41 For Freedom – SSBN Memories 41 Years Later 3

Its funny how an old picture can bring back so many memories. Whether a boomer sailor sailed out of Scotland, Guam, Rota or Charleston many of the events they experienced were similar. I don’t know how many hundreds of ballistic missile patrols were made. I am sure there were a lot.

Since the 1960s, strategic deterrence has been the SSBN’s sole mission, providing the United States with its most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability.

The world’s first operational nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was USS George Washington (SSBN-598) with 16 Polaris A-1 missiles, which entered service in December 1959 and conducted the first SSBN deterrent patrol November 1960-January 1961. The Polaris missile and the first US SSBNs were developed by a Special Project office under Rear Admiral W. F. “Red” Raborn, appointed by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke. George Washington was redesigned and rebuilt early in construction from a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine, USS Scorpion, with a 130 ft (40 m) missile compartment welded into the middle. Nuclear power was a crucial advance, allowing a ballistic missile submarine to remain undetected at sea by remaining submerged or occasionally at periscope depth (50 to 55 feet) for an entire patrol.

A significant difference between US and Soviet SLBMs was the fuel type; all US SLBMs have been solid fueled while all Soviet and Russian SLBMs were liquid fueled except for the Russian RSM-56 Bulava, which entered service in 2014. With more missiles on one US SSBN than on five Golf-class boats, the Soviets rapidly fell behind in sea-based deterrent capability. The Soviets were only a year behind the US with their first SSBN, the ill-fated K-19 of Project 658 (Hotel class), commissioned in November 1960. However, this class carried the same three-missile armament as the Golfs. The first Soviet SSBN with 16 missiles was the Project 667A (Yankee class), the first of which entered service in 1967, by which time the US had commissioned 41 SSBNs, nicknamed the “41 for Freedom”.

This is a typical picture of a boat leaving Holy Loch Scotland

Inside that boat, the sailors and officers were preparing for the first dive after refit. There are very few times in life where something so seemingly simple can be so complex. The vent valves on the ballast tank will open on command but will they close? Are the seals on the hatches cleaned and inspected before closing? What major systems were worked on during refit that might cause a problem? Did you get all of the air out of the hydraulic lines, especially the ones for the planes controls?

For the older guys, a feeling of sadness knowing that it will be sixty or more days before they get to talk to a loved one again. For the new guys, its that feeling of mixed excitement at a first dive and a nagging fear that anyone one of the things listed above could go wrong. For the officer’s its that lurking Russian trawler just beyond the Clyde waiting to give them a hard time on their way to work.

For the tender guys, its just another boat in a long rotation of boats with another one soon to follow. On shore, the people of Dunoon see a shadow filled with customers and men who often drank too much knowing there would be no more drinks for the months ahead. Somewhere back in the states there was an empty feeling in the homes of the families who may have wished that last phone call could have lasted a few minutes longer. In the heartland of America, there was nothing. Not a feeling of something special or different about to happen. Not a fear in the world that some Soviet boat might be at that very minute patrolling near their coasts. Not a streak of an ICBM over the dawn sky.

Because at the heart of it all, men who sailed on that boat and worked on those tenders and docks were so very damn good at their jobs.

Mister Mac

Submarines : Documentary on the Submarine Wars of the Cold War (Full Documentary) 1

1395190_10201730056564944_611884660_n If you ever lived on one, this will make you homesick. If you never lived on one, it might make you jealous. In the beginning scenes one of my colleagues Mark Keef is featured in a submarine missile launch. 1983 Debbie, Bob, Mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj6VaV6-d6Y   Enjoy

Mister Mac

Did it matter? 18

Did it matter?

A few weeks ago on one of the Holy Loch themed Facebook pages, a few of us were reminiscing about the old days and all of the patrols that were made during the Cold War. Someone reflected how successful the system was but a member of the site (who self-identified as an anti-nuclear activist) said something to the effect that we didn’t do a thing. I was reminded that since the end of the Cold War, many of the early anti-nukes were actually encouraged, trained and funded in a very secretive way by the KGB. Yet, I do ask from time to time, was it all worth it?

