USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)

The Story Of A Cold War Warrior

A Warrior Is Born

It was a cold winter's February day when the Postmaster General's wife, Mrs. John Grounouski, broke a bottle of champagne on the nose of the five hundred and fifteenth submarine to be built for the US Navy.  On February 1st, 1964, the twenty sixth nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine was christened the USS Casimir Pulaski and slid down the ways of the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in New London (Groton), Connecticut.  

Laid down almost a year earlier on January 12th, 1963, USS Casimir Pulaski would be the 12th Lafayette Class submarine, the third class of boats that would make up the "41 For Freedom" nuclear ballistic missile submarines.  She would be the eleventh nuclear missile submarine built and launched by Electric Boat.  After the Pulaski, an additional six boomers would be built by the Groton shipbuilder, including the last of the "Freedom" boats, the USS Will Rogers.  Electric Boat's reputation for quality would not go un-noticed: all of the follow-on Ohio Class boomers would come to life in her shipyard.  This shot of her keel laying was taken at General Dynamics and shows the basic, almost non-descript form that all ships take as they are born.

The new boomer crews were selected from the brightest, finest men in the U.S. Navy's Submarine Force.  The men who would man the Casimir Pulaski were no exception.  The new vessels were the most powerful naval weapons conceived by man and the navy's leadership wanted to ensure that only the best crews were gathered to man them.  These proud men would become the USS Casimir Pulaski's "Plank Owners."  The navy's tradition of "Plank Owner's" goes back a long ways.  Here's what the navy's official literature has to say (photo courtesy of Don Ward):

While Casimir Pulaski's building continued, the crew trained.  Here is a photo of just some of the nuclear trained personnel who would be responsible for the maintenance of Casimir Pulaski's nuclear reactor.  I have a larger version of this photo if anyone needs one (photo courtesy of Chuck Jensen).

Her crew selected, the building continued at Electric Boat's facility.  After a normal pace, the ship was finally completed and awaited her launching and subsequent commissioning.  Weighing 8,251 tons and with a length of approximately 425 feet, she was an impressive vessel.  Her motto said it all; "Peace Through Seapower."  Here she sits patiently while dignitaries, workers and other onlookers tell of her great deeds to come.  The Cold War was the longest conflict in history and consumed the lives of millions.  The US Navy's boomer fleet would be instrumental in maintaining a balance of peace throughout this conflict.  While there would be wars and conflicts throughout the span of the Cold War, the steady patrol cycle of the American and British SSBN's provided a measure of protection to keep any hot spot from escalating into another global war.

Speeches over and done with and her nose wet from champaign, the proud vessel starts her first steps which will wet her hull for the first time.  Onboard are pre-commissioning - or "Plank Owner" - crewmembers and other US Navy dignitaries as well as crew family members and others. 

Here she prepares for her big splash as she heads down the heavily greased slip.

Finally free of the slip, the greased hull makes a dramatic splash that signifies her transformation from shipyard creation to actual ship.  For the old hands and salty veteran submariners on board, this event was probably a little anti-climatic.  For those having never experienced the launching of a vessel, this moment probably equaled a trip on the best roller coaster of the day.

A Starboard side view of the launching.  The ship's journey has only just begun.  The Plank Owner crew has been showing up for work each morning at an office or at the ship yard.  The framework of steel and machinery has taken shape before their eyes and they are now able to appreciate her graceful lines and marvel at her size.  She is one of the largest submarines to be built at that time (photo courtesy of Allen Brown).  Fitters and shipbuilders of Polish-American heritage will descend upon New London to work on the Pulaski and in addition to ensuring that she is constructed to the most exacting standards, she will become the warship built to the fastest timetable in U.S. Navy history.  From conception to launch, she took eighteen months to build, which is a record for a warship, let alone a complex nuclear powered submarine.

Her ride down the ways finished, it's now time to get down to business.  The newest US Navy warship is taken by tug back to the shipyard for further fitting out and additional details.  This process will take a few months and then the Navy will be ready to take her out for a spin and see what she's made of.  The majority of the same Polish-American artisans that lovingly constructed her will accompany the ship and continue the exacting labor they had started months earlier.  The standards will remain impressive and Pulaski will stand out among her sisters both for quality and reliability.  She will remain on station longer than her younger sisters.

