Freedom’s Defender – USS John Marshall SSBN 611 (SSN 611)

My history is a little rusty sometimes and I will readily admit that I was not as familiar with John Marshall as I should have been before I started this installment of the 41 for Freedom series. Yet, of all the men a boat of this class could have been named for, this one is one of the most appropriate.

The life and record of the man is nothing short of amazing and clearly a part of the American fabric. He was a Patriot during the war for independence, a statesman, and finally a man whose opinions shaped the very nature of the constitution as the country was developing. He was the right man for the right job at the right time. Decisions he made during his long tenure at the court have shaped not only the development of our country but still serve as guiding principles today.

Even Admiral Rickover recognized his importance with the amount of detail he provided in his book Eminent Americans (see below). The story of the man was certainly a powerful lesson in how to build a country and preserve its freedom and liberties. That is why it is very appropriate that a submarine such as the SSBN 611 would be named after him.

About the boat:

USS JOHN MARSHALL was the fourth ETHAN ALLEN – class nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine. She was the only ship of the United States ever to be named for the former Chief Justice of the United States.

John Marshall’s keel was laid down on 4 April 1960 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company of Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on 15 July 1961 sponsored by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, wife of the Attorney General of the United States, and commissioned on 21 May 1962 with Commander Robert W. Stecher commanding the Blue Crew and Commander Robert D. Donavan commanding the Gold Crew.

John Marshall began her sea trials on 8 April 1962. On 21 May, John Marshall joined the Atlantic Fleet as a unit of Submarine Squadron 14 (SUBRON14). On 31 May, she began her shakedown cruise, which culminated on 12 July with the successful firing of two Polaris A-2 missiles by the Blue crew and followed by the launch of three more by the Gold crew within days off Cape Canaveral, Florida. In October, with a port call in İzmir, Turkey, she became the first U.S. FBM to visit a foreign port. On 31 December, John Marshall sailed for her first Polaris patrol. Manned by the Blue crew, she became the ninth operational fleet ballistic missile submarine.

From 4 April 1963 to 30 November 1966, the Blue and Gold crews conducted a total of seventeen deterrent patrols from Holy Loch, Scotland.

On 13 December 1966, John Marshall started her first major overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. The overhaul was completed in April 1968. After the post-overhaul shakedown, she loaded ballistic missiles at Charleston, South Carolina, and in September 1968 began her eighteenth deterrent patrol. She conducted her 19th through 25th deterrent patrols from Holy Loch between October 1968 and June 1970. In June 1970, she became a unit of Submarine Squadron 16 and began operations from Rota, Spain.

She conducted her 26th through 37th deterrent patrols from Rota. She was awarded her first Meritorious Unit Commendation as a result of an operation conducted in March 1971 that demonstrated the effectiveness and dependability of the fleet ballistic missile system. In June 1973, she returned to New London, Connecticut, for a dependents cruise, then conducted two deterrent patrols from Charleston, South Carolina.

On 1 November 1974, John Marshall began her second refueling overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California. During this overhaul, the missile systems were converted to support the Polaris A-3 missile. The overhaul was completed in May 1976 and John Marshall commenced strategic deterrent patrols in February 1977 as a unit of Submarine Squadron 15. She conducted her 40th through 54th deterrent patrols from Apra Harbor, Guam. Her final deterrent patrol concluded with her arrival at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 28 December 1980.

After 19 years of service, the JOHN MARSHALL was redesignated as SSN 611 to comply with the SALT I treaty on May 1, 1981, and concrete blocks were placed in the missile tubes to disable the missile launch capability.

The JOHN MARSHALL subsequently underwent conversion to an amphibious transport. This conversion allowed the JOHN MARSHALL to carry Special Forces. Modifications included additional troop berthing and removal of some missile tubes.

General Characteristics: Awarded: July 1, 1959

Keel laid: April 4, 1960

Launched: July 15, 1961

Commissioned: May 21, 1962

Decommissioned: July 22, 1992

Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.