Proteus early 70s

From 1960 – 1991, submarines made deterrent patrols beneath the surface of the ocean almost non-stop in support of America’s strategic system. The intent of course would make the idea of anyone (USSR specifically) launching a first strike nuclear attack virtually out of the question. While land based missiles and planes could be targeted by heavier and heavier land based missiles, finding all of the Polaris, Poseidon and later Trident boats would have been much more of a challenge. Even the growth of the Soviet submarine forces as a countermeasure would not have stopped all of the boats from performing their gruesome task.

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In order to support such a system of deterrence, someone was going to have to give up some free time of course. The ballistic missile submarines from the very beginning were manned by rotating crews (blue and gold). The hallmark of the system was that pretty well engineered boats with nuclear reactors and flexible support teams could get in to port, turnover and refit and return to station with a great deal of efficiency. From 1960 that included forward deployment of tenders and drydocks in strategic locations to allow the patrol zones a maximum coverage.

The sacrifices were abundant.

For the men who sailed on the boats, there were plenty of sacrifices to go around. The separation from family for months at a time is in itself one of the great reasons so many only did one or two tours. We sailed in virtual silence, only being on the receiving end of an occasional Family Gram. These messages were limited to a few sentences and if the sender didn’t do it right, a man could go without any word for the entire patrol. Not only were you missing holidays and birthdays (not to mention the occasional actual birth of a child) but you had nothing but the bottom of the upper bunk to stare at in the glowing red lights in berthing.

Life went on while the boys were under the seas. Bills to pay, washing machines that waited until the hatch was closed to break. Cars that had flat tires and storms that blew down fences. All while Daddy was away and left Mom to try and figure out how to fix things. Some marriages weren’t strong enough. The divorce rate was high and the broken families literally littered the landscape. Kids learned to talk and walk and fight and make new friends all while Dad was so far away. There was no one to ask advice from about that girl who drove you crazy or the boy who wanted to be “more than friends”. All that had to wait while Mom tried to handle things on her own.

It wasn’t a great picnic for single guys either. Their lives were just as much impacted by hibernating under the waves.

Bob and Renee 1972

My first patrol was a Christmas run on the George Washington in 1973. When I went to sea, I had had a fight with my fiancée on the phone. This was no small deal since we were in Guam in another time zone and she was at home in Elizabeth PA. The phones were very expensive back then and when you are fighting and not speaking, it’s an expensive silence. Things at home were not great either. Dad had just come back from the hospital where Mom was spending the night after a few days of a serious medical condition. He was tired and we also had some harsh words about the future and the past. I can’t even remember if I told him I loved him. He was pretty angry that I had sent half of my family gram forms to Renee.

The boat leaving for patrol was actually kind of a relief in some ways. The relief was that we were so busy with everything that comes with making a patrol that we could turn life off for a while. There were fun moments mixed in the bad ones. There were hours of boredom surrounded by a few moments of utter fear. Even as close as you were with the men around you, there were also a lot of lonely moments when you really questioned who you were and what you were doing there.

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The worst moment of course came on Christmas Eve. The cooks had decorated the mess decks for the season with some shiny tinsel and a few lights. If I remember, there were even some of those cheesy cut out signs strung together that said Happy Holidays. I had mess cooked all day and was pretty tired but I have to say the feeling on the mess decks when they broke out the movie was pretty depressed. I was raised as a Christian and missed the service at my old Church field with singing and Joy to the World. I don’t know who thought it was a good thing to do, but in the second reel of the movie, the fans suddenly turned off and the General Alarm broke over the MC system followed by “Man Battle Stations Missile, spin up all missiles” followed by another round of that awful General Alarm.

There were not many Christian sentiments shared by the crew members who dragged themselves out of their racks that evening. I couldn’t help but think about the old saying Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards men as we came together to practice what we had been sent to do.

But it was only practice. The world got to live another day without a cataclysmic moment. Silent Night, Holy Night.

The patrol would end just like the 42 before it on board the George-fish. Turnover to the Goldies, get on the busses to the air base in Guam and try to catch back up with our lives.

That girl I left behind found a new guy. Mom got better and has lived another 40 years in relatively good health. Dad and I found a way to say “I love you” before he died … He told me the day before he passed and the day before I went to sea for one of my last trips. The world never did get to experience that nuclear holocaust we were sent out to prevent.

Did it matter?

