Norfolk Naval Shipyard

the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is eight miles south of the Norfolk Naval Base (Naval Station Norfolk)
the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is eight miles south of the Norfolk Naval Base ("Naval Station Norfolk")
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The deep channel of the Elizabeth River, with multiple harbors that were protected from storms, led to the development of Norfolk on the east bank and Portsmouth on the west bank. Despite its name, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is located in the City of Portsmouth; it has never been located within the boundaries of the City of Norfolk.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is sometimes confused with Norfolk Naval Base (officially "Naval Station Norfolk"), which was constructed during World War I for the Atlantic Fleet.

The Norfolk Naval Base is a more-recent military facility, located on the east side of the Elizabeth River opposite Craney Island in Norfolk. The much-older Norfolk Naval Shipyard is on the west bank of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, eight miles south of the aircraft carrier base. The shipyard triggered the growth of military facilities in Hampton Roads, including Portsmouth Naval Hospital (built in 1827-30).

the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is west of the modern City of Chesapeake, incorporated in 1963 to block annexation of Norfolk County land by the City of Norfolk
the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is west of the modern City of Chesapeake, incorporated in 1963 to block annexation of Norfolk County land by the City of Norfolk
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard was originally called the Gosport Shipyard. It was started by at least 1767 as a private facility by a merchant named Andrew Sprowle, who built it to repair merchant ships and British naval vessels. Sprowle located it on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River because that site offered protection from pirates and foreign enemies, and the location was convenient for tobacco exporting ships and others sailing in Hampton Roads.

when the French helped defeat the British at Yorktown, Gosport was separated from the developed core of Portsmouth by Crab Creek
when the French helped defeat the British at Yorktown, Gosport was separated from the developed core of Portsmouth by Crab Creek

Source: Library of Congress, Plan de Portsmouth en Virginie (1781?)

Prior to the Gosport Shipyard, repairs were performed on beaches by "careening" a ship and pulling it over to one side, exposing half of the hull at a time. New ships could be built on beaches as well, with standard ship carpenter tools. The Patience and Deliverance were built on the beach in Bermuda, after a hurricane wrecked the Sea Venture coming to Jamestown with the Third Supply fleet in 1609.

It took 160 years from the initial settlement at Jamestown before anyone built that first shipyard on the Elizabeth River. Hampton Roads was exposed to attack, and not a great place for a military base or civilian city until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Prior to victory over the French in that war, the British Navy lacked clear naval superiority on the high seas. After the decline of Spain and then the defeat of the French, Britain gained maritime dominance comparable to the global supremacy exerted by the United States today, and the risk of attack at Hampton Roads was greatly diminished.

Sprowle named the shipyard after Gosport, England. That town is located in southern England, across the harbor entrance from Portsmouth. "Gosport" is apparently based on the old English name for goose.

Sprowle's shipyard was located on the opposite side of Crab Creek from a town in the colony of Virginia that was already named Portsmouth. Calling his shipyard Gosport matched the pattern in England.1

Crab Creek once separated Gosport from Portsmouth
Crab Creek once separated Gosport from Portsmouth
(note map orientation - south is towards top of map, and Crab Creek flows from west-to-east to the salt meadow at the confluence with the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River)
Source: Library of Congress, A plan of Portsmouth Harbour in the province of Virginia shewing the works erected by the British forces for its defence, 1781

Modern visitors to the Virginia version of Portsmouth/Gosport will have difficulty finding the creek that divided the two places in 1767. Crab Creek now lies buried under the modern I-264 highway, which crosses Portsmouth before going under the Elizabeth River via the Downtown Tunnel (built in 1952) near the NTelos Pavilion. South Street, just north of the interstate, marks the old southern edge of Portsmouth, and modern-day Columbia Street just to the north was originally Crabbe Street.2

in England, Gosport and Portsmouth are separated by the entrance to the harbor
in England, Gosport and Portsmouth are separated by the entrance to the harbor
Source: GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Gosport in Hampshire, A Vision of Britain through Time

in Virginia, Gosport and Portsmouth were separated by Crab Creek (now underneath I-264, next to South Street)
in Virginia, Gosport and Portsmouth were separated by Crab Creek (now underneath I-264, next to South Street)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

the Navy Yard was in Gosport, separated from Portsmouth by Crab Creek
the Navy Yard was in Gosport, separated from Portsmouth by Crab Creek
Source: Library of Congress, Plan of Princess Ann and Norfolk counties (178_?)

