Archive for August, 2017

Naval Station Pearl Harbor

On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became our 50th state. Despite its late entrance into the union, Hawaii had served the US Navy for years, most memorably during WWII. But what is the history between the US Navy and Hawaii?

Mouth and bar of Pearl River, Island of Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1873

Known to native Hawaiians as Wai Momi (meaning water of pearl), Pearl Harbor has been home to the Pacific fleet for generations.  The harbor was believed to be home to the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau and her brother, Kahi’uka. According to Hawaiian legend, Keaunui, a powerful chief, created a navigable channel named the “Pearl River” making it accessible for navigation. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii for the island’s sandalwood. In the 1830’s the sugar industry was introduced and by the mid-19th century, most of Hawaii had become well established. Up until the 19th century, Pearl Harbor could not be used for large vessels due to its shallow waters and reed blocked entrance. During the 1820’s and 30’s, as the American whaling business grew out of the Port of Honolulu, a growing interest in establishing a naval base in Pearl Harbor began to take root. In 1869, Congress approved the funds to deepen the approach into the harbor. Over the next few years, negotiations would go back and forth over the cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States. In 1887, under King Kalakaua, the United States was given exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor and to establish a coaling and repair station. Over the next 10 years, while the United States had control over Pearl, they did not fortify her as a naval base due to the still formidable barrier that created a shallow entrance. With the Spanish-American War of 1898, a stronger desire to have a preeminent force in the Pacific became a greater concern to the United States. In 1899, with the overthrow of the Hawaiian king, the United Stated annexed Hawaii, and focused on strengthening its naval presence on Oahu. In 1901, work began on dredging the entrance channel, and in 1903, the USS Petral became the first vessel to enter the harbor. While improvements were made in Pearl, most of the Navy’s facilities remained in Honolulu during the beginning of the 20th century. As Honolulu grew, and other governmental agencies began gaining property, the decision was made to begin shifting naval activities to Pearl. In 1908, Naval Station Pearl Harbor was created and construction of the first drydock began the next year. Ford Island, which is in the middle of the harbor, was purchased in 1917 for joint Army-Navy use. In 1919 the first air crews arrived. By 1934, Minecraft Base, Fleet Air Base, and Submarine Base had been added to the existing Navy district. The Submarine Force came to Pearl in 1914 with four F-class boats. These boats were replaced by the K-class submarines in 1915 and operated out of the base until WWI. In 1919, six R-class boats arrived in Pearl, once again bringing a submarine fleet to Hawaii. During WWII, 22 of the 51 American Submarines were homeported in Pearl Harbor. In February 1941, the US Pacific Fleet made Pearl Harbor its permeant base.

U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Submarine Dive Tower, Intersection of Clark & Morton Streets, Pearl City, Honolulu County, HI. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

On December 7, 1941, America was thrust into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was because of this attack that mainland attitudes towards the US territory began to change. Pearl Harbor and Hawaii became a part of the American identity, paving the way for Hawaii to become the 50th state. In March 1959, the US government approved statehood, and in June of that year the Hawaiian people voted and accepted admittance into the United States. Two months later, Hawaii officially became the 50th state.  After December 7th, Pearl remained a main base for the US Pacific Fleet along with Naval Base San Diego. In 2010, the Navy and Air Force merged their two bases, creating Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. From 1932 to 1983, the most recognizable structure on the submarine base was the Escape Training Tank. Just like here in Groton, the 100-foot-tall tower was the escape training method for generations of submariners in up to 80 feet of water. Today, Naval Station Pearl Harbor provides berthing and shore side support to surface ships and submarines. The base accommodates the largest ships in the fleet and is now home to over 160 commands. Pearl Harbor is also the only intermediate maintenance facility for submarines in the Middle Pacific, so it plays host to large numbers of visiting submarines as well.  On January 29, 1964, the base was recognized as a National Historic Landmark district and in 1976 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The USS Arizona, Bowfin and Utah, all memorials, are also recognized National Historic Landmarks. Today 11 submarines call Pearl Harbor home as part of Submarine Squadron 7 which was established in 1951. These boats are from the Los Angeles Class. If you are or have ever been stationed in Pearl Harbor, we would love to hear your stories and what you loved most about this beautiful place.

USS Arizona Memorial

Submarine Naming throughout the Years

Every man or woman who serves on a submarine is proud of his or her boat. Boat hats and patches are worn with pride to tell the world which boats they have served on.  But for those outside of the Navy, have you ever wondered how a ship gets their name? There isn’t a random lottery or a vote that takes place. In fact, there is a unique set of rules and guidelines that throughout the evolution of the submarine force has dictated how submarines are named.

US Submarine K-5 in 1919. For a period of time submarine were only identified by a group of numbers and letters.