Propulsion system: one S5W nuclear reactor

Propellers: one

Length: 410.4 feet (125.1 meters)

Beam: 33.1 feet (10.1 meters)

Draft: 29.9 feet (9.1 meters)

Displacement: approx. 7,900 tons submerged

Speed: Surfaced: 15 knots, Submerged: 20 knots

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

Crew: 12 Officers and 128 Enlisted (two crews)

About the Submarine’s Name:

John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States and principal founder of American constitutional law, was born 24 September 1775 at Germantown (now Midland) in Fauquier County, Va. A member of the Culpeper minutemen early in the Revolution, he entered the 3rd Virginia Continental Regiment 30 July 1776 and served ably in a number of important campaigns, rising to Captain.

He became a lawyer after the war, serving his state as a leader in the Assembly and in the new Federalist Party. He attracted attention from national leaders, and was offered several diplomatic posts, but preferred to remain in Virginia. In 1797, however, he accepted an appointment on a three man commission to negotiate with France. After French leaders demanded personal bribes in return for engaging in the negotiations, Marshall answered for his colleagues in a brilliant memorial which rejected this extortion and upheld the honor and dignity of the new country.

Elected to Congress in 1799, Marshall became Secretary of State 6 June 1800. Here he strongly opposed violations of American rights on the high seas and adopted a policy which necessitated a strong navy to give force to our diplomatic protests.

Appointed Chief Justice 20 January 1801, Marshall continued to serve as Secretary of State until the end of Adams’ administration 4 March 1801. In the Supreme Court, Marshall made his greatest contributions to the development of American government. In a series of historic decisions, he established the judiciary as an independent and influential branch of the government equal to Congress and the Presidency. Perhaps the most significant of these cases was that of Marbury v. Madison, in which the principle of judicial review was simply stated by Marshall: “A legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law.” Then, as the young nation was endangered by regional and local interests which often threatened to tear it to shreds, Marshall again and again interpreted the Constitution broadly so that the Federal Government had the power to become a respected and creative force guiding and encouraging the nation’s growth. For practical purposes, the Constitution in its most important aspects today is the Constitution as John Marshall interpreted it. As Chief Justice he embodied the majesty of the Judicial Branch of the government as fully as the President stood for the power of the Executive Branch. He died 6 July 1835, having served as Chief Justice for nearly 35 years.

In Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans, John Marshall takes a predominant place. This is one of the longest chapters in the book and reflects the Admiral’s deep admiration for a man of thought who shaped the country as few others were able to in his capacity as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during our most formative years.


NAMED FOR John Marshall (1755—1835), fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and, in the estimation of many, the greatest. Wrote Judge Story, his colleague on the bench for many years: “Providence grants such men to the human family only on great occasions to accomplish its own great end.” By the sheer power of his intellect and personality, Marshall raised the Federal Judiciary, least important of the three branches of government when he took office, to the prestigious and authoritative position it holds to this day. Through his long tenure (1801—35), the independence of the Supreme Court was intermittently in jeopardy, yet at no other period in its history did it render such signal service to the Nation as judicial interpreter and guardian of the Federal charter. Marshall himself has no equal as expounder of the Constitution, nor has anyone surpassed him in judicial statesmanship.

His head, said Rufus King, was “the best organized” he had ever known. His capacity for swiftly absorbing masses of material and extracting what the occasion demanded was nothing short of phenomenal. He could “develop a subject by a single glance of the mind,” according to Attorney General Wirt, and do so seemingly without effort: isolating at once the crucial point at issue, discovering and applying the appropriate constitutional provision, examining and disposing of very possible opposition, building his argument step by step to its inevitable conclusion, and persuading his colleagues on the bench, the American bar in general, and ultimately the public at large of the correctness of his constitutional judgments.

It has been said that “the Constitution in its most important aspects is the Constitution as he interpreted it.”

The JOHN MARSHALL was finally decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on July 22, 1992, and entered the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash. Recycling of the JOHN MARSHALL was finished on March 29, 1993.

Mister Mac


5 thoughts on “Freedom’s Defender – USS John Marshall SSBN 611 (SSN 611)

  1. I really love this site. Hope it comtinues to give us a place to reflect on our service….and in some cases our old buddies.

  2. Just found this site. Interesting. I was Corpsman Blue crew 70-71. CO was Capt. Lewin, XO was Lcdr Wiltshire. Another CO in ‘71 and can’t recall his name.

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