Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ethan Allen Memories

I am a big submarine fan and I recently ran across this picture of the Ethan Allen on the internet. It reminded me of the time during the late 60’s when I served on the USS Ethan Allen, SSBN 608. This was a Polaris submarine. She was the first of a class that were built from the keel up to carry missiles. I reported aboard at the height of the Cold War and I made four patrols. During the time I was aboard there was some question about the operational readiness of these boats and missiles after having been in service for a number of years. In spite of an extensive preventative maintenance program, live firings of missiles showed a high number of failures. We had fired single missiles on sea trails prior to patrol successfully but a number of other boats had problems.

The Allen was selected for a live firing exercise that involved firing seven missiles in a war time sequence. This meant every minute or two we’d launch. It was a major test. My job during the launch was to fire a flare in between each launch as a signal to the surface observers. We steamed out of Rota, Spain, to somewhere in the mid Atlantic and awaited the firing signal. When it came we fired seven missiles in sequence without a hitch including the flares between shots. The boat was submerged and each time we fired a missile it bounced up and down as systems compensated for the change in weight. All the missiles went downrange and impacted the target area. We received a Presidential Unit Commendation for the effort.

The picture here shows the boat underway. It looked pretty casual with the guys in shorts on the sail planes and the flag flying from the sail. It reminded me of our return to port with a broom tied to the periscope (“clean sweep”) and a 7-Up flag flying from the sail. The boat has the hull number painted on it (608) and this was not the case when I was on it. Then, hull numbers were painted over as part of deployment. The other picture is one of me in my “office” on the boat.


Dan Stangel said...


WOW!! That is really neat stuff. Just a couple weeks ago I finished reading The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea, a personal memoir by John Craven of his time as the Chief Scientist for the Navy Special Projects Office, the group responsible for the design of the Polaris submarines and several other projects following that thru the 60s and 70s.

Suffice it to say the book was fascinating, and I had forgotten about your experiences on one of those very boats! I'm sure at the time it was both exciting and scary, but you sure look like you're having a good time in the pictures, and it probably beat the hell out of dodging bullets in Vietnam. I guess we all feel indestructible in our 20s.

I'd love to ask you more about your experiences some time.

Cheers, and glad you're feeling better.

rindy said...

wow...what a baby you were! i watched enemy below this weekend - robert mitchum; kurt jurgens (or spelled something like that) - and then torpedo run - glenn ford - so, i had a sub weekend and here you write about subs - esp?(n)? anyway....your life continues to amaze me! hope to see you soon!! take, rindy

Wayne Thompson said...

Hi Bob,
Neat picture, the one of you. I knew you then, when did you get older??? The equipment behind you looks like a VHF receiver I was familiar with when I was in the Navy. We had one in the Ground Electronics shop, at Johnsville NAF, outside Philadelphia. The WO in charge kept it tuned to a country station, my first exposure to that music. Or else to WWV; he liked the wierd electronic ticking. Is this familiar to you? If I'm right, the tuning knob is hidden behind your head.


Anonymous said...

What a strong psyche you must have, to be cooped up in a submarine!

But it must have been great training for enduring an MRI, right? The last time I had one, to hold down the panic, I had to close my eyes and conjure up an image from my teenage years of sitting on the cliffs in San Diego, looking out on the distant horizon over the Pacific!

All this adds to my knowledge that you're one tough dude!

Love, Paula

Anonymous said...

I ran across your site and just wanted to say howdy.I think we met at one of the reunions but I can't say for sure.I road the Allen down the ways and put her in commission.We took her to the Pacific and fired the warhead.I did 2 patrols(the cuban missle crisis and the first Med patrol)All in all I was aboard from 11/60 to 12/63.I went on as a fireman and left as a IC2(SS).