Pitching Clay, or, the ’41 for Freedom’ can fight surfaced, too

USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625) launches a Polaris A-2 SLBM from the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Kennedy (Canaveral), Florida on 20 April 1964. The objects flying through the air around the missile are launch adapters designed to detach themselves automatically once the missile has left the tube.

The goal of the Polaris program was to launch a ready missile by 1965, and Clay was one of the last pegs to make it a reality.

Catalog # USN 1094722. Naval History and Heritage Command

This was the first demonstration that Polaris subs can launch missiles from the surface as well as from beneath the surface. 30 minutes earlier the Clay successfully launched an A-2 missile submerged.

Clay’s port list is a standard part of surface launch procedures. The tall mast is a temporary telemetry antenna installed for operations at the Cape only.

Named in honor of founding father Henry Clay, perhaps best known as the “Great Compromiser,” the boomer was part of the Lafayette-class of ballistic missile submarines that were made in the “41 for Freedom” program in the 1960s, all subs named after famous Americans to include the honorary Yank, the Marquis de Lafayette. Clay was commissioned 20 February 1964 and was decommissioned 5 November 1990 for recycling.

Seldom heard from, the boats of the 41 For Freedom program made an incredible 2824 strategic deterrent patrols during their time on earth, each typically about 65 days. This is about 502 patrol years at sea during the Cold War.

For more on the program, check out this 2016 seminar at the National Museum of the United States Navy including archival footage from the Strategic Systems Programs Office. The video is narrated by VADM Ken Malley, former SSP Director.

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