A Tender Tale

Chapter 3:
Just what is a "boomer"...
 this country can get it's act together

Let me take a time out at this point in the story to fill in some history - to give you some perspective on Submarine Tenders particualarly SSBN Tenders - So I'll digress back a ways - way back -- to say - 1941!

 Proteus' keel was laid in 1941 - with World War 2 looming - the US was building up it's fleet - and the Proteus was part of a class of the first modern Submarine Tenders. Starting with the Fulton (AS-11) these ships were being built at a realitively leisurely pace. With the attack on Pearl Harbor - the Fulton, (which was out on shake-down at the time) and the Sperry (AS-12) were hurried up and gotten quickly to the fleet to support our submarines in the Pacific. The remaining 5 ships of the class were reduced in priority while the shipyards turned out other ships important to Naval Operations. Once the initial demand had leveled off - middle of 1942 - the completion of those 5 ships bacame a priority - and so it was that the Proteus wasn't commissioned until 1944 late in the war - but not so late as to not play some very important roles: First she sailed to Pearl Harbor to take up tending the Pacific Sub fleet - as the war progressed - the Proteus advanced with the front - by the end of 1944 - she was tending subs out of Midway. By February 1945 - after a brief re-fit in Pearl - she took up station in Apra Harbor - Guam. In August - she received orders to the ultimate destination of the war - Japan. During the signing of the surrender conducted aboard the Missouri, the Proteus served as the Flag ship for Vice Admiral Lockwood and had the I400 - which at the time was the largest Submarine ever built - tied to her side as a war prize. After the surrender documents were signed - the Proteus served as the Flag Ship of the 30 ship Third Fleet - whose job was to secure the largest Japanese Naval Base at Yokosuka, and several other important installations. In 1947, after returning to New London and servicing subs there for two years - she was de-commissioned - and served as the station ship for the reserve fleet there. In spite of officially being de-commissioned - Proteus was occasionally called on for service during the next 10 years. Because of this - she was still in full fit - and ready to sail.

The Navy - had declared it's submarine fleet obsolete at the end of the war - and had pursued an aggressive engineering program of modernization. The man that drove that program was Hyman Rickover.
Hyman Rickover
Rickover envisioned using the power of the atom - not as a destroyer - but as a power source - the ideal power source for submarines. The ultimate product of his vision was the Nautilus - and all future nuclear subs - whose only limitation to staying submerged is the crew. With the Nautilus becoming operational in 1955 - the new Chief of Naval operations Arleigh Burke had a vision of his own. The Navy had toyed with combining the German missile technology captured at war's end with an American submarine - but so far the attempts (like Regulas) had been pretty lame.
Arleigh Burke
Upon assuming the office of CNO - Burke set up a new department "Special Projects" to turn his vision into reality. He chose a flyer named Bill Rayburn. Rayburn had no experience with Submarines nor Missiles. But he did have a drive - and an inspiring quality of leadership - this man was tireless - and got things done. By mid 1956 - he and his team had thrashed out the basics of a completely new and radical concept - A Submarine with 16 large tubes - each loaded with an intercontinental Ballistic Missile - each loaded with a nuclear war head. The Firepower of one boat would exceed that of all the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII. A truly awesome weapon. Even more impressive was the plan to have this weapons system - named Polaris operational in ten years - by 1965.

August 3, 1957. Nautilus was just getting herself settled - she was setting all kinds of sub-merged and surface records. America was feeling pretty good about things. The Soviets announce they have just launched an Inter Continental Ballistic Missile. Though a slight raised eyebrow here and there - America's reaction varies from a yawn to a shrug. Some don't believe it. Most of the rest don't understand the implication. So What? That's over there.

