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USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608)

Serving from 1960 to 1983, the nuclear-armed USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) was the second Naval vessel named in honor of the Revolutionary War patriot of the same name. She was the first submarine designed as a fleet ballistic missile platform, rather than a converted attack vessel. The decommissioned Ethan Allen appears in the popular Tom Clancy novel, “The Hunt for Red October.”

Construction

The USS Ethan Allen was ordered in July 1958 and laid down by the Electric Boat of Groton, Connecticut, in September of the next year. She was launched in November 1960 and sponsored by Mrs. Robert H. Hopkins -- the great-great-great-granddaughter of the Revolutionary War hero himself. The vessel was commissioned in August 1961 under the command of Captain Paul L. Lacy, Jr. (leading the “Blue Crew”), and Commander W.W. Behrens, Jr. (leading the “Yellow Crew”).

The lead ship of her class, the Ethan Allen featured Polaris A-2 missiles – two-stage, solid-fueled, nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles – and was also equipped with torpedoes. She carried two crews, a total of 12 officers and 128 enlisted men.

Naval History

The Ethan Allen played a role in defending the United States through its Cold War with its Communist enemy, the Soviet Union. She is perhaps best known for competing a test fire of a nuclear-tipped Polaris ballistic missile in the waters of the South Pacific. The shot, made in May 1962, was regarded as a great success and remains the only complete evaluation of an American strategic missile.

By the 1980s, relations with the Soviet Union had started to grow less tense, and the United States began taking part in talks – the “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks,” or SALTS – with the Soviet Union to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. The result was a pair of treaties, which required the U.S. to downgrade the weapons on its submarines. Therefore, after 19 years of service, the USS Ethan Allen had her ballistic missile tubes disabled, and for the rest of her tenure she operated as a conventional, nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Ethan Allen was re-designated (as SSN-608) in September 1980, but her new role would only last for three years. In March 1983, she was decommissioned and brought to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. She was disposed of through the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, and recycling was finished in 1999.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608)

From the 1920s until the 1970s, asbestos was widely used aboard U.S. Navy submarines like the Ethan Allen as an insulator and fireproofing agent. Clearly, it was very important to protect against fire inside submarines, and the Navy’s solution was asbestos. It was primarily used as insulation in engine and boiler rooms, where it protected boilers, electrical fixtures, and steam pipes from extreme heat generated by the equipment. But practically all areas of the submarines contained asbestos in some form. Gaskets, packing, taps, ceiling tiles; even fire-resistant blankets were all made with fibers from the naturally occurring mineral.

As products made with asbestos begin to age, they become brittle and start to deteriorate; when this occurs, tiny particles of asbestos are leaked into the environment. In the extremely close, unventilated quarters of a submarine, there was literally no escape from the asbestos dust these products created. We now know that this dust is highly carcinogenic and can cause a rare and inoperable form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma – but unfortunately, Navymen didn’t know that at the time. In fact, U.S. Navy veterans who served aboard the submarines like the USS Ethan Allen and shipyard workers who constructed and repaired them are among those groups most affected by exposure to deadly asbestos.

Sources

Sources

Navy Site, USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) (SSN-608)
http://navysite.de/ssbn/ssbn608.htm

Wikipedia – USS Ethan Allen
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Ethan_Allen_%28SSBN-608%29

“Asbestos and Ship-Building: Fatal Consequences”
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2604477/

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