USS George Washington SSBN 598

You never forget your first…

When I requested a submarine for my first assignment after sub school , I wanted to be on a Diesel Boat first, a fast attack second, and a Boomer third preferably a 640 class. I vaguely remember an old salt at a bar in Groton talking about how beautiful Key West was so I am pretty sure that was my chose destination.


That is probably why I received orders to the USS George Washington (SSBN 598B).

And of course, she would be sailing out of Guam.

Submarine School Graduating Class in 1973

The trip to the boat took a while since she was in the process of transiting to Pearl Harbor but I was scheduled to go to Auxiliary Package Course in Charleston SC where she had just completed a shipyard period. I remember thinking at the time that part of the reason I wanted to join the Navy was to get away from schools. Instead, I ended up going to schools in three states for the next year.

The school was designed to teach us more specific skills in air conditioning, refrigeration, hydraulics, atmosphere control equipment, masts and antennas and pumps and valves unique to submarines. It lasted through the spring of 1973 and upon graduation I flew through Travis AFB on my way to Pearl. I learned a little bit about the military rank structure that trip as I found myself being bumped off of the Mac flight I was assigned to. Interestingly enough, an Airman later told me it was because an Air Force General was taking his family on vacation and they did not have enough seats on the plane.

Being young and not as experienced as I would later become, I had no idea what to do next. I just remembered all of the lectures about missing ship’s movement in boot camp and knew that I was in deep trouble. It took three days for them to find me another seat but by the time I arrived, it was too late to catch the crew flight to Guam. Lucky me. I would spend the next few months in transient personnel units working on a barracks rehabilitation project on Sub Base Pearl.


While waiting there, I had a lot of time on my hands and wrote letters. Very few of those letters survive (probably a good thing) but one written in 1973 was probably meant for my Dad. I found it in an old shoebox that had other memento’s in it and found it to be pretty interesting. Keep in mind that I wrote it before I had ever been on board the George fish for my first patrol.


“A new breed of men range the oceans as zealously as their brave forefathers. Always ready, just as the minutemen of the early American times and just as bold as the early sailors who dared to try and overcome the vast unknowns of the oceans. The men who serve in solitude amidst the flashing lights and muffled sounds of machinery. They work and live in confined spaces beneath millions of tons of the matter which covers the majority of the face of the earth. But their purpose goes deeper than a military institution. Besides being a deterrent to nuclear holocausts and safeguarding our borders, these men also untap scientific resources by each patrol they make. They prove man’s adaptability to live beneath the seas in this day where space for living seems to grow less and less.

And the hardest thing is the isolation which they must face. Living separated from their loved ones with little communications and knowing two things; they can never tell where they have been, nor can they say that if they go down that they will ever come back again. These Pioneers, the Men of the “Silent Service””

MMFN Bob MacPherson 1973

Over the next twenty plus years, I would get a chance to see if any of that was true on five boats. I’ll save that for another day.

In the meantime, its time once again to remember the Boomer that started it all for the US Navy, my qual boat which was commissioned on December 30th 1959.

I was five years old and did not attend. I was present at the Decommissioning ceremony in Bremerton in January 1985. I have to admit it was a very sad day.

Washington Facts from the Navy’s website: USS George Washington – Design & Construction:

Laid down on November 1, 1958 as USS Scorpion (SSN-589), USS George Washington was the world’s first ballistic missile submarine. Originally intended as a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine, orders were issued in December 1958 to convert Scorpion and USS Sculpin into vessels capable of carrying newly-developed fleet ballistic missiles. To accommodate this request, the keel of Scorpion was cut in two at Electric Boat in Groton, CT and a 130-foot missile compartment inserted between the control room and the nuclear reactor spaces.

With this alteration, work moved forward to complete the vessel under the new designation USS George Washington (SSBN-598). The former name was given to a new attack submarine which would be lost under suspicious circumstances in 1968. Sponsored by Mrs. Robert B. Anderson, George Washington entered the water on June 9, 1959. As with future ballistic missile submarines, George Washington possessed two crews, Blue and Gold, which rotated to ensure that the vessel could stay sea with few interruptions. Under this system, its first two captains were Commander James B. Osborn (Blue) and Commander John L. From, Jr. (Gold).

GW ssbn598_2

Making History:

Commissioned on December 30, 1959, George Washington departed Groton the following June under the guidance of Osborn. Arriving at Cape Canaveral, FL, the submarine embarked two Polaris missiles and program head Rear Admiral William Raborn. Putting to sea, George Washington conducted the first successful tests of the Polaris missile on July 20. Swapping crews, these tests were repeated on July 30 under the supervision of the Gold crew. Having tested the new weapon system, George Washington put into Charleston, SC where it was given a full complement of sixteen Polaris missiles.