I still like to think it did. We have had wars of other kinds but the ones we worked to prevent never have materialized. I hear the Chinese are building boomers now. I hear the Russians are upgrading their fleets again and of course there is that whole madness with the entire Middle East. Our own country is being torn apart inside by people with some pretty selfish motives.

But tonight, as I write this and you read it, some new generation is at sea riding their own patrol or mission. Even with the change in the way we live and fight, our submarine force is still sailing the oceans protecting a fragile peace. I thank them all. I pray for their missions and their safety. I mostly pray that as I sing Silent Night at Church tonight, the words will have as much meaning as they did that night 41 years ago.

Mister Mac

Merry Christmas to all of my fellow Submariners wherever you are!

 

The First Dive – Looking Through a Prism Reply

I have always been fascinated by prisms. As a kid, I loved looking through them at various objects to see what would happen. Without going into the science of it, what you saw as you looked through it was different depending on the angle you looked through it. Another sailor posted a picture on Facebook today that almost immediately made me think of the points of view of all the people who would have been involved in the original picture.

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This picture appears to have been taken in Scotland in the Holy Loch. The base was really more of an anchorage where ballistic missile submarines (and the occasional other fast attack submarine) would come for refitting between patrols. The tender provided many services that the boat was unable to provide for itself and the floating drydock nearby would provide a means for cleaning the hull and other major repairs in a remote location.

LA and Simon Lake

The boats started patrolling fifty years ago and the ships that supported them rotated through for over thirty years except for the drydock USS Los Alamos which stayed for the entire time During those years, the dock had a number of sections changed out but on the whole, parts of it were there nearly non-stop.

As I looked at the picture, it occurred to me that I had been at one time or another one of many of the roles represented in it. Of course I sailed as a submariner then as a Docker. In my last days I served on a tender that had a long history of servicing boats. While our mission had changed by 1991, the Hunley was still configured for her original mission in many ways as well as adapting to the new ones.

Hunley 1994

 

What they were feeling depended on what their point of view was – their own view through a prism.

inside that boat, the sailors and officers were preparing for the first dive after refit. There are very few times in life where something so seemingly simple can be so complex. The vent valves on the ballast tank will open on command but will they close? Were the seals on the hatches cleaned and inspected before closing? What major systems were worked on during refit that might cause a problem? Did you get all of the air out of the hydraulic lines, especially the ones for the planes controls? For the older guys, a feeling of sadness knowing that it will be sixty or more days before they get to talk to a loved one again. For the new guys, its that feeling of mixed excitement at a first dive and a nagging fear that anyone one of the things listed above could go wrong. For the officer’s its that lurking Russian trawler just beyond the Clyde waiting to give them a hard time on their way to work. For the tender guys, its just another boat in a long rotation of boats with another one soon to follow. On shore, the people of Dunoon see a shadow filled with customers and men who often drank too much knowing there would be no more drinks for the months ahead. Somewhere back in the states there was an empty feeling in the homes of the families who may have wished that last phone call could have lasted a few minutes longer.

What about in the heartland?

In the heartland of America, there was nothing. Not a feeling of something special or different about to happen. Not a fear in the world that some Soviet boat might be at that very minute patrolling near their coasts. Not a streak of an ICBM over the dawn sky. Because at the heart of it all, men who sailed on that boat and worked on those tenders and docks were so very damn good at their jobs.

What is most interesting to me is the resurgence of the Russian missile forces and the growth of the Chinese. The first submarine response was necessary for the continued freedom of mankind from tyrannical forces. I hope we have not lost the learning that was achieved during the First Cold War. It appears we may need some of those lessons again.

Mister Mac

Russian Submarine Base Pictures 3

Russian Submarine Base

In all of my years on submarines, I can never remember pulling into an underground submarine base. Probably because we didn’t have any! The Russians apparently did have a big underground submarine base and docks once in the USSR. After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian army left Ukraine it was partly abandoned and some of its parts was converted into a museum later.

http://englishrussia.com/2008/02/29/russian-underground-submarine-base/

Enjoy your tour of this cold war relic.

Mister Mac

Strategic Deterrence – 3500 patrols and counting 2

When most people look back at the fifties, it was a mixture of many different themes.

On the one hand, we had the growth of the so called middle class into suburbia as returning GI’s and their counterparts in the other services came home as victors to a nation ready to grow. Home ownership became rampant, babies were popping up all over the place and America was on the rise in so many ways.

