The USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632) was a James Madison-class fleet ballistic missile submarine built for the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. Ballistic missile submarines, also known as “boomers,” were designed for nuclear deterrence operations and were built, above all, to remain stealthy at all times. The Von Steuben was the second Navy ship to be named for Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794), a Prussian-born military officer who served in the American Revolutionary War.
The U.S. Navy ordered the USS Von Steuben in July 1961 from Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, a Virginia-based shipbuilder who had built ships for the Navy since the late 1800s; the Von Steuben’s keel was laid down there in September 1962. She was launched a year later, in October 1963, and was sponsored by Mrs. Fred Korth, the wife of the Secretary of the Navy. The Von Steuben was commissioned on September 30, 1964, with Commander John P. Wise leading the Blue Crew and Commander Jeffrey C. Metzel leading the Gold Crew.
The USS Von Steuben measured 425 feet in length and weighed more than 8,000 tons submerged. She was powered by a nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines and one shaft, and rotated between carrying two crews of 120 men each.
Because she carried two crews, the USS Von Steuben needed to complete two shakedown cruises and trainings; this was her first order of business after she was commissioned in the fall of 1964. In December, the Gold Crew fired her first Polaris ballistic missile on the Atlantic Missile Test Range. The Blue Crew followed suit, firing off its first Polaris missile in early 1965.
Having completed all her initial trainings, the Von Steuben returned to Newport News in February 1965. The next month, she joined Submarine Squadron 18 at her new home port of Charleston, South Carolina, where she began strategic deterrent patrols. After completing 11 patrols, she was reassigned to Submarine Squadron 16 in early 1968. She reported to Rota, Spain, the port she operated out of until mid-1969. During her time based in Spain, she took a break to visit Groton, Connecticut for repairs at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation.
Soon after, the Von Steuben was modified to carry the newly engineered Poseidon C-3 ballistic missile – a more advanced, more precise warhead than had previously been used on James Madison- and Benjamin Franklin-class submarines. The Von Steuben conducted post conversation shakedown in 1971 and, working alongside the destroyer USS William C. Lawe (DD-763), fired her first and second Poseidon missiles. With her conversion process complete, the Von Steuben returned to Charleston to resume her regular operations. The Von Steuben received even newer technology in the early 1980s, when she was outfitted with equipment to fire Trident I (C4) ballistic missiles – three-stage missiles that could hit targets at an increased range.
The Von Steuben was decommissioned on February 26, 1994 and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day. She was scrapped under the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington. The recycling was conducted from October 2000 to October 2001.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
The Von Steuben was powered by a nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines and one shaft – all highly technical equipment that required a large amount of mechanical equipment and emitted great quantities of heat. In order to protect the vessel from the threat of fire, the U.S. Navy ordered Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company to cover much of the ship’s machinery with insulation made from a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos. Asbestos was used to cover pipes and boiler machinery, was present in the inner workings of pumps, and was even woven into fireproof cloth and blankets.
It would be decades before the public would learn that asbestos was a serious health hazard. We now know the mineral, which had been mined and shipped in massive quantities to American shores starting in the late 1800s, has the potential to cause devastating respiratory diseases, including mesothelioma cancer.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that occurs in the lining of a person’s lungs, heart or abdomen in an area comprised of “mesothelial” cells. It frequently begins with a thickening of this lining and can be difficult to detect in its early stages. The disease is also relatively rare, with an estimated 3,000 new cases being diagnosed in the United States each year. This can make diagnosis difficult – so it is imperative for patients to find a doctor who is experienced with treatment of the disease.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may also wish to seek out legal advice. Many people suffering from mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos through their work and were not sufficiently warned about the health risks their job entailed and therefore may have a right to monetary compensation.
For more information about the risk factors, treatment and legal options associated with mesothelioma, request an information packet today.Sources
Wikipedia – USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
Naval Vessel Register – USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
Wikipedia – Ballistic Missile Submarines