The USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

An Integral Part of Cold War History

For those well-versed in naval history and the strategic maneuvers that defined the Cold War, the USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 stands out as a critical component of the United States' nuclear deterrent strategy. This article will offer a comprehensive examination of this vessel, presenting its notable attributes and discussing its crucial role during the period of geopolitical tension that was the Cold War.

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 Framed Navy Ship Display

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636, a James Madison-class nuclear-powered submarine, was an impressive feat of naval engineering and a strategic asset for the United States Navy during its commission from the 1960s to late 1980s. This vessel, named after the renowned American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene, was a formidable element of the US Navy's "silent service" - the submarine force.

The Strategic Role of the USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 in the Cold War

The USS Nathanael Greene was a ballistic missile submarine whose main job was to quietly carry and launch nuclear weapons without detection. This pivotal role made it, along with its sibling submarines, a crucial piece of the U.S.' nuclear triad, which included land-based missiles, strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

During the Cold War, global stability hinged on a grim concept called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). This was the idea that if two or more nuclear-armed nations were to fully unleash their arsenals, it would lead to total obliteration of both the attacker and defender. In this high-stakes game, the USS Nathanael Greene was a key player. By stealthily cruising the world's oceans, it offered a virtually untouchable ability to strike back after a first attack, which was central to the MAD doctrine.

Despite its destructive potential, the Nathanael Greene, like other SSBNs, primarily served as a deterrent to nuclear war. By merely existing, it demonstrated the United States' ability to retaliate devastatingly to a nuclear strike, thus discouraging other nations from initiating any such aggression. Furthermore, the Nathanael Greene was not simply a passive player in the geopolitical theater of the Cold War. Its numerous strategic patrols underscored its active and vital role in protecting national and global security.

In the ensuing sections, we will examine the USS Nathanael Greene's design and construction, analyze its service record, and reflect on the experiences of its crew. Join us as we delve into the nuanced history of the USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 and assess its lasting impact on naval warfare and Cold War history.

Construction and Design

Construction of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 was a product of careful planning and precise engineering. Construction began on January 21, 1963, at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Virginia, a facility renowned for building some of the most sophisticated vessels in naval history. The Nathanael Greene was launched on May 12, 1964, a little over a year later. Following a series of trials and outfitting, the submarine was commissioned into service on December 19, 1964, signifying its readiness for active duty.

Design of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

As a James Madison-class submarine, the USS Nathanael Greene was designed with stealth and endurance in mind. These submarines were part of the "41 for Freedom" - 41 SSBNs that constituted the undersea component of the U.S. nuclear deterrent force. The James Madison-class featured improvements over the earlier George Washington and Ethan Allen classes, with modifications aimed at reducing noise and increasing underwater performance.

The design of the Nathanael Greene was streamlined for optimal underwater maneuverability, with a sleek hull built to withstand the high pressure of deep diving. Furthermore, the submarine was divided into two primary sections: the forward section housed the crew's living quarters, control room, and torpedo room, while the aft section contained the nuclear power plant and the 16 ballistic missile tubes.

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 Technical Specifications

Delving into the technical specifications, the USS Nathanael Greene measured 425 feet in length and had a beam of 33 feet, making it one of the largest submarines of its time. Propelled by a S5W pressurized water reactor, the submarine could reach speeds of over 20 knots and could operate at depths greater than 800 feet.

The Nathanael Greene was armed with 16 Polaris A-3 or Poseidon C-3 ballistic missiles, and four torpedo tubes for Mark 48 torpedoes, making it a formidable force beneath the waves. The submarine could accommodate a crew of approximately 140, with facilities and provisions for extended patrols lasting up to 70 days.

The USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 embodied the height of Cold War era naval engineering, a marvel of technology that played a crucial role in maintaining a precarious peace during an era defined by tension and uncertainty. In the next section, we'll delve into the operations and service history of this impressive vessel, gaining a deeper understanding of its crucial role in Cold War geopolitics.

USS Nathanael Greene Personalized Plaque
USS Nathanael Greene Personalized Plaque

Operations and Service History

Missions of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

Throughout its active service, the USS Nathanael Greene undertook numerous strategic deterrence patrols. The primary mission of this SSBN, like others of its class, was to remain hidden in the world's oceans, ready to launch its arsenal of nuclear weapons if the command was given. Fortunately, such a command never came. Instead, the Nathanael Greene, through its stealth and readiness, provided a constant and unseen deterrent against potential adversaries during the tense years of the Cold War.

Service History of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The service history of the USS Nathanael Greene began with its commissioning on December 19, 1964. After its initial shakedown cruise in the Caribbean and a brief period in the shipyard for post-shakedown availability, the submarine embarked on its first strategic deterrence patrol in the Atlantic Ocean in the latter half of 1965.

Over the course of its service, the USS Nathanael Greene made Holy Loch, Scotland its base of operations. From here, it carried out numerous patrols, disappearing beneath the waves for weeks at a time to play its part in the silent chess game of global security.