Here's an extremely rare shot of the newly finished boat at her commissioning ceremony at Groton's Electric Boat shipyard.  Note the sail of another submarine off in the distance fitting out.  This shot was taken at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut (photo courtesy of Bill Pindell).

Finally, all tests and loadouts are complete.  It's time to leave the garage and head out on the highway!  Sea Trials!!  The crew turns the key and takes their girl for a spin in the Atlantic Ocean.  Notice the hull number ("633") as well as the ship's name aft where the deck smoothly curves downward.  These letters and numbers are welded onto the vessel and painted white.  As the Cold War progresses and secrecy becomes the by-word, the hull number and name will be painted over.  The oval hatch forward, is her forward "rescue buoy" which would be launched (jettisoned) by the submarine in case of emergency.  There was an identical hull-mounted buoy aft as well.

Another commissioning photo from Electric Boat documenting another aspect of Pulaski's sea trials.  The hull lines are graceful as she takes to the Ocean in July of 1964.  Her smooth hull barely shows missile hatches and ballast tank outlets.  By the time I reported onboard her in late 1985, her hull was dimpled from hundreds of dives and years of faithful service, patrolling the seas and oceans.

A better view of the front showing all six main ballast tank vents and various other openings.  Note the bridge windows in the front of the sail.  Also noticeable is the fact that one or both of the crew are in full dress whites; brave men considering the dirt on a ship, let alone a submarine.  Also notice the path that the safety track follows.

Another view of Casimir Pulaski during her sea trials, but this time at sea level looking head-on towards her.  Notice her width and the shape of her missile deck and sail.  An impressive sight.  She has one of her communications masts in the fully extended position.

Final fleet acceptance is done and the boat joins the fleet proper.  But the testing does not stop just yet.  The Casimir Pulaski was launched in the shadow of another weapons system: Polaris A-3.  Equipped to fire this deadly upgrade to the Polaris missile family, Pulaski took part in a missile shoot.  Here, a Polaris A-3 SLBM leaves her tubes enroute to the test range (photo courtesy of Allen Brown).

The validity of the new weapon system was proven and the USS Casimir Pulaski became an accepted member of the Atlantic Submarine Fleet.  Here's an undated "publicity" photograph from the mid 1960's (possibly 1968) of Pulaski "doing donuts" in the ocean.  She will join her submarine squadron in Rota, Spain and undertake many patrols from there.

As the 1960's draw to a close and the diplomatic situation heightens, security is now the order of the day.  Casimir Pulaski's proud hull number and name have been painted over and the welds disfigured to prevent a snooping eye from knowing which submarine is in port and which is out to sea.  The four holes in the hull underneath the sail area are for CSA anti-torpedo countermeasures.  The late 1960's and most of the 1970's have the Casimir Pulaski based out of Holy Loch, Scotland as a member of Submarine Squadron FOURTEEN. 

High speed turns are handled with ease as Pulaski heads back to her home in Holy Loch, Scotland following another successful patrol.  One of the most reliable SSBN's in the Navy, her selection for weapon upgrade was no surprise to her past and present crew.  She will trade her Polaris A-3 missiles for the U.S. Navy's latest weapon system. 

This view was captured as Pulaski left Holy Loch, Scotland for her scheduled refueling stateside.  The ship would be out of commission for a few years and return to active service with the newer (and deadlier) Poseidon missiles.  This weapon upgrade would make Casimir Pulaski (and her Poseidon-armed sisters) one of the deadliest weapons ever devised by man.

Pulaski joins the line of ships awaiting work in the shipyard.  The boat was decommissioned to enter the shipyard and at this stage, old crew transfer and new crew arrive.  Casimir Pulaski will be torn open as new equipment is added and older gear removed.  The Cold War ensures a steady supply of money to carry out these modifications; appropriations are not an issue.  Refuelling complete, USS Casimir Pulaski is recommissioned and given orders to rejoin the fleet.  Following conversion to Poseidon, the USS Casimir Pulaski takes to the sea for trials and a qualifying missile shoot.  At this time, hull numbers and names have been painted over on the hull.  Poseidon, with it's fourteen warheads, each of them capable of hitting a target, places Casimir Pulaski and her sisters in the position of being first strike weapons.  For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the communist forces start to panic.  There is nothing on the Russian drawing boards nor in their builder's yards that can counter the force that the Poseidon-armed boats possess. 

