United States Navy Reserve Fleets

The United States Navy maintains a number of its ships as part of a reserve fleet, often called the "Mothball Fleet". While the details of the activity have changed several times, the basics are constant: keep the ships afloat and sufficiently working as to be reactivated quickly in an emergency.


In some cases, for instance, at the outset of the Korean War, many ships were successfully reactivated, at a considerable savings in time and money; but the usual fate of ships in the reserve fleet is to become too old and obsolete to be of any use, at which point they are sent for scrapping or are scuttled in weapons tests. In rare cases the general public may intercede for ships from the reserve fleet that are about to be scrapped; usually asking for the Navy to donate them for use as museums or memorials.

Around 1912, the Atlantic Reserve Fleet and the Pacific Reserve Fleet were established as reserve units, still operating ships, but on a greatly reduced schedule. After World War II, with hundreds of ships no longer needed by a peacetime Navy, each fleet consisted of a number of groups corresponding to storage sites, each adjacent to a shipyard for easier reactivation.

Many of the deactivated WWII merchant vessels were of a class called the "Liberty ship" which was a mass-produced ocean-going transport which was used primarily in the convoys going to/from the United States, Europe and Russia. These Liberty Ships were also used as the Navy's support vessel for its fleet of warships and to ferry forces across the Pacific and Atlantic. It was literally a race between how fast the United States could build these ships and how fast the German U-Boats could sink them, and the Liberty Ship was significant in maintaining the beleaguered United Kingdom.

Most of these Liberty Ships when deactivated were put into "mothball fleets" strategically located around the coasts of the United States. They began to be deactivated and scrapped in the early 1970's.

The groups of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet were at Boston, Charleston, Green Cove Springs, New London, New York, Norfolk, Philadelphia, and Texas. The groups of the Pacific Reserve Fleet were at Alameda, Bremerton, Columbia River, Long Beach, Mare Island, San Diego, San Francisco, Stockton, and Tacoma.

Navy Inactive Fleet (NIF)

Since 2004 the administrative organization is called the Navy Inactive Fleet with headquarters at Portsmouth, Virginia.

Merchant ships held in reserve are managed as part of the separate National Defense Reserve Fleet within MARAD (US Maritime Administration). Several of its sites, such as at Suisun Bay in California, are also used to store regular Navy ships.

List of USN reserve fleets

James River

The James River Reserve Fleet consists of about 60 decommissioned U.S. Navy auxiliaries and warships anchored in Virginia's James River near Newport News.
The ships are gradually being towed away for scrapping. From 2001 to March 2005, 31 were disposed of. U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman was a primary agitator for getting rid of these ships.


Although not technically a reserve fleet, the decommissioned aircraft carriers USS Forrestal and USS Saratoga are berthed pierside at the Newport naval complex. The battleship USS Iowa was also berthed here following her decommissioning prior to being relocated under tow to Suisun Bay.

Suisun Bay

See the main article National Defense Reserve Fleet
A similar fleet, the National Defense Reserve Fleet, is anchored in Suisun Bay near Vallejo, California, and has similarly been reduced. This location is known for hosting the Glomar Explorer after its recovery of portions of a Soviet submarine during the Cold War before its subsequent reactivation as a minerals exploration ship. Also present is the battleship USS Iowa.

Neches River

A third fleet of WWII era ships is anchored in the Neches River near Beaumont, Texas.


The Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility holds several dozen inactive warships, including a Tarawa class amphiboius assault ship, early flight Ticonderoga class cruisers, Spruance class destroyers, Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, numerous supply ships, and a submarine. The aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) was also slated for transfer to Philadelphia, but has remained berthed adjacent to active vessels at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

The Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, located next to Bremerton, Washington hosts three aircraft carriers among its other ships: USS Ranger, USS Independence, USS Constellation, and the cruiser USS Long Beach. It is also the home to almost two dozen submarines and numerous supply ships.

See also

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