The truth behind the aircraft carriers photo

Here’s a picture that’s picking up steam around the Internet today. A picture of five aircraft carriers in port in Norfolk, Virginia. The chances are pretty good it’s going to show up in your Facebook feed soon.


The accompanying message is only partially correct:

What is wrong with this picture?

The picture is of the five nuclear carriers.

Just like Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

This picture was taken the other day in Norfolk. The Obama Administration ordered 5 nuclear carriers into harbor for “routine” (?) inspections. Heads of the Navy were flabbergasted by the directive.

NORFOLK, VA. (February 8, 2013). The first time since WWII that five (*) aircraft carriers were docked together.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are all in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., the world’s largest naval station.

Sources stated that this breached a long standing military protocol in the Navy meant to avoid massive enemy strike on major US forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released)

What’s the real story? Welcome to the sequester.

First, the picture was actually taken in mid-December, not this month. Second, none was ordered into port for “routine maintenance.”

The USS Enterprise was retired from the Navy in January. It’s being dismantled.

The USS Eisenhower deployed on Thursday and is on its way to the Middle East to relieve the USS Stennis, which will return to its home port on the West Coast. The Eisenhower was in port for two months to get its flight deck resurfaced.

The USS Harry Truman was to depart on a mission to the Central Command in early February, but Navy officials asked the secretary of defense to cancel that mission, which presumably was to the Persian Gulf where the U.S. has had two aircraft carriers. Now it will have one — the Eisenhower.

The USS Bush was not ordered into port for “routine inspections.” It had been undergoing tests of its ability to have aircraft, which it does not presently have. Its cruise was canceled because of the sequester.

The USS Lincoln also was not ordered into port for routine maintenance. It was in port for a two-year refueling mission, which the Navy has now canceled because of the sequester cuts.

The Truman’s situation is particularly interesting. WTVR TV in Richmond described what happens to people when a deployment is canceled.

Families depend on deployment money to pay bills. Many move home for family support. They are already gone.

Single sailors with children already sent their kids to caretakers.

Many sailors moved out of apartments or homes, have cars in storage and already set up mortgage and phones and bills. This will be a tough adjustment.

Since they are now cancelled, only delayed indefinitely, they could have to leave suddenly if the budget impasse is solved.

The Navy is asking for community help for these 5,000 sailors, giving leniency on bills.

Living arrangements, help with temporary storage, temporary transportation…many of them do not have local family or a support system.

But back to the photo: It originally was paired with a U.S. Navy story about sailors coming home for Christmas:

Home for Christmas: 9 Flattops at Norfolk naval base, December 20, 2012.

With the returns from deployment of the carrier DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER on Dec. 19, and the amphibious ships IWO JIMA and NEW YORK on Dec. 20, the piers at Norfolk’s naval base are about as full up as they’ll ever be.

Five aircraft carriers, four big-deck amphibious assault ships, a full cast of “small boy” surface warships, along with nuclear submarines and support ships, are crowding the base, giving a comfortably snug feeling to the waterfront. Similar scenes — although not with the gathering of flattops seen here — are taking place at other fleet concentration areas like San Diego and Pearl Harbor.

The Navy makes a point of trying to gives its shipboard crews a chance to spend Christmas with their families, and for a few days the percentage of ships underway drops to the lowest point it will be all year. But many of these ships will be gone in two weeks as the pace of operations picks up again.

In a decade or so, scenes such as this at Norfolk could become quite rare, as the fleet is in the midst of a gradual shift from the Atlantic to Pacific. Within a few years, about sixty percent of the U.S. Navy’s ships will be homeported at a Pacific base – virtually a mirror image of the Cold War emphasis on the Atlantic.

The Navy also says the story about this being the first time so many carriers were moored together since Pearl Harbor is untrue.

Not surprisingly, the story was changed, the picture was attached, and the Internet did its thing.

  • Tyler

    For those that are wondering, there are 2 more flat-topped military ships in the background. These aren’t aircraft carriers, technically – they’re amphibious assault ships.

    “Amphibious assault ships are the centerpieces of US amphibious warfare and fulfill the same power projection role as aircraft carriers except that their striking force comprises land forces instead of aircraft. They deliver, command, coordinate, and fully support all elements of a 2200-strong marine amphibious unit in an amphibious assault using both air and amphibious vehicles.”

  • Ryan V.

    I do remember seeing this around the beginning of the year as a “Wow, this is cool!” thing rather than something to be freaked out about. Sad that the internet lens of distortion took effect.

  • gma215

    STILL a violation of law, regardless.

  • Bob Collins

    Which law? I assume you’re referring to the law requiring the Navy to maintain 11 aircraft carriers. It now has 10 but Congress granted the Navy a waiver until the USS Ford comes online.

  • Mark Gisleson

    “The Internet did its thing”???

    There is a culture of fabrication on the right that is not an “internet” thing. It’s a traditional Southern Democrat (now doing business as the Republican Party) thing: feeding outrageous lies into the news cycle for political gain.

    The people who did this knew exactly what the truth was, and deliberately altered it so as to inflame the GOP’s hyper-paranoid base.

  • Cap Carl

    Down on the farm, “you don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. What a target, carriers and assault ships all in a row………………..

  • Bob Collins

    Yeah, especially if it was still 1941.

  • Scott Michaelson

    @mark gisleson

    “…a culture of fabrication on the right…”? Seriously?

    Who said this recently?

    “The sequester is not something I proposed.”

    Who made these comments?

    “People who live in glass houses…”

    Ben Franklin said something similar.

  • MadMike

    That sounds so much better, only three of the four active carriers are stuck due to lack of funding.

  • Bob Collins

    Well, yeah, there’s that. Oh, and the reasons being circulated for it being completely false.

    But, yeah, the sequester is behind most of this. It’s quite a game they’re playing down there. I wonder , though, what it is people expected with across-the-board cuts to the budget?

  • Eric Hall

    Thanks Bob – you are quicker than snopes on this!

  • bsimon

    ” I wonder , though, what it is people expected with across-the-board cuts to the budget?”

    I’ve been kindof hoping they’d just kill the f-35.

  • mark

    Scott, I have to disagree. My recollection of the fiscal cliff negotiations was that the sequester was widely reported to have been the White House’s (Bidens’?) last gasp effort at avoiding castastrophic default. I’m not sure where this reluctance to own it comes from, it does certainly seem disingenuous.

    Having said that, are you on any rightwing email lists? They are galling in their hatred of their audience (their purported supporters). These include copies of years-old pieces forwarded to look as if they had just been written. Copying the first few paragraphs of a story from a reputable source, then inputting radical commentary to make it look like it’s part of the original story. Or my favorite, posting a comment to a site like the NYTimes then copying it to an email and presenting it as if it were published in the paper/ magazine as an actual story.

    I’m not saying dem pols don’t have a ton of contempt for their constituents (they clearly do), I’m just saying that it pales in comparison to the that of the GOP.

  • GregX

    I know there is an effort to move some or most of the Norfolk nuclear vessels to the Kings Bay Base on the St. Mary’s river on the Georgia-Florida border. That would provide a separate port on the east coast. With the transition to a Pacific focused fleet operation … and the budget pressures… wonder if that plan is just that … a plan that will never be executed.

  • George Washington

    Budgets are no excuse for negligence in security, there’s more than one port, floating barges, etc.

  • J Durbie

    “Any port in a storm”

    Makes for another easy ‘shot’ against Obama. Like Fox, pretty dramatic if you’re fine with flexible truth.

  • Steve Koraly

    The military/Government wastes no money and the only way to comply with sequester is to line up Aircraft carriers in the same port making them vulnerable to potential terrorist’s? How gullible are some people?

  • Mike N

    There is ONLY one port on the east coast that can accommodate a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. This has always been the case. There are two on the west coast.

  • steve

    The mendacity of congress (on both sides) is breathtaking.

    Whenever there are budget cuts, politicians immediately claim that the cuts will first affect police, fire, and other critical services.

    That’s nonsense.

