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Mothballed ships in Suisun Bay, California (2010).

The United States Navy maintains a number of its ships as part of a reserve fleet, often called the "Mothball Fleet". While the details of the activity have changed several times, the basics are constant: keep the ships afloat and sufficiently working as to be reactivated quickly in an emergency.

In some cases (for instance, at the outset of the Korean War), many ships were successfully reactivated at a considerable savings in time and money. The usual fate of ships in the reserve fleet, though, is to become too old and obsolete to be of any use, at which point they are sold for scrapping or are scuttled in weapons tests. In rare cases, the general public may intercede for ships from the reserve fleet that are about to be scrapped - usually asking for the navy to donate them for use as museums, memorials or artificial reefs.


In November 1976, the controlling organization was the Inactive Ship Division of the Naval Ship Systems Command.[1] Since 2004, the administrative organization is called the Navy Inactive Fleet.[citation needed] As of 2011, the controlling organization actually appears to be the Inactive Ships Management Office of the Program Executive Officer - Ships, Naval Sea Systems Command, Portsmouth, Virginia.[2] Merchant ships held in reserve are managed as part of the separate National Defense Reserve Fleet within MARAD (US Maritime Administration). Several of its sites, such as at Suisun Bay in California, are also used to store regular Navy ships.


Around 1912, the Atlantic Reserve Fleet and the Pacific Reserve Fleet were established as reserve units, still operating ships, but on a greatly reduced schedule. After the Second World War, with hundreds of ships no longer needed by a peacetime navy, each fleet consisted of a number of groups corresponding to storage sites, each adjacent to a shipyard for easier reactivation. For example, USS Brock (APD-93) was underway for Green Cove Springs, Florida, on 11 April 1945. Brock arrived there on 13 April 1945, and joined the Florida Group, 16th Fleet, which later became the Florida Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Many of the deactivated Second World War merchant vessels were of a class called the Liberty Ship which was a mass-produced ocean-going transport which was used primarily in the convoys going to/from the U.S., Europe and Russia. These Liberty Ships were also used as the navy's support vessel for its fleet of warships and to ferry forces across the Pacific and Atlantic. It was a race between how fast the U.S. could build these ships and how fast the German U-Boats could sink them, and the Liberty Ship was significant in maintaining the beleaguered United Kingdom.

Most of these Liberty Ships when deactivated were put into "mothball fleets" strategically located around the coasts of the U.S. They began to be deactivated and scrapped in the early 1970s.

Atlantic Reserve Fleet

The groups of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet were at Boston, Charleston, Florida, New London, MOTBY/New York Harbor, Norfolk, Philadelphia, and Texas.

Pacific Reserve Fleet

The groups of the Pacific Reserve Fleet were at Alameda, Bremerton, Columbia River, Long Beach, Mare Island, San Diego, San Francisco, Stockton, and Tacoma.

List of current USN reserve fleets

James River Reserve Fleet

The James River Reserve Fleet consists of 8 decommissioned U.S. Navy auxiliaries and warships anchored in Virginia's James River near Newport News. The fleet originally consisted of about 60 ships, most of which were gradually towed away for scrapping. As of June 15, 2013, the Reserve Fleet consisted of the following vessels:

  • SS Cape Alava (AK-5012) - Training Use[3]
  • SS Cape Ann (AK-5009) - Training Use[4]
  • SS Cape Avinoff (AK-5013) - Training Use[5]
  • SS Cape Juby (AK-5077) - Logistics Support[6]
  • SS Cape Nome (AK-1014) - Logistics Support[7]
  • USNS Harkness (T-AGS-32) - Logistics Support[8]
  • USNS Freedom Star (7925314) - Training Use
  • Sturgis (MH-1A) - Stored for U.S. Army[9]


Although not technically a reserve fleet, the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga is berthed pierside at the Newport naval complex.

Suisun Bay

USS Iowa (BB-61) laid up in Suisun Bay.

A similar fleet, the National Defense Reserve Fleet, is anchored in Suisun Bay near Benicia, California, and has similarly been reduced. This location is known for hosting the Glomar Explorer after its recovery of portions of a Soviet submarine during the Cold War before its subsequent reactivation as a minerals exploration ship.


The Beaumont Reserve Fleet, anchored in the Neches River near Beaumont, Texas, contains a number of transport ships, plus a dozen minesweepers.

Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facilities

A Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility (NISMF) is a facility owned by the U.S. Navy as a holding facility for decommissioned naval vessels, pending determination of their final fate. All ships in these facilities are inactive, but some are still on the Naval Vessel Register, while others have been struck from that Register.


The Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility holds several dozen inactive warships, including the aircraft carriers USS John F. Kennedy and Forrestal, Ticonderoga class cruisers, Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, numerous supply ships, and a submarine.


The Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, located next to Bremerton, Washington hosts, among its other ships, four aircraft carriers: USS Ranger, Independence, Kitty Hawk, and Constellation,[10] and the nuclear cruiser USS Long Beach. It is also the home to almost two dozen decommissioned submarines, several frigates, and numerous supply ships.

Pearl Harbor

The Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Pearl Harbor, HI holds logistic support ships and amphibious transport dock ships.

See also


External links

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