Nicknamed “The Devil Boat” and “Devilfish” because of her hull number, the USS Hawkbill was a Sturgeon-class attack submarine built for the U.S. Navy in the mid-1960s. She was the second Navy ship named for the hawksbill, a now-critically endangered sea turtle. The turtle’s name was inadvertently misspelled in the naming of the first ship – the World War II-era submarine USS Hawkbill (SS-366) – and the name of the second ship kept the erroneously spelled name.
The USS Hawkbill was ordered in December 1964, and her keel was laid down at the Mare Island Division of San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California in September 1966. She was launched in April 1969 and sponsored by Mrs. Bernard F. Rowder, the wife of Vice Admiral Bernard F. Roeder, the commander of the United States First Fleet. The submarine was commissioned in February 1971 under the leadership of Commander Christopher H. Brown.
The Sturgeon-class attack submarine measured 292 feet in length and weighed more than 4,200 tons full. She traveled at a speed of 15 knots surfaced and 25 knots submerged, and contained an armament of four 21-inch torpedo tubes. She carried 14 officers and 95 enlisted men.
After her initial shakedown trials and weapons system accuracy testing, the USS Hawkbill reported in May 1971 for local operations near San Diego. Her first overseas deployment came in March 1972, when she traveled to the Western Pacific; she next voyaged to the South China Sea and in June underwent upkeep in Guam before returning to San Diego in September 1972.
In 1973, the Hawkbill became the first submarine to operate in the Bering Strait under winter ice, and in October of the same year she started on her second deployment to the Western Pacific. She made port visits to Pearl Harbor, Subic Bay and Hong Kong and stopped in Guam for upkeep with the USS Proteus, returning to San Diego in May 1974 after more than seven months away. At the end of December, the Hawkbill entered drydock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for her first regular overhaul, where she remained until November 1975, when she was transferred to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The year 1976 saw the Hawkbill embark on her third deployment to the Western Pacific; upon completion in May 1977, she received a Navy Unit Commendation. Later that year, she underwent the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination and completed the Navy Technical Proficiency Inspection, scoring an “excellent.” In 1978, she went to the Western Pacific again – her fourth deployment to the area.
In 1980, the Hawkbill received an overhaul of her reactor core at Bremerton, Washington at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, receiving new sonar and fire-control systems. When the overhaul was complete in 1982, she conducted sea and sound trials and visited British Columbia in Canada and Alameda and San Diego in California.
In 1983, the Hawkbill made a Western Pacific cruise with stops at Yokosuka, Japan; Subic Bay in the Philippines; Hong Kong; and Guam. The following year, she deployed to the Arctic for a three-month trip under the polar ice cap. She returned to the Arctic in March 1986, where she joined with the USS Archerfish (SSN-678) and USS Ray (SSN-653) for a joint surfacing at the North Pole. In 1987, the Hawkbill completed a two-month trip to the Northern Pacific and departed on her seventh voyage to the Western Pacific. In the fall of 1988, the Hawkbill conducted local operations with fellow vessels, including the USS Honolulu (SSN-718) and USS Omaha (SSN-692).
In the 1990s, the Hawkbill went on excursions to Alaska and went on two more deployments to the Western Pacific, and also spent an increasing amount of time on local operations at Pearl Harbor. By the time she was retired from service, the Hawkbill had completed ten deployments to the Western Pacific and had logged a number of awards, including an Undersea Warfare Excellence Award, Tactical Operations Excellence Award and Communications Excellence Award.
The Hawkbill was decommissioned on March 15, 2000; on the same day, she was both stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and entered into the Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Her scrapping was completed nine months later in December 2000.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Hawkbill (SSN-666)
It is a sad fact that a growing number of veterans today are being diagnosed with lung diseases because of exposure to a toxic substance aboard U.S. Navy vessels. That substance is asbestos, a harmless-looking mineral that grows in large deposits in nature. But asbestos is anything but harmless; the long, stringy fibers that comprise the mineral are extremely toxic to humans, as they easily become airborne and embedded in a person’s lung tissue once inhaled.
Asbestos was widely used aboard Navy vessels from the 1920s to the 1980s to help protect the ships from fire. Anyone who spent time around asbestos-containing materials – such as insulation, gaskets and tape – aboard Navy ships is at risk of a rare type of cancer known as mesothelioma. The disease occurs in the thin layer of cells that line the body’s internal organs, a layer known as the mesothelium. Most commonly, the disease occurs in the lining of the lungs (known as the "pleura") though it can also occur in the abdomen (“peritoneal mesothelioma”) or around the heart (“pericardial mesothelioma”).
Mesothelioma is relatively rare, so it is important for people diagnosed with the disease to find a doctor and a community of supporters that are familiar with the disease. You may also wish to discuss your legal options with your family and an attorney. For more information, request a mesothelioma information packet today.Sources