This is the next story in the series about the 41 for Freedom boats.
The name Alexander Hamilton has been widely resurrected in the past few years with the wild success of the Broadway show “Hamilton”. But for me, the name will always be synonymous with the second Lafayette Class submarine that bore his name. When the decision was made to include him as a member of the 41 for Freedom, I am sure it was not just because of his patriotism and love for this country, but for the many action he took in his time that ensured America could grow and prosper.
Admiral Rickover included him in his book about the Eminent Americans in the order he did because of his place in the historic timeline he was following. I would only add that his remarkable presence on the American stage far outshines and Broadway creation that followed hundreds of years later. Hamilton was a serious man with a deep love of America. Since he had not come from any particular colony in the beginning, he was able to see the country as a whole. It was a vision that he may have juxtaposed with something he saw in himself: He believed in building “Castles in the air”.
Beginning at the end
In February 1994, the recycling of the submarine Alexander Hamilton was completed in Bremerton Washington. Having participated directly in three unit decommissioning events during my career, I can tell you that there are few things quite as sad in the life of a Navy person.
Each of the boats and units I was assigned to were instrumental in winning the war many call the Cold War. A submarine, a floating drydock and a submarine tender all fell silent as the changing needs of the country dictated their end.
Day after day during the process, you watch equipment being removed, compartments being stripped of anything usable and machines being placed in a mothball like state. In your heart of hearts, you know that all of your efforts to preserve the proud warriors is in vain. No one is ever going to reopen the sealed tomb they are being converted into. While it is true that the great battleships were brought back to life, very few other occasions can be pointed to in recent history of a decommissioned vessel being resurrected.
The Alexander Hamilton was not one of the boats I served on or decommissioned. But so many men who sailed on her carry her memories deep within their hearts and the dark places they go at night. This ship was a grand evolutionary vessel that demonstrated its ability to secure the safety of the free world while also demonstrating an extraordinary ability to adapt and overcome the challenges of newer technology.
Hamilton was built as a Polaris submarine with 16 tubes designed to launch the Polaris A2 missile. Within five years of commissioning, she converted from the A2 missile to A3’s. POLARIS A3 represented a significantly greater technological advancement over A2, than that of A2 over A1. In terms of hardware design, POLARIS A3 was approximately an 85 percent new missile. The increase in range provided by A3 left no land target inaccessible and at the same time gave the submarines an enormous increase in sea room.
In 1973, she reinvented herself again by conversion to the Poseidon Missile.
POSEIDON, which had its roots in POLARIS technology, was a two-stage, solid propellant missile capable of being launched from a submerged FBM submarine. It was only 2 feet longer than the 32-foot POLARIS A3 missile, but had a much larger diameter, 74 versus 54 inches, and was 30,000 pounds heavier. Despite this increase in size, the growth potential of the FBM submarines allowed POSEIDON missiles to fit into the same 16 missile launch tubes that carried POLARIS.
POSEIDON was also a 2500 nautical (2880 statute) mile range missile; however, it was outfitted with multiple warheads, each of which could be targeted separately. This capability, known as MIRV, enabled POSEIDON to cover an increasing number of targets.
And now: The submarine USS Alexander Hamilton
USS ALEXANDER HAMILTON was the second LAFAYETTE – class nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine and the third ship in the Navy to bear the name.
General Characteristics: Awarded: July 22, 1960
Keel laid: June 26, 1961
Launched: August 18, 1962
Commissioned: June 27, 1963
Decommissioned: February 23, 1993
Builder: Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corp., Groton, CT.
Propulsion system: one S5W nuclear reactor
Length: 425 feet (129.6 meters)
Beam: 33 feet (10 meters)
Draft: 31.5 feet (9.6 meters)
Displacement: Surfaced: approx. 7,250 tons; Submerged: approx. 8,250 tons
Speed: Surfaced: 16 – 20 knots; Submerged: 22 – 25 knots
Armament: 16 vertical tubes for Polaris or Poseidon missiles, four 21″ torpedo tubes for Mk-48 torpedoes, Mk-14/16 torpedoes, Mk-37 torpedoes and Mk-45 nuclear torpedoes
Crew: 13 Officers and 130 Enlisted (two crews)
USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617) was a United States Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine. It was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named for Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury, who was instrumental in the formation of both the United States Coast Guard and the United States Navy.
