POLARIS Missile Facility, Atlantic (POMFLANT)
Charleston, South Carolina
Until the closure of Charleston Naval Shipyard, modern, nuclear submarines were a common sight in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
On 30 September 1958, the Office of the SECDEF approved construction of a POLARIS missile assembly facility near Charleston, South Carolina. Major components of the tactical POLARIS missile were to be shipped there, assembled, checked out, and outloaded on FBM submarines or stored for future outloading. The facility was to be on dormant government property near Charleston, South Carolina, some 17 miles up the Cooper River from the Atlantic Ocean. The largely undeveloped pine forest and marsh site had been an Army ordnance depot during World War II. The Navy acquired the 5,185 acre property in 1954, adding it to the adjacent Naval Ammunition Depot. Construction crews broke ground in December, only 4 months after site selection. ADM Raborn briefly viewed the Naval Weapons Annex, as it was called at the time, in July of 1959. Being on the Cooper River provided access to direct loading of missiles on SSBNs. Some 36 magazines built by the Army during the 1940's were modified and updated, and a large handling crane was installed at Pier Bravo of the Naval Ammunition Depot. The facility was known as the Naval Weapons Annex, a tenant of the Naval Ammunitiion Depot, Charleston, South Carolina. It was commissioned on 29 March 1960.
In July of the same year, the USS George Washington (SSBN-598), the first ballistic missile submarine, successfully launched two POLARIS A1 missiles while cruising submerged off Cape Canaveral. These were the first missiles that had been assembled and tested at the Naval Weapons Annex and then shipped to the Cape for loading aboard the USS George Washington (SSBN-598).
On 3 November 1960, the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) steamed into Charleston, South Carolina, and tied up at Naval Ammunition Depot's Pier Bravo. At 5:15 p.m. that afternoon, the first tactical POLARIS A1 missile was loaded aboard the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) "without complications." By 7 November 1960, all 16 missiles were in the submarine's launch tubes, and the crew had begun initial checks of their newly-acquired "birds."
As scheduled, the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) slipped from her berth about noon on 15 November 1960 and headed down the Cooper River channel to the Atlantic Ocean. The Naval Weapons Annex had passed its first boat-load test with flying colors.
Soon thereafter, the USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599) arrived at the Naval Ammunition Depot, Charleston, South Carolina, pier and received its shipfill of tactical POLARIS At missiles during 17 - 30 December 1960. ADM Raborn was sufficiently impressed with the USS Patrick Henry's (SSBN-599) outload to send a "Well Done" to all hands of the Naval WeaponsAnnex, including its military contractor and civilian personnel. " During the next year, 1961, three additional submarines were outloaded.
In 1962, the Naval Weapons Annex acquired the capability to process POLARIS A2 missiles. The USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) deployed from Charleston, South Carolina, with the first submarine load of A2's on 26 June 1962. Three other submarines were outloaded with A2 missiles during the year.
In 1964, the expected heavy POLARIS A3 workload commenced. The Naval Weapons Annex acquired the capability to assemble and test POLARIS A3 missiles and outloaded 10 submarines, 8 with POLARIS A2 missiles and 2 with POLARIS A3 missiles. The USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626) was the first submarine to carry the new and longer-range POLARIS A3, deploying from Charleston, South Carolina, on 28 September 1964. On 21 July 1964, the SECNAV changed the name of the facility from Naval Weapons Annex to the POLARIS Missile Facility Atlantic (POMFLANT).
During 1968, POMFLANT began to acquire the additional buildings and equipment to process the new POSEIDON C3 missile. POMFLANT began processing the POSEIDON PEM in 1970. The PEMs were loaded aboard the backfitted USS James Madison (SSBN-627) and USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629) for test firing off Cape Canaveral. Tactical POSEIDON missile production began shortly thereafter. The USS Madison deployed from Charleston, South Carolina, with the first POSEIDON C3 shipfill on 31 March 1971.
During 1974, the final POLARIS A3 buildup at POMFLANT was completed on 30 July, and the final POLARIS A2 offloaded on 20 September. In 1975, contractor (LMSC) personnel began missile processing in Missile Assembly and Packaging Building No. 1. It was also in 1975 that conversion of the facility to process TRIDENT I missiles got underway.
In August of 1977, the Increased Contractor Participation contract was signed, and the contractor assumed production work in various production buildings on 1 December 1977.
Missile assembly and checkout of TRIDENT I's began in December 1978 with the first TRIDENT I PEM. The missile was outloaded aboard the USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) on 20 February 1979. After DASO operations, the Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) deployed on 20 October 1979 with the first shipfill of TRIDENT I tactical missiles.
POMFLANT established a pattern of sending out more than 150 TRIDENT C4 or POSEIDON C3 missiles each year, varying considerably with fleet needs. DASOs, outloads, and other fleet operations have been supported, including shipments to Holy Loch, King's Bay, and other Charleston area commands. Receipt of missiles from the fleet, disassembly, refurbishment and functional tests continued as required to support fleet needs. During its years of service, POMFLANT has cycled missiles through assembly and test well over 4,000 times. It remains the only facility at which all five generations of FBM missiles have been processed. It has had all the FIRSTS and has always met fleet requirements.
The POMFLANT facility provided the initial outload of a submarine. After a submarine completed its patrol, it returned to an assigned refit site for crew exchanges, supplies, etc. Each refit site had a submarine tender assigned to provide services. The original sites in the Atlantic were site No. 1 at Holy Loch, Scotland (9 March 1961); site No. 2 at Rota, Spain (24 February 1964); and Site No. 4 at Charleston, South Carolina (28 July 1965) (a few miles down the Cooper River from POMFLANT). A site No. 3 was established on December 1964 in the Pacific at Apra Harbor, Guam, to service the POLARIS SSBNs. The original SSBNs in the Pacific were outloaded with POLARIS A3 at POMFLANT. The USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629) became the first of these SSBNs assigned to the Pacific fleet on 21 August 1964, and began the first Pacific operational patrol on 25 December 1964. The USS Proteus (AS-19) was the original tender assigned at Guam. It was also the first tender assigned at Holy Loch and at Rota. It was not until April 1965 that a Pacific SSBN was outloaded at POMFPAC, Bangor, Washington.
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