    To suggest that the US government cannot broadly suffer a 10% ‘haircut’ is farce. Every US business has suffered worse over the last 5 years.

    The most fundamental role of Congress is that of the budget. The simplest function of a budget is to ensure one only spends what one has. The former hasn’t been fulfilled for at least 6 years. The latter, for 40.

    Yet we the public blindly parrot each side’s rhetoric, cheerfully attacking each other as proxies for actual political dialogue. It’s like the back row pieces of both the black and white sides have decided to collude, and let the pawns fight to keep us distracted.

  • Kevin Vinson

    Yes. I have seen this odd mis-communication going around. Yes, I am sure the sequester will delay some deployments; after all, this has happened several times in my life. I joined the US Navy in 1981, and I can not count the number of times we have delayed deployments due to budget issues, or the 12 times I had my pay delayed for up to two months due to the defense budget being mishandeled by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike. I see several comments on some party or the other to blame; they are BOTH to blame for the sequester, and for the huge mess our Nation is in at this moment. In 1979. we had an overall National Debt of just about $900M, since that time, each party has added Trillions of dollars to our debt each president and congress gathering….until we are now $16.5T in debt. Neither side wants to do what we need to do in order to fix the problem. There have only been two instances where the GDP was exceeded in the history of the US since 1940, that was in 1944 during the war (Democratic control), and with the current from 2010 to 2013 with (Democratic control). In 1944 to 1945 the GDP was exceeded 113%, and this past year the GDP has been exceeded by 105%. To fix this problem, spending cuts MUST take place, and Taxes at ALL levels need to increase. The IRS needs to go away, the Federal tax on all personal incomes set at 16.25% Flat tax, no returns, no tax loopholes, no nothing, all taxes going into the Treasury to pay for the operation of the Federal Government and paying down the National Debt. Likewise, the same for all businesses great or small. NO tax write-offs, no tax breaks, charge all 3.1% for federal taxes. For the States, all States, charge a Flat tax of 6.1% NO loop holes, no returns, all taxes payed into the states retained to take care of the states needs, no need for ANY government jobs in the state for handeling other tax functions. Cities in States can NOT charge more than 1% additional tax at any time in any state for fun the city. States and businesses, Flat tax of 1% on ALL businesses in the state.Try that and see what happens to our debts. 🙂 Stop the stupid “Party ” warfare, and the major blame games, and FIX the problem. 🙂

  • Whatever the reason, this is foolish and dangerous protocol. You would have thought we would have learned our lesson since WWII.

    This administration is responsible and was in office when this was ordered. -If they ordered it, they are dangerous fools. If they did not order it, they are ignorant fools.

  • David G

    ” I wonder , though, what it is people expected with across-the-board cuts to the budget?”

    At least one side, I suspect figured the consequences of across-the-board cuts would cause both sides to blink, and negotiate a compromise. After all, it hits things dear to the bases of both sides.

  • TTownTraveler

    The sequestration involves a maximum of 5% budget cut for military and certainly did not begin in December. It was the IDEA of Obama when he turned down the 4 different budget remedies of the committee HE put together (bi partisan committee). Two of the plans brought to his majesty were HIS plans he suggested with extremely minor changes (Democratic suggested changes at that) and he threw them out w/o time for additional meetings…and Obama’s plan of sequestration going into effect if a budget was not in place (which is HIS responsibility by the Constitution, and he has yet to do) by March 1 is now on us. So what??? It means he can’t expand his over zealous spending and go to the Chinese for more and more traveling money as quickly…awwww poor thing!!! Stay home!! Keep Michelle home, keep Bo at home! We’re all sick to death of his do-nothing but travel, spend and accuse presidency! Ridiculous!!

  • Kachonka

    >>There is ONLY one port on the east coast that can accommodate a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. This has always been the case. There are two on the west coast.

    Posted by Mike N | February 26, 2013 1:32 AM

    You sure about that Mark. Ever meet someone that’s been to ports in Florida or South Carolina and taken pics of docked carriers?

  • But I thought everything on the internet was true? You can’t post anything on the internet that isn’t true!