In 1982, the Nathanael Greene underwent a refit to enable it to carry Trident C-4 ballistic missiles, further enhancing its strategic capabilities. However, following a grounding incident in 1986, the submarine was deactivated in 1986 and officially decommissioned in 1987, after nearly 23 years of service.

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 Patrol Duties

The patrol duties of the Nathanael Greene, and other submarines like it, were shrouded in secrecy due to the sensitive nature of their missions. While exact details remain classified, these patrols would typically involve the submarine departing from its base, submerging, and then spending weeks or even months at sea, always remaining hidden, always ready to respond to potential threats.

The crew of the Nathanael Greene would need to maintain the submarine's readiness at all times, ensuring that its systems, particularly its nuclear missiles, were operational. This state of constant readiness was an essential part of the deterrent effect that the Nathanael Greene provided.

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 Cold War Role

The USS Nathanael Greene played a significant role during the Cold War, maintaining an enduring presence at sea. Its contribution to America's deterrence strategy was invaluable, helping to keep the precarious balance of power in check and stave off nuclear conflict.

The submarine's stealth abilities, allowing it to launch a nuclear counterattack if required, acted as an effective caution to potential foes. This ability, along with its capacity to operate in locations beyond the reach of other military resources, accentuated the importance of the USS Nathanael Greene and other submarines of its kind during the Cold War.

In the following segment, we'll offer a window into the lives of the crew members who served on the USS Nathanael Greene. This will provide insight into the unique way of life and the hurdles faced by those who served in this covert arm of the military during the Cold War.

In our next section, we will delve into the experiences of the crew members who served aboard the USS Nathanael Greene, providing a glimpse into the unique lifestyle and challenges of those who served in the silent service during the Cold War.

The Crew Tells Their Stories

The USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 holds a special place in the hearts of its crew members, who reminisce about their time on board and the bonds forged during their service. From missile technicians to yeomen, their shared experiences and unique perspectives paint a vivid picture of life aboard this remarkable submarine.

One such crew member is Rich "Dicker" Damm, who joined the ship straight out of C School and had the privilege of witnessing the restoration of the Nathanael Greene alongside exceptional shipmates. Among them were Jim, Leroy, Rick, Pat, George, Tim, and Paul, a dedicated group of missile technicians who have planned a long-awaited reunion. Rich wonders about the whereabouts of ST Steve Gundaker, hoping to reconnect with him as well.

Michael Ray Gilson, an IC technician, fondly recalls the good times spent in the missile compartment. He remembers the Dunoon Dollies, the hidden apple jack hooch, and the camaraderie shared among the crew. Fish and chips, the mail buoy, and the fleeting moments of fresh air before descending into the depths of the submarine are etched in his memory.

Robert White began his journey on the Nathanael Greene as a Yeoman and left after the third patrol to become a NAVET. His subsequent career as a CNC technician spanned 17 years at Bangor, with his final four years spent as the Squadron 17 ET in Kings Bay. Robert retired in 2006, after an impressive 24 years of dedicated service.

Lieutenant Barth Doroshuk cherishes the memories he made on board the Nathanael Greene, praising his fellow AGang members for their exceptional teamwork. He recalls an amusing incident involving an air blasted TDU when the submarine needed an ex-lax solution. Barth extends his gratitude to the AGang and expresses relief that the sail was saved. He hopes for fair winds and following seas for all.

Steve Gruber, a member of the A-Gang, vividly remembers his time on the Nathanael Greene. The memories rush back like a tidal flood whenever he visits the submarine's sail, leaving him with a profound sense of honor to have served with the best. Though he can't recall his recent dinner, he holds on to the cherished moments from his past.

John Peterson, also known as Pete, began his journey on the blue crew in 1972. He fondly remembers his fellow shipmates, including Gruder, who was the Room LPO, and Ski, who served in the Mouse house. After completing seven patrols, Pete went to DamNeck to change his career path to MT. He reflects on the significant milestones of his naval career.

Mark Schwartzel, who served as a TM2(SS), looks back on his time on the Nathanael Greene as part of his ten-year enlistment. His journey culminated in 1981 as TMC(SS), and he continues to serve as a reserve Commander in command of a Pacific Submarine Force unit. Mark looks forward to reuniting with his shipmates at the upcoming reunion in Groton.

Steve Schroeder, an MT-3(SS) who served on the Nathanael Greene during two patrols, later became a project engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding with Submarine Fleet Support. His involvement in the submarine community continued to grow, as he participated in the last C-3 overhaul period and the inactivation of the Nathanael Greene along with the USS Nathan Hale. Currently, Steve remains a Project Engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding, dedicated to supporting the fleet of attack submarines. With his deep connection to the submarine world, Steve proudly exclaims, "WETSU!" (We Eat the Same).

Bert Siebert, a former Sonar Technician, often finds himself pondering the whereabouts and accomplishments of his fellow shipmates. The experiences shared on the Nathanael Greene have left an indelible mark on his life, influencing various aspects beyond his naval career. Bert contemplates the profound impact their time together had on shaping their individual paths.

