Tough, Tall, Tenacious!
USS Tortuga (LSD-46) is the sixth of the Whidbey Island (LSD 41) class ships to be commissioned and the second U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. The first Tortuga (LSD 26) was commissioned in 1945, in action during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and decommissioned in 1970.
The current USS Tortuga(LSD 46) is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship that was laid down on March 23, 1987 by Avondale Shipyards, New Orleans, Louisiana. The threat of Hurricane Gilbert in the Gulf of Mexico forced an early launching of the ship, as a precautionary measure, on Sept. 15, 1988. On Nov. 19, 1988, Mrs. Rosemary Parker Schoultz, the ship’s sponsor, presided over the christening ceremony, breaking the traditional bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship. The ship was commissioned on Nov. 17, 1990.
On Oct. 14, 2005, the U.S. Navy officially announced that the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), originally homeported in Little Creek, Virginia, would be forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan to replace the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43). The ship arrived in Sasebo on March 31, 2006 for turnover and assignment as part of the U.S. Navy’s Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF).
USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) completed an exchange-of-command process April 12 in Sasebo, Japan, which officially welcomed Tortuga to FDNF. The hull swap between the Fort McHenry and the Tortuga was the quickest in the history of the U.S. Navy, having been conducted in 12 days.
While in the 7th Fleet operating area, USS Tortuga participated in various multi-national exercises with countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, to include the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises.
On 3 July 2013, the ship returned to Sasebo, Japan after a two month underway period. The crew then welcomed the USS Ashland (LSD 48), originally homeported in Little Creek, Virginia, for a hull swap process. On Aug. 23, 2014, upon the exchange=of-command ceremony, USS Ashland replaced USS Tortuga as the forward deployed ship within the 7th Fleet operating area. USS Tortuga departed Sasebo, Japan for its last time on Sept. 9, 2013. After traveling over 10,000 nautical miles and transiting through the Panama Canal, the ship returned to its original homeport in in Little Creek, Virginia.
Today, The ship is at BAE Shipyards conducting an extended dry-docking selected restricted availability.
USS Tortuga (LSD 46) is the second U.S. Navy ship to be named for the Dry Tortugas, a group of desert coral islets 60 miles (97 km) west of Key West, Florida. The Dry Tortugas were discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513 which he named after the large population of sea turtles living in the surrounding waters; “tortugas” means turtles in Spanish. “Dry” was later added to the name because the land mass lacked fresh water.
The Dry Tortugas provided inspiration, adventure, and tranquility to many historical figures such as Ernest Hemmingway and John Audubon despite the large, treacherous reefs that surrounded the area which made it incredibly difficult to navigate. Shipwrecks were commonplace in the 1600s, which unfortunately gave way for the Dry Tortugas to possess one of the richest shipwreck concentrations in North America. Due to the myriad dangers to navigation, a lighthouse was built on Garden Key in 1825 to warn mariners of foreseeable shoal waters. However, it is also because of these daring reefs that the U.S. was able to construct Fort Jefferson in 1846, one of the most strategic harbors in U.S. history. The most infamous prisoner to fill vacancy here was Dr. Samuel Mudd.
Dark blue and gold are traditional Navy colors and symbolize the sea and excellence. In honor of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Dry Tortugas in 1513, the colors red and yellow are adopted from the national flag of Spain. Red is also the color of valor and is symbolic of the proud history of amphibious warfare. The angular configuration simulating Fort Jefferson appears as a spearhead and represents the ship’s primary mission of amphibious assault. The gold wings below the spearhead reflect the ship’s capability of amphibious airlift. The crossed officer’s sword and enlisted cutlass honor the spirit of leadership and teamwork between the ship’s wardroom and crew. The supporters are rifled Parrott guns of the mid-19th century and are of the same design as those first installed at Fort Jefferson. They symbolize toughness and tenacity in battle.
The morion embellished with a lion’s head commemorates Ponce de Leon. The wreath of palm refers to the tropical climate of Florida and the Dry Tortugas. The stars and spearheads surrounding the morion represent the five battle stars the first USS Tortuga (LSD 26) earned for Korean service and the eight battle stars LSD-26 earned for service in Vietnam.