Sprowle was a Scottish immigrant, with business connections based in England. He chose to stay loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution, and in early 1776 he fled Norfolk with Lord Dunmore.

In 1779, a British fleet under Commodore George Collier, with 1,800 army troops led by General Edward Mathew, arrived in the Chesapeake Bay to capture/destroy supplies and inflict damage upon the rebels outside of New York/New England. The heavily-outnumbered Virginians were surprised and abandoned their fortification at Fort Nelson, rather than fight. The British captured or destroyed 137 ships, and destroyed what they described as "a very capital marine yard for building ships" at Gosport.4

It was the only time the shipyard was burned by an enemy. It was destroyed two more times, but in 1861 and again in 1862 the occupants did the damage.

Elizabeth River in Revolutionary War
Elizabeth River in Revolutionary War
(note map orientation - south is towards top of map, and Cape Henry is located east of the Elizabeth River)
Source: Library of Congress, Part of the Province of Virginia

Andrew Sprowle's lands were seized by Virginia during the war because he was a loyalist. Some of his properties were surveyed and sold, while the state took ownership of the Gosport Shipyard. That makes Norfolk Naval Shipyard, according to the US Navy, "the oldest naval shipyard in the United States." The US Navy itself was not established until 1798, and the Washington Navy Yard was started a year later.3

Portsmouth expanded its boundaries and annexed Gosport in 1784. The shipyard has been included within the municipal boundaries of the City of Portsmouth ever since, but the only time "Portsmouth" was included within its many different names was between 1929-1945.

the Gosport Navy Shipyard was constructed on the western side of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, in what became the city of Portsmouth
the Gosport Navy Shipyard was constructed on the western side of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, in what became the city of Portsmouth
Source: Library of Congress, Bird's eye view of Norfolk, Portsmouth and Berkley, Norfolk Co., Va. (1891)

In 1794, the US Government leased the Gosport Shipyard from Virginia and started to build the 36-gun frigate USS Chesapeake. It was one of the first six warships authorized by the US Congress to protect American commercial shipping after Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean demonstrated American military weakness.

In 1801, the Federal government purchased the shipyard, which at the time was 16 acres. Today, it includes 819 acres of land.5

Construction of the USS Chesapeake was interrupted by a temporary outbreak of peace, but it finally was completed and commissioned in 1800. In 1807, that ship sailed into the Atlantic Ocean on patrol duty, and was quickly challenged by the British warship the HMS Leopard. The British ship was waiting off Cape Henry waiting to intercept two French ships which were getting repaired at the Gosport shipyard.

The United States was neutral in that war between France and Great Britain; merchants in the Hampton Roads area provided supplies and assistance to ships from both countries. Despite the declaration of neutrality, the British Navy was aggressively seizing ("impressing") sailors from American ships in order to have enough personnel to sail the British warships.

The HMS Leopard demanded the USS Chesapeake surrender four seamen that the British claimed were deserters, but the American captain refused to allow the British to impress those seamen. In response, the HMS Leopard fired its cannon at the USS Chesapeake. The American warship was unprepared to fight and quickly surrendered, and that incident helped start the War of 1812.6

In 1813, after the US Congress declared war on England, the British tried to capture the Gosport Navy Yard. The Americans had fortified Craney Island at the mouth of the Elizabeth River, and the successful defense of the Craney Island fort against a British amphibious attack kept the British Navy from repeating its 1779 destruction of the shipyard.

the British assault on the USS Chesapeake (built at Gosport Navy Yard) led to an American embargo on trade with England and ultimately the War of 1812
the British assault on the USS Chesapeake (built at Gosport Navy Yard) led to an American embargo on trade with England, and ultimately the War of 1812
Source: US Navy Naval Historical Center, Action between USS Chesapeake and HMS Leopard, 22 June 1807

Benjamin Latrobe designed a secure facility (magazine) to store gunpowder at the Gosport Navy Shipyard
Benjamin Latrobe designed a secure facility ("magazine") to store gunpowder at the Gosport Navy Shipyard
Source: Library of Congress, Powder magazine for the Navy Department, Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia (1809)

In 1834, the Gosport Navy Yard completed one of the first two drydocks constructed in the United States (matching another "Drydock #1" at Charlestown, Massachusetts). Because rock is scarce on the Coastal Plain of Virginia, the granite for the drydock was imported from Quincy, Massachusetts. The ability to repair as well as construct large warships demonstrated the increasing military capacity of the United States, and President Andrew Jackson came to the shipyard for the opening ceremony.