On March 3, 1819, Congress formally placed the responsibility of naming US ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a practice which still exists today.  The act designated that “those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name.” The last of these provisions remains in the code today. When Submarines entered in the force in 1900, the first was given the name Holland in honor of the submarine designer and builder John Holland. While the naming of subs did not have any fixed rules, they were generally given names of fish and land creatures that stung. They were given names such as Salmon, Porpoise, and Viper.   By 1911, with the advancement and building of subs at a growing rate, submarines were renamed and carried alpha-numeric names such as A-1 and L-7. This numeric naming code stayed in place until 1931, when once again the boats were named after fish. This time any existing ships were not renamed. The naming of submarines after fish was followed until 1947, when the Secretary of the Navy decided that the boats should be named after WWII boats. Most WWII boats were already named after fish, leaving the naming practice fairly intact with a few exceptions over the years. In 1958, Captain William F. Calkins USNR had reports published describing the difficulties in choosing the names for new ships. They could not use names that were already in use, and of course the names also had to be appropriate.   He said that “Spelling and pronunciation both had to be reasonably simple. The average enlisted man (and his girlfriend) must be able to say the name comfortably.   If his best girl couldn’t spell it, he might not get her letters.” The use of fish names proved problematic for the Navy since the Ichthyologists (Fish Scientists) used Latin names. Since the fleet was growing so fast, easy, popular fish names would go quickly, leaving the Navy secretary to have to become creative with names.  Many times, a name easier to pronounce was assigned to fish for the Navy to use it for a submarine. The Smithsonian would many times send information and pictures of the fish a boat was named for, which would be hung onboard with sailors taking pride in knowing their ships namesake.

A memo from 1960 discussing the naming of new nuclear subs using names from WWII submarine names stricken from the naval register

Records from a submarine conference in 1939 discussing different fish names

The naming of Submarines took a full departure from using fish names in the 1960’s with the introduction of the ballistic missile submarine. These submarines were considered such a turning point that they deemed a name source more appropriate for their status. As we discussed in last week’s blog, the first 41 of these submarines were named for famous Americans and others who had contributed greatly to the growth of democracy. After the SALT agreements, some of these submarines were reclassified and lost their missile capabilities. However, they maintained their famous names. Today, the Ohio class of SSBN’s bear state names, which was originally considered a name source for the first Polaris submarines.  In the 1970’s, attack submarines were still continuing the tradition of being named for sea creatures, with a few exceptions such as the Richard B. Russell and L. Mendel Rivers. Many of the nuclear submarines were given names of older non-nuclear submarines. The patches for these new boats usually referenced their non-nuclear ancestor.  For an example see the photo of the patch for the USS Flasher. Both its original number 249 is depicted along with its nuclear counterpart 613.  The nuclear symbol on the patch denotes that the patch is for the newer boat.   Over time the tradition of fish names has evolved to attack submarines being named for American cities. The exception to this was the Hyman G. Rickover, which was named after the “Father of the Nuclear Navy.”

Patch for SSN 613 which pays tribute to its predecessor with the name SS 249

Today, the naming of submarines remains fairly similar to how it was in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The Navy Secretary is still in charge of ship naming and usually reviews a list compiled from the Navy History and Heritage Command.  The list is usually based on Naval History and suggestions from enlisted personnel, veterans, and the public. One example of public influence was when school children from New Hampshire wrote letters for a submarine to be named after their state.  The Los Angeles Attack subs were named after American cities with the new Virginia class choosing state names.   While no document sets specific guidelines on the timing for assigning a name, it is usually done before the ship is christened.  Until the christening ceremony, she is referred to as PCU (pre-commissioned unit) along with what will be her name.  Once she is christened, she becomes an official USS ship. Many times, the ship’s sponsor will be from the state or city that the submarine is being named for.  If the ship is named for an individual, an effort is made to have the eldest living female relative to be the ship’s sponsor. There are always deviations from the current formula of naming ships.  If an important person passes, they could have a ship named after them.   Over the last two decades, some living individuals have had boats named for them, an example being the USS Jimmy Carter. Even though it may be hard to know what a submarine will be named, there is a great amount of thought put into each name and every sailor takes great pride in knowing and learning about their boat’s namesake.

41 For Freedom

The name “41 for Freedom” conjures images of greatness, power, and the beginning of something new. In last week’s blog, we talked about SSBN 598 as the beginning of a group of submarines that would take submarine development in a new direction. The USS George Washington was the first in a group nicknamed the “41 for Freedom.” These 41 submarines were revolutionary, not just for the US Navy but Navies around the world. The furious pace in which submarines were built in the 1960’s was a major component of the United States Strategic Triad. This triad consisted of land based ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine launched missiles. The idea of the nuclear triad was to reduce the possibility of an enemy to destroy all a country’s nuclear defenses; an idea that was considered an imminent threat during the Cold War. All 41 submarines created during this time were named for eminent figures in American history, giving the nickname a double meaning.   Not only were these SSBN’s being created to keep and preserve our freedom from Soviet threats, but they were named for men who had played a role in America’s rise to greatness.

Figure 1 USS Thomas Edison

From 1960 to 1966, the U.S. Navy launched 41 “boomers.”  A boomer is slang for a Ballistic missile submarine that operates on a two-man crew system.  The Blue and Gold crews rotate on approximately 100 – day intervals for the ship to remain on a continuous patrol.  There was usually a 3-day turnover period on each end of a deployment period.  Crews would be flown from their home bases to their deployment site and perform a 30-day refit followed by a 70-day deterrent patrol.   The home base for the Atlantic fleets were Groton, Ct and Charleston, SC with the Pacific Fleet based at Naval Base Pearl Harbor.  From 1960-1969, each SSBN carried 16 Polaris nuclear missiles.   In 1969, SSBN’s were converted to carry the more accurate Poseidon missiles which would change again in 1979 when the Trident I missiles were created.   For many visitors to the museum who are not familiar with submarine history, they wonder what is the difference between an SSN and a SSBN. The most obvious difference is the use of ballistic missiles onboard an SSBN. The SS denotes submarine, the B means ballistic missile and the N denotes that the submarine is nuclear powered.

The original 41 SSBNs could fire missiles thousands of kilometers from their targets and were extremely quiet making them difficult to detect. Compared to an SSN, the SSBN was designed for specific strategic attacks. Their primary mission was nuclear detection making them a major weapon during the Cold War. Their use has been dominated by the United States and Russia, in part due to the 1950’s and the threat of nuclear attacks. The USS George Washington was built in response to Russia’s use of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. The 41 submarines were built to carry the Polaris A-1 missile. The Polaris was developed to complement the limited number of medium range systems that were in use throughout Europe. Before Polaris’s creation, the systems in place lacked the range needed to form a major attack on Soviet targets. In the 1950’s and 60’s few systems were available that could destroy missile systems, making SSBN’s an asset to nuclear deterrence. One of the newest features in the new class of submarines was to the ability to launch while submerged which allowed them to remain a safe distance away and survive from retaliation.  Despite the long range of the Polaris missile, the Atlantic- based fleet still needed closer stations to be effective. In 1961, the US was permitted the use of a base in Holy Lock, Scotland and in 1969, Naval Station Rota in the Bay of Cadiz. To cover the Pacific zone, a base was established in Guam in 1964. By 1972, with the creation of the Poseidon missile, the 10 older SSBN’s that were in use were primarily assigned to the Pacific Fleet with the 31 upgraded boats assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.

Figure 2 USS Kamehameha

The last of the 41 SSBN’s was the USS Will Rogers, commissioned in 1967.  In 1976, the keel was laid for the USS Ohio, which saw a new class of submarines being built. The Ohio- class boomers were the largest ever built by the US Navy, measuring 560 feet long and displacing 18,700 tons submerged and carry a crew of 157. This new class of SSBN’s were designed to carry the new and more advanced Trident II missiles In 2002, the USS Kamehameha was decommissioned, the last of the original “41 for Freedom: submarines still in use.   At almost 37 years old, she held the record for the longest service lifetime of any nuclear-powered submarine.   Beneath this story you can find the complete list of the 41 submarines that made up the “41 for Freedom.”

The “41 For Freedom” SSBN’s :

George Washington class

  • USS George Washington (SSBN-598)
  • USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599)
  • USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600)
  • USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601)
  • USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602)

Ethan Allen class

  • USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608)
  • USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609)
  • USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610)
  • USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)
  • USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)

Lafayette class

  • USS Lafayette (SSBN-616)
  • USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617)
  • USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619)
  • USS John Adams (SSBN-620)
  • USS James Monroe (SSBN-622)
  • USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623)
  • USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624)
  • USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625)
  • USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626)

James Madison class

  • USS James Madison (SSBN-627)
  • USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628)
  • USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629)
  • USS John C. Calhoun (SSBN-630)
  • USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)
  • USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
  • USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)
  • USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634)
  • USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635)
  • USS Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636)

    Figure 3 Figure 3 41 For Freedom Poster. Available at the museum store. All proceeds from the store go to preserving submarine history.

Benjamin Franklin class

  • USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN-640) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)
  • USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644)
  • USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645)
  • USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)
  • USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)
  • USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659)

Operation Sunshine

Summer in the Arctic has interesting features. One of the most fascinating is the fact that there are 24 hours of sunlight for six months out of the year.  And, in 1958, a secret mission went 1,830 miles in four days hiding in this unsetting sun. Most people may already know the story. You don’t have to be a submariner to know the tale or what it meant not just for America but for the world. The story of the Nautilus is not a Navy story. It is a moment in history that changed the tide for all countries and opened the door for faster travel, trade routes and the growing technological advancements of the day. On August 3, 1958, history was made as USS Nautilus made it to 90 degrees North.

