November 18, 2016

Marshall and his submarine

1365866This week on social media the Marshall Foundation’s trivia question and featured artifact had to do with the only ship named after General George C. Marshall, the USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654). The USS George C. Marshall (GCM) was a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) included in the “41 for Freedom,” the 41 Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarines (nicknamed “boomers”) built during the cold war and used as sea-based nuclear deterrents. The USS GCM was built by General Dynamics subsidiary Electric Boat at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company.

The USS GCM was launched on May 21, 1966 by Marshall’s widow, Katherine. After a sufficient shakedown (a period of trial runs and pushing of the limits of performance) the submarine was commissioned on April 29, 1966. The official motto of the sub was “Patience, not Weakness,” which was supposedly taken from one of Marshall’s speeches (still investigating which one). The unofficial motto of crewmembers was: “Patience, my ass!”

The submarine traveled the globe, patrolling areas of the Panama Canal, Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean, Holy Loch Scotland, and the Arctic Circle. In December 1967 the USS GCM was clipped by a Soviet submarine in the Mediterranean Sea, causing a gash to its portside ballast tanks. Its mission was aborted and it returned to Rota, Spain for repairs done by the crew of the USS Canopus AS-34, who had to fabricate a cofferdam against the USS GCM to repair it. Fortunately, no damage had been done to the pressure hull. The USS GCM went on to complete 78 strategic deterrent patrols in her 26 years of service.

hullAfter reaching career’s end, the USS GCM was decommissioned on September 24, 1992 and sent to Bremerton, WA to be scrapped. To start the process, spent nuclear fuel was removed and sent to Idaho Falls, ID for safe storage and the rest of the sub was broken up and recycled. Our chunk of the hull was presumably attained during this process. Several items have been donated to the Marshall Foundation by Marshall’s widow, Katherine, and former crewmembers, including flags, patches, a model of the submarine, dedication plaques, a floor mat, and a crewmember welcome kit.

At her launching former Secretary of State Dean Acheson described the USS George C. Marshall’s role in the cold war: “… the waves set up by this launching will go to the furthest reaches of our foreign relations. The very existence of this ship, her power, her mission, her orders, her competence to execute them, will effect more computations, more decisions, than we can readily imagine. Far beyond the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House she will add a new factor a new magnitude, to the correlation of forces by which the communists determine their decisions.” A fitting description of the man as well.