The Gosport Navy Yard put the USS Delaware into drydock a week before the Massachusetts yard serviced its first vessel, so the oldest continuously operating dry dock in the country is located in Virginia. The drydock eliminated the traditional repair technique of pulling a vessel onto one side ("careening") in order to access the hull that is normally underwater. The cost to build a drydock was substantial, but in the long term cost-effective. Use of the drydock minimized the stress-based damages that could occur during careening, and made repairs faster and more efficient.7

since 1834, the drydock at Gosport (built from Massachusetts granite) has been used to repair vessels
since 1834, the drydock at Gosport (built from Massachusetts granite) has been used to repair vessels
Source: Library of Congress, Stone dry dock, Norfolk Navy Yard, Va.

The Gosport Navy Yard was a key installation of the US Navy prior to the Civil War. Commodore Perry steamed from there in 1851 in his flagship of the Black Fleet. Perry crossed the Pacific Ocean, and used warships from Virginia to force Japan to open its ports to foreign trade.8

Gosport Navy Yard and Portsmouth in 1851 (<em>note map orientation</em> - south is towards top of map)
Gosport Navy Yard and Portsmouth in 1851 (note map orientation - south is towards top of map)
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the city of Norfolk and the town of Portsmouth

entrance to Gosport Navy Yard in 1851
entrance to Gosport Navy Yard in 1851
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the city of Norfolk and the town of Portsmouth

At the start of the Civil War, Confederates fooled Federal forces into evacuating Gosport on April 20, 1861 without a fight. Thousands of Confederate troops assembled at Portsmouth, arriving on rail cars that could be seen by lookouts on the USS Delaware. What the lookouts did not see was that many of those arriving troops had also left on the same trains headed back towards Petersburg, hidden from sight; the total number of Confederate troops was far smaller than the Union officers at the shipyard estimated.

After successfully intimidating the Union forces at Gosport, local Confederate leaders agreed to leave the Elizabeth River unblocked for evacuation. In exchange, the Union commander at Gosport agreed not to bombard Portsmouth or Norfolk. However, other Union officials thought it was necessary to destroy the yard and the warships docked there.

The USS Pawnee sailed up the Elizabeth River and opened fire on the Gosport Navy Yard. US Marines from the ship helped destroy facilities and scuttle ships, including the USS Merrimack. In 1861 the US Navy, which was occupying the shipyard, chose to destroy its facilities, equipment, and ships before abandoning the site.9

Norfolk Naval Yard in December, 1864 after destruction by Union and then Confederate forces in 1861-1862
Norfolk Naval Yard in December, 1864 after destruction by Union and then Confederate forces in 1861-1862
Source: Alexander Gardner, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War

Federal forces burned the USS Merrimack along with the shipyard in 1861
Federal forces burned the USS Merrimack along with the shipyard in 1861
Source: US Navy National History and Heritage Command, Online Library of Selected Images (Photo #:NH 58880)

the USS Merrimack was just one of the warships burned by the Federal Navy in 1861
the USS Merrimack was just one of the warships burned by the Federal Navy in 1861
Source: Harpers Weekly, Destruction of the United States Ships at the Norfolk Navy-Yard, By Order of the Government (May 11, 1861)

The Virginia militia controlled the shipyard only briefly before transferring it to the Confederate national government. The Confederates were able to raise the USS Merrimack. They used Dry Dock #1 to convert it into the ironclad CSS Virginia.

Drydock #1 at Gosport Navy Yard, completed in 1834, was used to convert the USS Merrimac into the CSS Virginia
Drydock #1 at Gosport Navy Yard, completed in 1834, was used to convert the USS Merrimac into the CSS Virginia
Source: US Navy National History and Heritage Command, Online Library of Selected Images (Photo#:NH 314)

In 1862, the Confederate warships in the Elizabeth River blocked the Union navy from using the James River to support General McClellan's march up the Peninsula. McClellan established his first supply base beyond Fort Monroe at White House on the Pamunkey River, a tributary of the York River out of reach of the Confederate warships. At Hampton Roads, the CSS Virginia attacked the Union fleet and had one day of uncontested control of the water on March 8, 1861. The Federal ironclad USS Monitor arrived and fought the CSS Virginia to a standstill the following day, in the "Battle of the Ironclads."

CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia
Source: US Navy National History and Heritage Command, Online Library of Selected Images (Photo#:NH 57830)

The CSS Virginia retreated up the Elizabeth River and never fought again. It was unable to escape up to Richmond, because the shipping channel in the James River was too shallow for the heavy iron-coated ship. When the Union finally seized Norfolk, the Confederates abandoned Portsmouth. In their retreat, they burned the Gosport Navy Yard for a third time. The Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia was blown up in the Elizabeth River next to Craney Island early in the morning of May 11, 1862.10

After the Confederates evacuated the shipyard in 1862 and the Union re-occupied it, the Gosport was finally dropped. The Gosport Navy Yard was renamed U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk. That name was revised in 1929 to Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, then to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1945. Though located in Portsmouth, the yard was named after the larger city of Norfolk, and choosing that name minimized potential confusion with Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.11

the USS Texas was built at the same time the USS Maine was built
the USS Texas was built at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, at the same time the USS Maine was built
Source: US Navy Naval Historical Center, USS Texas (1895-1911), later renamed San Marcos

The Navy's first battleship, the USS Texas, was built from scratch at the shipyard and launched in 1892. The USS Maine was built at nearly the same time, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1898, after the USS Maine blew up in the harbor at Havana in an event that triggered the Spanish-American War, the USS Texas helped destroy the Spanish fleet in Cuba.

The USS Texas was left behind when the Great White Fleet of battleships sailed from Hampton Roads in 1907. That fleet demonstrated the United States possessed a blue-water navy capable of projecting military power around the world. It also showed that bigger "dreadnought" battleships would be the design of the future, and the USS Texas was outdated.

In 1911, the USS Texas was renamed the USS San Marcos, then used for gunnery exercises and sunk in the Chesapeake Bay over six miles from Tangier Island. It reportedly damaged seven ships as a sunken wreck, doing more damage from underwater than it ever did when a floating warship. In 1959, US Navy divers blasted out a trench underwater and the wreck rolled over, ending up 20 feet below the surface.12

the USS Texas, renamed the USS San Marcos, was sunk off Tangier Island and used for naval gunnery target practice until 1959
the USS Texas (renamed the USS San Marcos) was sunk off Tangier Island and used for target practice until 1959
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

the former USS Texas, built at Norfolk Naval Yard, is now a navigation hazard near Tangier Island marked on nautical charts
the former USS Texas, built at Norfolk Naval Yard, is now a navigation hazard near Tangier Island marked on nautical charts
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Chesapeake Bay Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds (2011)

The first aircraft carrier, USS Langley, was created at the U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk in 1922. A pre-existing ship, the coal-carrying USS Jupiter, was converted to launch airplanes. The innovative approach matched the way the shipyard had converted the frame of the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia 60 years earlier. The USS Langley was sunk during World War II and now lies at the bottom of the South Pacific near Indonesia.13

the USS Langley, first aircraft carrier built by the United States, was constructed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard after World War I
the USS Langley, first aircraft carrier built by the United States, was constructed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard after World War I
Source: US Navy Naval Historical Center, USS Langley (CV-1)

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited the number of battleships which nations could operate. The shipyard stopped construction of the USS North Carolina and the battleship was scrapped. The shipyard built destroyers instead; the treaty had set no limit on that class of ships. The separate, private Newport News Shipyard became the site for constructing aircraft carriers; the Norfolk Naval Shipyard has never built a nuclear-fueled ship.

huge cranes were used to transport heavy parts when constructing ships in 1941
huge cranes were used to transport heavy parts when constructing ships in 1941
huge cranes were used to transport heavy parts when constructing ships in 1941
Source: Library of Congress, Shipbuilding (Norfolk Navy Yard) and It's lunch time, and thousands of workers are taking their thirty minutes of recreation

After World War II, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard focused on repair and modernization, including repair of conventional aircraft carriers. Norfolk Naval Shipyard was authorized to overhaul nuclear ships in 1963. In 2013, Virginia had more shipbuilding jobs than any other state.14

looking north in 1995 along the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River (Norfolk Naval Shipyard on left, downtown Norfolk in distance)
looking north in 1995 along the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River (Norfolk Naval Shipyard on left, downtown Norfolk in distance)
Source: National Archives, An aerial view of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard located on the Elizabeth River. At the bottom right is the South Gate Annex where ships of the mothball fleet are stored. At left center is the main shipyard. Further back on the righthand side of the river is the Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Company (NORSHIPCO). The city of Norfolk is in the background, 03/25/1995

The US Navy has owned 13 different shipyards in its history; the Defense Department maintains four public shipyards now. In addition to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, there is Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington, and the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Hawaii.

there are two US Navy shipyards located on the Atlantic Ocean, and two on the Pacific Ocean
there are two US Navy shipyards located on the Atlantic Ocean, and two on the Pacific Ocean
Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations (Figure 1)

In addition, some repairs are done at the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center at Little Creek. The second-oldest vessel in the US Navy, after the USS Constitution, is the drydock USS Dynamic. It went into service in 1944, and was refurbished to start another 75 years of operations in 2019. The drydock is used to repair US Navy, Army, and Coast Guard boats that operate in shallow waters close to shore such as landing craft, utility boats, and patrol vessels.

auxiliary drydocks, such as the USS Dynamic at Little Creek, are located outside of the US Navy shipyards
auxiliary drydocks, such as the USS Dynamic at Little Creek, are located outside of the US Navy shipyards
Source: PICRYL.com - U.S. National Archives, U.S. Navy Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock DYNAMIC (AFDL 6)

The Department of Defense maintenance centers and larger shipyards do not deal with commercial ships. Commercial shipyards are used to maintain and repair 95% of the US Navy surface vessels. Out of the 276 ships operated by the US Navy in 2017, the four US Navy shipyards concentrated on maintaining 10 aircraft carriers and 70 submarines:15

The four naval shipyards are focused almost exclusively on conducting repair and refueling work on the Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. Private shipyards contract with the Navy to conduct the bulk of the repair work on the Navy's surface combatants and amphibious warfare ships.

four of the five drydocks at the Norfolk Navy Shipyard can service submarines and aircraft carriers
four of the five drydocks at the Norfolk Navy Shipyard can service submarines and aircraft carriers
Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations (Figure 1)

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is the only shipyard with the capability to remove and dispose of nuclear reactors. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine deals only with repair of nuclear submarines, while the others handle a wide range of ships. The "Portsmouth Naval Shipyard" is not in either Portsmouth, Virginia or Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is located across the state line in Maine.

the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is in Kittery, Maine - not in Portsmouth, Virginia or Portsmouth, New Hampshire
the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is in Kittery, Maine - not in Portsmouth, Virginia or Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the only public shipyard on the East Coast able to repair aircraft carriers in drydock. It is:16

a full-service shipyard that provides repair and modernization to the entire range of Navy ships, including aircraft carriers, submarines, surface combatants, and amphibious ships...

...one of the largest shipyards in the world specializing in repairing, overhauling and modernizing ships and submarines. It's the oldest and largest industrial facility that belongs to the U.S. Navy, and it's also the most multifaceted...

the drydock at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is large enough for aircraft carriers to be repaired and serviced
the drydock at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is large enough for aircraft carriers to be repaired and serviced
Source: National Archives, An aerial view of the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV 66) in dry dock at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 06/01/1982

the Norfolk Naval Shipyard repaired battleships throughout the 20th Century before they were all retired
the Norfolk Naval Shipyard repaired battleships throughout the 20th Century before they were all retired
Source: National Archives, An aerial view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) in dry dock No. 4 at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 05/11/1985

The industrial activities at the shipyard produced hazardous wastes, including abrasive blast grit with paint residues, heavy metals, solvents, oils, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Before the facility began to use an industrial waste treatment plant in 1979, wastes were discharged to Paradise Creek and the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.

The site was added to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act "Superfund" list in 1999. The adjacent Atlantic Wood Industries Inc., which is a separate Superfund site, also deposited creosote into wetlands and the adjacent streams. Atlantic Wood Industries was designated as a Superfund site in 1990.