From Admiral Rickover’s Book, Eminent Americans: USS ALEXANDER HAMILTON (SSBN 617)
NAMED FOR Alexander Hamilton (1757—1804), brilliant statesman, lawyer, and political writer. No one, in his time, could equal him in the instancy of his grasp of complicated issues, whether relating to government and political economy, or law and organization; nor in the skill with which he put forth well-organized, systematic programs of action to remedy the problems besetting the newly emerging United States.
For him, to see a defect was to put every ounce of energy into correcting it; to glimpse an opportunity was to seize it with both hands. His plans were bold and often at odds with prevailing opinion. He was as bitterly hated by his political opponents as he was extravagantly admired by his friends. Political feuds were taken more seriously then and often led to vituperation and violence. His eldest son, a youth of 20, died in a duel defending his father’s honor. Hamilton himself was mortally wounded on the very same spot 3 years later (at 47), called out by Aaron Burr whose political ambitions he had thwarted. Yet for all its brevity and tragic ending, Hamilton’s life was a remarkable success story. No other Founding Father had so inauspicious a start or rose so quickly to inﬂuence, position, and wealth.
Born on the tiny island of Nevis in the British West Indies, he was the son of James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant, and Rachel Fawcett, daughter of a French Huguenot physician and planter. These two could not marry because Rachel’s husband, despite long separation, would not grant her a divorce. The union of Alexander Hamilton’s parents, though socially accepted, was therefore never legitimized. Nor did it otherwise prosper.
His father was one of those younger sons of good family who seek their fortunes in the outposts of Empire but succeed in nothing they undertake. When he went bankrupt, the destitute family broke up; wife and son moved in with her relations on St. Croix; the father for a time was lost from sight.
Well-educated herself, Rachel obtained for her son as good an education as could be procured on the island. She ﬁrst taught him herself, then had him tutored by a Presbyterian minister. But all this came to an end when she died, leaving Hamilton at 11 a virtual orphan. The following year he started to earn his living as clerk in the general store of Nicholas Cruger in Christiansted. In a letter to a friend written at that time, he conﬁded his ambition to raise himself from “the grov’ling . . . condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me.”
Though well aware that no prospects for advancement were in sight, he vowed, “I mean to prepare the way for futurity . . .I’m no Philosopher you see and may be justly said to Build Castles in the Air . . . yet we have seen such Schemes successful when the Projector is Constant.” Something of the indomitable spirit of the penniless, lonely boy comes through to us across the barrier of archaic style and 18th century spelling.
From these humble beginnings, Alexander Hamilton did indeed build his Castle in the air. The country today is very reflective of the vision he had in his many years of service to it.
Admiral Rickover ended this chapter in the book with the quote:
Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, a political statesman deeply interested in our history, said of Hamilton: “He was ever the subject of white-heat controversy—in death even as in life. But for myself, summing it all up, I say that ﬁve words might be his epitaph, ‘The Republic Is His Monument.’ ”
About the boat:
The third Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617) was laid down on 26 June 1961 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corp.; launched on 18 August 1962; sponsored by Mrs. Valentine Hollingsworth, Jr., the great-great-great granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton; and commissioned on 27 June 1963, Comdr. Norman B. Bessac (Blue Crew) and Comdr. Benjamin F. Sherman, Jr., (Gold Crew) in command.
Between 28 June and 18 October, Alexander Hamilton carried out two shakedown cruises, one for her Blue crew and a second for her Gold. Following those operations, she conducted post-shakedown availability. After trials early in 1964, she departed the east coast on 16 March to deploy to Rota, Spain, her base of operations. She conducted deterrent patrols out of that port for the remainder of the year as a unit of Submarine Squadron (SubRon) 16. In January 1965, the fleet ballistic missile submarine transferred to SubRon 14 and based at Holy Loch, Scotland. Her cycle of patrols from there lasted until 2 June 1967 at which time she returned to the United States at Charleston, S. C. Later that month, she moved north to New London, Conn., and thence into the Electric Boat yard on the 18th to begin her first overhaul and nuclear refueling.
