Looking back over the US Navy’s history, there are many moments that define greatness or the aspiration for greatness. John Paul Jones heroic deeds certainly set the tone for what the future Navy would look like. The words “I have not yet begun to fight” will always stand out as the benchmark of bravery in the face of enormous odds.
Skill and courage were always important parts of seagoing men. The lessons passed down through the ages were absolutely critical to success and each generation added their own learning to the collective set of governing principles. The schools were the ships that sailed in the harshest and calmest of seas and the learning was critical to always bringing out best to the battle.
But technology was something that crept into the mix and challenged even the most experienced sailors and officers. Sails would someday give in to steam and steam would advance through a variety of evolutionary and more efficient fuels. Even the tactics that were employed in combatting an enemy would face challenges as the industry of war became more complex and mature.
The need for a more efficient way to train young men into the arts of naval warfare became more and more apparent as time passed. From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“The academy was founded as a Naval School on Oct. 10, 1845, by George Bancroft, historian, educator, and secretary of the Navy, to improve the then-unsatisfactory methods of instructing midshipmen. At first the course was five years, of which only the first and last were spent at the school, the intervening three years being spent on board ships on active service. The school was reorganized in 1850–51 as the U.S. Naval Academy, with a course of study of four consecutive years. A summer practice cruise replaced the omitted sea service and permitted intensive training.”
As ships began their transformation to the newer technologies, the Academy was one of the first major efforts to advance the technological knowledge and skills of the men who would operate them. For over fifty years, this was one of the only formal sources of advanced training but it led to the vast array of technical schools that now support our modern day Navy.
The submarine featured today is named after a visionary man who set the stage for that future development in learning.
USS George Bancroft SSBN 643
USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643), a Benjamin Franklin class (or “640-class”) fleet ballistic missile submarine, was the fourth ship of the United States Navy to be named in honor of George Bancroft (1800-1891), United States Secretary of the Navy (1845–1846) and the founder of the United States Naval Academy.
Name: USS George Bancroft
Namesake: George Bancroft (1800–1891), U.S. Secretary of the Navy (1845-1846)
Ordered: 1 November 1962
Builder: General Dynamics Electric Boat
Laid down: 24 August 1963
Launched: 20 March 1965
Sponsored by: Mrs. Anita Irvine
Commissioned: 22 January 1966
Decommissioned: 21 September 1993
Struck: 21 September 1993
Fate: Scrapping via Ship and Submarine Recycling Program completed 30 March 1998
Class and type: Benjamin Franklin-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: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Installed power: 15,000 shp (11,185 kW)
Propulsion: One S5W pressurized-water nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines, one shaft
Speed: Over 20 knots
Test depth: >1,000 feet
Complement: Two crews (Blue Crew and Gold Crew) of 120 men each
Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes
4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (all forward)
From Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans:
NAMED FOR George Bancroft (1800-91); author, educator, literary critic of note and America’s foremost 19th century historian; a man whose keen mind applied itself as fruitfully to problems of politics, administration and diplomacy as to the pursuit of truth in the realm of pure intellect. His preeminence as a scholar was matched by able performance while serving his country as Secretary of the Navy and as minister to London and Berlin.
Navy men know Bancroft best as the founder of the Naval Academy. He was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Polk in 1845, at a time when the crisis with Britain over the Oregon boundary, and with Mexico over admission of Texas to the Union, called for an effective combat-ready Navy. Bancroft found the Navy disorganized, rent by dissension, the politically appointed ofﬁcers inadequately trained for their duties. With a fresh mind, unbound by naval traditions, he set about the necessary reforms. It was clear to him that the basis of a ﬁrst rate Navy must be a ﬁrst-rate ofﬁcer corps. Since we lacked the reservoir from which the English drew their ofﬁcers—an educated upper class with a long tradition of public service—he felt we must have an academy where young men from all walks of life received schooling that would shape them into well educated, technically competent ofﬁcers. But Congress, mis trusting the idea, had twice voted down proposals for a naval officer school. In view of the urgency of the problem, Bancroft decided to act on his own.
