Speak Softly but carry a big stick – USS Theodore Roosevelt SSBN 600

More than one hundred years ago, as a new century was about to break, Theodore Roosevelt remarked that, “In a crisis, the man worth his salt is the man who meets the needs of the situation in whatever way is necessary.”

I can’t imagine a man more suited for the role as President for his time than Theodore Roosevelt. When you reflect on all of the scientific and industrial firsts that occurred on his watch, the rapid pace of each new discovery is astonishing. Yet he was also a man of conservatism. He recognized that the growth associated with so many new advances in technologies came at a cost. His was truly the first Presidency that embraced change while fearing for the future. That is evident in his personal interest in the global reach of America balanced with his pioneering spirit preserving land and resources.

The single best book I have ever read about the man was Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris (famed Presidential biographer). My copy is dog eared and beat up form the number of times I have read it and each time it seems like I discover some new element or way of looking at who the man was. The power of his presence was enough to craft peace treaties in faraway places and keep the government moving forward in the face of enormous challenges. Of all the early Presidents. He could have been the first to go beyond two terms. That accomplishment would fall to a later Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was truly a man for the ages. The submarine that was his namesake falls into that category as well.

As always, I tell the story from a few perspectives. First, excerpts from Admiral Rickover’s book. Second, the specifications for this proud ship. Finally, the history of her operations including her final disposition.

“USS Theodore Roosevelt SSBN 600” From Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans:

NAMED FOR Theodore Roosevelt (1858—1919), 26th President of the United States. Scion of a distinguished family of Dutch, Huguenot, and Scotch-Irish stock, Roosevelt was born in New York City. He went to Harvard, made Phi Beta Kappa, and after graduation enrolled in Columbia Law School, but soon discovered that his interest lay not in the law but in literature, natural history, and above all, politics.

Public service was in the family tradition. His father’s ancestors had been active in the affairs of New York for centuries; his mother’s family had produced men who gave notable service to Georgia and the South. Roosevelt himself was only 23 when he was elected to the New York State Legislature (1881—84). Thereafter, his public Offices were many and varied: member of the United States Civil Service Commission (1889 95); Head of the New York City Police Board (1895-97); Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1897 -98); Governor of New York State (1898—1900); Vice President for a few months and, after the assassination of McKinley, President of the United States (1901-09). He also ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York State in 1886 and for President in 1912. When the Spanish American War broke out, he resigned from his secretary ship of the Navy, organized the First US. Volunteer Cavalry regiment (the “Rough Riders”) and, at their head, stormed San Juan Hill. In the “private intervals” of his busy life, he enjoyed the great outdoors as a western rancher, African explorer and big game hunter. He also found time to write several books.

No bare listing of his activities can give an inkling of the fantastic energy with which Roosevelt threw himself into every task he undertook. The “only life worth living,” he once said, was “a life of effort.” Indeed, effort-hard, intelligent, continuous exertion—was the hallmark of his life and the secret of his success.

As a child he had been sickly, much troubled by asthma. He was only 12 when his father told him bluntly that he was a sorry physical specimen and something had better be done about this. A gymnasium was installed, and here the boy worked out with a punching bag, dumbbells, and horizontal bars. Later he took boxing lessons, learned to hunt, and became proficient in other sports. By dint of extraordinary perseverance and iron determination the sickly child transformed himself into a man of exuberant health and vitality, and of above-average athletic competence.

Though favored by fortune in having parents who gave him the right mixture of love and discipline and, above all, constant encouragement and guidance, Roosevelt was truly a self-made man and proud of it. Only a few, he used to say, are born with superior endowments, but anybody who wants to make the necessary effort can achieve a level of competence that allows him to stand beside the exceptional man and do his duty with equal efficiency.

He could prove this in his own person, for he was a politician and statesman of renown, though lacking most of the attributes that win easy popularity; a persuasive speaker, though his voice was not good; much loved by the American people, though anything but handsome. He won their affection by his sincerity, his devotion to the public good, his love of adventure, his enjoyment of life. He had a singularly attractive personality because he was in harmony and balance within himself; heart, mind and body, had all been brought to their highest potential.

Though he said, “I am just an ordinary man without any special ability in any direction. In most things . . . just above the average, in some . . . a little under, rather than over,” this surely was too modest an assessment. His intellect was very much above the average, though it is true that he achieved greatness not because he was a genius. He did, however, receive a rigorous liberal education and remained, all his life, intensely interested in a broad range of subjects. This breadth of knowledge and interest enabled him to see national issues clearly and from a long range point of view. He therefore often under stood better than the experts the very problems that fell within their particular area of competence. An example can be found in the steps Roosevelt took to improve the Navy.

