Last walk of the half-century old Polaris subs…
Back in the darkest days of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy ran the “41 for Freedom” program which put an amazing 41 Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines of the George Washington, Ethan Allen, Lafayette, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin classes in active service in record time. These boomers carried (at first) 16 UGM-27 Polaris, then later Poseidon and finally (in some cases) Trident SLBMs and held the dead-hand switch on the mutually assured destruction concept throughout the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.
Rapidly replaced by the much larger, more efficient, and better armed Ohio-class in the mid-1980s, these boats were scrapped wholesale. The last one on (active) duty, USS Kamehameha (SSBN/SSN-642) was kept around until 2002 only because she spent the last decade of her life as a frogman boat.
But wait, there’s more!
In 1990, USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626), a Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine (FBM), and USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635) a James Madison-class FBM, were withdrawn from service, stricken, their torpedo tubes disabled, their missile tubes filled with concrete and the tube hatches were removed.
So what good are they? Well, they still had an active S5W reactor and as such, were reclassified as floating moored training ships (MSTs) assigned to the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit, Goose Creek, South Carolina.
Over the past quarter century they have trained the submarine force’s (as well as the Royal Navy’s) nuclear watch standers Now, that too will come to an end as they are the last S5W’s around.
Last month the retiring Los Angeles–class attack submarine USS La Jolla (SSN-701), commissioned in 1981, arrived at Norfolk for her conversion to an MST. She will be joined in this mission by sister USS San Francisco (SSN-711) of the same vintage within the next few years. At that point, Daniel Webster and Sam Rayburn will retire after more than 50 years service, having entered the fleet in 1964.
I served on the USS Nathan Hale SSBN 623 for over 6 years. She was a very good boat.
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