At the shipyard, contaminated earth was excavated and transported to secure waste disposal locations. The primary solution for the Superfund cleanup at Atlantic Wood Industries, just south (upstream) of the shipyard, was to build a new wall along the river and isolate the contaminants. Encapsulating the material on site was less expensive, but controversial. An official at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said:17

I don't consider this a cleanup... If you've got contaminated stuff as bad as this, you remove it. You get it out of the river. You don't just shift it around and leave it in the river... what they're really saying is, "I'm really not cleaning it up because it's too costly."

Norfolk Navy Shipyard (in Portsmouth, Virginia) is the Navy's oldest shipyard
Norfolk Navy Shipyard (in Portsmouth, Virginia) is the Navy's oldest shipyard
Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations (Figure 15)

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the nation's oldest military shipyard. It was built to construct and service wooden vessels powered by wind, and has been destroyed and rebuilt three times. Over the last two-and-a-half centuries, the US Congress has appropriated funds to modernize it, but the Government Accountability Office noted in 2017 that the facility was not capable of performing the planned workload.

The report noted that one drydock at Norfolk required pumping extra water into the drydock (superflooding) in order to accommodate today's larger ships. Raising the water in the drydock higher than normal tide level could flood electrical and service galleries with corrosive saltwater. To get submarines into Drydock 1 required buoyancy assistance equipment, and that work-around would not be possible for servicing future submarine classes.

Four of the five drydocks are exposed to flooding from extreme high tides and hurricanes, and three are in the 10-year flood plain. Tidal-related storm damage is frequent, and there is an average of one major flood event annually now.

Old equipment failed tests to ensure reliable repairs:18

...after it was discovered in 2015 that the analog controls on a furnace used to heat-treat submarine parts to withstand deep sea pressure were reading inaccurately, Norfolk officials were required to re-inspect 10 years' worth of parts made in that furnace to ensure that they met stringent submarine safety requirements.

In 2018, the US Navy initiated the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP). That 20-year plan anticipated a $21 billion investment to modernize infrastructure at the four naval shipyards, including digitizing the facilities to create models for redesigning the flow of repairs through each yard. The backlog in repairs kept warships from being deployed. Rep. Rob Wittman, co-chair of the Shipbuilding Caucus even though his 1st District did not include the Norfolk Naval Shipyard or Newport News Shipbuilding, said in 2020:19

If you walk into these shipyards and you look at the machine shops, if you look at the buildings, if you look at the things that are in there, you feel like you've walked into World War II shipyards because they're old. The floors are cracking. They’re old steel buildings. They’re not climate controlled. The machining systems in there are old. These are not modern workplaces.

In 2018, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard completed a new pier that allowed simultaneous repair and maintenance of two aircraft carriers. A $200 million renovation of Dry Dock 4 began in 2020. That component had first opened in 1919, as the shipyard was expanded for World War I. The renovation of the dry dock and other buildings was needed to improve the ability to overhaul nuclear-powered submarines, and was part of a $21 billion, 20-year plan by the US Navy to upgrade all four shipyards.

The shipyard also received approval in 2020 from the State Air Pollution Control Board to install two 7MW turbines, fueled by natural gas, to generate electricity and steam. The shipyard had been purchasing steam from the Wheelabrator incinerator, which burned municipal solid waste.20

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard does not repair the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, the USS Constitution. That ship was built at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1797, two years before the USS Chesapeake was completed at Gosport. In the War of 1812, the USS Constitution gained the name "Old Ironsides" as British cannonballs bounced off its two-foot thick hull of white oak planks.

The ship was retained after 1855 as a training vessel, barracks, and finally a historical museum. It served as a training ship at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard between 1882-1897, when it returned permanently to the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. Most of the original oak planks were replaced by routine repairs and then major overhauls, especially in 1927-31 and 1992-96. The US Navy grows a reliable supply of oak trees at Naval Support Activity Crane in Indiana, to ensure there will always be the raw material for future repairs.

