New Navy ship to bear the name of Pittsburgh

Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite speaking with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (U.S. Navy/Released)

The last U.S. Navy vessel named for the city of Pittsburgh, a submarine, retired in 2019 after 35 years at sea, but over the weekend the Navy announced that a new ship will bear the city’s name.

Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said a future San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock will be the USS Pittsburgh (LPD-31), the fifth Navy vessel to honor the city.

“As a proud resident of the Keystone State, I know that Pittsburgh is a proud city with a strong legacy of service to our nation,” Mr. Braithwaite said in a Navy video. “And the name USS Pittsburgh has served the Navy well.”


Prior ships bearing the name of the city were a Union ironclad, cruisers in both world wars and most recently a Los Angeles-class attack sub that completed its final tour in 2019.

“I am confident that the crew of the future Pittsburgh will demonstrate the same excellence in support of amphibious and littoral operations around the world,” Braithwaite said.

He also announced the naming of four other ships, including the USNS Lenni Lenape, a future Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship named for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania.

The ship is the first to carry the name of the tribe, formerly known as the Delaware; the tribe was the first to sign a treaty with the U.S. in 1778.


Mr. Braithwaite said the new ship will carry the legacy of the Lenape people “for generations to come.”

The ship will be joined by four similar ships all named for native American tribes.

The new 25,000-ton USS Pittsburgh was ordered in April and is being built at a Mississippi shipyard. The San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks are designed to transport troops and equipment to battle zones around the world. The class includes the USS New York, the first of three LPDs built in honor of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. The New York’s bow stem was cast using steel salvaged from the World Trade Center. The others are the USS Somerset, site of the crash of Flight 93 on 9/11, and the USS Arlington, where another plane hit the Pentagon. Materials from the sites were incorporated into both ships.

The class also includes USS Harrisburg, being built in the same shipyard as the Pittsburgh.

The previous USS Pittsburghs all served with distinction.

The first, sometimes spelled Pittsburg, was a Union ironclad riverboat in the Civil War that saw extensive action on the Mississippi River. Among its 251-man crew was John Woon, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for action at the Battle of Grand Gulf in 1863.

The second USS Pittsburgh was a cruiser built in Philadelphia and launched as the USS Pennsylvania in 1903. It had a crew of 900 and is best known for the first landing of an aircraft on a ship in 1911. That landing is considered the birth of naval aviation.

The ship was renamed the Pittsburgh in 1912 to free up the state name for a new battleship.

The Pittsburgh served in World War I and was decommissioned in 1931.

The third USS Pittsburgh was a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser that fought across the Pacific in World War II. It saw combat at Iwo Jima and later helped rescue the USS Franklin, a carrier damaged by kamikaze attacks off the Japanese coast in 1945. The Franklin lost some 800 men, but the USS Pittsburgh towed the carrier to safety while fighting off Japanese attacks.

After more action off Okinawa, the Pittsburgh was damaged in an epic typhoon in June 1945 that damaged many ships in the U.S. Third Fleet. Some waves were estimated at 100 feet. The entire bow section of the Pittsburgh broke off in the storm. The crew shored up the bow with wood while the captain reversed engines to prevent further damage. The Pittsburgh battled the storm for seven hours and then made its way to Guam for repairs. The bow section, nicknamed the “McKeesport” as a suburb of Pittsburgh, was salvaged.

The Pittsburgh spent the rest of the war under repair and was decommissioned in 1947, but was recommissioned for the Korean War. One of its anchors is on display at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum.

The last USS Pittsburgh was a submarine launched in 1984 and saw action in both Iraq wars. It marked its 1,000th dive in November 2017, after which the crew posed for a picture holding a Terrible Towel.

It’s last captain was Scott native Jason Deichler.


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