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The SSN 21 “SEAWOLF” class of submarines will return to the past practice of submarines being named after fish, starting with the names of those submarines (also named after fish) which distinguished themselves in World War II.

It appears we will have gone a full circle -but do we really want to?

Up until tbe inter-war period, submarines were simply designated by a letter prefix followed by a hull number, the last class being the sboats. The decision was made in about 1922 to name new submarines after fish. This was based on their increased importance and a perceived need to give the ship more than just a number. Every other ship in the Navy had a name, so why shouldn’t a submarine? Over 140 diesel submarines were commissioned between 1924 and 1959, honoring numerous denizens of the deep from BARRACUDA to BONEFISH.

The dawning or the age of nuclear propulsion for submarines saw a continuation or the tradition or naming submarines after sea creatures, starting with the NAUTILUS (of 20.000 Leagues Onder the Sea and diesel boat fame), SEAWOLF, the SKATE class, SKIPJ~CK class, THRESHER class, TULLIBEE, and the 637 or STURGEON class. The wedding or nuclear propulsion with ballistic missile technology inspired the naming of SSBNs after famous Americans, starting with George Washington (SSBN 598) and ending with Will Rogers (SSBN 659). Forty-one famous Americans were so honored, and a Navy public relations film was aptly named “Fortyone for Freedom.”

Ichthyologists have identified over fortythousand species of fish and sea creatures. Yet, after using only about 300 names, tradition was again interrupted in 1970 when an attack submarine, SSN 680, bad its name changed from REDFISB to WILLIAM H. BATES during its construction period. Tradition was quickly ยท restored with the BATFISH, TUNNY, PARCHE and CAVALLA.

Ship naming became more political after 1970, and the SSNs laid down in 1971 were named GLENARD P. LIPSCOMB, L. MENDEL RIVERS and RICHARD B. RUSSEL, honoring Congressmen who had been patrons of the Navy and Submarine Force.

The first or the 688 class SSNs laid down in 1972, were named after cities. LOS ANGELES was followed by BATON ROUGE, PHILADELPHIA, MEMPHIS, OMAHA, CINCINNATI, GROTON, BIRMINGHAM, NEW YORK CITY, etc. Congressmen liked the idea of being able to have their cities so honored.

When the first TRIDENT was laid down in 1976, the decision was made to name these capital warships after states (similar to cruisers and battleships). OHIO was followed by MICHIGAN, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, HENRY H. JACKSON (ex RHODE ISLAND), ALABAMA, ALASKA and NEVADA. HENRY M. JACKSON (SSBN 730) and H.O. RICKOVER (SSN 709) are two exceptions to this new policy. They honor important Americans of recent fame.

One of the more noticeable achievements of the Reagan administration has been the resurgence of pride in America and in her military. The pendulum has swung away from the disdain for the military evident in the early 1970s. Hence military personnel now wear their uniforms with greater pride, and more frequently in public places. Also, most cities and states have turned out in a grand style to support the submarines named after them, and many cities continue an ongoing relationship with their namesake ship. Recruiters have been able to use ships, named after their cities and states, to help canvass the slowly dwindling manpower pool which demographers indicate will be getting even small:er as the twenty-first century is approached.

What constituency is there for a fish?

By comparison with the past, the city or Groton, Connecticut, has phenomenal relations with USS GROTON each year during GROTON Week. Patriots Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts, This year it was declared USS BOSTON Appreciation Day, and included a presentation to the ship by the Mayor of Boston of a silver Revere bowl inscribed “To the Patriots onboard USS BOSTON.” Albuquerque, Dallas, Baltimore, the City of Corpus Christi (just to name a few) have turned out in grand style to support their ships. This is good community relations, good recruiting and positive feedback for those or us who still go down to the sea in ships.

The SSN 21 class is still several years away. There are 250 million Americans dwelling in 5500 cities and towns across the United States, over 100 of which have a population of over 150,000. Let’s continue giving them a clear and easy way ot identifying with the u.s. Navy and submarine force. Fish don’t vote, enlist, or go down to the sea in ships — but people do.

CDR Paul J. Ryan, USN
Executive Officer, USS BOSTON
FPO New York, NY 09565

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