The USS Constitution has visited Hampton Roads, but its repairs are done at the dry dock of the Charlestown Navy Yard.21

the USS Constitution has visited the Norfolk Navy Shipyard, but is repaired at the dry dock of the Charlestown Navy Yard
the USS Constitution has visited the Norfolk Navy Shipyard, but is repaired at the dry dock of the Charlestown Navy Yard
Source: Library of Congress, U.S. Naval review at Hampton-Roads VA (1880)

The Chesapeake Bay: Avenue for Attack

Craney Island

Portsmouth

Norfolk

Port Cities

Why Was the Naval Shipyard at Portsmouth Burned Three Times, Rather Than Defended?

a pre-World War II postcard shows use of the drydock at Norfolk Navy Shipyard
a pre-World War II postcard shows use of the drydock at Norfolk Navy Shipyard
Source: Boston Public Library, Battleship in dry dock, Norfolk Navy Yard, Norfolk, VA

Links

the US Navy maintains four public shipyards (Newport News is a private shipyard)
the US Navy maintains four public shipyards (Newport News is a private shipyard)
Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), Actions Needed to Improve the Navy's Processes for Managing Public Shipyards' Restoration and Modernization Needs

the Norfolk Naval Shipyard repairs/services active warships and also strips down decommissioned vessels
the Norfolk Naval Shipyard repairs/services active warships and also strips down decommissioned vessels
Source: National Archives, An aerial view of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard located on the Elizabeth River. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS GEORGE WASHGINGTON (CVN-73) is in the yard for a post-deployment overhaul. To the right of the GW is the decommissioned submarine tender HUNLEY (AS-31) and further to the right is the stripped down hull of the decommissioned guided missile cruiser VIRGINIA (CGN-38), 03/25/1995