Not bound by service traditions nor influenced by personal preference for the status quo, he had no difficulty perceiving that mobility and the capacity to hit targets are two of the principal requisites of a first-class Navy. Yet he found the Navy clinging to coal, while endlessly discussing the pros and cons of conversion to oil. Roosevelt ordered conversion to begin forthwith. He found the Navy persisting in gunnery practices that produced poor results. During the Spanish-American War, he had heard of a young lieutenant, Sims by name, who had the audacity to criticize naval gunnery and propose improvements. For a while it looked as if something might be done, for it was feared that the French had trained the Spanish Navy. When it was discovered that Spanish ships aimed no more accurately than American ships, the matter was dropped. But to Roosevelt, the layman, a navy seemed of little use if it could not hit the target. As soon as he was able to do so, he put Sims in charge of organizing a new system of naval gunnery and backed him to the fullest against the enemies of progress.

His interest in the Navy, indeed in the buildup of our military forces in general, was an outgrowth of his recognition, long before others, that our country stood at the crossroads. Up to the turn of the century we had gone about our domestic affairs showing little interest in the world outside, protected as we were by friendly oceans which the British Navy kept free. He realized that the time had come for us to look to our own defenses.

So, too, he saw earlier than most of his countrymen that we were approaching a crisis in natural resources. Our rapid industrial growth had cost us a fantastic price in needlessly wasteful exploitation of natural wealth. Unless restraints were put on the lavish use of this wealth, we would be leaving a sadly depleted heritage to future Americans. The “experts” in turning natural resources into industrial products—the lumbermen, the mine owners—might scoff at conservationists and call them impractical dreamers, asserting that they “knew” our riches were inexhaustible. But Roosevelt, the educated lay man, was not impressed. He knew enough arithmetic to figure out that if you keep taking from a treasure house, you will eventually reach bottom, no matter how large the original hoard might have been. In his time, this simple truth was a novel idea in America. Even today there are people who find it so distasteful they simply ignore it.


Namesake: President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)

Builder: Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Laid down: 20 May 1958

Launched: 3 October 1959

Sponsored by: Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884–1980)

Commissioned: 13 February 1961

Decommissioned: 28 February 1981

Renamed: from Scamp (SSN-600),

6 November 1958

Struck: 1 December 1982

Homeport: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Fate: Recycling via Ship-Submarine Recycling Program completed 24 March 1995

Class and type: George Washington-class submarine

Displacement: 5400 tons light

5959-6019 tons surfaced

6709-6888 Approx. tons submerged

Length: 381.6 ft (116.3 m)

Beam: 33 ft (10 m)

Draft: 29 ft (8.8 m)

Propulsion: 1 S5W PWR

2 geared turbines at 15,000shp

1 shaft

Speed: 20 kn (37 km/h) surfaced

+25 kn (46 km/h) submerged

Range: unlimited except by food supplies

Test depth: 700 ft (210 m)

Complement: Two crews (Blue/Gold) each consisting of 12 officers, 100 enlisted

Armament: 16 Polaris A1/A3 missiles

6 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes

Using components initially assembled for the Skipjack-class nuclear attack submarine Scamp (SSN-588), SSGN-600 was laid down on 20 May 1958 by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, named Theodore Roosevelt and redesigned SSBN-600 on 6 November 1958, launched on 3 October 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth; and commissioned on 13 February 1961, Comdr. William E. Sims (blue crew) and Comdr. Oliver H. Perry, Jr. (gold crew) in command at Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned by Rear Admiral G. L. Russell, Commandant, 12th Naval District, in colorful and memorable ceremonies. Others participating in the ceremonies included Vice Admiral F. N. Kivette, Commander, Western Sea Frontier; Vice Admiral C. A. Lockwood (Ret.); Vice Admiral E. W. Grenfell, Commander, Submarine Forces, Atlantic Fleet; Rear Admiral R. S. Benson, Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific Fleet; and Rear Admiral L. V. Honsinger, Commander, Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Rear Admiral R. S. Benson, the principal speaker at the ceremonies, expressed the hope that this submarine, named after Theodore Roosevelt, may prove worthy of his name in the contribution it will make to “peace without surrender.”

Following Admiral Benson’s address, Commander W. E. Sims, the captain of Roosevelt’s “Blue” crew, assumed command and the ship took its place in the Fleet. Commander O. H. Perry, captain of the ship’s “Gold” crew, then read his orders and assumed command of that crew.

In the invocation at the commissioning ceremonies, the Senior Shipyard Chaplain, Captain H. W. Buckingham (Cho), USN, made the memorable statement: “We commission this ship not in hate but in hope, not in fear but in faith.”