    Don’t you wish people would research something like this before they get all paranoid? LOL

  • Bob Collins

    There is only one port in the Atlantic capable of homeporting at the moment and that’s Norfolk. There is a desire by some pols to have Mayport, FL be homeport capable.

    It was the homeport of the Kennedy until it was decommissioned, but according to the Navy it is not capable of porting a nuclear class aircraft carrier without dredging and construction of nuclear maintenance facilities.

    It is, however, going to move some of those amphib flattops to Florida.

  • Bob Collins

    // This administration is responsible and was in office when this was ordered. -If they ordered it, they are dangerous fools. If they did not order it, they are ignorant fools.

    The only thing that was “ordered” was the cancellation of the second carrier to the Persian Gulf and the two-year refueling of the Lincoln, and as I indicated, it was requested by the Navy, to the Dept of Defense and then to the Prez.

    The Pearl Harbor scenario is fairly laughable in 2012.

  • Dan Conner

    This article is BS. We were in San Diego about 5 years ago and there were 5 aircraft carriers docked there then. This is not the first, but is rare.

  • Bob Collins

    If you read my post, Dan, you’ll find that’s pretty much the point. Check out the next-to-last paragraph.

  • Mark Skar

    In 1980 I had a summer job at a shipyard that was building FFGs (Fast Frigates). Scuttlebutt then was that the Russians would know where in the world every one of them was, so the missile silo in the bow had 3-1/2 minutes to get all 44 missiles launched if war were ever declared, because that’s how long it would take before the ship would be blown out of the water.

    While I doubt the Russians (or the Chinese, for that matter) would declare war on us today, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they both know at all times where our ships are. Don’t think it matters that much if the carriers are separated or not. (and I would expect that the military on an American base on American soil could handle any kind of terrorist attack.)

    Technology has developed way beyond that new-fangled 1941 thing called radar, where the operators thought the blob on the screen was either a glitch or the expected incoming B17 formation, so turned off the machine and went home.

    Sounds more like just one more excuse for the anti-Obama crowd to trumpet false charges.

  • Chris

    Thanks for debunking an anonymous claim on the internet that I hadn’t seen and hadn’t heard about.

    This is an invaluable service to those people who both read MPR and think that everything on the internet must be completely and totally true.

    There were only about 50,000 other such claims put out today, so please don’t break for lunch, lest some random email slip through your net.

  • tboom

    It’s often said, the Generals fight the last war. As Mark S points out, it appears the public (prompted by the Echo Machine) fight five (or is it six) wars back (and 72 ½ years ago).

  • Luke

    Of course this is spun to try to make it appear as though the sequester is the fault of someone other than the President himself, when, in fact, the sequester was the administration’s idea in the first place. A more important question, the answer to which would be a solution as well, would be “why hasn’t this administration passed a budget in the past 4 years?” The reason there IS a sequester is that there is no budget.

  • Michelle

    All this being said. The why’s really don’t matter. We still have multiple aircraft carriers in one port. Open your eyes people. One bad decision after another.

  • MM2 Conner

    Just to clarify for EVERYONE:

    1) We’ll get this out of the way first: I’m stationed on board one of the LHD’s in that picture. I’m sitting at a desk onboard as I type this, as a matter of fact.

    2) This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fleet Row packed like this, and it won’t be the last. It’s not nearly as uncommon as people think. It DOES, however, suck for us, because traffic is horrible and there isn’t enough parking.

    3) Mayport won’t hold a carrier. There aren’t support facilities down there for a CVN, for one; they’d have to build an entire new pier. There was talk a few years ago to move one down there to replace Big Ted, which eventually resulted in an Amphib being scheduled to move down there.

    4) Our ships are not “sitting ducks.” They are ported in what is already the largest naval base in the world… Think for a moment. Norfolk is the hub of the majority of our Naval assets on the Eastern seaboard, as well as holding the support and logistics facilities to maintain them. Do you think for a MOMENT it would EVER be unprotected? NO. Trust me, we’re not “sitting ducks.” No civilian ship could get ANYWHERE near those carriers… And an air strike? For anyone that thinks that could possibly happen- I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.