Acceptance of the Poseidon weapon system complete, USS Casimir Pulaski heads back to Holy Loch, Scotland and her stable mates at Submarine Squadron FOURTEEN.  A few years later, she will leave Scotland for her upgrade to the new Trident I submarine launched ballistic missile.  She will then continue on to be the first SSBN to be based at King's Bay, Georgia, the U.S. Navy's newest submarine base.  She will be joined by a familiar face, the tender USS Simon Lake (AS-33), also from Holy Loch, Scotland.  Within a year or two, the tender's sister ship, USS Canopus (AS-34) will relieve her following conversion to handle the new Trident I missile.

Milestones

* USS Casimir Pulaski was ordered on July 20th, 1961. 

* USS Casimir Pulaski was delivered to the fleet and commissioned on August 14th, 1964.

* Captain R. L. J. Long was the first commanding officer.

* USS Casimir Pulaski made her first patrol from Rota, Spain in March of 1965, carrying sixteen Polaris A-3 SLBM's (submarine launched ballistic missile).

* After twenty patrols, she was overhauled in Groton, Connecticut for refueling and conversion to carry the Poseidon C-3 missile.  USS Casimir Pulaski was the fifth submarine to receive the Poseidon SLBM.

* In October 1971 she rejoined the fleet and resumed patrols from Holy Loch.  Participating in an operational test program, she successfully fired four Poseidon missiles in the Atlantic test range.

* USS Casimir Pulaski was awarded the Submarine Squadron FOURTEEN Battle Efficiency "E" in July 1974, the first Battle "E" ever awarded to an SSBN.

* In early 1980 after fifty two patrols, USS Casimir Pulaski arrived in Newport News, Virginia for refueling and conversion to the Trident 1 C-4 SLBM.

* Following conversion and refueling, USS Casimir Pulaski arrived in King's Bay, Georgia in June 1983.

* In June 1985, USS Casimir Pulaski, during a Follow On Operational Test, successfully fired four Trident SLBM's in the Atlantic test range. 

* In October 1985, the USS Casimir Pulaski Gold Crew was awarded the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy for "most improvement in battle efficiency."

* In October 1986, both the Blue and Gold Crew were awarded the Submarine Squadron SIXTEEN Battle Efficiency "E" and the Atlantic Fleet Outstanding FBM Performance Award.

* Also in 1986, the first ever Neptune Award was commissioned for the SSBN submariner who has made the most strategic deterrent patrols.  The award was a statue of Neptune plus a gold patrol pin.  The first ever receipient of this award, was the Pulaski's own STSCS(SS) Joseph Gemma.  The third receipient was yet another Pulaski crewman, FTCS(SS) Stephen Wellinghurst.

* In October 1987, the USS Casimir Pulaski received the US Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ("MUC").

* In May 1989, the boat conducted the first Concept of Operation Exercise (LANTCOOPEX 1-89) held at a remote site away from an SSBN refit port.  The Gold Crew brought the ship in at the end of their patrol, were relieved by the Blue Crew and both crews with tender personnel, conducted a complete resupply of the ship and performed major maintenance and repairs and a torpedo reload in just 54 hours. This was held at Port Canaveral with no tender present (just the refit barge); under conditions of round-the-clock special forces simulated attacks.  The Blue Crew then took the ship to sea and conducted a full strategic deterrent patrol  A Tactical Readiness Evaluation (TRE) held at the end of that patrol received an overal grade of "Above Average" with a section grade of "Above Average" in ship's material condition - a testimony to both crew's superb day-to-day preventive maintenance, fix-it-when-it-breaks ethic (vice defer it to refit), and continual can-do and hard work.  COMSUBLANT designated LANTCOOPEX 1-89 as "by far the best" of three held that year.  This was remarkable since the other two COOPEX's were held in SSBN refit ports.