References

1. "Roots," Norfolk Naval Shipyard, US Navy, http://www.navsea.navy.mil/shipyards/norfolk/History/Roots.aspx; "The Place Names of Gosport by Philip Eley," Gosport Discovery Center, http://www3.hants.gov.uk/gosport-dc/gosport-dc-local-studies/local-history-online/place-names-of-gosport.htm (last checked March 24, 2014)
2. Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Elizabeth River, The History Press, 2007, p.104, http://books.google.com/books?id=SlyhjXcK17wC (last checked March 24, 2014)
3. "Roots," Norfolk Naval Shipyard
4. David Lee Russell, The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies, McFarland, 2000, p.127, http://books.google.com/books?id=5DFy0eWaPxIC (last checked March 24, 2014)
5. Rogers Dey Whichard, The History Of Lower Tidewater Virginia, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. (New York), 1959, p.3, http://archive.org/stream/historyoflowerti02whic/; "Roots," Norfolk Naval Shipyard (last checked March 24, 2014)
6. "The Chesapeake Affair of 1807," The Mariner's Museum, https://www.marinersmuseum.org/sites/micro/usnavy/08/08b.htm (last checked January 2, 2015)
7. "Drydock Number One," nomination form to National Register of Historic Places, 1970, http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/70000862.pdf; Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Elizabeth River, p.163-165; "Drydock No. 1 slipped into place in history," The Virginian-Pilot, June 15, 2008, http://hamptonroads.com/2008/06/drydock-no-1-slipped-place-history; "Dry Dock 1 Historic Structure Report," Charlestown Navy Yard - Boston National Historical Park, National Park Service, June 21, 2007, p.12, http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/bost/dd1_hsr.pdf (last checked January 2, 2015)
8. Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Elizabeth River, p.166
9. Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Elizabeth River, p.169-170
10. "Roots," Norfolk Naval Shipyard
11. "NNSY History," Norfolk Naval Shipyard, US Navy, http://www.navsea.navy.mil/shipyards/norfolk/History/Name.aspx (last checked March 24, 2014)
12. "The wreck of the San Marcos poses navigational hazards to shipping years after her demise," from "TEXAS (2nd Class Battleship) Destruction" at NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive, http://navsource.org/archives/01/pdf/texas33.pdf; "Their Final Service - US Navy Predreadnought Target Ships," from "Historic Ships" blog, March 8, 2013, http://historicships.blogspot.com/2013/03/their-final-service-us-navy.html; "For years, military has tested the waters on the bay," Baltimore Sun, March 12, 2005, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2005-03-12-0503120090-story.html (last checked March 24, 2014)
13. "Roots," Norfolk Naval Shipyard; "Three Naval Vessels, 700 Seamen Are Lost," Memphis (Tennessee) Commercial Appeal, April 4, 1942, posted online at NavSource Naval History, http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/02/0203n.htm (last checked March 24, 2014)
14. "Norfolk Naval Shipyard - Superfund Program Site Fact Sheet," Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, 2006, http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/Land/RemediationPrograms/Superfund/nsy.pdf; "Virginia leads country in number of U.S. shipbuilding jobs," Virginia Business, March 27, 2014, http://www.virginiabusiness.com/news/article/325833; "Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY)," GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/norfolk_sy.htm (last checked January 2, 2015)
15. "Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations," Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-548, September 2017, pp.1-3, https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687105.pdf; "The second oldest vessel in the Navy is back on the job at Little Creek," The Virginian-Pilot, December 23, 2020, https://www.pilotonline.com/military/dp-nw-dry-dock-little-creek-20201223-dadaw76tlba6tm5d3xd3b3ycpu-story.html; "U.S. Navy's Oldest Floating Dry Dock, Dynamic (AFDL 6), Passes Material Inspection," DefPost, November 30, 2019, https://defpost.com/u-s-navys-oldest-floating-dry-dock-dynamic-afdl-6-passes-material-inspection/ (last checked December 26, 2020)
16. "About," Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrma/installations/norfolk_ns/about.html; "Actions Needed to Improve the Navy's Processes for Managing Public Shipyards' Restoration and Modernization Needs," GAO-11-7, Government Accountability Office, November 2010, p.4, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-7 (last checked December 26, 2020)
17. "EPA's plan would wall off toxins along Elizabeth River," The Virginian-Pilot, November 2, 2008, http://hamptonroads.com/2008/10/epas-plan-would-wall-toxins-along-elizabeth-river; "Norfolk Naval Shipyard," Mid-Atlantic Superfund, Environmental Protection Agency, http://epa.gov/reg3hscd/npl/VA1170024813.htm (last checked March 24, 2014)
18. "Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations," Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-548, September 2017, p.16, p.18, p.49, https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687105.pdf (last checked September 18, 2017)
19. "Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program," Naval Sea Systems Command, US Navy, https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/Shipyards/SIOP/; "Navy Claims Victories in Modernizing Public Yards While Congress Questions Pace," USNI News, October 19, 2020, https://news.usni.org/2020/10/19/navy-claims-victories-in-modernizing-public-yards-while-congress-questions-pace (last checked December 31, 2020)
20. "Norfolk Naval Shipyard's history-rich dry dock to get $200 million renovation," Daily Press, January 23, 2020, https://www.dailypress.com/business/shipyards/dp-nw-norfolk-shipyard-upgrades-20200123-3irhejxssvhztfmappusqqz2w4-story.html; "Norfolk Naval Shipyard can go ahead with power and steam plant, state air quality regulators say," Daily Press, December 4, 2020, https://www.dailypress.com/business/shipyards/dp-nw-naval-shipyard-plan-20201204-6pb3dpzdxvgo5b5yr3z4ygptem-story.html; "Navy spending accounts for 15% of Hampton Roads economy, feds say," The Virginian-Pilot, December 21, 2020, https://www.pilotonline.com/military/dp-nw-navy-impact-20201221-xveqadzh2valxn4z6zeqypm3my-story.html (last checked December 22, 2020)
21. "Why the US Navy Manages Its Own Private Forest," Military.com, https://www.military.com/history/why-us-navy-manages-its-own-private-forest.html; "USS Constitution," Boston National Historical Park, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/bost/learn/historyculture/ussconst.htm; "USS Constitution Timeline," USS Constitution Museum, https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/discover-learn/history/timeline/ (last checked December 22, 2020)

the USS Chesapeake was completed at the Gosport Navy Yard in 1800, patrolled the Mediterranean to counter Barbary pirates, was forced to surrender to HMS Leopold in 1807, and was defeated and captured by the HMS Shannon in 1813
the USS Chesapeake was completed at the Gosport Navy Yard in 1800, patrolled the Mediterranean to counter Barbary pirates, was forced to surrender to HMS Leopold in 1807, and was defeated and captured by the HMS Shannon in 1813
Source: Naval Historical Center, Online Library of Selected Images

since the Civil War, additional drydocks have been constructed at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
since the Civil War, additional drydocks have been constructed at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
Source: Library of Congress, Photocopy of Plan - Norfolk Navy Yard (1866)

German destroyers seized after World War I were brought to what was called, at that time, the U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk
German destroyers seized after World War I were brought to what was called, at that time, the "U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk"
Source: Smithsonian Institution, Events, 1921, USA, Virginia (VA), US Army Air Service Ship Bombing Trials


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