Leroy Smith, who served as an MT3 and eventually became an MT1, cherishes the great times and shipmates he encountered on the Nathanael Greene. Taking the boat into overhaul in 1979, he bid farewell before sea trials. Leroy's post-Navy career led him to Electric Boat, where he served as the Weapons Supervisor in Bremerton, Washington. Sadly, Leroy recalls the somber days witnessing the Greene being dismantled.

Danny Arrant, an esteemed 1st Class Petty Officer, left a lasting impression on the crew of the Nathanael Greene. Unfortunately, he passed away in April 1999, leaving behind a deep regret for leaving the ship and the Navy. His wife, Paula, pays tribute to Danny, who loved the Greene dearly and missed both the ship and the comradeship shared with the Blue and Gold crews.

Craig Brown, a former Quartermaster, reflects on the nearly four years he spent on board the Nathanael Greene. While he initially expressed frustration towards the ship, he now focuses on the countless good times he experienced during his service. Above all, Craig acknowledges that his devotion to God, his wife, and his two daughters surpasses any memories created on the submarine.

Alvin Sanchez, a Supply team member, fondly recalls his best buddy, MS3 Chuck Cockcroft, who impressed the crew with his exceptional cooking skills. Together, they embarked on a memorable Christmas patrol, creating and storing raisin jack in poly bottles throughout the supply lockers. Although the taste was less than pleasant, the experience exemplified the camaraderie and adventurous spirit that defined life on the Nathanael Greene.

The stories shared by the USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 crew members reveal a deep sense of pride, camaraderie, and nostalgia for their time aboard this remarkable submarine. Through their personal recollections, we catch a glimpse of the bonds formed, the challenges overcome, and the shared experiences that continue to shape their lives. The memories of the Nathanael Greene will forever hold a special place in their hearts, serving as a testament to their dedication and service to the United States Navy.

Framed Navy Discharge Certificate
Framed Honorable Discharge Certificate

Accidents and Challenges

USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636 Accident in 1986

Despite rigorous safety protocols and a highly skilled crew, the USS Nathanael Greene wasn't immune to the dangers of naval operations. On March 13, 1986, towards the end of its service, the submarine ran into a mishap. Navigating near Scotland's Isle of Skye, the ship accidentally ran aground, which resulted in severe damage to its sonar dome and ballast tanks.

Thankfully, there were no injuries or nuclear material leaks, but the incident severely hampered the ship's operational ability. A comprehensive inquiry was launched to unravel the reasons behind the accident and take steps to avoid such incidents in the future.

Damage Reports of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

After the unfortunate accident in 1986, reports assessing the damage revealed the impact's severity. The lower section of the forward ballast tanks and the sonar dome had suffered considerable damage. Considering the extent of the damage and the submarine's age, it was decided not to repair the Nathanael Greene. The costs associated with the repairs and the fact that the submarine was nearing the end of its service life, prompted an early decommissioning.

Maintenance of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The USS Nathanael Greene, like any advanced naval vessel, demanded constant and meticulous upkeep throughout its service. Given its demanding operational nature, special attention was given to maintaining the nuclear reactor and missile systems.

Regular maintenance tasks ranged from mechanical and structural inspections to caring for the sophisticated electronics and navigation systems. As an SSBN, the Nathanael Greene's missile systems' upkeep was especially crucial. Regular inspections and checks were vital to keep these systems in an operational state and ready for action.

The 1986 grounding served as a stark reminder of the persistent challenges submarines like the Nathanael Greene face. Despite this unfortunate event, the vessel's overall service record stands as a testament to the crew and maintenance staff's skill, professionalism, and dedication.

Decommissioning and Legacy

Decommission Process of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The 1986 grounding marked the untimely end of the USS Nathanael Greene's service. Upon evaluating the damage, the decision was made to decommission the vessel. The process commenced on December 15, 1986, just under 22 years from when it was commissioned.

Decommissioning a submarine, particularly a nuclear-powered one, is an exhaustive process. Initially, the vessel was defueled, which involved removing the nuclear fuel from its reactor. Then came the deactivation of the vessel's systems and the secure removal and disposal of the onboard Polaris or Poseidon missiles. Following that, any radioactive materials were safely disposed of, and the vessel was cleaned to ensure no environmental hazards were left behind.

On September 1, 1987, the USS Nathanael Greene was officially stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. The submarine's hull was subsequently scrapped as part of the Navy's Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Legacy of USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636

The USS Nathanael Greene's legacy stretches beyond its physical existence. It remains a symbol of a crucial historical period when global power balance was on the brink of nuclear conflict. The vessel, along with others in its class, played a pivotal role in maintaining peace through the mutual assured destruction doctrine.

These experiences emphasize the critical nature of maintaining a balance of power, the vast responsibility tied to nuclear technology, and the awe-inspiring human fortitude when faced with formidable challenges. The history of the USS Nathanael Greene and the first-hand experiences of its crew remain priceless lessons for us and the generations to come.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.