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Hull Number: DDG-51

Launch Date: 09/16/1989

Commissioned Date: 07/04/1991

Call Sign: NBRK

Voice Call Sign: WAR HERO





Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

Arleigh Albert Burke—born on 19 October 1901 in Boulder, Colo.—entered the Naval Academy on 26 June 1919 and graduated on 7 June 1923. Joining the battleship Arizona (BB-39) soon thereafter, he began his naval career as a junior watch and division officer, and was given command of Arizona’s turrent 4. Over the next few years, he served as that battleship’s torpedo officer, assistant engineer, and ship’s secretary. During this time, he developed an interest in gunnery, and qualified as head of the ship’s plotting room, handling range direction for the battleship’s gunnery exercises. In the spring of 1927, Burke spent a month at the Ford Instrument Co. facility in New York City, studying that company’s new antiaircraft director.

His initial bid for post-graduate work having been denied, Burke instead received orders on 2 April 1928 to the auxiliary vessel Procyon (AG-11), the flagship of Rear Admiral W. W. Phelps, Commander, Fleet Base Force. After serving as assistant navigator and ship’s secretary, Burke became Admiral Phelps’ flag lieutenant and force personnel officer in June 1928. In October of the same year, the Bureau of Navigation approved Burke’s second request for post-graduate work, and on 17 June 1929, he reported to the Post-Graduate School at the Naval Academy to commence 15 months of rigorous course work first at Annapolis and, later, at Ann Arbor, Mich.

This intensive instruction in ordnance design, fire control, and ballistics culminated in his receiving an M. S. degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on 22 June 1931. He then spent a year in visits to the major private plants and military installations involved in developing, producing, and storing explosives.

In the spring of 1932, Burke received orders to the heavycruiser Chester (CA-27), and he remained in that ship for almost a year, serving as main battery officer. Ordered to the Base Force staff in April 1933 as assistant officer-in-charge of the Battle Force Camera Party, Burke worked in developing and using photographic equipment to “triangulate, tabulate, and analyze” the fall of shot in gunnery exercises—duty which required “meticulous accuracy and long days in preparation.” For two years, Burke served with the Battle Force Camera Party, until he received orders to the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) in Washington, D.C.

Burke labored next in BuOrd’s ammunition and explosives section, given the prime responsibility dealing with the purchase, storage, and distribution of ammunition charges acquired by the Navy. He also worked in the area of distributing ammunition for target practice, the design of a new storage area for high explosive ammunition, and research toward developing a more stable smokeless powder for use on board ships. The Chief of BuOrd, Rear Admiral Harold R. Stark, lauded the young officer’s “keen grasp of ordnance in relation to the service,” and foresaw his becoming “an officer of exceptional value to the service.”

In May 1937, Burke became the prospective executive officer of the recently launched destroyer Craven (DD-382). He served in that new destroyer until June 1939, exhibiting considerable administrative talent in the fields of discipline and material— invaluable experience in handling small warships. Promoted to lieutenant commander in August 1938, while in Craven, Burke received his first sea command the following summer. On 5 June 1939, he assumed command oiMugford (DD-389), the flagship for Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 8, Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 4, Battle Force. Under his leadership, Mugford won the Destroyer Gunnery Trophy for 1939-1940, finished third in engineering, and high in communications.

Relieved on 30 July 1940, Burke returned to Washington to serve as an inspector at the Naval Gun Factory. He worked devotedly in this important shore billet, but, following American entry into World War II in December 1941, incessantly sought to return to sea. Finally, late in 1942, orders sent him to the South Pacific. After commanding in turn DesDiv 43, DesDiv 44, and DesRon 12, Burke received command of DesRon 23.

Burke soon emerged as a combat leader, earning the Navy Cross for leading the “Little Beavers,” as DesRon 23 came to be called, in the first bombardment of the Buka-Bonis area and the first daylight bombardment of Japanese positions in the Short-lands. During the night of 1 and 2 November 1943, as American force under Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill—of which DesRon 23 formed a part—met a more powerful Japanese unit, and defeated it decisively in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.

