The Short Life of the USS Fall River (CA-131)

1-4. Fall River steaming

The once mighty heavy cruiser, USS Fall River (CA-131), in better times, steaming to the Bikini Atoll in 1946. Note the 8″ elevated batteries. (Photo Author’s Collection)

The USS Fall River (CA-131)…

A Baltimore-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. She was launched on 13 August 1944 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey and named for the town of Fall River, Massachusetts.

On 1 July 1945, the Fall River was commissioned with Captain David S. Crawford, USN, in command.

On 31 October 1945, the relatively new heavy cruiser arrived at Norfolk, Virginia and sailed in experimental development operations until 31 January 1946.

On 31 January 1946, the cruiser was assigned to Joint Task Force 1 and departed Hampton Roads, Virginia for the journey to the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Fall River would play a leading role in Operation CROSSROADS, the first postwar atomic bomb tests under the supervision of the United States government. The Fall River would be the Flagship for the Target Vessel Group, Task Group 1.2, under the command of Rear Admiral F. G. Fahrion, USN. She would be responsible for the positioning of the 95 target vessels for the two atomic bomb tests: Test Able from the air on 1 July 1946 and Test Baker from underwater on 25 July 1946.

The Fall River arrived at the Bikini Atoll on 27 May 1946.

What happened to the USS Fall River after Operation Crossroads

August 1946 – USS Fall River remained in the Marshall Islands for post-tests evaluation and clean-up.

9 September 1946 – Departed the Marshall Islands and returned Rear Admiral F. G. Fahrion, now promoted to Commander Task groups Joint Task Force One, to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

26 September 1946  – Departed Pearl Harbor for San Pedro, California for tender repairs. After repairs, departed for Portland, Oregon.

25 October 1946 – Navy Day Celebration, Portland, Oregon. According to the local media, the USS Fall River was the biggest ship ever to enter the city’s harbor. She held open house for three days and an estimated 15,000 persons toured the decks, creating long lines on the dock.

December 1946 – Spent considerable time in the Long Beach-San Pedro area for decontaminating the parts of the ship declared radioactive from Operation Crossroads. This included dry-docking to scrape the ship’s bottom.

30 December 1946 – Departed the Long Beach-San Pedro area for an extensive tour of the Far East as Flagship of Cruiser Division I from 12 January to 17 June 1947. She received the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia, for the periods 12 January–17 April 1947 and 27 April–17 June 1947. She received the China Service Medal for the period 18–26 April 1947.

17 June 1947 – Set sail for Bremerton Naval Shipyard, Washington, for overhaul.

31 October 1947 – Placed out of commission in reserve at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.

19 February 1971 – The USS Fall River is struck from the Naval Register. Although she was positioned at least ten miles or more from the target ships and the Able and Baker atomic blasts in Operation Crossroads, she took on so much radiation and was still so “hot,” it was decided to send her to the shipwrecker’s yard.

28 August 1972 – Sold for scrap to Zidell Explorations Corp., Portland, Oregon.

In her short life, the USS Fall River (CA-131) participated in one of the most important events of the twentieth century – the dawning of the nuclear age.

This is what remains today of the Fall River

USS Fall River (CA-131)

All that remains today of the USS Fall River (CA-131) is the prow section of the bow, on display at Battleship Cove, Fall River, MA. (Photo Author’s Collection)

Excerpted from Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account by William L. McGee

Cover of Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget!


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