tarawa class ships are vertical in two thirds of the length to obtain the maximum interior space. The hangar had two elevators, one of 18.2 tons capacity on the port side and another one of 36.4 tons capacity in a central position. The well deck, the vehicle deck, the cargo hold and the hangar were connected by five lifts of 1 ton capacity each. The three lifts on the bow served the vehicle deck and the two lifts on the stern served the well deck.
Tarawa ships had a monorail distribution system installed in the well deck’s roof that distributed palletized loads of about 1 ton through the well deck to the landing crafts. For this purpose, the system had 11 trays to move the loads, as well as being able to deposit them on the two stern lifts so they can be directly raised to the hangar. The well deck was divivided in two and had a conveyor belt that ran forward, to the vehicle deck.
At the bow of the well deck there was a deck for vehicles, which was connected to the flight deck and to the well deck by means of ramps. The capacity of this deck was about 200 vehicles of all kinds, such as battle tanks, self propelled howitzers, AAV amphibious tractors, trucks and all kinds of support equipment.
These ships operated with all types of landing crafts, being able to house up to four LCUs (150 tons payload), on their well deck, or two LCU and two LCM-8 (54 tons payload), or up to 17 LCM-6 (34 tons payload). They could launch an assault with up to four LCU and 8 AAV simultaneously, and on the deck of the ship they used to carry two LCM-6 and two LCPL (3.5 tons payload) that were put into the water by a crane. They could also operate with LCAC (hovercraft), although only one could be housed due to the design of the ship.
The huge hangar could accommodate up to 26 CH-53D/E Super Stallion helicopters, although its onboard unit used to be composed by 12 CH-46E Sea Knight, 6 CH-53D/E, 4 AH-1W Super Cobra and 2 UH-1N Twin Huey. At other times it was made up by six CH-46E, nine CH-53D/E, four AH-1W and two UH-1N. In addition to the helicopters it was common for them to operate with the AV-8B Harrier II VSTOL aircraft to provide coverage to both the naval group and the Marines on the ground.
These ships were specifically designed to operate with the AV-8B Harrier II, allowing Marines for the first time, to have their own air support without having to rely on the US Navy. They could operate with six Harrier II aircraft together with the helicopter unit, not exceeding 35 aircraft in any case. Two ships were assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and the remaining three to the Pacific Fleet.
The versatility of Tarawa class is evident by reviewing the six different types of tasks assigned to them during their design. They could act as Flagship of the Amphibian Task Force, amphibious landing platform, aircraft carrier, command and control ship (C4i), supply vessel for the Marines Expeditionary Unit and hospital ship. Within the superstructure there were sufficient means to house the commander of the operational amphibious force (CATG) and the head of the landing force (LFC) together with their respective staffs.
These ships had a sophisticated combat information center (CIC) that allowed them to control both their own forces and the enemy movements, sharing the information with the other Task Force’s vessels and also control air traffic in the area of operations. These tasks are coordinated through the so-called Integrated Tactical Amphibious War Data System or “ITAWDS”.
Tarawa class vessels had an adequate self-defense armament from the beginning. It was composed by two Mk.25 Sea Sparrow SAM missile launchers, three 127mm Mk.45 guns and six 20mm automatic guns. In the mid-90s, after the extensive overhauls that were carried out on the 5 ships, these weapons were replaced by more modern armament and new equipment was added, such as two SLQ-25 NIXIE acoustic devices against torpedoes and six Mk.36 (SRBOC) chaff dispensers.
USS LHA-1 Tarawa was commissioned in May of 1976 and in 1983 was assigned to Beirut to support the peacekeeping United Nations Force. In 1990 it was deployed in support of the Desert Storm Operation, where it was the Flagship of an Amphibious Task Force composed of 13 ships. In 1996 she returned to the Persian Gulf area and participated in Operation Desert Strike against defenses of southern Iraq, and in 2005 she participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After its retirement in 2009, the ship was in reserve until 2014 when it was chosen by the US Naval Amphibious Ship Historical Society, which will transform it into a museum ship.
USS LHA-2 Saipan was commissioned in October 1977 but its operational career began in 1979. In May of 1980 she supported the US Coast Guard during the emigration of Cubans known as “Mariel boatlift”. Its first combat mission was to participate in Operation Urgent Fury known as the “Invasion de Grenada” in 1984. In May 1990, she participated in Operation Sharp Edge to help evacuate civilians from Liberia. It was stationed in the Persian Gulf between 1991 and 1992 during Desert Storm campaign and in 1993 was supporting Deny Flight and Provide Promise operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
USS LHA-2 Saipan returned to the Mediterranean in 1998 and participated in Operation Balkan Calm supporting the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM), and in Operation Autumm Shelter in which they evacuated personnel from the American Embassy in Kinshasa. She developed different missions in the Mediterranean until 2000 and in 2003 she was deployed within Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Saipan was decommissioned in April 2007 and was scrapped in 2011.
USS LHA-3 Belleau Wood was commissioned in September 1978 and spent most of its active life in Asia, helping after various natural disasters such as the 1992 Iniki Hurricane over Hawai or providing humanitarian assistance on East Timor in 2002. It was deployed and carried out different missions such as Operation United Shield on Somalia in 1996, INTERFET on East Timor in 1999 or in the Persian Gulf in 2004. The ship was removed in October 2005 and was sunk in July 2006 during the RIMPAC 06 exercises where it was used as a target ship.
USS LHA-4 Nassau was commissioned in July 1979 and its first mission was a deployment with the Sixth Fleet near Beirut in 1984. This ship was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm Operations within the 1991 Gulf War, where it acted as “Harrier Carrier “supporting the Marines. She participated in the 1990s in Operation Uphold Democracy over Haiti in 1991, Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993 and was part of the Allied Force and Noble Anvil operations over the former Yugoslavia in 1999.
USS LHA-4 Nassau, like the rest of the class, has participated in numerous humanitarian aid missions after natural disasters. In the case of Nassau, one of the most recognized missions was the assistance given in 2008 in Galveston Island after the passage of Ike Hurricane. Then in January 2010 she participated in the humanitarian aid provided to Haiti after suffering a severe earthquake. It was decommissioned in March 2011, waiting to be reconverted into a humanitarian aid vessel operated by the non-profit organization Coalition of Hope.
USS LHA-5 Peleliu was commissioned in May 1980. Its first operations were to provide assistance to the population after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and the evacuation of the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, during the eruption of the Pinatubo volcano of 1991. In 1994 she was sent to Somalia where she participated in Operation Continue Hope and in Operation Quick Draw, besides carrying out different missions in the area of Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya.
The operational career of the USS Peleliu continued with its participation in the East Timor crisis in 1999, and in 2001 it was the first ship to bring a contingent of Marines to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2004 and 2008 she participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in 2010 she gave humanitarian aid to Pakistan after the floods in the south of the country. Finally it was decommissioned in March 2015 and currently is in reserve at Pearl Harbor.

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