At present, the USS Proteus (AS-19) is moored at Polaris Point in Apra Harbor, Guam. This is the third overseas Polaris replenishment site the Navy has established and the only one in the Pacific. At least one nuclear-powered Polaris submarine is always alongside the Proteus undergoing refit. The task of getting the submarine ready to depart for patrol on time is proceeding apace, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the schedules are being met. This is the normal mode of business in the Polaris program, and the Proteus has had a major role in establishing the outstanding Polaris record.
In World War II, the Proteus first made her mark. At the time of the Japanese capitulation the Proteus, then one of the Navy’s newest tenders, was selected to enter Japanese waters with a number of U. S. fleet submarines. These diesel-electric boats, rugged and war proven, were modest in comparison with the tender’s 1966 charges. Certainly Proteus men of 1945 concentrated their talents primarily in the mechanical and electrical skills, rather than electronics, as their ship earned the complimentary term “tip-top tender.” This reputation was carried back from Japan to New London, where postwar duties included deactivating submarines for the Reserve Fleet. Eventually the Proteus herself became a part of this fleet, leaving the support of active submarines to other tenders.
In the mid-1950s, the Polaris fleet ballistic missile weapon system was conceived with an operational concept of complete mobility. Not only would the submarines be constantly moving on patrol, but their logistics would be free of fixed bases. Replenishment anchorages would be established which could be quickly relocated should the need arise. Tenders were therefore essential to support the ballistic missile submarines, termed SSBNs, and one tender was required on a priority basis for the first SSBN squadron. New construction could not meet this deadline. To the Proteus, the only one of her seven-ship class still in the Reserve Fleet, went the assignment, and in 1959 she was towed to the Charleston Naval Shipyard for conversion.
More than a year was needed to provide the Proteus with this new capability. The ship was cut in half and a 44-foot section added amidships. This increased her over-all length to 573 feet and added 3,000 tons, bringing her full-load displacement to 19,700 tons. In this new hull section were located the Polaris missile magazine and the numerous supporting shops for guidance and monitoring equipment, as well as space for the testing and storage of the many missile components. Here also was placed the nuclear repair trunk with its compartmented space assigned solely for tasks associated with the maintenance and repair of the submarine nuclear propulsion plants. Over this new section was erected a large missile crane of bridge-type design with outriggers to port and starboard to service the missile tubes of a submarine alongside. Many new features were installed throughout the ship. For example, a navigation shop was constructed and equipped to support the new inertial systems. The fire control equipment repair shop was designed, and calibration laboratories for the newest of electronic and mechanical instrumentation were added. A rubber and plastic shop was provided for sealing of cables and encapsulating of parts. The more conventional facilities such as the electric shop, the pipe shop, the metal shop, and the machine shop were updated. Small resemblance remained to the tender that had previously supported the fleet-type, diesel- electric-powered submarines.
Of exceptional interest was the preparation for the tender’s supply function. The Proteus was to carry approximately 80,000 line items of varying size in her storerooms, a marked contrast to the 25,000 items normally carried by tenders supporting conventional submarines. For this supply task, elaborate machine record systems were established, an electronic computer was installed, and storerooms were prepared.
Much work also had to be done to provide personnel accommodations in excess of those needed in a conventional tender.
Officers and men had to be provided and trained to be masters of a new submarine force technology. As the crew assembled, the basic tender department organization was put into effect with considerable expansion of the repair, weapon, and supply departments. Finally, the Proteus was commissioned in the summer of 1960, and, after shakedown training, was ready for service.
The pioneer USS George Washington (SSBN-598) returned to New London in early 1961 from her history-making first Polaris patrol. Here she joined the Proteus for the first full- scale refit. It went well, remarkably so, and upon its completion the tender sailed to Holy Loch, Scotland, arriving in February, just in time to meet the USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599), returning from her first Polaris patrol. The experience of Proteus during this first deployment to Holy Loch is history. Suffice it to say that during this period there was refit after refit, problem after problem, and much back-breaking work. Two years later, when the new USS Hunley (AS-31) arrived in the Loch to take over the watch, the Proteus was a tired ship in need of yard work. In March of 1963, having completed 42 refits, the Proteus sailed to Charleston for a six-month overhaul.