Alexander Hamilton completed the overhaul on 28 June 1968 and conducted post-overhaul trials, inspections, and shakedown training until early October. In November, she was deployed to Rota and conducted a deterrent patrol en route to her new base where she arrived on 30 December. For the next four years, the submarine operated from that Spanish port-again as a unit of SubRon 16. At the conclusion of her 31st deterrent patrol, she returned to Charleston in November 1972 and, in January 1973, began her second refueling overhaul, combined with a conversion to carry Poseidon missiles, at the yard of the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. The work on those two modifications lasted for over two years. The submarine carried out shakedown in April of 1975 and devoted the remainder of the year to training and various post overhaul trials. She conducted deterrent patrols 32 and 33 in the early part of 1976. Alexander Hamilton concluded the latter patrol at Holy Loch, Scotland, in May 1976 and conducted her next three patrols from that base. While on patrol 36, the fleet ballistic missile submarine visited Port Canaveral, Fla., and New London, Conn., before concluding that patrol at Charleston, S.C., in March 1977. During March and April, she completed refit and conducted refresher training. In July, she departed Charleston for another deterrent patrol which ended with her arrival at Holy Loch in September.
From that Scottish base, the fleet ballistic missile submarine conducted deterrent patrols 39 and 40. She departed Holy Loch in May 1978 for patrol 41 and concluded it at Charleston in July. The warship remained there until August when she got underway for New London. She arrived at New London early in September and, after exchanging crews, embarked upon deterrent patrol 42 later that month. She ended that patrol at Holy Loch in October. Over the next year, she made four patrols from the base in Scotland. On 31 October 1979, Alexander Hamilton departed Holy Loch on her 46th deterrent patrol, ending it at Charleston on 7 December. Early in January 1980, the ballistic missile submarine departed Charleston on deterrent patrol 47. She concluded that patrol at Holy Loch on 17 March 1980 and, for the remainder of the year, operated from that base.
Alexander Hamilton’s, deterrent patrols out of Holy Loch continued until 1986. At that time, she was to have been decommissioned in order to remove her from the fleet as a gesture of goodwill in accordance with the terms of the unratified SALT II strategic arms limitation treaty.
Upon her arrival in Groton early in 1986, the ballistic missile submarine began preparations for deactivation. The grounding of Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636), however, forced the Navy to change its plans. What had been a deactivation overhaul quickly became a four-week maintenance availability to get Alexander Hamilton ready for active service. In April, the warship sailed to Charleston, S.C., for further work conducted in the floating drydock Alamogordo (ARDM-4). While at Charleston, she also served at sea occasionally as a training platform. In mid June, the warship returned to Groton. During the summer of 1986, Alexander Hamilton participated in training cruises for Naval Academy and NROTC midshipmen.
In August, she learned that her refueling overhaul would be conducted by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine departed Groton on 1 October to begin the long voyage to Bremerton, Wash. Steaming by way of the Panama Canal, she arrived at her destination late in November. Alexander Hamilton formally began her refueling overhaul on 30 November and, as of the beginning of 1987, was still at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
In December 1988, the ship returned to Squadron FOURTEEN and completed strategic deterrent patrols seventy through seventy-three.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON pulled into Charleston, South Carolina in June 1991 to offload missiles in preparation for a return to the Pacific for decommissioning. August 23, 1991 marked the official transfer to Submarine Group NINE, Naval Submarine Base Bangor.
April 28, 1992 marked the 1000th dive for the ALEXANDER HAMILTON; THE MOST DIVES EVER RECORDED FOR AN SSBN. The final total of 1,002 dives was achieved on May 1, 1992. (theleansubmariner Note: this claim comes from the Hamilton Web site. I have not done much research yet on its veracity but it really looks great on paper)
USS ALEXANDER HAMILTON (SSBN 617) (was) deactivated on August 18, 1992, EXACTLY thirty years after launching.
Decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on February 23, 1993, the ALEXANDER HAMILTON was disposed of through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program one year later at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, WA. Recycling was finished on February 28, 1994.
I am looking forward to hearing from Hamilton sailors. They played a very important role in the progression of the Polaris program and the Poseidon program. Free people everywhere should be grateful for their sacrifices.