History Today in Military History

Today in military history: USS George Washington is launched

On June 9, 1959, America launched the first ballistic missile submarine, USS George Washington, forever changing nuclear deterrence.
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USS George Washington
Featured Image: The U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN-598) underway, circa in the 1970s. (U.S. Navy image)

On June 9, 1959, America launched the first ballistic missile submarine, forever changing nuclear deterrence.

Following the Korean War, the Cold War increased in intensity as America and the Soviet Union looked for ways to project their power in the event of a nuclear war.

America leapt ahead of its rival with the creation of the Polaris missile, a solid fueled nuclear-armed missile that could be launched from a submarine. The U.S. Navy altered two submarines already under construction to carry 13 Polaris missiles each. The Navy also authorized the construction of three more custom-built subs.

The USS George Washington (SSBN-598) was the first one to be completed. SSBN-598 was the third United States Navy ship to be named in honor of President George Washington — and the first of that name to be purpose-built as a warship. It was launched on June 9, 1959, before taking its first patrol, carrying 13 Polaris missiles with one-megaton warheads that could fly 1,400 miles, on November 15, 1960. 

On April 9, 1981, USS George Washington was broadsided by the Japanese commercial cargo ship Nissho Maru in the East China Sea. The USS George Washington immediately surfaced to search for the other vessel, but due to heavy fog conditions, failed to identify the damage on the Nissho Maru as it headed away in the fog. George Washington headed to port for repairs but sadly the Nissho Maru sank within the half hour.

It was decommissioned in 1985, having never used its lethal payload.

Featured Image: The U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN-598) underway, circa in the 1970s. (U.S. Navy image)