By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Lockwood
Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
During the Dec. 1, 2012 inactivation ceremony of CVN-65, the eighth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name Enterprise, then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the legacy of “Big E” would continue, officially naming the third Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, CVN-80, USS Enterprise. As the Navy formally decommissioned its immediate predecessor Feb. 3, 2017, it’s appropriate to look back at each of the mighty ships that have born the name; whose greatness was earned by the integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness of the Sailors who have served in them.
As we say fair winds to CVN-65, and welcome in the new era of CVN-80, the ninth ship to carry the name Enterprise, let’s take a look back at the making of the legacy.
Enterprise I (1775-1777)
The first Enterprise originally belonged to the British and was named George. She cruised on Lake Champlain and supplied English posts in Canada. On May 18, 1775, Col. Benedict Arnold captured the ship, renamed her Enterprise and outfitted her with guns and thereafter defended American supply routes in New England from British attacks. The ship was one of many that embarked more than 1,000 troops in August that year as part of an expedition against three Canadian cities: St. Johns, Montreal and Quebec. British reinforcements caused the Americans to retreat. Regrouping in October, Arnold’s soldiers disrupted the British invasion into New York. Enterprise was one of only five ships to survive the two-day battle. The following year, the British would be defeated at Saratoga, New York, which helped bring about a French alliance with the colonists, and with them, their powerful navy. Enterprise, however, wasn’t around for the Battle of Saratoga. The sloop had been run aground on July 7, 1777, during the evacuation of Ticonderoga and was burned to prevent its capture.
Enterprise II (1776-1777)
The second Enterprise, a schooner, was a successful letter-of-marque before she was purchased Dec. 20, 1776, for the Continental Navy. Commanded by Capt. Joseph Campbell, Enterprise operated principally in Chesapeake Bay. She convoyed transports, carried out reconnaissance and guarded the shores against foraging raids by the British. Only meager records of her service have been found; they indicate she was apparently returned to the Maryland Council of Safety before the end of February 1777.
Enterprise III (1799-1823)
The third Enterprise was the schooner used to capture the pirate ships during the Barbary Wars. At her time of service, anti-piracy operations were a major part of the Navy’s mission. American shipping vessels were frequently attacked in the Caribbean, and the Navy was tasked with fighting them. It was her commanding officer, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., who pulled off the daring expedition to burn the frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli in 1804. She would be refitted as a brig during the War of 1812. On Sept. 5, 1813, Enterprise chased down the British brig Boxer in a close-combat battle that took the lives of both ships’ commanding officers, Lt. William Burrows and Capt. Samuel Blyth. From 1815 to 1823, Enterprise suppressed smugglers, pirates and slavers until July 9, 1823, the ship became stranded and broke up on Little Curacao Island in the West Indies, without any loss of her crew.
Enterprise IV (1831-1844)
The fourth Enterprise was a schooner built by the New York Navy Yard where it launched on Oct. 26, 1831. Its original complement was nine officers and 63 men and, for most of its life, it protected U.S. shipping around the world. After spending time guarding American interests near Brazil, the schooner spent time in the Far East (Africa, India and East Indies). She was back cruising South America until March 1839 when she left Valparaiso, Chile, to round the Horn, make a port call at Rio de Janeiro, and then head north to Philadelphia, where she was inactivated on July 12. Recommissioned a few months later, Enterprise sailed from New York back to South America on March 16, 1840. After four years, she returned to the Boston Navy Yard, decommissioned June 24, 1844, and sold four months later.
Enterprise V (1877-1909)
The fifth Enterprise was a bark-rigged screw sloop-of-war. She was built at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in Maine by John W. Griffith, launched June 13, 1874, and commissioned March 16, 1877. Decommissioned and recommissioned several times, she primarily surveyed oceans, littoral areas and river founts around the world, including the Amazon and Madeira Rivers. When not on hydrographic survey cruises, she spent time sailing the waters of Europe, the Mediterranean and east coast of Africa. From 1891 to 1892, Enterprise was the platform on which cadets at the Naval Academy trained and practiced. Then, she was lent to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for duty as a maritime school ship for 17 years. Returned to the Navy on May 4, 1909, Enterprise was sold five months later.
Enterprise VI (1916-1919)
The sixth Enterprise (No. 790), a 66-foot motorboat, was purchased by the Navy on Dec. 6, 1916. Placed with the 2nd Naval District on Sept. 25, 1917, the noncommissioned motorboat performed harbor tug duties at Newport, Rhode Island, before going to New Bedford, Massachusetts, Dec. 11, 1917. The motorboat was transferred to the Bureau of Fisheries Aug. 2, 1919.
Enterprise VII (1938-1947)
Once again a proper warship, this time a Yorktown-class carrier, Enterprise (CV 6) earned her nickname – Big E. In World War II, she earned 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II, for the crucial roles she played in numerous battles, including Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Enterprise took three direct hits, killing 74 and wounding 95 crew members. It was the Enterprise that took on the Hornet’s aircraft after that carrier was abandoned during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Island Oct. 26, 1942. By the end of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on Nov. 15, Enterprise had shared in sinking 16 ships and damaging eight more. After an overhaul for much of 1943, Enterprise was back in the fight when, on Nov. 26, 1943, the Big E introduced carrier-based night fighter operations in the Pacific. The Big E suffered the last of her damage on May 14, 1945, after a kamikaze plane struck the ship near her forward elevator, killing 14 and wounding 34 men. The most decorated ship in U.S. naval history entered the New York Naval Shipyard on Jan. 18, 1946, for inactivation and was decommissioned Feb. 17, 1947. She was sold July 1, 1958.
Enterprise VIII (1961-2017)
In 1954, Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise. The giant ship was to be powered by eight nuclear reactors, two for each of its four propeller shafts. This was a daring undertaking, for never before had two nuclear reactors ever been harnessed together. As such, when the engineers first started planning the ship’s propulsion system, they were uncertain how it would work, or even if it would work according to their theories. Three years and nine months after construction began, Enterprise (CVN 65) was ready to present to the world as “The First, The Finest” super carrier, and the construction was proven capable. Her long career, consisting of 25 deployments and 51 years of service to the United States, has been well documented and this space can’t begin to list her accomplishments, but those can be found here at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website and in libraries across the country. The ship was inactivated Dec. 1, 2012; and decommissioned Feb. 3, 2017, following nuclear defueling, dismantlement and recycling.
In the 241 years that have followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America’s Navy has had a ship in the fleet called Enterprise for all but 103. It’ll be about ten more years before we have another, and that one is expected to serve her nation for more than another half a century.