A chain email says that President Barack Obama was irresponsible to order five first-line aircraft carriers into Norfolk Naval Base together -- purportedly the first time this had been done since World War II.
Readers asked us to look into the email, which raised the specter of Pearl Harbor and implied that there may have been an ulterior motive on Obama’s part. So we decided to check it. (A hat tip to Snopes.com, the urban-legend website, which has also rated this claim.)
Accompanied by a photograph of five aircraft carriers docked together, the email begins, "What’s wrong with this picture? The picture is of the five first line U.S. nuclear carriers docked together in one place. Just like Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. This picture was taken February 2014 in Norfolk, Va. . . Obama ordered five nuclear carriers into harbor for ‘routine’ (?) inspections. Heads of the Navy were flabbergasted by the directive but had to comply as it was a direct order from their commander-in-chief."
It continues, "This is the first time since WWII that five nuclear-powered aircraft carriers were docked together. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS George H.W. Bush, USS Enterprise, USS Harry S. Truman and USS Abraham Lincoln are all in port at Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., the world’s largest naval station."
Let’s start with the picture.
The photograph is genuine -- the five carriers were indeed docked at Norfolk Naval Base at the same time -- but the email gets much of the context wrong.
The picture was taken in December 2012, not February 2014, as the email claims. The email is also wrong about why the carriers were there. They were not docked for "routine inspections" -- they were brought to shore so that crew members could spend Christmas with their families.
Intercepts, a defense news blog, reported in a Dec. 20, 2012, post that the Navy "makes a point" of trying to give its crew 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."
What about this being the first time since World War II that five nuclear carriers were docked together?
The quick answer is that December 2012 was not the first time since the war that five nuclear powered aircraft carriers were docked at the same place at the same time. A similar unintentional gathering took place at Norfolk in July 1997.
A July 2, 1997, Associated Press article published in the Daily Press of nearby Newport News, Va., reported that "for the first time" all five Norfolk-based nuclear-powered aircraft carriers will be "moored at their home port."
The Navy spokesman at the time, Mike Maus, addressed this rare grouping. "It just worked out that way," Maus said. "There was no plan to say, ‘Let’s bring all the carriers in for the Fourth of July.’ Between scheduling for normal routine operations and shipyard stuff, that’s how it happened to fall into place."
The AP reported in 1997 that the Navy doesn’t consider having all five carriers in port at the same time to be a security risk. "At this particular time," Maus said, "we don’t really have much of a threat from anybody."
What about Obama’s role in the carriers’ placement? Dictating the day-to-day locations of aircraft carriers is "not really something the commander-in-chief deals with," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org.
A chain email says Obama ordered five aircraft carriers into Norfolk Naval Base together in 2014, supposedly the first time this had been done since World War II. But the rendezvous occurred in 2012, a similar grouping happened at the base in 1997, and it was done so that naval personnel could be with their families for the Christmas holiday -- not for nefarious reasons that posed a security risk. We rate the email’s claims False.