Cold War: USS George Washington (SSBN-598)

Launching of USS George Washington, June 9, 1959. US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS George Washington (SSBN-598) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Ballistic Missile Submarine
  • Shipyard: General Dynamics Electric Boat
  • Laid Down: November 1, 1958
  • Launched: June 9, 1959
  • Commissioned: December 30, 1959
  • Fate: Scrapped - completed September 30, 1998


  • Displacement: 5959-6019 tons surfaced
  • Length: 381.6 ft.
  • Beam: 33 ft.
  • Draft: 29 ft.
  • Propulsion: 1 S5W pressurized water reactor, 2 geared turbines at 15,000 shp, 1 x 7-bladed screw
  • Speed: 20 knots surfaced, 25+ submerged
  • Range: unlimited
  • Complement: 112 men


  • 6 × 21 in. torpedo tubes
  • 16 x Polaris A1/A3 missiles

USS George Washington - Design & Construction:

Laid down on November 1, 1958 as USS Scorpion (SSN-589), USS George Washington was the world's first ballistic missile submarine. Originally intended as a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine, orders were issued in December 1958 to convert Scorpion and USS Sculpin into vessels capable of carrying newly-developed fleet ballistic missiles. To accommodate this request, the keel of Scorpion was cut in two at Electric Boat in Groton, CT and a 130-foot missile compartment inserted between the control room and the nuclear reactor spaces.

With this alteration, work moved forward to complete the vessel under the new designation USS George Washington (SSBN-598). The former name was given to a new attack submarine which would be lost under suspicious circumstances in 1968.

Sponsored by Mrs. Robert B. Anderson, George Washington entered the water on June 9, 1959. As with future ballistic missile submarines, George Washington possessed two crews, Blue and Gold, which rotated to ensure that the vessel could stay sea with few interruptions. Under this system, its first two captains were Commander James B.

Osborn (Blue) and Commander John L. From, Jr. (Gold).

Making History:

Commissioned on December 30, 1959, George Washington departed Groton the following June under the guidance of Osborn. Arriving at Cape Canaveral, FL, the submarine embarked two Polaris missiles and program head Rear Admiral William Raborn. Putting to sea, George Washington conducted the first successful tests of the Polaris missile on July 20. Swapping crews, these tests were repeated on July 30 under the supervision of the Gold crew. Having tested the new weapon system, George Washington put into Charleston, SC where it was given a full complement of sixteen Polaris missiles.

A Nuclear Deterrent:

After receiving a Navy Unit Commendation and embarking the Blue crew, George Washington departed port on November 15, 1960, for the world's first nuclear deterrent patrol. Slipping beneath the waves, the submarine did not surface for 66 days until arriving at New London in January to change crews. Leaving port, George Washington conducted another deterrent patrol which ended when the vessel arrived at Holy Loch, Scotland in April. Based at that port, George Washington conducted routine patrols until returning to Groton in 1964 for refueling.

During its initial deployment, George Washington sailed approximately 100,000 miles before putting in for a refit. Remaining at Groton into 1965, the submarine's systems were upgraded to utilize the new Polaris A3. Leaving port, George Washington was later transferred to the US Pacific Fleet and assigned to Pearl Harbor. Known as the "Georgefish," the submarine conducted nuclear deterrent patrols in the Pacific for the next decade and a half as part of the US Navy's growing ballistic missile submarine force.

On April 9, 1981, George Washington was involved in a collision with the Japanese cargo ship Nissho Maru in the South China Sea. The accident occurred when the submarine accidently surfaced under the ship. The collision led to the sinking of Nissho Maru and the death of two of its crew.

Immediately diving and then resurfacing nearby, George Washington's crew stated that it was unable to see the ship due to bad weather and as a result offered no aid. The collision badly strained US-Japanese relations and the Reagan Administration accepted blame and offered compensation.

Final Days:

Arriving in port in 1982, George Washington completed its final nuclear deterrence patrol. Sent to Puget Sound, its missiles were removed the following year in compliance with the SALT I Treaty. Redesignated as an attack submarine (SSN-598), George Washington returned to service in this role. An aging vessel, the US Navy elected to decommission George Washington on January 24, 1985. Though stricken from the Navy List the following year, the submarine was retained at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard through the end of the 1980s.

In the 1990s, George Washington was scrapped through the US Navy's Ship-Submarine Recycling Program. This process was completed on September 30, 1998. As part of the dismantling the submarine, its sail was removed and sent to the Submarine Force Library and Museum at New London. Though George Washington served a relatively quiet career, it pioneered a ship type that became the strategic backbone of both the US and Soviet Navies' nuclear deterrence forces. The rise of the ballistic missile submarine was a key element of the Cold War and the type remains a key strategic asset into the 21st century.

Selected Sources