After more than 34 years of service to the U.S. Navy and the nation, Submarine Group Six was deactivated on 3 September 1994 in ceremonies in Charleston, South Carolina. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Submarine Group Six was the largest submarine group in the U.S. Navy, with the operational responsibility for five submarine squadrons and more than 50 nuclear powered submarines, including both fleet ballistic missile, fast attack and one of the last diesel submarines in the U.S. Navy.
Submarine Group Six was originally established as Submarine Flotilla Two at Norfolk, Virginia on 1 March 1960 under the command of Captain J.W. Williams, USN. With headquarters on the submarine tender USS ORION (AS 18) in Norfolk, Submarine Flotilla Two was tasked with responsibility for submarine operations on the South Atlantic seaboard of the United States stretching from Key West, Florida northward to approximately Annapolis, Maryland, including the Gulf of Mexico. Submarine Flotilla Two initially included the surface and submarine units of Submarine Squadron Four in Charleston, Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, and Submarine Squadron 12 in Key West.
On 29 March 1960, Submarine Flotilla Two’s responsibilities expanded to include the newly commissioned Polaris Missile Facility, Atlantic (POMFLANT) at the Naval Weapons Annex, Charleston. The mission of the Polaris Missile Facility was to provide missile maintenance and replenishment for the new fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines then coming into service. In August 1960, Submarine Flotilla Two moved to Charleston when headquarters were shifted to USS HOWARD W. GILMORE (AS 16). A new era of strategic deterrence began on 15 November 1960, when USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN 598) departed Charleston for the first operational SSBN deterrent patrol, carrying 16 tactical Polaris A-1 missiles, each with a 1200 nautical mile range.
Over the next several years, additional submarines, especially SSBNs, were added to Submarine Flotilla Two’s growing responsibilities. On the first of April 1962, Submarine Flotilla Two was redesignated as Submarine Flotilla Six; then in February 1963, Submarine Flotilla Six assumed additional duties in support of the FBM submarine program. These duties included the stateside off-crew training, personnel detailing, logistics and pre-deployment operations for the FBM submarines scheduled for the newly formed Submarines Squadrons 16 and 18. During 1963, five new FBM submarines of the Lafayette Class were commissioned and assigned to Submarine Flotilla Six in preparation for future transfer to Submarine Squadron 16. As the year 1963 ended, USS LAFAYETTE (SSBN 616) was loading missiles in preparation for her first patrol.
In January 1964, Submarine Flotilla Six shifted administrative headquarters to the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Training Center in Charleston. During the remainder of 1964, 12 more new FBM submarines, including the SSBN 627 Class, reported to Submarine Flotilla Six for predeployment training. Because test firings for all new and post overhaul SSBNs were and still are conducted from the Atlantic Ocean near Port Canaveral, Florida, virtually every SSBN came under Submarine Flotilla/Group Six operational command while conducting these demonstration and shakedown operations (DASO) test firings.
On the first of August 1964, Submarine Squadron 18 was activated with headquarters in Charleston. Submarine Flotilla Six assumed additional duty as Commander of that Squadron until its Squadron Commander arrived on 16 November 1964. Also in 1964, USS POLLACK (SSN 603) and USS HADDO (SSN 604), newly constructed fast attack submarines, joined the Flotilla as the first nuclear powered fast attack units of Submarine Squadron Four.
1965 saw continued growth and expansion of Submarine Flotilla Six’s responsibilities. During 1965, the first three of the Benjamin Franklin Class FBM submarines were commissioned and reported to Submarine Flotilla Six for predeployment training. Also during 1965 the FBM submarine tenders USS SIMON LAKE (AS 33) and USS CANOPUS (AS 34) reported to the Flotilla for shakedown. Upon completion of shakedown, USS SIMON LAKE joined Submarine Squadron 18.
Submarine Squadron 16, previously reporting directly to Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, was placed under the administrative control of Submarine Flotilla Six in August 1965. Then’ in September 1965,the Flotilla Commander moved from the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Training Center to his new headquarters in Building 646 where headquarters remained until deactivation in September 1994.
Continued growth of responsibilities came with 1968. In early 1968, HMS RESOLUTION (SSBN 01), the first of the British SSBNs arrived in Charleston for loadout and DASO, followed by departure in March for the first British SSBN deterrent patrol. In May 1968, tragedy struck the Submarine Force when USS SCORPION (SSN 589), a Flotilla unit attached to Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, was lost at sea with all hands. In December 1968, USS WHALE (SSN 638), the first of the 637 Class nuclear powered fast attack submarines reported to Subma-rine Squadron Four.