* Summer 1989, the USS Casimir Pulaski became one of the very few SSBN's to cross the Equator.  The Blue Crew were initiated as "Shellbacks."  Only four or five of the crew were "Shellbacks" prior to the crossing and under the leadership of Weapons Officer LT Dwayne Curtiss, a full initiation was given to each "Pollywog." 

* In August 1989, the boat visited Charleston, South Carolina to conduct the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the ship's commissioning.  Both crews participated in the celebration which included a full dress military ceremony pierside and a formal ball.  "Casimir Pulaski" societies sent representatives from as far as Michegan who, along with former shipmates, toured the ship and attended the numerous activities.

* Both crews were awarded the 1989 COMSUBRON SIXTEEN Battle "E."

* Both crews were awarded the 1989 Atlantic "FBM" Submarine Outstanding Performance Award.

* USS Casimir Pulaski was decommissioned and stricken from the list of active naval vessels on March 7th, 1994 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington.  So rests a good ship.

(Special thanks to former Blue Crew XO Jerry Hunnicutt for providing late 1980's operational information)

The Man Behind The Boat

"I came to hazard all for the freedom of America."  With those words, Count Casimir Pulaski passed away from combat wounds on board the USS Wasp.  Pulaski's combat history is not widely documented but it is believed that he fought throughout the entire American War Of Independence alongside General George Washington.  The original 41 Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines were named for men who championed the cause of freedom or technology for the good of mankind.  The sixteenth of these submarines was named for Count Casimir Pulaski, the Polish noble who gave his life so that America might gain independence.

During an insurrection in his native land, young Casimir took command on his 21st birthday of a detachment of partisans.  For the next three and a half years, in military campaigns against Russian forces, the young Casimir proved his valor and genuine military talent in more than a dozen major actions.  An unjust accusation of regicide was levelled on young Casimir and he left the country never to see it again.  After two years in Europe, Pulaski joined the Turks in fighting the Russians.  Their defeat forced him to return to Europe where he learned, in the summer of 1776, of the American War For Independence against Great Britain.  He was accepted to join their forces.  As America needed veterans, Pulaski joined George Washington in August 1777 and was appointed General Of The Cavalry on September 15th, 1777.  Even before his appointment, he demonstrated his value.  At the Battle Of Brandywine Creek, even though the Americans lost, Pulaski led a counterattack that prevented a military disaster by covering the withdrawal.

Pulaski spent the winter training at Trenton, not far from Valley Forge.  He came up with new drills to make a highly mobile force.  But as the Americans did not share his ideas of cavalry as a separate unit, he asked to be relieved and to form a special independent unit.  Pulaski, regarded as the "father of the American cavalry" took five months to form his legion at his Baltimore headquarters where he recruited Americans, Frenchmen, Poles, Irishmen and Hessian mercenary deserters, previously employed by the British.  On February 2nd, 1779, he received orders to South Carolina to reinforce American forces fighting the British.  Pulaski and his 600 men arrived in Charleston in May 1779, just in time to contribute to it's successful defense against a superior British force.  They now had to win back the British occupied territory.  Savannah was the target and the Americans plus French forces under Admiral Charles d'Estaing planned a risky all out assault on the heavily fortified town. 

Pulaski's mission was to follow the French and wait for the proper time to break down the enemy defenses.  But the French got caught in a cross fire.  Awaiting the right time, Pulaski could see the French breaking ranks under heavy fire.  To save the battle, he charged forward only to be seriously wounded himself.  Carried from the battlefield, he was put on a ship to be taken back to Charleston, but he never regained consciousness.  On October 11th, 1779, the thirty two year old Pulaski died at sea.  Americans recognized his heroism and sacrifice and resolved that a monument be erected in his honor.  A monument was erected in Washington DC in 1910.  The most befitting honor would be the naming of a nuclear missile submarine after him.  Like the cavalry he so dearly loved, the US Navy's nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines stayed on the sidelines of the battlefield, waiting to lend their power to save the day for their nation.