The “Little Beavers” also earned the Presidential Unit Citation under Burke’s leadership, and their commodore earned the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for his “indomitable fighting spirit and great personal courage.” DesRon 23 daringly defied Japanese aircraft and closed strongly fortified shores to deliver sustained shellings of Japanese coastal defenses and cover amphibious assaults. Burke later earned the Legion of Merit for his leadership of DesRon 23 in battle off Kavieng, New Ireland, and Duke of York Island on 17 and 23 February 1944. The ships of his squadron destroyed two Japanese auxiliary vessels, one large cargo ship, a minelayer, and four barges in addition to inflicting severe damage on enemy shore installations. DesRon 23 effected a skillful withdrawal without damage.

Having earned the nickname “31-knot Burke” for his highspeed combat performance, he soon became chief of staff to Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, Commander, Fast Carrier Task Force, TF 58, in March 1944. He remained as Admiral Mitscher’s chief of staff into June 1945; during this time, he received promotion to commodore. Burke planned and executed a long series of offensive operations in the reduction of the perimeter of Japanese defenses in New Guinea, the Carolines, the Marianas, Halmahera and Philippine Islands; his “superb professional skill, tireless energy, and coolness of decision in that work earned him his second Legion of Merit. He then received his second DSM for his efficient control of the tactical disposition, the operation, the security and the explosive offensive power of TF 58 in its support of the landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and carrier air strikes on the Japanese homeland.

On 11 May 1945, two suicide planes crashed Admiral Mitscher’s flagship, Bunker Hill (CV-17). Burke unhesitatingly proceeded to a compartment in which men were trapped, and despite fire and heavy smoke, succeeded in evacuating the sailors there. He received a letter of commendation for his courage and prompt and efficient action “with utter disregard for his own personal safety . . .”in rescuing the men. Three days later, after Admiral Mitscher had transferred his flag to the famed carrier Enterprise (CV-6) on 14 May, a kamikaze crashed that ship; Burke again arranged for the transfer of command, and “in spite of all difficulties . . . maintained tactical control of the Task Force …” For his conspicuous gallantry on both occasions, on 11 and 14 May, Burke was awarded the Silver Star.

In July 1945, Burke returned to Washington and served as BuOrd’s Director of Research and Development, before he went to the Mediterranean in January 1946, as the chief of staff to Vice Admiral Mitscher, Commander, 8th Fleet. He served in that capacity until March 1946, when Mitscher (promoted to admiral) was given command of the Atlantic Fleet. Burke remained with that great carrier leader in the same capacity until Mitscher’s death in February 1947.

Following service on the General Board, Burke took command of the light cruiser Huntington (CL-107); but soon returned to shore duty to head the new Organizational Research and Policy Division (OP 23) under the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), established to advise CNO during efforts to implement the National Security Act of 1947. During this time, he coordinated the Navy’s defense in the B-36 controversy in 1949. He then served as Navy Secretary on the Defense Research and Development Board.

After the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Burke became deputy chief of staff to Commander, Naval Forces, Far East, that September, bringing to the task a “sound knowledge of naval administration and professional skill” that aided in the reorganization of the staff to meet ever-increasing responsibilities in the Korean War. He received a third Legion of Merit for his service in that capacity.

In May 1951, Burke was given command of Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 5 off the coast of Korea, but only served in the post until July, at which time he joined the United Nations delegation to the truce talks in Korea. From 9 July to 5 December 1951, Burke’s keen discernment and decisive judgement proved of inestimable value in “countering enemy intransigence, misrepresentation and evasion with reasoned negotiation, demonstrable truth, and conciliatory measures.” As advisor to the chief delegate on all phases of the armistice talks, Burke offered “timely recommendations for solutions to the varied intricate problems encountered” by the negotiators; his services in that capacity earned Burke an Oak Leaf cluster from the Army in lieu of a fourth Legion of Merit.

