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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

AS-19 USS Proteus

Naval auxiliary ships carry out a variety of missions in support of combatants. Along with destroyer tenders, the submarine tenders are the largest of the active auxiliaries. Their crews are formed mainly of technicians and repairmen. USS Proteus was commissioned as a diesel sub tender in 1944. After participating in the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay and tending submarines briefly in Japan after the war, Proteus was "retired" to New London, Connecticut, where she was assigned - though not in commission - as the "station ship" at the Submarine Base, providing support services from 1947 until 1959.

USS Proteus was overhauled and reconfigured in 1959-60 to service FBM subs. With the new strategic submarines - and their missiles, launch systems, and nuclear power - came the need for a new class of tender. Since USS Hunley (AS-31) - purpose-designed and built for that mission - was some years from completion, a quicker alternative had to be found. Meanwhile, Proteus had served more than a decade at New London, tending both the older World War II boats still in service and their nuclear-powered counterparts coming on line in increasing numbers. As such, she was still in good condition and ready to sail. Thus, Proteus was quietly moved to Charleston Naval Shipyard, cut in half, and fitted with a new 44-foot hull "plug," fabricated in place. This additional section contained special nuclear-material storage facilities, handling, testing, and machining areas, and other necessities for servicing both nuclear-powered attack and ballistic-missile submarines. Other specialty shops and machinery were installed to maintain the fire control, navigation, and launcher systems that first appeared on the new SSBNs. The final element of the conversion was the installation of a huge X-Y crane, capable of lifting more than 30 tons, and equipped with extension arms that could swing out over a submarine to load equipment, supplies, and most importantly - Polaris missiles.

Proteus's conversion was completed in late 1960, and in January 1961, she hosted George Washington at New London, completing the first tender refit of an SSBN. Since the original Polaris missile had a range of only 2,500 miles, the early SSBNs had to be based relatively far forward to be able to reach targets deep in the European and Asian continents. Therefore, in March 1961, Proteus established the first advance SSBN refit site at Holy Loch, Scotland, where her first "customer" was USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599). Later relieved by Hunley, Proteus then instituted a second advance SSBN site at Rota, Spain. The Chief of Naval Operations deployed Submarine Squadron 16 to Rota, Spain, on Jan. 28, 1964, and embarked upon USS Proteus (AS-19). USS Lafayette (SSBN 616) completed its first FBM deterrent patrol with the Polaris missile and commenced the first refit and replenishment at Rota. After the second USS Holland (AS-32) was completed, Proteus was off yet again - this time with USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629) - to inaugurate a third overseas basing site at Apra Harbor, Guam, where she had already tended submarines during World War II. Polaris system support continued until the last SSBN - the Robert E. Lee, departed Guam in July 1981. Subsequently she was retired from FBM service and was fitted as an attack submarine tender.

In addition to carrying out her primary duties both at Guam and on WESTPAC cruises between 1964 and 1992, Proteus and her crew also provided assistance for typhoon victims and refugees from the fall of Saigon and helped out during the aftermath of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. She was finally decommissioned in September 1992 - and even then was recycled for service as a berthing ship (IX-518) at Bremerton until 1999.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:34:00 ZULU