Shipboard Fires- How a relic of World War II is on the cutting edge of today’s Damage Control

Fire is the great killer of ships, even more so than flooding. You would think a modern ship, made of steel, wouldn’t burn so well. But a ship is far more than a collection of steel plate.  Fuel, furnishings, paint, insulation, electrical cables, lubricants, ammunition, bedding and linens, rope and cordage, virtually everything on a ship is flammable to some degree.

Recent experience with the USS Stark, HMS Sheffield, and the M/V Atlantic Conveyor all show the challenges of fighting fires aboard ship. For that matter, USS George Washington was seriously damaged by a fire a few years ago.

Not surprisingly, the Navy devotes considerable training to all its shipboard personnel in firefighting, starting in Boot Camp and continuing with drills aboard ships of the fleet. Even your humble scribe has partaken of some of the training.

What I didn’t know was that the US Navy actually has a ship dedicated to firefighting research.

The ex-USS Shadwell started life during World War II as one of the first Landing Ship Docks built to transport landing craft to the assault areas. Essentially a self propelled floating drydock, the US built 17 LSDs during World War II, with four going to the British.

The USS Shadwell suffered a torpedo hit in early 1945 that nearly sank her, but incredibly only caused minor injuries to three crewmen.  Through incredible damage control efforts, the crew saved her, and eventually brought her home to the US for repairs. Reaching the western Pacific just in time for the end of hostilities, she would soon after be decommissioned and laid up in ordinary.

Recommissioned during the Korean War, she would go on to a fairly routine career with the Atlantic Fleet, decommissioning again in 1971, being stricken from the Naval Register, and awaiting disposal. But rather than being sold for scrap or sunk as a target like so many other wartime ships, in 1988, the ex-USS Shadwell was moved to Little Sand Island, on Mobile Bay, where she became a test bed for firefighting techniques and technologies, a role she performs to this day.

Via Chris’ link, there’s a neat little write up and video at All Hands magazine showcasing the old girl.

There’s also this:


To say the Navy has gotten its money’s worth out of her is something of an understatement.

4 thoughts on “Shipboard Fires- How a relic of World War II is on the cutting edge of today’s Damage Control”

  1. I never got to go to SHADWELL, but my first MPA transferred to our PCU from her. Lot of interesting stories …

    I really loved the firefighting training, though – loads of fun, so long as you got to do it in the winter.

    1. The firefighting training is supposed to take place in summer, and Buttercup training in winter. It’s not really effective unless the troops are miserable!

    2. Oh, BTDT … I did Buttercup in Newport in December, and I’ve done the fire trainer both in February and August. I remember one particular time when our GSEC knew the DCCS that was running the fire house in Norfolk, and told him “you pussies can’t make this place hot enough for us!”

      That was one of the few times I’ve ever known a chief to be proved wrong …

  2. I went through DC/FF school while aboard Sylvania. They required the entire crew go through the school at least once in two years. That included the Ossifers. It’s miserable no matter the weather.

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