As assets he could count the existence of two small schools where, during brief periods ashore, midshipmen were taught mathematics and navigation; also of a small number of teachers posted to the larger ships to give instruction at sea. Using the best of the teachers as the nucleus of a permanent faculty, he was able to house them in an abandoned Army post—Fort Severn. Since he had the authority to order midshipmen ashore, he assigned them to the school as ships reached port. By stringent economies, he found enough money to ﬁnance the ﬁrst term; he also succeeded in getting an able man (Commander Buchanan) appointed as head. Under him, standards of discipline, deportment and academic performance soon exceeded anything previously seen. Faced with a fait accompli, Congress was won over and appropriated funds for continuance of the Naval Academy.
During his year and a half term as Secretary, Bancroft also took steps that brought the solution of the Texas problem appreciably closer. He gave orders that led to the occupation of California and sent Zachary Taylor into disputed territory between Texas and Mexico. Years later, when serving as minister at Berlin, he was instrumental in bringing the Oregon dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. At his behest, the German Emperor was induced to act as referee. So ably did Bancroft argue our case that the award went to the United States.
He was equally successful in performing the principal task entrusted to him at Berlin—to resolve the long drawn-out conﬂict between the United States and Prussia over the status of nationalized citizens of German origin. The views of the two countries were diametrically opposed. As a country of immigration, we held it was the right of anyone to change his nationality; we therefore granted nationalization to qualiﬁed aliens without regard to claims upon them asserted by their countries of origin. Prussia, as most other European countries, maintained that a citizen could not escape his civic duties, especially military service, by emigrating and becoming nationalized abroad. Whether returning for brief visits to relatives or for prolonged re-domicile, German-Americans in large numbers were seized and put into the army. England’s impressment of American sailors-one of the causes of the War of 1812—was justiﬁed by her on a similar conception of non-divestible nationality.
Bancroft, who knew his Germans, appealed to Bismarck’s sense of family solidarity, arguing that maintenance of ties between German-Americans and their relatives was desirable from every point of view, and their visits to Germany ought not therefore be rendered hazardous by the threat of military impressment. He succeeded in obtaining acceptance of the principle that an individual has the right to renounce his nationality, Prussia being the ﬁrst European power to acknowledge this novel American idea. In his turn, Bismarck won his point that such renunciation must be bona ﬁde; that Germany could not permit her citizens to visit America brieﬂy, become nationalized and then return and resettle in Germany, thus demonstrating the ease with which one might escape his military duties. Agreement was reached that American nationalization after 5 years of residence would be accepted by Germany as proof of genuine American citizenship, provided the former national did not return to Germany with intent to settle there permanently, a visit of less than 2 years being considered permissible.
The Bancroft formula proved acceptable to most European countries and became the basis of numerous consular and nationalization treaties; it was also incorporated into our own laws of nationality, tempering the previous custom of granting citizenship without any requirement that naturalized citizens continue to demonstrate a sincere desire to accept full citizenship responsibilities.
Bancroft’s personal popularity was important in the success of his mission to Berlin. He was one of the ﬁrst American college graduates to study at a German university and obtain a doctor ate, graduate education then not being available in the United States. He spoke the language, and had translated German books and written informed and sympathetic articles interpreting German literature to America; moreover, he was a scholar of world renown and thus enjoyed the respect Germany customarily accorded eminent savants. His success as a scholar made him a more effective diplomat; conversely, his diplomatic position enabled him to ransack European archives for primary sources for his historical writings.
Bancroft’s claim to fame rests chieﬂy on his monumental History of the United States in 10 volumes (later condensed by him to six) which he was 40 years writing. At the University of Giittingen he had observed the meticulous scholarship for which Germany then was world famous. This he applied to his History, achieving an authenticity not found in contemporary American historical writings. In his methods of research, his rigorous effort to base the book on documentable evidence, he was modern. But the fact that he wrote history as literature, and that he conceived of American history as an “epic of freedom and democracy” obsoletes his work in the eyes of many “science-oriented” historians today.
The former crew members are very active in keeping their association alive.
You can find more information here: http://ssbn643.org/
I am grateful every day for the education and training the Navy provided to me and my contemporaries.
These schools made sure we were ready to play our parts in defending America.