The 1950’s was a period in world history that will always stand out. Students in classrooms across the world were being taught about the space race and there was growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear weapons.  The decade is remembered for its famous spies and secret missions. What made people so fearful during The Cold War was the public’s awareness that America was behind in terms of rocket power.  There was a very real fear that rippled through communities that a nuclear missile could land on American soil at any time.  Children practiced air raid drills in school, hiding under their desks, afraid of any new noise in the sky.  President Eisenhower had that difficult job of not only keeping up with the new technologies, but keeping the American people feeling safe. The President felt the urgent need to show the American people that they were not only as technicality advanced as the Soviets, but superior.  In 1952, Admiral Rickover’s idea of a nuclear navy was achieved with the start of construction on SSN-571, USS Nautilus – the world’s first nuclear submarine. The Navy’s ability to excel in submarine development was exactly what Eisenhower needed to show America’s technological supremacy.

In 1957, Commander William R.  Anderson, Captain of the Nautilus, suggested a submerged trip under the North Pole to test the strength of America’s new nuclear Navy. At the time, no ship had ever made it to the North Pole due to the depth of ice in the area. An initial attempt was made in 1957 but the ice proved a powerful opponent and the Nautilus returned home unable to complete the mission.   In April of 1958, she set off from New London heading west through the Panama Canal with stops in California and a brief period in Seattle. On June 9, 1958, Nautilus left Seattle to begin “Operation Sunshine,”

gure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1 Commander William R. Anderson, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), far right, on the bridge during a period of low visibility as the submarine prepares to pass under the North Pole, August 1958. National Archives photograph, USN 1037145

the top-secret mission of reaching the geographic North Pole.   It was a fitting name for an excursion that found itself operating during 24 hours of daylight. After some delays due to shallow water, she finally departed Pearl Harbor on July 23, 1958 and successfully made it to the Bering Strait.  The crew of 116 submerged under the icecap at Point Barrow, Alaska, the northern most point in the United States. Nautilus surfaced in the Point Barrow area in order to photograph the area and to find the sea valley in the ocean floor that would allow for a smooth trip. In a press conference following the mission, Anderson commented that they moved quickly through the area due to their proximity to Russian waters. During her trek under the icecap, a closed-circuit television monitored the journey. The Arctic daylight made visibility easy and allowed Nautilus to speed on.

At 11:15 PM Eastern Time on August 3, 1958, Nautilus passed directly below the North Pole. The event was only marked by Anderson’s comment to the crew of “For the World, our Country and the Navy – The North Pole.” The crew didn’t pause and simply continued on.   Anderson didn’t notify Washington DC until some 36 hours later when they surfaced in the Greenland Sea.   All that was sent to the President was the message “Nautilus 90 North.” Once in Iceland on August 7, Anderson was flown back to the United States to meet with President Eisenhower. The commander was awarded the Legion of Merit, and the Nautilus a Presidential Unit Citation, the first one ever conferred in peacetime.   Once Anderson was back with the crew, USS Nautilus began its journey back the New London. She entered New York Harbor with a hero’s welcome and a parade.   Her journey home established another first –

Nautilus entering New York Harbor

travelling over 3,100 miles submerged in six days with an average speed of more than 20 knots.   She finally returned home to Connecticut on August 29, 1958 for an upkeep period and a well-deserved rest.

“Operation Sunshine” created a new and shorter route from the Pacific to the Atlantic.   At the time, it was said that it was normally 11,200 miles from London to Toyoko.   This new route would save ships 4,900 miles, opening up greater opportunities.   The Nautilus’s  journey also created new technology with advanced navigation and guidance systems.   A normal magnetic compass did not work in the North Pole. A ship could lose her bearings quickly with the old system, either going in circles or ending up where she had begun.   The crew experimented with a new design of the gyro-compass. This design was more reliable than the previous system since it did not rely on magnetics, which were not accurate in the Poles.   The new system used inertial navigation that compromised of motion sensors and gyroscopes that continuously calculated position and orientation.   Beyond the technological discoveries made on the voyage and the shortcut for world travel, Nautilus’ trip to the North Pole was a reminder to the American people of their country’s strength and perseverance.   The story of SSN 571’s trip is worth retelling because it is a part of our history.   It represents America’s pioneering spirit and the ability to achieve the impossible.   It symbolizes and conveys a message that should be passed on for generations to come.

Nautilus in her current home at the Submarine Force Library and Museum

To learn more about the historic trip to the North Pole, check out the book “Arctic Mission” on sale now in the museum store and website.