Early in December 1951, Burke returned to Washington to head CNO’s Strategic Plans Division. Command of CruDiv 6 in the Mediterranean and the position of Commander, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, followed in turn before President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Burke as CNO, promoting him over 92 more senior flag officers. Serving in that office from 17 August 1955 to 1 August 1961, he is the only officer to hold that post through three two-year terms. During Burke’s tenure as CNO, he acted as a major force in developing the Navy’s “Polaris” submarine missile program and keeping it under that service’s control, and utilized the Forrestal (CV-59)-class aircraft carriers in the nuclear deterrence role.

On 1 August 1961, Burke retired from the Navy. Since then, he has resided in Washington, D.C., devoting part of his time to advisory committees and boards of directors of such worthwhile activities as veterans organizations, patriotic groups and educational institutions, as well as to the Navy he had served so well.


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Published 1991)

Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) was laid down on 6 December 1988 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works, launched on 16 September 1989; sponsored by Mrs. Arleigh Burke; and was scheduled for delivery to the Navy early in 1991.

A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History


The Tin Can Sailor, October 1991

July 31, 1988 marked a milestone in American naval history. In a bustling Maine seacoast town, justly famous for the quality of the vessels she spawns, a legendary naval officer assisted in laying the keel of the nation’s newest destroyer. Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, USN (Ret) seemed at home in a tasteful dark suit and hard hat, comfortable in the controlled clutter of Bath Iron Works. He was officiating at yet another historic moment in a life filled with remarkable service. DDG-51 would be the first warship to be commissioned with the name of a living American. The U.S. Navy could not have chosen a more appropriate recipient for that distinct honor than the admiral.

Arleigh Burke was born in Boulder, CO on October 19, 1901, the oldest child of Oscar and Clara Burke. In the early years of the Twentieth Century, Boulder was very much a farming community and the traditional values of duty, honor, responsibility, and patriotism were ingrained in the Burke children early in life. Arleigh learned the importance of hard work and the value of a job well done.

Much has been written about Arleigh’s decision to enter naval service. One biographer attributes it to a “Viking” heritage, another to the influence of a teacher. Whatever the true reason, Midshipman Burke entered the United States Naval Academy in June 1919. The Academy years provided Arleigh with a strong general education for his future career; perhaps more importantly, it presented him with the chance to meet Roberta Gorsuch. The Burkes were married in June 1923, the month of Arleigh’s graduation.

The Navy Mr. Burke entered as an ensign was in many ways like the Navy of today. World War I had been over for more than four years, the international temperament sought arms reduction and Washington planned cutbacks. The nation’s enemies had been vanquished; the need for a large, expensive Navy was questioned. The environment, especially for a young man embarking on a naval career, seemed hostile. Ensign Burke was not, however, the ordinary man.

It has been suggested that naval officers are not born, they are made, then rebuilt on a daily basis. Ensign Burke’s first assignment was aboard the six year old USS ARIZONA (BB-39). Five years of service on the battleship acclimated the young officer to the great variety of challenges found on a large warship; subsequent service on USS PROCYON (AF-11), flagship of the Commander, Fleet Base Force, U.S. Battlefleet enhanced his reputation for courage and won him his first decoration for rescuing a group of fishermen. A return to the University of Michigan culminated in a master’s degree in engineering. Tours of duty in USS CHESTER (CA-27) and USS MUGFORD (DD-389) were included with assignment in the Bureau of Ordinance. By the beginning of World War II in Europe, Burke, by then a lieutenant commander, had commanded MUGFORD and served as ordinance inspector at the Washington Navy Yard.

Arleigh Burke’s exploits in World War II have become legendary. By 1943, the Japanese were reeling back from Guadalcanal and the Solomons had become a cauldron of torpedo wakes and muzzle blasts off Vila, Commander Burke’s flagship, USS WALLER (DD-466) of DESDIV 43, was credited with sinking the Japanese SHIRATSUYU-class destroyer MURASAME in a wild night action while in the van of a cruiser-destroyer force. A new command, DESDIV 44, in May had him shepherding convoys through the Solomons chain. By August, he was a captain commanding a full squadron, DESRON 12.

