USS John C. Calhoun – Keeping the Peace

The ballistic missile submarine John C. Calhoun was launched on June 22nd 1963 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia. By September of 1964, she would take her place in the ever growing fleet of submarines that had been sought after by the Navy for over a decade. These vessels all represented the best technology of the day and many would go on to serve for thirty and more years.


Dictionary of American naval fighting ships. V. 3. United States.


In 1955 the Navy stated its long range objective to develop a ballistic missile for use in submarines. This was within an overall plan for the development of the liquid-propelled Jupiter missile after the National Security Council recommended, and the President approved, “That a 1,500-mile ballistic missile system be developed.”

In 1956 the Secretary of Defense authorized the Navy to proceed with the development of the Polaris missile, a smaller solid-propellant missile, and to terminate participation in the Jupiter program. By the end of 1956 the Secretary of the Navy had established the Navy Ballistic Missile Committee to direct the high-priority Fleet Ballistic Missile System and had given the Special Projects Office, headed by Rear Admiral William F. Raborn, U.S. Navy, the responsibility for -the development of the entire missile system. The first Fleet Ballistic Missile test flight occurred 11 January 1958.

Also, in January 1958, construction was begun on the first three FBM submarines. The first one, GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN-598), had been laid down as SCORPION (SSN-598), but was cut in two and had a 130-foot missile launch tube section inserted. She launched 9 June 1959, commissioned 30 December 1959, and successfully launched the first two Polaris missiles ever fired by a submerged submarine 20 July 1960. Polaris first went on patrol 15 November 1960 when GEORGE WASHINGTON deployed from Charleston, S.C., for an operational patrol which set a new record of 66 days, 10 hours submerged continuously.

On 8 February 1961, submarine tender PROTEUS (AS-19) sailed to establish the first Polaris advanced base at Holy Loch, Scotland. After a distinguished record in World War II, she had been converted in the Charleston Naval Shipyard to serve as the Nation’s first tender to service and repair FBM submarines and their Polaris missiles. She and four new tenders are now operational: HUNLEY (AS-31), HOLLAND (AS-32), SIMON LAKE (AS-33), and CANOPUS (AS- 34).

The entire Polaris program has been keynoted by dedicated efforts and coordination of thousands of military men, a significant portion of American industry, and the development of new concepts of logistics and industrial management never before adapted to military administration. The Fleet Ballistic Missile Weapon System includes 41 Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines now operational.


Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans dealing with Calhoun focused on his lifetime but also spent a great deal of energy dealing with slavery. The history of slavery in America and the lead up to the Civil War is covered in great detail in the 25 pages of this chapter of Rickover’s book. The treatment of the subject matter is done in a way that you would anticipate from the Admiral. Clinical and precise as to its content and non-judgmental. The Admiral merely reports his version of the facts as he understood them.

The use of the name John C. Calhoun, like the names Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, would rise to the top of unfavorable lists in today’s day and age. It is interesting to note that many of the 41 for Freedom boats carried names that were as far removed from political correctness as we are from the planet Pluto. (Which by the way is also no longer a planet according to many authorities).

“John Caldwell Calhoun March 18, 1782 – March 31, 1850) was an American statesman from the Democratic party and political theorist from South Carolina who served as the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832. He is remembered for strongly defending slavery and for advancing the concept of minority rights in politics, which he did in the context of protecting the interests of the white South when it was outnumbered by Northerners. He began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. In the late 1820s, his views changed radically, and he became a leading proponent of states’ rights, limited government, nullification, and opposition to high tariffs—he saw Northern acceptance of these policies as a condition of the South remaining in the Union. His beliefs and warnings heavily influenced the South’s secession from the Union in 1860–1861.”

Namesake: John C. Calhoun (1782–1850), S.C. legislator and Statesman

Ordered: 20 July 1961

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

Laid down: 4 June 1962

Launched: 22 June 1963

Sponsored by: Miss Rosalie J. Calhoun

Commissioned: 15 September 1964

Decommissioned: 28 March 1994

Struck: 28 March 1994

Motto: For Peace, Ready

Class and type: James Madison-class submarine

Displacement: 7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced

8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged

Length: 425 ft (130 m)

Beam: 33 ft (10 m)

Draft: 32 ft (9.8 m)

Installed power: S5W reactor

Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines 15,000 shp (11,185 kW), one shaft

Speed: Over 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)

Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)

Complement: Two crews (Blue and Gold) of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men each

Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes (originally for Polaris missiles, later for Trident C-4 missiles)

4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (all forward) with Mark 48 torpedoes

After shakedown and training along the Atlantic coast, John C. Calhoun began operational patrols 22 March 1965. Assigned to Submarine Squadron 18, she deployed on classified undersea patrols to bolster the continuing “keeping the peace” efforts of the Navy Armed with deadly, far- ranging Polaris missiles, this nuclear-powered submarine helps maintain the freedom of the seas by guarding them from beneath the waves. Moreover, the lethal might of her ballistic weapons makes her a powerful deterrent against any potential aggressor; no matter how far from global waters the threat to world peace might be, John C. Calhoun stands ready to meet the challenge.

On May 18, 1972, the USS John C. Calhoun completed the Navy’s 1000th patrol when it surfaced west of Scotland and moored at Holy Loch.

USS JOHN C. CALHOUN was the 13th LAFAYETTE – class nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine. The JOHN C. CALHOUN was built to accommodate the Polaris A3 missiles and was refitted with the Poseidon missiles from 1969 on. From 1979-82, the JOHN C. CALHOUN received upgrades to carry the Trident I missiles.

Fate: Scrapping via Ship-Submarine Recycling Program completed 18 November 1994

While this article is not about the Calhoun, it does address one of the unintended consequences of submarine duty in the Polaris age”

Subs Have Weighty Problems (ALL HANDS Magazine January 1963)

Plenty of good food and too little space to work off excess poundage have resulted in something of a problem on board Polaris submarines. Overweight SSBN crews are concerned about their ever-expanding midsections.

Lack of good food on the long patrols made by Polaris subs could result in a serious morale problem. Therefore, supply officers give the menus an extra measure of attention. Emphasis is on variety, but the standard favorites such as steak, roast beef, and chicken, are carried in quantity.

Because of the premium on space in the subs, meats are deboned and carefully trimmed before going into the freezer. The development of many new ration-dense foods in a flavorful variety has helped remove some of the need for more space. (Ration-dense potatoes, for example, occupy from 50 to 80 per cent less space than regular spuds.)

Polaris submariners follow a regular meal schedule while on patrol, but, for morale purposes, there’s a ’round-the-clock open-door policy on the refrigerator.

Overweight crewmen may find the answer to their problem by requesting duty on board USS Lafayette (SSBN 616), launched last May in Groton, Conn. —— Lafayette has built-in exercise equipment for fighting the battle of the bulge.

Later submarines would not be so lucky. As newer Fast Attacks came on line, space was at a premium and you can be assured there was no significant effort to address the exercise issue.


As always, thanks to the men of the Calhoun who maintained the highest state of readiness.

Mister Mac



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