41 For Freedom

The name “41 for Freedom” conjures images of greatness, power, and the beginning of something new. In last week’s blog, we talked about SSBN 598 as the beginning of a group of submarines that would take submarine development in a new direction. The USS George Washington was the first in a group nicknamed the “41 for Freedom.” These 41 submarines were revolutionary, not just for the US Navy but Navies around the world. The furious pace in which submarines were built in the 1960’s was a major component of the United States Strategic Triad. This triad consisted of land based ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine launched missiles. The idea of the nuclear triad was to reduce the possibility of an enemy to destroy all a country’s nuclear defenses; an idea that was considered an imminent threat during the Cold War. All 41 submarines created during this time were named for eminent figures in American history, giving the nickname a double meaning.   Not only were these SSBN’s being created to keep and preserve our freedom from Soviet threats, but they were named for men who had played a role in America’s rise to greatness.

Figure 1 USS Thomas Edison

From 1960 to 1966, the U.S. Navy launched 41 “boomers.”  A boomer is slang for a Ballistic missile submarine that operates on a two-man crew system.  The Blue and Gold crews rotate on approximately 100 – day intervals for the ship to remain on a continuous patrol.  There was usually a 3-day turnover period on each end of a deployment period.  Crews would be flown from their home bases to their deployment site and perform a 30-day refit followed by a 70-day deterrent patrol.   The home base for the Atlantic fleets were Groton, Ct and Charleston, SC with the Pacific Fleet based at Naval Base Pearl Harbor.  From 1960-1969, each SSBN carried 16 Polaris nuclear missiles.   In 1969, SSBN’s were converted to carry the more accurate Poseidon missiles which would change again in 1979 when the Trident I missiles were created.   For many visitors to the museum who are not familiar with submarine history, they wonder what is the difference between an SSN and a SSBN. The most obvious difference is the use of ballistic missiles onboard an SSBN. The SS denotes submarine, the B means ballistic missile and the N denotes that the submarine is nuclear powered.

The original 41 SSBNs could fire missiles thousands of kilometers from their targets and were extremely quiet making them difficult to detect. Compared to an SSN, the SSBN was designed for specific strategic attacks. Their primary mission was nuclear detection making them a major weapon during the Cold War. Their use has been dominated by the United States and Russia, in part due to the 1950’s and the threat of nuclear attacks. The USS George Washington was built in response to Russia’s use of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. The 41 submarines were built to carry the Polaris A-1 missile. The Polaris was developed to complement the limited number of medium range systems that were in use throughout Europe. Before Polaris’s creation, the systems in place lacked the range needed to form a major attack on Soviet targets. In the 1950’s and 60’s few systems were available that could destroy missile systems, making SSBN’s an asset to nuclear deterrence. One of the newest features in the new class of submarines was to the ability to launch while submerged which allowed them to remain a safe distance away and survive from retaliation.  Despite the long range of the Polaris missile, the Atlantic- based fleet still needed closer stations to be effective. In 1961, the US was permitted the use of a base in Holy Lock, Scotland and in 1969, Naval Station Rota in the Bay of Cadiz. To cover the Pacific zone, a base was established in Guam in 1964. By 1972, with the creation of the Poseidon missile, the 10 older SSBN’s that were in use were primarily assigned to the Pacific Fleet with the 31 upgraded boats assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.

Figure 2 USS Kamehameha

The last of the 41 SSBN’s was the USS Will Rogers, commissioned in 1967.  In 1976, the keel was laid for the USS Ohio, which saw a new class of submarines being built. The Ohio- class boomers were the largest ever built by the US Navy, measuring 560 feet long and displacing 18,700 tons submerged and carry a crew of 157. This new class of SSBN’s were designed to carry the new and more advanced Trident II missiles In 2002, the USS Kamehameha was decommissioned, the last of the original “41 for Freedom: submarines still in use.   At almost 37 years old, she held the record for the longest service lifetime of any nuclear-powered submarine.   Beneath this story you can find the complete list of the 41 submarines that made up the “41 for Freedom.”

The “41 For Freedom” SSBN’s :

George Washington class

  • USS George Washington (SSBN-598)
  • USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599)
  • USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600)
  • USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601)
  • USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602)

Ethan Allen class

  • USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608)
  • USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609)
  • USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610)
  • USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)
  • USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)

Lafayette class

  • USS Lafayette (SSBN-616)
  • USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617)
  • USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619)
  • USS John Adams (SSBN-620)
  • USS James Monroe (SSBN-622)
  • USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623)
  • USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624)
  • USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625)
  • USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626)

James Madison class

  • USS James Madison (SSBN-627)
  • USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628)
  • USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629)
  • USS John C. Calhoun (SSBN-630)
  • USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)
  • USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
  • USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)
  • USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634)
  • USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635)
  • USS Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636)

    Figure 3 Figure 3 41 For Freedom Poster. Available at the museum store. All proceeds from the store go to preserving submarine history. http://store.submarinemuseum.com/Poster-41-for-Freedom-6825

Benjamin Franklin class

  • USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN-640) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)
  • USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644)
  • USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645)
  • USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)
  • USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)
  • USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659)

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