The “Little Beavers” of DESRON 23, Captain Burke’s next command, rank among the finest naval fighting units in history. Burke’s standards were high, but his orders were brief and to the point; their job was to sink Japanese ships, anything which did not lead to that end was secondary. The “Beavers” were VERY good at their job. During Burke’s sixteen weeks of command, DESRON 23 fought twenty-two engagements, was credited with sinking one cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, numerous small craft, and downing more than thirty enemy aircraft. From Empress Augusta Bay to the classic battle of Cape St. George, the “Little Beavers” burned their way into the Japanese subconscious. The captain became “31-knot Burke” in the Navy’s folklore.

By the time the “Little Beavers” joined Admiral Marc Mitscher’s TF-58 in 1944, Arleigh Burke had seen his last tour in a destroyer. Commodore Burke’s early association with the acerbic Mitscher was not always easy, but Arleigh’s dedication, professionalism, and courage marked him as a valuable asset to any commander. As the admiral’s chief of staff, Commodore Burke served with the fast carrier force from Hollandia through Okinawa. Arleigh’s Silver Star was awarded when the future admiral personally rescued several USS BUNKER HILL seamen from fire-swept compartments hit by a Kamikaze off Okinawa.

Within the next fifteen years, Arleigh Burke rose to the highest rank in his profession. From staff assignments with the Atlantic Fleet and the Chief of Naval Operations, Burke, a rear admiral by 1950, became commander of Cruiser Division Five. He also served as a United Nations representative at the Korean truce talks.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower elevated the admiral to Chief of Naval Operations in 1955, over eighty-seven active duty officers on the seniority list. For the next six years, Admiral Burke directed the birth of the new American navy. Nuclear-powered carriers, submarine-launched Polaris missiles, fleet air defense based on jet aircraft and missiles, and nuclear-powered cruisers and destroyers all became standard under “3-knot Burke.”

Admiral Arleigh Albert Burke retired in August, 1961 and currently lives with “Bobbie,” his wife of sixty-eight years, in Virginia. The admiral, an active member of Tin Can Sailors, serves as honorary chairman of the board of directors and officiated at the dedication of the Admiral Arleigh Burke Destroyermen’s Museum on USS JOSEPH P. KENNEDY, JR. (DD-850) at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts in 1986. The ship that was to bear the Burke name began as a Navy design study in 1980. The DDGX project was to produce a destroyer capable of effectively answering the bewildering number of threats in the hostile sea environment of the Twenty-first century. In short, the Navy wanted a fast, agile, “sea boat” with the punch of a World War II battleship, an air defense ‘capability close to that of the newest cruisers, state-of-the- art anti-submarine weaponry and sensors, equipped with Kevlar composite armor and able to survive in chemical, biological and even nuclear “environments.” Not included in the list of requirements was “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but it was implied.

Naval architects know that any ship represents a series of compromises. The power plant needed to make her fast will either consume prodigious quantities of fuel or, if nuclear, add many tons to the displacement for needed shielding. Great length with a narrow beam sacrifices maneuverability for speed. Extensive radar outfits add top weight. An impressive inventory of weapons is possible, provided the crew is willing to sleep in tents on deck! That any capable modern naval vessel is even launched is a tribute to the brilliance of the men and women who design and build them.

The contract to build the first of the “super destroyers” was awarded to Bath Iron Works on April 2, 1984. For the ninth time in BIW’s history, the firm was chosen to build the prototype of a surface combatant. Great things were expected, and BIW certainly disappointed no one.

From her impressive launching in 1989 to her emotional commissioning in Norfolk last Independence Day, DDG-51 has been seen as a special vessel by those who know her. Her clean lines, clipper bow and raked mast suggest the sailing frigates of an earlier Navy, but there, the similarity ends.

In a shorter but wider hull than the thirty-one SPRUANCE-class destroyers in service since 1983, the ARLEIGH BURKE packs four 25,000 shaft horse-power gas turbines, providing a sustained speed undoubtedly well above her “published” 31 knots. Her twin rudders and controllable, reversible pitch screws mean exceptional maneuverability, while her wider beam forms a highly stable platform. With all-steel construction and a Kevlar armored “box” around her vital command and control areas, DDG-51 is a very different “tin can.”