Disneyland led to an ever growing entertainment industry that celebrated our success and sometimes excess.

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People from all over the world still clamor to come here and be a part of the grand experiment.

Beneath all the growth and success though was the gnawing reality that there were forces in the world who resented our lifestyle and wanted to see us destroyed.

The leadership in the Soviet Union and in Communist China saw us as an ever present threat. After all, we represented an engine of growth that was fueled by freedom and liberties that were a real threat to a state sponsored form of control. How could you subjugate the people’s of the Soviet block and others around the world if they had this shining beacon of freedom to admire from afar.

Maybe its just me but it seems that on the whole, mankind just does better when he is not controlled by an overreaching and all powerful government. I know there are a lot of people who would say that government is necessary but I would argue that it is only really needed as a way to support individual freedoms and counter everything else that would destroy our freedoms.

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That’s where strategic deterrence played a pretty key role.

Once Sputnik was launched and the word was out about the Soviets capability to launch nuclear tipped missiles in an intercontinental theater, the fear factor for many around the world was acutely raised. While we had our own missiles and planes that could do the same, a newer platform was needed quickly that could prove to be the wild card.

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41 for Freedom

Polaris filled that role nicely followed by Poseidon and Trident. Our marriage of nuclear power to submarines was enhanced with the capabilities of an underwater launching platform. The George Washington truly filled the role of her motto: Primus in Pace (First in Peace).

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Thirty years after the first patrol, the bad guys still had not launched a missile attack on this country.

More than 3500 patrols were made during that time which were part of an effort to convince the other guy that we were so hard to fund and stop that it would be mutually assured destruction if he ever launched first. I have to believe in my heart of hearts that the continued presence of our strategic forces still has some effect.

It took a tremendous amount of sacrifice to assure anyone who would attack us that there would be an unbelievable price to pay for breaking the peace. While outbreaks still happened around the globe in a much smaller way, the people of America could sleep relatively well at night knowing that we had the strongest most capable deterrent that the world had ever known. Coupled with our fast attack fleet, the chances we would be hit in a strategic Pearl Harbor were significantly lessened by the existence of something no one really wanted to think about.

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What made deterrence work?

That could be argued for years but from my view there were three key things that made it the force that it was.

1. We had the right resources for the task

2. We maintained a high state of readiness that never waivered. No weather event, no political event, no social event could shake the ability to deliver what would be an indescribable outcome

3. We had the will to deliver it and the bad guys knew it.

If you want to protect a nation, you need all three. It is foolish and childlike to think that evil men with evil intent will not try and destroy what is still the best system on earth. The bad people subjugate their people with fear and threats. They point to us as the Great Satan and highlight our every flaw for one reason only – to keep their own people under the impression that their system is superior.

If you want to protect the helpless, you must have a force that is dedicated and committed to doing so every single day. Relying on our fellow man’s adherence to laws or “doing the right thing because it’s the right thing” is a fools errand and will cause heartache every single time.

The only question that remains in my mind though is that in the face of unspeakable horror, do we still have the national will and leadership to use every force in our arsenal to prevent evil from happening?

Mister Mac

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The Boats of NOVEMBER 7

The early days of nuclear submarine operation and development were fraught with opportunities for success or disaster.

The United States Navy was first to the game with the Nautilus and the Soviets were not far behind. The major difference was the technology and insistence of safety on the American side. Admiral Rickover’s insistence on training and technological safety were rock solid which prevented the US from many catastrophes.

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The Soviets started the game from behind and the lessons learned were legendary for their consequences in the submarine community. From design to command structures, the Soviets had a long history of cleaning up after themselves as they learned one powerful truth after another. Most people know the story behind K19 (aka the Widow maker). The movie starring Harrison Ford is a classic example of the flaws in design, structure, engineering and command problems that plagued the Soviets.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_submarine_K-19

But another class of submarines was also infamous for the “lessons” they provided to the nuclear community.

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The NOVEMBER class boats were one of the main elements of the early Soviet Nuclear fleet and provided many successes as well as failures. The truth about many of the boats is only emerging now as records become more open.

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This story comes from Wikipedia and talks about the vessel known as K 27.

A single vessel, submarine K-27, was built as project 645 to use a pair of liquid metal-cooled VT-1 reactors. K-27 was launched on 1 April 1962 and had some additional differences from Novembers: cone-shaped hull head, new antimagnetic strong steel alloys, somewhat different configuration of compartments, rapid loading mechanism for each torpedo tube (for the first time in the world). Liquid metal-cooled reactor had better efficiency than water-cooled VM-A reactor, but technical maintenance of liquid metal cooled reactors in naval base was much more complicated

K27

K-27

K-27 was laid down on 15 June 1958 and launched on 1 April 1962. The submarine was commissioned on 30 October 1963 after full-scale builders sea trials and official tests.

The first patrol mission of the experimental submarine to Central Atlantic was performed between 21 April – 12 June 1964 (52 days). Captain of K-27, captain 1st rank I.I. Gulyaev was awarded with the Hero of the Soviet Union for mission success and record of submarine continuous underwater stay. The second patrol mission to the Mediterranean Sea took place between 29 June – 30 August 1965 (60 days), K-27 detected and performed training attack with a nuclear torpedo against US Randolph aircraft carrier during NATO naval maneuvers off Sardinia.

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US carrier force could only detect K-27 when she obtained range to the training target after the "torpedo attack" but Soviet captain P.F. Leonov skillfully disengaged. K-27 passed 12,425 miles (including 12,278 miles undersea) during the first cruise and 15,000 miles during the second one. K-27 entered service with the Red Banner Northern Fleet (given to 17th submarine division, based in Gremikha) on 7 September 1965 as the test submarine.

An emergency in the port-side reactor took place on 24 May 1968 in the Barents Sea during trials of submerged K-27 at full speed (AR-1 automatic control rod raised up spontaneously and the reactor power decreased from 83% to 7% during 60–90 sec).

It should be noted that the responsible officers informed the command before trials that port-side reactor was not tested yet after small failure took place on 13 October 1967 but their warnings were not taking into consideration. The emergency was accompanied by gamma activity excursion in the reactor compartment (up to 150 R/hour and higher) and spread of radioactive gas along the other compartments.

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All crewmembers (124 men) were irradiated, and the main reason according to some crewmembers’ memoirs was the fact that submarine captain, Captain 1st Rank P.F. Leonov believed in reliability of a new type of the reactor too much, so he didn’t order to resurface immediately, didn’t inform crewmembers from other compartments about radiation hazard on board and allowed to have a usual dinner even.

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Radiation alarm was transmitted only after requests of a chemical officer and a doctor. K-27 resurfaced and returned from training area to home base using the starboard reactor. The submarine was placed at pier in Severomorsk and a depot ship continuously piped steam to submarine to avoid cooling of heat-transfer metal in the reactor. The most heavily irradiated ten men (holders from the reactor compartment) were transported by aircraft to Leningrad 1st naval hospital next day but four of them (V. Voevoda, V. Gritsenko, V. Kulikov and A. Petrov) died within a month, electrician I. Ponomarenko died on watch in the emergency reactor compartment on 29 May.

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More than 30 sailors participated in accident elimination died between 1968–2003 because of over exposure to radiation and the Soviet government held back the truth about the tragic consequences of that reactor emergency for many years.[12][13]

K-27 tied up in Gremikha bay since 20 June 1968 with cooling reactors and different experimental works were made aboard till 1973 when rebuilding or replacement of the port-side reactor was considered as too expensive and inappropriate procedure.

The submarine was decommissioned on 1 February 1979 and her reactor compartment was filled with special solidifying mixture of furfurol and bitumen in summer 1981 (the work was performed by Severodvinsk shipyard No. 893 "Zvezdochka"). K-27 was towed to a special training area in the Kara Sea and scuttled there on 6 September 1982 in the point 72°31’N 55°30’E (north-east coast of Novaya Zemlya, Stepovoy Bay) at a depth 33 m only (in contravention of an IAEA requirement which asked to scuttle the submarine somewhere at a depth not less than 3,000–4,000 m).[14]

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Submarining is a dangerous activity in and of itself. Ships like the K-27 made that reality infinitely more so.

Looking at the pictures in the Russian report was like looking into a mirror from forty years ago. They looked so much like us, it made me pause and reflect.

I salute my former adversaries and wish them a peaceful journey in the afterlife. May we never be in that much of a hurry again.

Mister Mac