USS John Adams SSBN 620 – Libertatem amicitiam retinebis et fidem (Freedom and friendship thou shall preserve, and faith)

USS John Adams SSBN 620

When I first read the book by Admiral Rickover about the 41 for Freedom boats, I was curious about the order of the chapters. After all, the hull numbers started at 598 and here we were on the second chapter with hull number 620.

But to Admiral Rickover’s ordered mind, the way the book was laid out was as important as the chapters written. John Adams was the first Vice President and the Second President, so it is only natural that he would be in this lineup as number two.

Most of what I had known about Adams comes from a brief remembrance of a boy being forced to recite the names of the first 16 Presidents in grade school. The other information I personally knew came from watching a television miniseries a few years back called simply “John Adams”. (2008)

Adapted from David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, this well laid out seven-part miniseries chronicles the life of Founding Father John Adams, starting with the Boston Massacre of 1770 through his years as an ambassador in Europe, then his terms as vice president and president of the United States, up to his death on July 4, 1826.

Some things about the boat:

USS John Adams (SSBN-620), a Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for John Adams (1735-1826), the second President of the United States (1797-1801), and his son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the sixth President of the United States (1825-1829).

Both names were used, with the Captain of the crew which had possession of the boat using the name John Adams and the off crew captain using the name John Quincy Adams. She was a Lafayette Class Ballistic Missile Submarine: Laid down, 19 May 1961, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME; Launched, 12 January 1963; Commissioned, USS John Adams (SSBN 620), 12 May 1964;

Specifications: Displacement, Surfaced: 7,250 t., Submerged: 8,250 t.; Length 425′ ; Beam 33′; Draft 32′; Speed, Surfaced/Submerged 20+ kts; Complement 120; Test depth 1,300′; Armament, 16 Polaris missile tubes, four 21″ torpedo tubes; Propulsion, S5W Pressurized Water Nuclear Reactor, two geared turbines at 15,000 shp, one propeller.

The Lafayette class of submarine was an evolutionary development from the Ethan Allen class of fleet ballistic missile submarine, slightly larger and generally improved. This class, together with the George Washington, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin classes, composed the “41 for Freedom,” the Navy’s primary contribution to the nuclear deterrent force through the late 1980s. The James Madison and Benjamin Franklin classes are combined with the Lafayettes in some references.


Admiral Rickover held the President in very high esteem based on his descriptions of him:


“NAMED FOR John Adams (1735—1826), greatest constitutional thinker of the Revolutionary period, foremost parliamentarian in the Congress of the confederated 13 Colonies and their able representative on difficult diplomatic missions abroad, first Vice President and second President of the United States; a man of powerful intellect, transparent honesty, and unflinching moral courage and integrity.

Born at Braintree, Mass, eldest son of a farmer and cord-wainer, John married the daughter of a country parson and together they founded one of America’s most illustrious families, their son John Quincy becoming the sixth American President (the only such instance in our history), and succeeding generations of Adams’s making distinguished careers in various areas of human endeavor.

One is hard put to convey in a few pages the fullness of his life or to pick out his most significant contributions, for there were many. Adams was as resolute a man of action as he was a profound thinker. His capacity for intense concentration on whatever task lay at hand made him highly effective whether he acted or thought. He saw earlier than most of his colleagues in the Continental Congress (which he served from its tentative beginning in 1774 to its dissolution in 1788) that petitions and lists of “grievances” would not alter Britain’s determination to incorporate the Colonies in her Imperial Scheme; that she would by force Of arms seek to bend to her will the “subjects” whose allegiance she had lost by infringing their traditional liberties. To accept this did not come easy to him. “I go mourning in my Heart all Day long,” he wrote. But once it was obvious that Britain would not compromise, it made no sense to him for Congress to indulge in “talk of harmony, accommodation, loyalty, allegiance, love” until the Colonies had made themselves strong enough to assert their rights. This was the objective to which he bent every effort. He urged creation of a Continental Army, manned and supplied by Congress, and proposed that Washington be appointed its Commander in Chief; he advocated arming merchantmen as privateers (this was the beginning of our Navy; as President, he established the Navy Department). He pressed for an alliance with France or Spain or Holland “with any European power that cares to listen.”

He worked mightily to steer the Declaration of Independence through Congress. A “colossus on the floor,” wrote Jefferson in 1824, “he came out with a power of thought and expression that moves us from our seats.””

John Adams would die on July 4th exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson also died the same day.

The end of an era

The submarine Adams was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register, 24 March 1989; Disposed of through Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, 12 February 1996 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, WA.

Like all of the 41 for Freedom boats, the Adams performed its duties in silence and with great effectiveness. The crews that manned these vessels are indeed a breed apart. The Cold War was won because of their sacrifices and service.

Mister Mac


2 thoughts on “USS John Adams SSBN 620 – Libertatem amicitiam retinebis et fidem (Freedom and friendship thou shall preserve, and faith)

  1. Mr. Mac. What is your full name? I publish an e-mail blast to my membership the International Submariners of the United States of America and I insert some of your fine work. I gratefully give you the recognition you deserve.

    Thanks, Bud Cunnally President International Submariners Association of the United States (ISA/USA)

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