ARLEIGH BURKE’s “sensor suite” seems designed around the old adage, “you can’t shoot what you can’t see.” Her Aegis Weapon system can track and engage more than 120 targets simultaneously. Four “fixed array” panels arranged on the forward superstructure feed a complex computer system with data. On-board systems supply a compact, Kevlar-armored CIC with missile tracks, anchorage diagrams, formation plans, boat lanes for amphibious landings, and a lightning-fast analysis of all potential threats within more than 150, square miles around DDG-51. Submarines are no safer with BURKE in the area, either.

The thirty ton rubber sonar dome at BURKE’ s bow is one element of the finest anti-submarine sensor system afloat. Coupled with the destroyer’s phenomenal computer system and a SQR-19 “towed array” which can be streamed to depths of 1200 feet, DDG-51’s ability to “sniff out” underwater threats is light years beyond the search capacity of an entire squadron of GEARINGS. She can also access data from sensors on other escorts in her screen and LAMPS helicopters operated by the group. While BURKE herself has no helo hanger, later versions of the vessel, called “Third Flight” modifications, will operate two LAMPS III choppers each. The destroyer’s electronic gadgetry seems to sprout from every available surface on the vessel.

To the casual observer familiar with the firepower of yesteryear, DDG-51 seems under-armed. A single 5″ gun can be identified forward of the superstructure; little else is obvious. Unfriendly observers should be warned, however, that USS ARLEIGH BURKE packs a world-class punch. Stored in vertical cells forward and aft of the superstructure are NINETY Standard SM-2 and Tomahawk missiles, allowing the ship’s commander to select the appropriate weapon for the job. The Tomahawk cruise missile, made famous by Operation Desert Storm, can extend BURKE’s “reach” up to 1300 nautical miles. ASROC missiles, which may also be stored in the vertical launch system, may also be embarked at this writing. Eight Harpoon ship-killer missiles angle from the quarterdeck, forward of DDG-51’s two sets of Mark 32 torpedo tubes.

Phalanx “Gatling gun” close-in weapons systems sport their white “hats” below the bridge and aft of the Mark 99 radar “illuminators.” Chaff projectors stand ready to decoy sea-skimming missiles able to penetrate BURKE’s other defenses. Even the ship’s 5″ gun mount is a state-of-the-art, remotely-controlled, radar-directed super gun. The gun crew of six is below deck and the gun captain can “call up” any combination of four different projectiles, blasting them toward targets fourteen miles away at a rate of twenty rounds per minute. USS ARLEIGH BURKE is truly a pocket battleship.

The crew of DDG-51 are state-of-the-art as well; fortunately, the “art” is as old as the destroyer Navy. Everyone privileged to attend BURKE’s commissioning in Norfolk on July 4, 1991 was impressed by the emotion and professionalism of the officers and crew of the new destroyer. Among the ship’s company are a high percentage of technical ratings, many unfamiliar to “old” Navy men.

The swagger, the pride, and the courage of the “old time destroyer Navy” still can’t be hidden beneath the high tech training and finer-tailored uniforms. In another time and another place, the officers and crew of USS ARLEIGH BURKE would feel right at home on four-pipers chasing the Kaiser’s U-Boats, or combing torpedo wakes in the Solomons, or searching freighters for Russian missiles off Cuba. They have taken their place in an unbroken line of destroyermen; one of our often undervalued national treasures. Admiral Arleigh Burke has written, “This ship is built to fight. You had better know how.” No monument or decoration could better represent this premier destroyer sailor than DDG-1, her officers and crew.

To the men of ARLEIGH BURKE, Tin Can Sailors wish peace, a warm, gentle wind, and a following sea.

This ship dedication would not have been possible without the kind support of Commander John G. Morgan, Jr., commanding officer of USS ARLEIGH BURKE, along with his superb officers and crew. To the men and women of Bath Iron Works who provided extensive data and many of the beautiful photos of this epitome of the ship-builders skill, we also express our thanks for a job well done.