Haze Gray Photo Feature

Launching Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81)

Honoring one of the century's greatest leaders

On 17 April 1999 Bath Iron Works launched Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), the 18th Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class AEGIS guided missile destroyer to be built by BIW, and the 31st ship of the class. Churchill is the third of the Flight IIA variant of the class, featuring numerous improvements including dual helicopter hangars. She is the first of the class to carry the new 5"/62 caliber gun (replacing the previous 5"/54cal weapon), offering significantly improved capability for fire support. DDG 81 will be delivered to the Navy late in 2000, and will be commissioned a few months later.

Winston S. Churchill is one of a relatively small number of US warships named for foreign leaders. Given the great prominence of her namesake, it was no surprise that DDG 81's launch was attended by many important political and military figures, both from the US and the UK. The ship was Sponsored (christened) by Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of US Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Mr. Cohen, who was the event's principal speaker, was accompanied by Richard Danzig, Secretary of the Navy, and by Admiral Jay Johnson, Chief of Naval Operations. Notable dignitaries from the UK included George Robertson, Minister of Defense, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, and The Lady Soames, DBE, only surviving child of Sir Winston Churchill. Lady Soames joined Mrs. Cohen in the christening ceremony as the Honorary Sponsor for the United Kingdom. The event was also attended by numerous state and local politicians, and by a audience of over 8,000 BIW employees and members of the general public. Although not the largest-ever attendance at a BIW launch, the crowd was the largest in recent memory.

Churchill was launched by the ancient traditional method - by sliding down an inclined shipway. However, she will be one of the last ships launched this way at BIW. The yard is currently building a new, land-level construction and launch facility, which will replace the old shipways late in 2000, when DDG 90 is laid down.

Video and audio clips of the launching are available from the NAVSEA website.

This feature is not sponsored by, endorsed by, or otherwise affiliated with General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works.

 [THUMBNAIL] Winston S. Churchill in the 1940's. This is probably the best-known photo of Churchill - and is notable in that his famous cigar is absent. Photo © Youseuf Karsh

 [THUMBNAIL] Front cover of the official launch day program, showing scenes from Churchill's life. BIW artwork by James E. Stilphen.
[Jumbo Image]

 [THUMBNAIL] The Band of H.M. Royal Marines performs prior to the launch ceremony. The band performed several times while in the U.S., including a memorable concert at a local school a few days before the launch.

 [THUMBNAIL] Winston S. Churchill on the ways prior to the start of the launch ceremony. All is in readiness in this view, awaiting slack high tide and the release of the launch trigger.

 [THUMBNAIL] A close-up view of the ship's bow and the launch platform. The large blue structure under the bow is the bow poppet, which will support the forward part of the ship as she slides down the ways. The poppet occupies the large "notch" in the bow where the sonar dome will later be installed.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill's superstructure and funnels, seen through the semi-permanent scaffolding that surrounds the ways. The large blue panels on the ship's superstructure are temporary plywood covers over the openings for the SPY-1D radar arrays.

 [THUMBNAIL] The official party on the christening platform, moments prior to the launch. Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen is at right; she shares the platform with Lady Soames and several others. The huge crowd of spectators is on its feet, straining to see the christening.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill at the moment of christening. As the bottles are broken on the ship's bow, the triggers that have held the ship in place will be released, and she will start to slide towards the river.

 [THUMBNAIL] As streamers fly, Churchill begins her slide into the Kennebec River. The ship has moved only a few feet, but is steadily accelerating, and in a matter of seconds will be afloat. Although gravity does most of the work in the launching, a tug is pulling the ship backwards to ensure a quick, straight entry into the river.

 [THUMBNAIL] A few seconds later, Churchill vanishes behind the scaffolding as she slides towards the river. At this point the ship's stern is just entering the water, but she is not yet floating.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill enters the Kennebec. Her stern is now well into the water, and is just beginning to float; in a few seconds her bow will "drop" as she reaches the end of the ways, and she will be fully afloat. Tugs will then move in to take control of the ship and slide her ship to her berth. The orange coating on the ways is the grease used to lubricate the ship's slide. US Navy Photo.
[Jumbo Image]

 [THUMBNAIL] The official party descends from the christening platform.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill afloat in the river a few minutes after the launch. The tugs are now alongside, the ship has been turned, and she is headed north (left) towards her berth. The massive white structure blocking the view of her bow is BIW's #11 crane, which is already moving into position to lift the launch apparatus from the river.

 [THUMBNAIL] Closeup of Churchill's superstructure as the tugs move her north to her berth. The revised Flight IIA bridge and radar configuration, with the aft radar faces raised by one level, is clearly visible.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill is moved in towards the dock by a trio of tugs. The helicopter hangars are clearly visible in this view, in the form of an additional deckhouse abaft the second funnel.

 [THUMBNAIL] Churchill approaches the dock. Beyond her, tugs control the launch cradle as it is hauled out of the river.

 [THUMBNAIL] A closeup view of Churchill as she is moved towards the pier. The large blue structure on deck, forward of the superstructure, is a temporary cover over the opening where the forward Mk41 VLS will later be installed. Note the white canvas covers along the tug's hull, to avoid marring the new ship's paint.

 [THUMBNAIL] Tugs hold Churchill in place as lines are passed from the pier and the ship is secured. Oscar Austin (DDG 79) is visible just above and beyond Churchill; O'Kane (DDG 77) is in the left background.

Haze Gray & Underway
Naval History Info Center US Warship Histories - DANFS World Navies Today
Photo Galleries Shipbuilding Navsource Photos
HG&UW Home Contact Info About the Site Web Links FAQs Back

Back to the Photo Galleries Main Page

This section of the HG&UW site created and maintained by Andrew Toppan.
Copyright © 1999-2000, Andrew Toppan. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.