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USS Tautog (SSN-639)

Nicknamed “The Terrible T,” the USS Tautog (SSN-639) was a Sturgeon-class nuclear-powered, fast attack submarine that served the U.S. Navy for three decades starting in the late 1960s. She was the second Navy vessel to be named after the tautog, a small, saltwater, bottom-dwelling fish found on the Atlantic coast of the United States. The USS Tautog’s sail was preserved and can be viewed at Seawolf Park in Galveston, Texas.


The Tautog was ordered in November 1961, with the contract to build her awarded to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Her keel was laid down there on January 27, 1964. She was launched three years later on April 15, 1967, sponsored by Pauline Lafon Gore, the wife of Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Sr. The Tautog was commissioned on August 17, 1968, with Commander Buele G. Balderston commanding.

“The Terrible T” measured 292 feet in length and weighed in at 4,010 tons light. She was powered by a S5W nuclear reactor and carried a complement of 14 officers and 95 enlisted men. Her motto was “Silent Vigilance.”

Naval History

After her commissioning in August 1968, the Tautog left the coast of Mississippi to join the United States Pacific Fleet. She arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on September 23, 1968, where she joined Submarine Division 12 as its flagship. For the year that followed, the Tautog was busy in Hawaiian waters with post-commissioning tests, shakedown training and sea trials. In September 1969, the Tautog began receiving alterations, as it was learned that she needed an entirely new diesel generator. The repairs were finished the following February, and her regular operations – mainly torpedo and sonar tracking exercises – began.

The Tautog was involved in a serious collision in 1970 off the coast of the Soviet Union. On June 20 of that year, the Tautog was attempting to follow the Soviet K-108 – an Echo II-class guided missile submarine nicknamed “Black Lila” – when the two subs collided. The Soviet sub was apparently trying to conduct a maneuver known as the “Crazy Ivan,” in which a submarine hides in another’s wake, or “baffles,” where its sonar cannot be detected. The Tautog’s sail was damaged, but no one on either submarine was killed.

In October 1970, the Tautog went on her first deployment to East Asia, joining the United States Seventh Fleet in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. On this deployment she engaged in antisubmarine warfare training with U.S. and occasionally British ships. She returned to Pearl Harbor in April 1971. The following year, the Tautog went on a special operation, making stops at Guam, Subic Bay and Hong Kong. She returned to Pearl Harbor in August 1972, where she remained for the rest of the year. For much of 1973 and 1974, she remained at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for an overhaul, and in September 1974 she went on a three-month voyage to the Pacific Northwest.

The Tautog embarked on another series of special operations in the Central and Western Pacific in May 1975. She was drydocked in Guam, visited Subic Bay and Hong Kong, and conducted exercises in the Philippines. By the end of October 1975, she was back at Pearl Harbor and had resumed her regular schedule of training and upkeep.

“The Terrible T” did not deploy overseas again until January 1977, when she traveled to Kenya for a goodwill visit. She remained docked in the city of Mombasa for a month while her crew went sightseeing and she received visitors on board. As she was leaving Mombasa for Pearl Harbor on February 24, word was received of a crisis in Uganda. The president of Uganda, Idi Amin, had rounded up all the American residents in Uganda in response to President Jimmy Carter’s condemnation of the murders of two of Amin’s political opponents. The Tautog, as part of the response team, was ordered to return to the East African coast. During the crisis that followed, the Tautog cruised the coast of Kenya to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to having its citizens released – and to be prepared for a hostage rescue, if necessary.

That wouldn’t end up being necessary, as Amin did eventually free the hostages, and shortly thereafter the Tautog resumed her voyage east. She arrived in Guam on March 19, 1977 and visited South Korea in April before arriving in Subic Bay for special operations. After additional visits to Hong Kond and Subic Bay, she arrived home at Pearl Harbor in July 1977. In December, the Tautog transited to Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California for an overhaul.

In November 1982, the Tautog traveled to the North Pole with her sister ship, the USS Aspro (SSN-648) , and in November 1984 she completed another deployment to the Western Pacific. After completing a standdown and post-deployment upkeep period, she hosted prospective commanding officer operations in February 1985. In the summer of 1985, she joined with the USS New York City (SSN-696) to host further prospective commanding officer operations.

In October 1985, the Tautog embarked on another Western Pacific and Indian Ocean deployment, with stops including Guam, Singapore and Perth, Australia. In August 1986, the Tautog’s home port was changed to Bremerton, Washington, where she entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a non-refueling overhaul.

It would be more than a decade before the Tautog was removed from active service; she was decommissioned on March 31, 1997 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, under the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program. Scrapping began in March 2003 and was completed in November 2004.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Tautog (SSN-639)

When shipyard workers at Ingalls Shipbuilding were constructing the USS Tautog, they were given orders by the U.S. Navy to ensure the vessel was as fireproof as possible. To do this, the Navy mandated the use of asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral made of long, fibrous minerals having intrinsic heat-resisting and fireproofing qualities. The substance was used in insulation, gaskets, tape, fireproof cloth and other materials in both the mechanical areas and the living quarters of the vessel.

The problem with asbestos products is their tendency to grow brittle and release large quantities of dust into the air. This happens when the products age and also when they are manufactured, installed or ripped out in the demolition process. Any time an asbestos product breaks or is cut, strands of asbestos are released into the air. These fibers, when inhaled, can be hugely detrimental to a person’s health; they can become stuck in a person’s lung or abdominal tissue and cause one or more asbestos-related diseases, such as emphysema, asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer.

Mesothelioma cancer can occur in the lungs or in the abdomen, and more rarely, in other parts of the body. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause, and unfortunately, there is no cure. But there are treatment options available, and a large community of individuals who have been affected by the tragic disease. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may also wish to explore your legal rights; while the dangers of asbestos were not publicly known until the 1970s, there is some evidence the U.S. Navy knew the mineral was hazardous as early as the 1920s.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari


Wikipedia – USS Tautog (SSN-639)

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships – USS Tautog (SSN-639)

Naval Vessel Register – USS Tautog (SSN-639)