The batfish, any of a variety of several fish measuring approximately one foot in length and commonly found in shallow waters from the Chesapeake Bay to the West Indies, was the namesake of the USS Batfish (SSN-681)—the second US Navy ship to bear this name. In commission for nearly 27 years, this nuclear-powered fast attack submarine was a unit of the Sturgeon class of submarines, a class whose members were often referred to as the “work horses” of the US Navy’s submarine fleet during the period in history known as the Cold War.
The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, located in Groton, Connecticut, was the recipient of the contract to construct the USS Batfish on June 25, 1968. Her keel was laid down at this site less than two years later on February 9, 1970. A launching ceremony for Batfish took place on October 9, 1971, at which time Mrs. Arthur R. Gralla—wife of Vice Admiral of the US Navy Arthur R. Gralla—served as the ship’s sponsor. Upon her commissioning on September 1, 1972, Commander Richard E. Enkeboll took command of Batfish’s crew of 14 officers and 98 enlisted men.
Capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots when submerged, USS Batfish measured 302 feet in length and possessed a submerged displacement of 4,640 tons. In addition to her ability to lay deep water mines, her armament included four 21 inch torpedo tubes equipped to launch MK 48 Torpedoes, SUBROC and Harpoon missiles.
Shortly after her commissioning, Batfish arrived at her homeport of Charleston, South Carolina on October 7, 1972. She was engaged in shakedown exercises, weapons testing, and inspections through the first half of 1973. Post-shakedown availability followed in July at the Electric Boat Division in Groton, Connecticut.
The spring of 1974 witnessed Batfish embark on an eastern Atlantic deployment in an effort to support the task of executing an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) maneuver. Upon completion of this mission, followed by a brief stint in Portland, England, Batfish returned to Charleston in June. At this time, she initiated participation in a series of exercises including a fleet exercise out of Jacksonville, Florida, a group crossing to the Norwegian Sea, and a NATO exercise known as “Northern Merger.” A restricted availability period followed at the Charleston Naval Shipyard from early October through December.
Batfish spent the first half of 1975 involved in numerous training exercises aimed at preparing her for special operations overseas. By late July, Batfish departed for the Mediterranean where she joined the 6th Fleet in carrying out a series of ASW operations. After a port call in Taranto, Italy in September, Batfish continued to participate in special operations in the Mediterranean through her involvement in several NATO Exercises, including “Deep Express,” “Devil Foil,” and “Dogfish.” A final stop in Naples, Italy in early January 1976 marked the conclusion of this Mediterranean deployment; Batfish returned to Charleston by February 1st.
Training exercises and local operations intermittently dispersed in between periods of upkeep occupied the time for Batfish through August of 1976. On August 31st, Batfish was deployed to the eastern Atlantic to partake in the NATO Exercise “Teamwork 76.” Prior to returning to Charleston in mid-December for holiday leave and upkeep, Batfish conducted two visits to Faslane, Scotland, joined British and Dutch forces on a special mission, and performed a special operation at sea.
The year 1977 began with two months of restricted availability followed by several weeks of sea trials and inspections for Batfish. By May 23rd, she was underway in the Atlantic for special operations which would conclude with visits to Holy Loch, Scotland and Bremerhaven, Germany in late July. Batfish returned to Charleston on August 14th for post-deployment standdown and a period of upkeep that would endure through early December.
Batfish initiated a 77-day patrol known as “Operation Evening Star” on March 2, 1978. During this patrol, Batfish identified and trailed a Soviet Navy ballistic missile submarine in the Norwegian Sea above the Arctic Circle for over 50 days. Never once detected in her pursuits, Batfish was able to collect valuable information on Soviet naval operations. This mission was a true reflection of Batfish’s nickname—“Dark Knight of the Deep.”
After three months of upkeep (May-July 1978), Batfish carried out a special operation, underwent the installation and testing of specialized equipment, participated in “Gulfex 79” in the Gulf of Mexico, and concluded her year with a series of operations held in conjunction with units of the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
The next two years would prove to be eventful for Batfish as she performed torpedo firing exercises and in-port training (January 1979), underwent a 15-month non-refueling overhaul (March 1, 1979-June 6, 1980), completed refresher training (July 1980), conducted weapons testing and acoustic trials (August-October 1980), and carried out routine local operations (October 1980).
Subsequent years brought additional special operations for Batfish as she continued to defend her country. In the final years of her career, she was reassigned to a new homeport at the Naval Submarine Base New London at Groton, Connecticut. From this location, she carried out her final deployments to the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
March 17, 1999 marked USS Batfish’s decommissioning and elimination from the Naval Vessel Register. After being processed through the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Washington, her scrapping was completed by November 22, 2002.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Batfish (SSN-681)
At the shipyard of the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation where the USS Batfish was constructed, and at the numerous other shipyards where maintenance to this vessel took place from one overhaul to the next, numerous sailors and shipyard workers were likely exposed to the naturally-occurring mineral asbestos. This substance, incorporated into a wide array of products employed in the trade of shipbuilding due to its superior strength, flexibility, and resistance to high temperatures and fire, posed a significant health risk to all those who crossed its path.
As shipyard workers carefully labored to construct state of the art vessels and maintain their performance to excel against opposing forces, sailors focused their efforts on operating these ships with the aim of protecting the freedom of the United States against the threat of enemy nations. Unknown to both of these groups at the time was that in addition to the perils they encountered in the outside world, another danger lurked within the walls of US Navy vessels—the air that these individuals were breathing.
Deterioration due to age or disruption due to maintenance and repairs were the two most common factors that allowed for the release of friable asbestos fibers into the surrounding atmosphere within the tight confines of a submarine. Once airborne, these fibers were easily inhaled or ingested by all those in close proximity. At this point, the strength and durability of these fibers took on a new meaning as they attached to the inner linings of the lungs, heart, and abdomen of individuals resulting in eventual scarring, inflammation, disruption to membranes, and over time, the onset of symptoms that would lead to the realization of the presence of one of several debilitating and sometimes life-threatening diseases: asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
If you served on a naval vessel like the USS Batfish and have developed mesothelioma, please fill out the form on this pages to request more information about the disease and your rights.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Batfish (SSN-681)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive