Thursday, July 2, 2009

USS Grayback (SSG 574)

On July 2, 1957 – 52 years ago today – Mare Island launched the USS Grayback (SSG 574). The Grayback was the first submarine entirely designed at Mare Island and marked an important transition in submarine warfare. While Grayback was the last conventional diesel-electric powered sub built at Mare Island, she was also the first Mare Island sub designed to launch guided missiles. The two Regulus missiles carried by Grayback were housed in a hanger on the sub’s foredeck. Within a few years, vertical launch, ballistic-missile carrying, nuclear powered subs would become the standard bearers of the U.S. fleet, but when Grayback was launched, she was considered state-of-the art Cold War technology.

The submarine was christened by Mrs. John A. Moore, widow of the skipper of the first USS Grayback (SS 208), a sub lost in the Pacific during WWII. Principal speaker at the launching ceremony was Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, USN (ret), who had commanded the U.S. Submarine Force Pacific Fleet during the war. Lockwood’s comments underscored the intense fear sweeping the world as the U.S. and the Soviet Union escalated their nuclear arms race. The Grayback’s nuclear missile capability, said Lockwood, “reduces, by comparison, the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the level of Fourth of July firecrackers.”

In his speech, Lockwood warned against the dangers of Communist propaganda. “You may be assured,” he told the 7,000 people gathered for the launching, “that the current Communist drive to outlaw nuclear weapons is not motivated by love of humanity. Their purges in Russia, their ruthless slaughter of Hungarians, their slave labor camps, and the recent boastfully announced executions in Red China, all clearly show their real feelings toward humanity.”

Lockwood’s lengthy speech concluded with an assurance that “the good Lord, who has brought us up from a mere handful of colonists to our present world stature – and with whose divine aid we have won all our wars – gave us that weapon (the fissionable and fusionable atom), as a sword and shield with which to protect ourselves against the godless hordes of Communism.”

Although the Regulus missile program would prove to be short-lived, the USS Grayback would have a long and distinguished career. Her later conversion to Special Operations and Amphibious Transport duties kept Grayback on the front lines of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force throughout the Cold War.

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