Not only was all machinery in the Proteus overhauled in the shipyard, but substantial internal changes were made, based on lessons learned on her pioneer deployment and the requirement to support the new 616-class SSBNs. Most of the modifications were in the area of technical support. New navigation equipment was installed to permit check-out and repair of the latest inertial systems. Fire control equipment designed for more rapid component surveillance and repair was provided, as were new facilities for guidance package support. These and other improvements were to help service the latest missile (the Polaris A-2) as well as submarine torpedo systems. Structural changes also were a major work item. For example, new storerooms were added, with a corresponding space reduction in the tender’s fuel capacity; two diesel propulsion engines were altered to provide more submarine power; and stores-handling facilities were improved by the addition of a weather protected stores receiving area with a large elevator to provide access to each deck and platform level. Some weather deck space was converted into shops, administrative offices, and additional crew berthing. The last was essential since it had been proven that the deployed tender, maintaining a squadron of SSBNs, required the wartime complement of about 1,130 officers and enlisted men rather than the peacetime allowance.
Upon completion of overhaul and during the refresher training period, all effort was directed toward a new deployment. The destination was not known, but it was expected the Proteus would establish a new site in the Atlantic area, and would stay there until the new USS Holland (AS-32) was completed. It was realized even then that the Proteus would go to the Pacific in late 1964. However, the Pacific SSBNs were not yet ready, and so in January of 1963 the Proteus once more crossed the Atlantic. Her first stop was Holy Loch where, during two refits in company with Hunley, the old Proteus know-how was revitalized, and the men, many of whom had not been on the first deployment, became once more an effective team. In late February she sailed south and quietly arrived at Rota, Spain. It had just been announced that Rota would be the second Polaris site, and one week later the USS Lafayette (SSBN-616) returned from her first patrol and moored alongside.
It was a highly successful refit. Since this new class submarine had been in outstanding condition when deployed, the Proteus was able to do the required work at a rapid pace, completing the work several days in advance of the four-week schedule. At the same time, much effort was devoted to becoming acquainted with the Spanish hosts, as well as with the U. S. personnel at the naval base.
It was with some regret that the Holland was greeted as she steamed in to relieve the Proteus. About one week later, on 6 April 1964, the Proteus set her course back north to her old home at Holy Loch.
It was programmed that the Hunley would undergo extensive updating of her missile support systems as well as certain other work, all to be done in Holy Loch by the Hunley's own crew. The Proteus' part in the scheme was to assume SSBN refit responsibilities during the required time frame, and she completed five SSBN upkeeps before departing for Charleston in mid-June. Excellent co-operation existed between these two tenders in the Loch, and the Hunley's support in the supply area was invaluable since her load was especially tailored for the class of ships being refitted.
It was a long, hot, and trying summer in the Charleston shipyard, as the Proteus used a 90- day availability to prepare for the move to the Pacific island of Guam. Of the material problems, the greatest task was in supply. Since the new 627-class SSBNs, with the A-3 version of the Polaris missile, were to be tended, new components were involved. The spare part “purifying” process—deleting, adding, inventorying, recording, and stowing—was staggering. Another facet of the preparation lay in correcting deficiencies noted on the preceding deployment. As an example, the Mediterranean-moor fittings, a failure in Rota, had to be strengthened, and more air conditioning had to be added to the missile magazine. Finally, new equipment, most of which had not been available during the previous overhaul, was installed throughout the ship, especially in the torpedo, navigation repair, and fire-control spaces, and in the communication facility. Material readiness was far from the only concern, for the crew had to be stabilized and trained for the upkeep of the new SSBNs. This was complicated by a personnel turnover of more than 44 per cent in both officer and enlisted categories during the period in Charleston, a result of normal rotation to meet service requirements for the homeport change as well as certain personal needs of individuals in face of a major relocation.
On 16 October 1964, in the wake of a hurricane, the Proteus set course for Panama. A priority transit of the canal was made on 22 October, and Proteus reported for duty with the Pacific Fleet. After a stop in Pearl Harbor to embark Commander Submarine Squadron 15 and his staff, the ship reached Guam in late November. For the third time, the pioneer Proteus commenced establishment of a replenishment anchorage. Five days later the USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629) moored to port, and the 51st Proteus Polaris refit was soon underway.
Experience proved its value from the outset of the Guam operation. While the cold winds and frequent rains of the Clyde were missing, as were the heavy ocean swells and desert winds of Rota, there were typhoon threats and the humid heat of the Pacific. The climate affects personnel as well as equipment to a marked degree, and much attention had to be directed to the establishment of men and their families in a new environment.
In retrospect, it must be recognized that the Proteus was assigned to establish each site because in every instance the ship was available and capable. Even for the Guam mission the new USS Simon Lake (AS-33) could not be seriously considered in view of her construction schedule.
The Proteus has lived up to her motto, “Prepared-Productive-Precise,” and she has earned a reputation for excellence with the Polaris submarines. The proud old ship will continue the work at Guam. As the Pacific SSBN force grows, the demands will increase as they did in the Atlantic. No plans are announced for any other assignment for the Proteus. But there is no doubt that should the need arise for a true veteran to set up still another site, the Proteus would be a prime candidate and the job would be well done.