The halibut—the species of flatfish that inhabit the ocean waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic—served as the namesake for the USS Halibut (SSGN-587). The second ship of the US Navy’s fleet to bear this name, the USS Halibut maintains a historical significance as the first nuclear-powered submarine to successfully launch a guided missile after having been specifically designed and built to perform this feat. In commission for 16-and-a-half years, the USS Halibut also earned the distinction as the first submarine to employ the Ships Inertial Navigation System (SINS)—a precursor to satellite navigation systems (GPS)—that provided a reliable and effective means of guidance to missile submarines.
Mare Island Naval Shipyard (Vallejo, California) laid down the keel of the USS Halibut on April 11, 1957. Launched less than two years later on January 9, 1959, Halibut was sponsored by Mrs. Chet Holifield—wife of the California Congressman. Upon her commissioning on January 4, 1960, Halibut employed a crew of nine officers and 88 enlisted men initially led by Lieutenant Commander Walter Dedrick.
Measuring 350 feet in length, the USS Halibut was propelled by a S3W nuclear reactor in conjunction with two turbines. She was capable of reaching speeds in excess of 20 knots when submerged and possessed a surface displacement of 3,655 tons and a submerged displacement of 5,000 tons. Halibut’s armament consisted of one Regulus missile launcher (equipped to carry five missiles) and six 21-inch torpedo tubes.
The USS Halibut’s career was underway on March 11, 1960 as she set out on her shakedown cruise. En route to Australia, she successfully launched her first guided missile on March 25th. A return to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on June 18th for a brief availability was followed shortly thereafter by Halibut’s departure for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where she became a member of the US Pacific Fleet.
A succession of deployments ensued for Halibut through the year 1964 in which she participated in a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization weapons demonstration, conducted missile launching exercises, endured a rigorous training schedule, and carried out operations in the Western Pacific. May 4, 1964 marked Halibut’s last Regulus missile patrol—the final of its kind to be carried out by a submarine in Pacific waters.
Upon completion of a major overhaul at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard which commenced in February of 1965, Halibut was assigned a new hull classification symbol of SSN-587 in light of her redesignation as an attack submarine.
In her new role, the USS Halibut operated mainly off of the US West Coast in a capacity which included search and recovery efforts, antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercises, special operations, and deep-sea espionage assignments.
A further series of modifications to Halibut’s operating systems in late 1970 gave way to additional special operations as she concluded her career in service as a unit of the Pacific Fleet, Submarine Development Group One, based out of San Diego, California.
Decommissioned on June 30, 1976, the USS Halibut ended her career having completed 1,232 dives and 32 Regulus missile launches, in addition to having earned two Presidential Unit Citations (1968 and 1972) and three Navy Unit Citations (NUCs). Upon her decommissioning, she immediately joined the Reserve Fleet until she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 30, 1986. Halibut was entered into the US Navy’s Ship and Submarine Recycling Program located at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington on July 12, 1993. Her scrapping/recycling was completed at this location by September 9, 1994.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Halibut (SSGN-587)
While we boast proudly of the historical significance of elements of US Navy history such as the USS Halibut’s distinction as being the first nuclear-powered submarine to successfully launch a guided missile, it is with great disconcertion that we touch on the historical significance of a darker side of US Navy history: the extensive exposure to asbestos suffered by numerous individuals who served aboard navy vessels and who were employed by naval shipyards.
The naturally-occurring mineral asbestos was deemed invaluable by the US Navy, as well as by the American industrial sector in general, for its unparalleled heat- and fire-resistant properties. The US Navy mandated its use in more than 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of her ships. Historical estimates cite that between the years 1930 and 1978 over 4.5 million workers were employed by US shipyards where approximately 25 million tons of asbestos was used in various capacities. Today, we are witness to the devastating effects of this deadly combination.
Current mortality trends cite that nearly 10,000 deaths per year in the United States can be directly attributed to one of four diseases—asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer—that have been scientifically linked to exposure to asbestos. Due to the extended latency periods (20-50 years) common to these diseases, it is anticipated that these numbers will continue to rise into the first quarter of the 21st century.
During the construction phase, modification periods, repairs, and scrapping of US Navy vessels such as the USS Halibut, navy veterans and shipyard workers came into contact with a vast array of products—insulation materials, gaskets, valves, millboard, patching compound, lubricants, paints, and pipe coverings, to name a few—that exposed them to the friable fibers of asbestos. By means of inhalation and/or ingestion, these fibers entered the bodies of these individuals, became embedded in the inner linings (membranes) of their lungs, hearts, and abdomens, and over time resulted in scarring, inflammation, and infection that had the potential to develop into one of several asbestos-related illnesses.
Asbestos-related diseases and the mortality rates that accompany these diseases are considered by many to be a crisis in public health. In support of this crisis, there are numerous resources available to those afflicted with these illnesses to inform them about available options for making medical decisions and choosing legal counsel. Please contact us for an information packet that will provide you with access to many of these resources.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Halibut (SSGN-587)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Naval History and Heritage Command