Five days after commissioning, Theodore Roosevelt departed Mare Island, bound for the east coast. On 7 March, she became the first fleet ballistic missile submarine (FBM) to transit the Panama Canal. Four days later, she arrived at Cape Canaveral, Fla. After successfully firing her first Polaris A1 missile on 20 March and completing her shakedown training, the submarine arrived in Groton, Conn., on 1 May for post-shakedown availability at the Electric Boat Co. yard. She completed those repairs on 24 June and departed Groton, bound for Charleston, S.C. Theodore Roosevelt stopped at Norfolk, Va., along the way and arrived at Charleston on 7 July. Between 7 and 19 July, she loaded Polaris missiles at the Naval Ammunition Depot, Charleston, and made all other preparations for her first deployment. On the 19th, she stood out of Charleston on her first deterrent patrol. She concluded that patrol on 23 September at the FBM base at Holy Loch, Scotland.

Over the next three and one-half years, the submarine made 15 more deterrent patrols departing from and returning to the Holy Loch base in each instance. Late in the spring of 1965, she departed Holy Loch on her 17th and final patrol of the deployment. She concluded that patrol and the deployment when she arrived in Charleston on 15 June. She unloaded her 16 Polaris missiles and then departed Charleston for New London Conn., where she arrived on 26 June.

At New London, Theodore Roosevelt entered the yard of the Electric Boat Division for an extensive overhaul. Between July 1965 and January 1967, she had her nuclear reactor “refueled” and her Polaris weapon system modified to accept the more advanced Polaris A3 missile. The FBM submarine completed overhaul on 14 January 1967 and launched into sea trials and refresher training, all of which culminated in the successful firing of a Polaris A3 missile at the Cape Kennedy (Cape Canaveral) missile range late in April. At the end of the training period, she returned to Charleston to load missiles and to prepare for another series of deterrent patrols out of Holy Loch. She embarked upon her 18th patrol on 1 June and completed that cruise at the Holy Loch base.

Theodore Roosevelt’s second tour of duty operating from the Scotland base proved to be very brief in comparison to her first. Between mid-June of 1967 and February of 1968, she completed her 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st patrols. On 20 March 1968 while returning to Holy Loch from her 21st patrol, the submarine ran aground off the western coast of Scotland. After drydocking for temporary correction of the damage, she departed Holy Loch on 5 April to return to the United States for permanent repairs. Between 18 and 20 April she unloaded her missiles at Charleston and then headed north to New London. On the 23d, she arrived in the yard of the Electric Boat Division and commenced an extended repair period. Labor disputes caused delays, and Theodore Roosevelt did not complete her repairs until mid-October. She spent the latter part of that month in sea trials and then departed New London on 2 November on her post-repair shakedown cruise. She visited Norfolk, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix before concluding the cruise at Charleston on 27 November. She conducted training operations out of Charleston before deploying to Holy Loch again early in 1969.

That tour of duty lasted until May 1971. During the interim, she conducted nine more deterrent patrols, returning to Holy Loch for refit after each. On 12 May 1971, she stood out of Holy Loch on the 31st patrol of her career. On 20 July, Theodore Roosevelt arrived in New London completing both the patrol and the deployment. She remained in New London for three weeks, during which time members of her blue crew and her gold crew were brought together into a single overhaul crew while other members of both crews moved on to other assignments. On 10 August, the FBM submarine headed south to Charleston where she arrived on the 13th. Over the next month, she underwent refit and then departed Charleston on 11 September for special operations. Theodore Roosevelt returned to Charleston on the 30th and remained there a week and a day before returning to sea for another three weeks of special operations. The ballistic missile submarine reentered Charleston on 1 November and began a preoverhaul restricted availability. Three weeks later, she officially began her refueling overhaul, which lasted for more than two years.

Theodore Roosevelt completed her overhaul in January 1974. During the following two months, she conducted sea trials out of Charleston. In April and May shakedown training and nuclear weapons certification preparations occupied her time. In June, she conducted a one-week midshipman familiarization cruise out of New London, then underwent nuclear propulsion safety training before deperming at Norfolk. In mid-June, she received word of her reassignment to the Pacific Fleet with her new home port to be Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Between July and September, Theodore Roosevelt conducted another midshipman training cruise; then settled into pre-deployment training and preparations. The submarine departed Charleston on 20 September, transited the Panama Canal on 5 October, and, after a nine-day stop for missile loadout at Bangor, Wash., continued on to Pearl Harbor, where she arrived on 4 November. Six days later, she departed Pearl Harbor, bound for the Marianas. She entered port at Guam two weeks later, underwent refit at her new advanced base there, and began her first deterrent patrol in the Pacific Ocean on 31 December. Theodore Roosevelt conducted patrols out of Guam until 16 December 1977 at which time she departed on her 43rd deterrent patrol.

Theodore Roosevelt conducted patrols out of Apra Harbor, Guam with support from the USS Proteus (AS-19) until beginning her last patrol (Patrol 46) on 9 October 1978, which ended in Pearl Harbor. Upon arrival in Pearl Harbor, a new crew was formed from members of the former Blue and Gold crews. From November 1978 until October 1979, Theodore Roosevelt served as a “target of opportunity” for various ASW forces including ships, aircraft and submarines. During this period she made several port calls to Lahaina, Maui, Kona, Hawaii, and Nawiliwili, Kuai.

On 16 October 1979, the ship got underway from Pearl Harbor for San Diego, California, arriving on 25 October. She transited from San Diego to Alameda from 29 October to 31 October. On 7 November, Theodore Roosevelt transited from Alameda to Esquimalt, British Columbia, arriving on 10 November. On 14 November, the ship left Esquimalt and arrived at Carr Inlet, Washington for acoustic testing while suspended on cables. On 19 November, she transited to Bangor, Washington and submitted the first official work request (2-Kilo) to the newly-established Trident Refit Facility.

On 1 December 1979, she became the first Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine to offload her A-3 Missiles at the newly-built Explosives Handling Wharf. She was the “First to do it last.” At this point Theodore Roosevelt was officially taken out of Service. The Crew was reduced to 12 Officers and 111 Enlisted Men, who were designated as the Deactivation Crew.

Her fate had already been sealed by the decisions on naming the new Nimitz Class aircraft carriers. The NIMITZ class includes six carriers. USS NIMITZ (CVN-68), USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69), and USS CARL WINSON (CVN-70) have been delivered; USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71) was authorized in the FY-80 Defense Budget, and USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72) and USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-73) were authorized in the FY-83 Defense Budget.

Decommissioning and disposal

Theodore Roosevelt commenced the Deactivation Availability on 3 January 1980 at Submarine Base Bangor. In Mid-year, she was moved to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) for drydocking alongside Abraham Lincoln, where the Reactor Fuel was removed and the Missile Compartment dis-mantled to comply with SALT requirements. The Forward and Aft ends of the hull were then re-joined at the Aft bulkhead of the Operations Compartment, and the Forward bulkhead of the Reactor Compartment (RC). The ship was then undocked and moved pierside where a formal Decommissioning Ceremony took place on 28 February 1981. The Deactivation Crew was then detached and transferred to other Navy assignments. PSNS continued Deactivation Work pierside, completing the Deactivation Availability on 1 December 1982. The Hull was then placed in afloat storage at PSNS, and the Ship was stricken from the Naval Registery of Ships on that date. The Hull would remain in afloat storage in two configurations for almost 13 years, pending government decisions for the methods to dispose of De-fueled Nuclear-Powered Ship’s Reactor Compartments and the remaining hulls themselves.

In 1988, the Hull of Theodore Roosevelt was again drydocked at PSNS for the removal and disposal of the Reactor Compartment. An EIS had been approved in 1984 for the disposal of de-fueled submarine reactor compartments via permanent storage at the Federal Government Reservation at Hanford, WA. The RC was separated from the Hull, placed on a barge in the drydock, and prepared for waterborne shipment to Hanford. The Hull was re-joined at the Aft bulkhead of the Operations Compartment, and the Forward bulkhead of Auxiliary Machinery Space-2. Both Hull and Barge were undocked, with the Hull returning to afloat storage and the RC transported to Hanford. The Hanford Burial Trench 94 numbering system indicates that the SSBN-600 RC was the 7th placed in that facility on 1 November 1989.

The remaining Hull of Theodore Roosevelt was drydocked for the final time at PSNS in 1993, to enter the Nuclear Power Ship and Submarine Recycling Program. Final Dis-mantling and recycling were accomplished based on a 1990 EIS approving this method. On 24 March 1995, the recycling work completed, and Theodore Roosevelt ceased to exist, except in the minds of our enemies who feared her, and former Crewmembers who carry her memories.

Thanks to all the men who sailed her into history.

Mister Mac



2 thoughts on “Speak Softly but carry a big stick – USS Theodore Roosevelt SSBN 600

  1. Thanks for the detailed history. I was humbled and proud to serve on her for three years in the Blue crew as an MT2 in the late sixties. I retired as a LCDR LDO two years after the Roosevelt.

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