As the new decade of the 70s dawned, modernization of ships and weapons systems became the focus, as the first of the nuclear submarines began overhauls and weapons conversions. In August of 1970, the first submerged launch of a Poseidon missile was successfully conducted from USS JAMES MADISON (SSBN 627). The firing was observed by a Soviet ship, LAPTEV, whose crew was unsuccessful in attempts to recover closure plate segments from the water after launch of the missile.
On 1 September 1972 the first torpedo Mk 48 Training Certification Program (TCP) team for the Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, was established at Submarine Flotilla Six. The team acted as professional and technical advisors to the Flotilla Commander and as instructors and coaches for ship’s commanding officers, attack parties, and other weapons and sensor teams. Submarine Flotilla Six was redesignated in July 1973 as Submarine Group Six.
As the 70s drew to a close, new ships and weapons began to emerge. In January 1977, USS LOS ANGELES (SSN 688) completed her initial Mk 48 torpedo certification while assigned to the group and on 2 July 1979, Submarine Squadron 16 shifted from Rota, Spain to a new site at Kings Bay, Georgia in prepara-tion for the new Trident SSBNs.
In 1979, additional growth in the SSN force resulted in forming the new fast attack Submarine Squadron Eight in Norfolk, Virginia, to supplement Submarine Squadron Six, thus bringing Submarine Group Six to five subordinate submarine squadrons.
Throughout the 1980s, Submarine Group Six was the largest submarine group in the U.S. Navy, and one of the largest in the world, including five submarine squadrons in three home ports with five submarine tenders, more than 50 submarines and more than 18,000 active duty members. In 1981, construction of an expanded off crew office and training space was completed as Building 646 Annex was dedicated, more than doubling the training and off crew office space available for Submarine Group Six. This was necessary to keep pace with the growth of the Charleston submarine community to more than 12,000 active duty members. On November 11, 1981 the first of the new Trident submarines, USS OHIO (SSBN 726), was commissioned and placed under the operational command of Submarine Group Six.
In March of 1983, Submarine Group Six was awarded the first of two Meritorious Unit Commendations for significant contributions in resourcefully managing the largest submarine community in the U.S. Navy and in bringing the new Trident submarines successfully on line.
In September 1986 USS SAM RAYBURN (SSBN 635) completed a 12-112 month dismantlement availability at Charleston Naval Shipyard and commenced duties as the first moored training ship at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
Submarine Squadron 20 was established in 1988 in Kings Bay Georgia, as the first East Coast Trident submarine squadron, bringing Submarine Group Six to a peak of six subordinate submarine squadrons. This remained the situation for a year until the establishment of Submarine Group 10 in Kings Bay and the transfer of Submarine Squadron 20 to that Group.
The Fall of 1989 was disastrous as Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston on September 21, 1989. Submarine Group Six provided strong leadership in the organization of disaster assistance teams, working with home repair, distribution and Red Cross teams to provide around the clock recovery needs. In recognition of their actions well above and beyond the call of duty, personnel assigned to Submarine Group Six were awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal.
In August 1990 Submarine Group Six was awarded a second Meritorious Unit Commendation recognizing the significant contributions in bringing additional Trident SSBNs and the new 05 Trident missile on line.
The end of the Cold War and the necessary military downsizing that came with the 1990s resulted in a significant reduction in the Submarine Force, including plans to deactivate the remaining submarines of the original 41 for Freedom and a major portion of the older SSNs. Submarine Group Six was also selected to be deactivated . In May 1992 Submarine Squadron 18 was deactivated and Submarine Group Six was notified that all SSBNs remaining in the group were to be accelerated in their deactivation process by up to four years. In late 1992 Submarine Squadrons 6 and 8 in Norfolk, Virginia were transferred to Submarine Group Two in New London, thus beginning the downsizing and ultimate end of Submarine Group Six.
Submarine Squadron 16 was deactivated in June 1994, Submarine Group Six was deactivated on 3 September 1994, and Submarine Squadron 4 will be deactivated on 31 March 1995. Thus ends more than 34 years of service by Submarine Group Six and nearly half a century of submarines in Charleston at Submarine Squadron 4.