Awarded: December 31, 1957

Keel laid: November 1, 1958

Launched: June 9, 1959

Commissioned: December 30, 1959

Decommissioned: January 24, 1985

Builder: Electric Boat Co., Groton, Conn.

Propulsion system: one S5W nuclear reactor

Propellers: one

Length: 381.6 feet (116.3 meters)

Beam: 33.1 feet (10.1 meters)

Draft: 28.9 feet (8.8 meters)

Displacement: approx. 6,700 tons submerged

Surfaced: 15 knots
Submerged: 20 knots

Armament: 16 vertical tubes for Polaris missiles, six 21″ torpedo tubes

Crew: 12 Officers and 128 Enlisted (two crews)

A Nuclear Deterrent:

After receiving a Navy Unit Commendation and embarking the Blue crew, George Washington departed port on November 15, 1960, for the world’s first nuclear deterrent patrol. Slipping beneath the waves, the submarine did not surface for 66 days until arriving at New London in January to change crews. Leaving port, George Washington conducted another deterrent patrol which ended when the vessel arrived at Holy Loch, Scotland in April. Based at that port, George Washington conducted routine patrols until returning to Groton in 1964 for refueling.

During its initial deployment, George Washington sailed approximately 100,000 miles before putting in for a refit. Remaining at Groton into 1965, the submarine’s systems were upgraded to utilize the new Polaris A3. Leaving port, George Washington was transferred to the US Pacific Fleet and assigned to Pearl Harbor. Known as the “Georgefish,” the submarine conducted nuclear deterrent patrols in the Pacific for the next decade and a half as part of the US Navy’s growing ballistic missile submarine force.

598 1973 Pearl Harbor

You know you are getting old when your boat is a monument

On the hill near the entrance to submarine base New London is the sail that represents the original of the 41 for Freedom. I have been back several times but to be honest, I go back to see her many nights when sleep overtakes me. I hear the rushing of the water when she dove. I feel the angles and dangles as she moves. I can even sense the feeling of isolation. The most poignant dream is the one where I wake up in my old rack and starting moving through the boat. No one is there. The lights are all blinking on the oxygen generator and the familiar hum of the 400 cycle is in the background. But the crew is missing. It is the loneliest feeling I have ever felt. and the patrol just goes on and on…

Mister Mac

9 thoughts on “USS George Washington SSBN 598

  1. I was on the first Blue crew patrol as well as the 2nd Blue crew patrol..
    I spent my watches running the Scrubber Rm as an Axillerey man…
    We were the guys who had the bars in Holly Lock “COOL” the beers for those who followed… ( Did you ever try a 6 PACK of Carlings Black label ) you could NOT it finsh your self as it was 15% alcohal…
    I would get the medical guys to give me about a Quart off 190 proof
    medical Alcohal to clean parts of the O2 generator… use about a shot glass full… the rest was ours!! When the 2nd blue crew was to fly over to start the patrol… I told the Exec ( Hanifin ) I could not make it as my inlistment was over DURING the trip…( about Aug ) His answer was ” Oh you will make it ” I was Qualified on the USS Sablefish SS 303 and was to go on the Saint Lawrence opening trip, but was
    Shanghied and transfered to the GeorgeFish, so I was shanghied 2 times by the GW.. I think it was about a month after it was launched….. Our WHOLE crew was NEW to this type of ship…..
    If you look at the time and speed that we got her in service we really
    deserved the Navy Unit Citation that we got!!!
    I also spent 58 days submerged except 1, ( ONE! ) hr a day snorkleing in a 50 SQ mile area bettween IceLand and Greenland on the 303 to Blockade the Russian’s during the 1958 Marines in Lebanon deal… I NEVER FOUND ANY REFERENCE TO THIS OPERATION… There Had to be many other subs involved…
    That was worse then MANY patrols during WW2.. I was in from Aug
    1957 to late Sept 1961 got out as 2nd class EN …. By the way that is a shitty Patch I’ll try to send a picture of what they really looked like, as well as a picture of a “Plank” which WERE Never PAINTED!! I Know that ship…. If you look at a commissioning picture I am the ONLY blonde guy of the 6 at the Gang Plank… Interesting Fact… First they autherize a ship, then they lay the keel… The GW was backwards,
    They Layed the keel then Auterized IT!!! Another thing I defeated the interlocks so the GDU had both doors open at the same TIME!!!
    ( In dry dock )