The Soviets - always the masters at propaganda and high impact - have anticipated America's muted reaction - so three weeks later - they put the "exclamation point" on their ICBM announcement. And what a point it was - literally - you could go outside at night and see it - a little "point" of light traveling across the sky. You could hear it on your radio - or if you didn't try to pick it up on the radio - TV News would gladly play it for you. There was this "Russian thing" in the heavens - over America. The launching of Sputnik - made it crystal clear to all Americans just how serious the ICBM threat was. Before - it was "over there". Now the damned Russians were over head - ready to send nuclear rain on us. The threat that their advanced inter-continental missiles had much longer range and much more payload capacity hit home - hard. The country was in near panic. President Eisenhower had to go on TV to calm nerves - and re-assure the public. But privately - he turned to the Military and challenged them to meet the threat - and do it quickly. The Army and the Air Force had nothing to offer. The B36 project the Air Force was totally committed to was no match for this new threat. CNO Arleigh Burke went to the president with an idea. Within two weeks of the launch of Sputnik - in cooperation with the White house - congress appropriated funds for Burke and Rayburn's plan.

The answer - an ambitious plan was adopted to take a fast attack sub already well under construction - cut it in half - and install a missile section. That could be done in a couple of years - rather than the 6 to 7 years required with new construction.
The Washington being "reassembled". The part just visible in the upper left corner of the picture is the front half of the original "Scorpion". The front of the new section being added is the Missile control / Navcenter. This section is part of the "tubes" addition.
The Washington - ready for service...A rare look at the "business end" of the Polaris Delivery System
So it was that the USS Scorpion - SSN 598 - became the USS George Washington - SSBN 598. She was cut in half just behind the sail - and a 130 foot section added containing 16 missile tubes and spaces where some additional new equipment could be mounted. The lower deck - in the new part going just aft of the sail is the Missile control subsystems - including Fire Control, Missile Test and Readiness Equipment - and the Master Missile Status and Control Console.

In the Upper Deck of this section - is the new Navigation Equipment - Including SINS, the NavConsole and the Multi-speed repeaters - that feed the Nav Data to the Missile SubSystem. Eventually - five Skipjack class submarine were built as SSBNs.

And of course - a Submarine Tender was going to be needed just as fast. - The Hunley - AS31 under construction - was on the same schedule as the rest of the program - so it was decided to "modify" an existing tender - just like the first boats. In 1959 the Proteus was quietly moved to a large dry-dock - where she was unceremoniously cut in half. To the casual observer - it might have appeared that this warrior had served her last. The new section - designed for "special" weapons handling and nuclear reactor servicing included a huge crane capable of lifting many tons - was welded into the area between the freshly separated halves. The Proteus gained 500 tons and 44.5 feet- and the ability to service a brand new class of submarine.
Upon rejoining the fleet - the Proteus adopted this as her statement of mission.
Re-commissioned in 1960 - she sailed down to Charleston and picked up the first load of Polaris Missiles - sailed back to New London and on January 20, 1961 the Washington came along side as her first customer. But the US wanted to project this new weapon deep into Europe - so six weeks later - Proteus dropped anchor in Holy Loch, Scotland - and established the US's first advanced Polaris deployment site. Two years - 38 refits - a Navy Unit Commendation awarded by the Secretary of the Navy -- and Proteus was ready for a rest. The Hunley - now completed and commissioned - relieved Proteus - who went to Charleston for overhaul. In January 1964 - with some stuff fixed and a fresh coat of paint - Proteus relieved Hunley at Holy Loch for three months - to give the Hunley some time off for repairs. Once Hunley was back on station - Proteus was up to it's usual - establishing yet another advanced site - this time at Rota, Spain. Another new tender - the Holland (AS-32) relieved the Proteus - who was needed in Holy Loch to share refit duties. With new boats coming on line very regularly now - the US decided that it would be prudent to put some in the Pacific. In June, 1964 Proteus transited the Panama Canal - and set up yet another advanced deployment site at Apra Harbor, Guam-- and brought the Daniel Boone with her. Proteus was back in the submarine business in Guam nearly 19 years after her last refit there during WWII. From 1964 through 1971 - with only a five month time-out for self overhaul in 1968 - (relieved by the Hunley) the Proteus conducted dozens upon dozens of refits.


Table of Contents

© 1997 Common Cents Computers