When the Polaris program was first conceived, the technology to make it all work did not exist. Neither did the submarine platforms that would need to carry the new weapons. In fact, the George Washington was a strange creature that evolved from the world of Fast Attacks that in and of themselves were revolutionary. Gone were the days of modifying World War 2 submarines to have a nuclear reactor. This class of Fast Attacks included the sleek rounded hulls that enabled them to dive deeper and faster than their older cousins. Not only that, but the presence of a reactor ensured the true conversion to a submarine capable of operating of operating under the surface for months at a time.
But the early boats were filled with machinery and equipment that had been shoved into every available inch of space. Habitability was much improved over the diesel boats that fought in the war, but for extended deployments, crew morale was becoming an issue.
Many of the lessons of the first boomers were learned the old fashioned way by trial and error. But the advances in technology and weapons systems required a new design. The Lafayette Class filled that need. The George Washington Class was 385 feet in length compared to the 425 feet of the Lafayette. (In comparison, the later Ohio class boat would grow to 560 feet long)
USS Lafayette (SSBN-616), the lead ship of her class of ballistic missile submarine, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named to honor Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a French military hero who fought alongside and significantly aided the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Admiral Rickover wrote of Lafayette in his book Eminent Americans:
USS LAFAYETTE (SSBN 616)
NAMED IN HONOR of the best foreign friend the United States ever had, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757—1834). Scion of ancient and illustrious French families, he was born in the Chateau de Chavaniac in Auvergne, France, and educated at the College du Plessis in Paris, entering the King’s Musketeers at the age of 14. He was 18 and by now a captain when he heard of the revolt of the American Colonies against Britain and read the Declaration of Independence. “At the ﬁrst news of this quarrel, ”he later wrote in his memoirs, “my heart was enrolled in it.” He instantly decided to make America’s cause his own. In part, he was motivated by an ardent desire to hit back at England for the humiliation She had inﬂicted on France in the Seven Years’ War, in which his father had lost his life (at the Battle of Minden, 1759). In part, his generous youthful spirit was stirred at seeing the American Colonies put into effect the ideas of the Enlightenment.
Nuclear Powered Submarines. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (Published 1964)
Lafayette and Sir Winston Churchill are the only men to whom honorary American citizenship has been extended. For his services to the colonies during the Revolution
Lafayette was voted honorary citizenship by the legislatures of Virginia and Maryland. When the two states became part of the United States his citizenship was automatic.
The USS Lafayette was the first ship of the third-generation Polaris submarines and embodies more sophisticated systems than its predecessors. She is of the Fleet Ballistic Missile type, is 425 feet long, displaces 7,000 tons, and is capable of firing the 2,500 mile A3 Polaris missile. She is one of the fastest reacting and most comfortable warships afloat.
The Lafayette will be the first Polaris submarine equipped with the TRANSIT navigation system. Equipment aboard the ship will enable it to receive data from orbiting TRANSIT satellites, giving it a position fix once every four hours.
Submariners are among the Navy’s best fed, but pity the cook. During the course of an average Polaris patrol, the Lafayette’s cooks will prepare about 23,500 meals in a galley 9 x 15 feet. By contrast, a housewife cooks 5,475 meals per year for a family of five.
Bureau of Ships journal v.11. January 1962 Launching:
The Navy’s fleet ballistic-missile submarine Lafayette (SSB(N)-616) was launched on 8 May 1962, at the General Dynamics Corporation’s Electric Boat Division, Groton, Connecticut. Mrs. John F. Kennedy, wife of the President, highlighted the ceremonies when she christened the 425-foot Lafayette, in both English and French.
Secretary of the Navy Fred Korth delivered the principal address at the launching ceremonies, which were attended by an audience of approximately 3,000 shipyard workers, uniformed Naval officers and officials of the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation. In his address the Secretary welcomed Lafayette as “another vital portion of our deterrent strength, and a magnificent specimen of progress toward peace.”
Sharing the speakers’ platform with Secretary Korth and Mrs. Kennedy was the French Ambassador Herve Alphand, who stated, “I wish that in the face of the perils threatening us, France and the United States remain the friends they have never ceased to be for now nearly two centuries.”
When the keel of Lafayette was laid in January 1961, Ambassador Alphand welded his initials into the keel plate as a symbol of the historic friendship of the peoples of France and the United States.
Named for the French hero of the American Revolution, Lafayette is the lead ship of a new class of POLARIS firing submarines—a class scheduled to become “standard” of its type. The 7,000-ton submarine is larger and heavier than the earlier fleet ballistic submarines. She has two additional compartments not built into the George Washington and Ethan Allen classes. Designed to keep crew morale at peak during extended patrols, the new compartments consist of a three-man gym and combination crew’s lounge.
The prospective commanding officers of the submarine’s “Gold” and “Blue” crews are, Cdr. Lando W. Zech, Jr., USN, and Cdr. Patrick J. Hannifin, USN, respectively. The two crews will alternate taking the ship to sea so that it will be on station almost constantly. The First Lady received as a sponsor’s gift two beautifully framed antique engravings—one of George Washington, the other of Lafayette.
About the ship:
USS LAFAYETTE was the lead ship of the Navy’s LAFAYETTE – class of nuclear fleet ballistic missile submarines and the second ship in the Navy to bear the name.
Deactivated while still in commission on March 1, 1991, LAFAYETTE was decommissioned on August 12, 1991, and stricken from the Naval list on February 25, 1992. She began the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington the day she was deactivated and finished it the day she was stricken. On the latter date, the ship no longer existed as an entity and was classed as scrapped.
General Characteristics: Awarded: July 22, 1960
Keel laid: January 17, 1961
Launched: May 8, 1962
Commissioned: April 23, 1963
Decommissioned: August 12, 1991
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)
Prior to deactivation, she completed 76 Patrols. Fitting number for a ship named a Revolutionary War Hero.
The website for the Lafayette is http://ssbn616.homestead.com/