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

USS Fall River (CA-131)

USS Fall River (CA-131) steaming to Bikini, 1946 (U.S. Navy)

Timeline for the USS Fall River (CA-131)

9 July 1942 – Ordered

12 April 1943 – Keel laid down. Builder is New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, New Jersey.

13 Aug 1944 – Launched. Sponsored by Mrs. Alexander C. Murray, wife of the mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts.

1945
1 July – Commissioned with Captain David S. Crawford, USN, in command.

8 Aug–27 Sep – Shakedown cruise, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

21–29 Oct – Navy Day celebrations in Boston and Fall River, Massachusetts.

29 Oct–10 Jan – Atlantic Fleet Operational Development Force, Norfolk, Virginia.

1946
31 Jan – New assignment with First Division Cruisers, Pacific Fleet. Departs Hampton Roads, Virginia for Panama Canal Zone.

5–8 Feb – Panama Canal Zone

9–16 Feb – Departs Panama Canal Zone for Port of Los Angeles.

16 Feb–6 Mar – San Pedro Bay, Port of Los Angeles. Underwent alterations to serve as flagship.

6–12 Mar – Departs San Pedro Bay for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

12 Mar-21 May – Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Underwent numerous training exercises and maneuvers at sea and in port. Embarked RAdm F. G. Fahrion, USN, Commander Naval Task Group 1.2.

21–27 May – Departs Pearl Harbor for Bikini.

27 May–31 July – Arrives at the Bikini Atoll for Operation Crossroads, the first postwar atomic bomb tests. Fall River is the Flagship for the Target Fleet, under the command of RAdm F. G. Fahrion, USN, responsible for positioning the 95 target vessels for two atomic bomb tests: Test Able from the air, 1 July; Test Baker from underwater, 25 July.

USS Fall River (CA-131)

USS Fall River (CA-131) shipmates observe the Able bomb blast cloud, 1 July 1946 (Naval Historical Society)

After Operation Crossroads

1946
Aug – Remains in the Marshall Islands for post-tests evaluation and clean-up.

9 Sept – Departs the Kwajalein Atoll for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Drops off RAdm F. G. Fahrion, now promoted to Commander, Advance Echelon, Joint Task Force One.

26 Sept – Departs Pearl Harbor for San Pedro, California.

5–22 Oct – Underwent tender repairs in San Pedro.

22-29 Oct – Navy Day celebrations, Portland, Oregon. According to the local media, Fall River is the biggest ship to enter the city’s harbor. She holds open house for three days and an estimated 15,000 persons tour the decks, creating long lines on the dock. There is no talk about the ship’s possible contamination.

USS Fall River (CA-131)

USS Fall River (CA-131), Navy Day, October 1946, Portland, Oregon (Courtesy Dominick DiGuiseppe)

Dec – Decontamination operations in the Long Beach-San Pedro area. Includes dry-docking to scrape the ship’s bottom.

30 Dec – Departs for extensive tour of the Far East as Flagship of Cruiser Division I from 12 January to 17 June 1947. She receives the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia, for the periods 12 January–17 April 1947 and 27 April–17 June 1947. She receives the China Service Medal for the period 18–26 April 1947.

1947
17 June – Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, for overhaul.

31 Oct – Decommissioned, placed in reserve at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.

1958 – Fall River came close to having a second career as a Guided Missile Cruiser (CG). However the Columbia (CA-74), scheduled for decommissioning in fiscal 1959, was substituted for the Fall River because it was less expensive to convert a decommissioning ship than to bring a mothballed ship out of reserve.

19 Feb 1971 – Struck from the Naval Register. Although the Fall River was positioned 10 miles or more from the target ships and the Able and Baker atomic blasts at 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 Aug 1972 – Sold for scrap to Zidell Explorations Corp., Portland, Oregon. However, 200 tons of Armor Plate are put to use at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Illinois.

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 once mighty heavy cruiser

USS Fall River (CA-131)

Today all that remains of the USS Fall River (CA-131) is the prow section of the bow, on display at Battleship Cove, Fall River, MA. (Author Collection)

From Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account by William L. McGee

Cover of Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget!

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Sources: USS Fall River (CA-131) “Command History”; Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. II.

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