  2. Reblogged this on theleansubmariner and commented:

    Been a little crazy at work which is keeping me from finishing the two projects I care about. This post was from my early days as a blogger but is still a strong tribute to one of the Coldest of Warriors… USS George Washington SSBN 598

  3. Riding out a Hurricane on the USS Sablefish SS303
    I am Irwin Linzer, and as I said, I was on the Sablefish..
    I don’t know if it was late 58 or early 59 we were on the surface, I was in the mess hall, and we got hit by a large wave from the port side, I know this, as all of the plates of Spaghetti Levatated about 3 feet in the air and then went to left very fast and broke on the pressure hull forward of the ladder to the hatch at the back of the sail….
    I can only guess what the lookouts and officer saw on the Bridge ( the old step sail )… Guys were thrown from bunks to the plastic tile covered steel floor of the after battery sleeping area,,, If you were on watch you sort of stayed on watch as you were not going to sleep…
    The Mess cooks would make sandwiches and crawl through the boat for those who could eat..
    First they used the main induction for air to the engines, But you saw water coming in the engine room air ducts, which were about 1 foot high and 4 foot wide on both sides and full of water.. ( I was a Engine-man in the forward engine room ) They then put up the Snorkel mast and used it but it would shut off as the water would go that high and short out the electrodes. ( We are still on the surface, and the watch is STILL ON THE BRIDGE ) The sounds coming from the hull were not
    very comforting, as it was like the boat was being pulled apart.. I would soon find out why…. A Chief came back to the engine room and said
    to me that I have to stand in as a Lookout topside.. I said I,m a Engineer! did not work very well as he said they ran out of lookouts..
    They dressed me up with a Jacket, boots and a leather belt with chains
    that had metal snaps on their ends.. The officer topside would time
    the waves and say when to open the bridge hatch run up while the re-leaved lookout ran down.. My post was the starboard side and I connected the snaps to rings on both sides of my area…
    I you ever wanted to feel like a junk yard dog, this would work!!
    First of all the waves were at least 50 ft high…. Both ends would be covered with water, but NONE was under the middle of the boat.
    Then it would allow you to see both the starboard prop spin and the front as the water was in the center and rising, then raise way over you and tug on your chains ( JUNK YARD DOG! ) All the air that was in the super structure was rising in the form of thousands of bobbles, I was at least 25 feet below water…. I don’t remember how long we all were
    up there.. But I did find out what what the horrible metal bending noise
    came from.. And why they ran out of lookouts…..

    One thing, I was young and had no fear, as I thought what
    I did was done many times by others before me..
    I would like to have any one that “WAS THERE” to give me a date it happened, This was up in the north Atlantic.. I am also looking for info
    of that great visit to the 58 worlds fair that never occurred…. But a lot
    of cold days did!!! I FIND NOTHING COVERING THAT…
    I was on the 303 for about a year and a half and got shanghaied to
    the 598 about 1 month before the Great Lakes trip #1..

  4. As a Plank owner I went to the dedication of the Sail of the George Washington SSBN598 at the New London Museum.. I talked to Mr Osborn who was the captain of the Blue crew I made the first and second Blue crew patrols.. Shortly after the dedication both Captain
    Osborn and From, the 1st Gold crew captain died about a week or so
    apart, about a month later..

  5. Unlike most of the men in my family I am still kicking at 81, but then again those guys cut miles of asbestos, wood etc. except for a brother who worked for PAINT companies and had bouts of nose
    bleeds.. Some how the Navy sent me a envelope with the GW and a ugly patch..with red paint at the
    below the water line.. The original was designed by a shipmate back then.. This envelope is post marked Jan 21 2011 and refers to the 50th year since the end of the first patrol.
    So a few years it will be 60 years.. ago… My son John Warrent officer 5 Av electronic guy, just retired from the Navy after 33 years… He served on Many carriers, including the George Washington…
    So we have 2 nuc Washington guys..
    I was a engine man on the Sablefish SS303 first and made patrols to the med..
    They had a party up in Rrode Island and I was up there helping my Son get his stuff on the road back
    to Fla.. I talked to guys that were on “boomers” for many years some times for 4 months..
    On the 303 about 2 weeks after I was Shanghied to the GW the 303 went With Eisenhower and the
    Queen and opened up the Great Lakes.. I can Not believe how it would be to have visitors on a sub
    in Chicago. On the 303 we went to Baltamore ( like a 8 hr or so maneuvering watch )
    we had about 2000 people walk the boat a day, Back then they made rugs to cover the diamond plate out of multi pieces of canvas sewed together. about 3/4 inch thick. we would paint it with GREEN shellac ( every night ) after about a week at least 2 layers were worn off… Then again I don’t remember going out to get a beer…

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