USS Hunley AS 31 – “We Serve to Preserve Peace.”
No story about the Cold War submarine efforts would be complete without the recognition of the work done by the Submarine Tenders (AS). The very first tender designed and built from the keel up to service the Polaris fleet was the USS Hunley.
Hunley was my last ship before I retired from the Navy and certainly one of the ones that helped complete my education as an officer. I served as M Division Officer for a time before assuming the role of “A” division officer. I can honestly say that there were very few spaces on board the ship that I didn’t have direct responsibility over in one way or another. I have many sleepless nights to show for that privilege.
When I arrived on Hunley in 1991, she was already thirty years from her launch date. The service she provided over those years had taken her toll. The engines were designed for dual purpose. While she did not deploy on a regular basis, the six main engines were the source of propulsion power through an interesting arrangement of electrical devices. The motor that turned the screw was an AC electric motor. When she was anchored or tied up to a pier, those same main engines were able to supply submarines alongside for days and weeks at a time.
This made her especially useful in places like Scotland and Guam. But both locations provided her crews with many challenges. Someday, I will write more about some of the more interesting events I witnessed or was told by old Hunley hands through the years. For today, I want to just take a moment to look at Hunley in the eyes of the Navy of the 1960’s.
This article comes from the Dictionary of American naval fighting ships. v.3. United States.
(AS-31: displacement. 19,000; L 599′; b. 83′; dr. 23’4″; s. 18 k.; cpl. 1,190; a. 2 5″ ; Class: Hunley)
Hunley (AS-31) was launched 28 September 1961 by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; sponsored by Mrs. J. Palmer Gaillard, wife of the Mayor of Charleston, S.C.; and commissioned 16 June 1962, Captain Douglas N. Syverson, in command. Hunley has the distinction of being the first ship designed and built up from the keel to service and maintain the U.S. Navy’s nuclear powered Ballistic Missile Submarine Fleet. She has complete facilities for servicing the complex Polaris Weapons Systems and for accomplishing any submarine repair other than a major shipyard overhaul.
Hunley sailed 25 July 1962 for shakedown training off Cuba. This completed 6 September, she visited several Gulf and Atlantic ports, including Mobile and Charleston.
She returned north to Norfolk 28 September for post shakedown alterations until 8 December. She next paid a 3-day visit to New York City to host the Naval Reserve Officers Seminar “New Ships for the Modern Navy.” She stood out of the Norfolk Operating Base 29 December 1962 for Holy Loch, Scotland, arriving 9 January 1963. Almost immediately she began taking the load off Proteus, whom she officially relieved 15 March 1963 as tender to Submarine Squadron 14 at Holy Loch, Scotland. This duty continued until 12 April 1964 when Hunley sailed for conversion that provided capability of handling the new A3 Polaris Missile. She resumed her duties at Holy Loch 15 June 1964.
A Polaris milestone was reached in December 1965 when Thomas A. Edison came alongside to commence the 100th refit of an SSBN by Hunley. This signified that one hundred SSBN submarines had gone out on time from Hunley and not one of them had to make an early return from patrol. This represents some 200 months of Polaris on station or 16 ½ years of submerged strategic deterrent since Hunley’s arrival in Holy Loch 9 January 1963.
Among impressive jobs carried out by Hunley is welding on SSBN pressure hulls or reactor plant fluid systems.
Once unheard of in submarine tending, these jobs are only a few of many tackled with confidence and skill by Hunley. These and many other alterations are carried out as a matter of routine to keep SSBN’s on the line with the newest possible technical improvements and safety devices. For example, an auxiliary “Sub-Safe” package was accomplished on Theodore Roosevelt in which over 40 fittings and more than 100 feet of new piping in a major system were installed. A battery replacement for Ethan Allen was completed in only 11 days. Hunley meets demands from making water-borne propeller replacements to encapsulation of AC induction motors; delicate repairs to navigation and fire control, and many other varied tasks to insure that each SSBN has the finest of care on each refit. The resolution, can-do spirit, and persevering fidelity of her officers and men give firm allegiance to Hunley’s motto: “We Serve to Preserve Peace.”
Hunley returned to the United States late in 1966 and in 1967 operates out of Charleston, S.C, laboring to keep sharp the edge of the Navy’s underwater nuclear deterrent.
As any Hunley veteran can tell you, she did so much more than just assist the boomers in her life.
Not only did she service fast attacks, she was used more than once for disaster relief. One of those things I am most proud of was the crew. Despite her age and wear, she passed her final INSURV Inspections with remarkable flying colors while also passing her OPPE exams and winning the Ney award in the year the decision was made to decommission her. I still stay in touch with many of the men and women I served with during her last four years. They were some of the best sailors, Chiefs and Officers I served with.