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USS George Washington (SSBN-598), the lead ship of her class of ballistic missile submarines, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named for George Washington, first President of the United States, and the first of that name to be purpose-built as a warship.

Construction and launching

Her keel was laid down at Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, Groton, Connecticutmarker on 1 November 1957. The first boat of the her class, she was launched on 9 June 1959 sponsored by Mrs. Robert B. Anderson, and commissioned on 30 December 1959 with Commander James B. Osborn in command of the Blue crew and Commander John L. From, Jr. in command of the Gold crew.

George Washington was originally named USS Scorpion (SSN-589). During construction, she was lengthened by the insertion of a 130-foot-long missile section and renamed (another hull under construction at the time received both the older name and hull number and became the ill-fated USS Scorpion), but inside the forward escape hatch remained a plaque bearing the name USS Scorpion. Because the missile compartment design of the George Washington would be reused in later ship classes, that section which was inserted into George Washington was designed with a deeper test depth rating than the rest of the boat.

Initial operations

The USS George Washington left Groton 28 June 1960 for Cape Canaveral, Floridamarker, where she loaded two Polaris missiles. Standing out into the Atlantic Missile Test Range with Rear Admiral William Raborn, head of the Polaris Submarine development program, on board as an observer, she successfully launched the first Polaris missile from a submerged submarine on 20 July 1960. At 1239 George Washington's commanding officer sent President Dwight Eisenhower the message:POLARIS - FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT.Less than 2 hours later a second missile from the submarine also struck the impact area 1,100 miles down range.

The George Washington then embarked her Gold crew, and on 30 July 1960 she launched two more missiles while submerged. Shakedown for the Gold crew ended at Groton on 30 August and the boat got underway from that port 28 October for Naval Weapons Station Charlestonmarker, to load her full complement of 16 Polaris missiles. There she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, after which her Blue crew took over and embarked on her first deterrent patrol.

The submarine completed her first patrol after 66 days of submerged running, 21 January 1961, and put in at New London, Connecticutmarker. The Gold crew took over and departed on her next patrol 14 February. After the patrol, she entered Holy Lochmarker, Scotlandmarker, on 25 April 1961. Four years after her initial departure from Groton she put in to refuel, having cruised some 100,000 miles.

Collision with Japanese civilian ship

The USS George Washington was shifted to the Pacific Fleet and was home-ported at Pearl Harbormarker, Hawaiimarker. On 9 April 1981, the submarine surfaced underneath the Nissho Maru in the East China Seamarker about 110 miles south-southwest of Sasebo, Japanmarker. The 2350-ton Japanese freighter Nisho-maru(日昇丸) sank in about 15 minutes. Two Japanese crewmen were lost; thirteen were rescued. The submarine suffered minor damage to her sail.

The accident strained U.S. - Japanese relations a month before a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and President of the United States Ronald Reagan. Japanmarker criticized the United Statesmarker for taking over 24 hours to notify Japanese authorities, and demanded to know what the boat was doing surfacing only about twenty miles outside Japan's territorial waters. Neither the submarine nor a P-3 Orion circling overhead made any attempt to rescue the Japanese crew.

The US Navy initially stated that the USS George Washington executed a crash dive during the collision, and then immediately surfaced, but could not see the Japanese ship due to fog and rain. A preliminary report released a few days later stated that the crews had detected a ship nearby, but neither the submarine nor the aircraft realized that the ship was in distress.

On 11 April, President Reagan and other U.S. officials formally expressed regret over the accident, made offers of compensation, and reassured the Japanese there was no cause for worry about radioactive contamination. As is its standard policy, the U.S. Government refused to reveal what the submarine was doing close to Japan, or whether it was armed with nuclear missiles. (The standard response all modern American submariners are taught to give to such questions is "I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard this vessel.") The Navy accepted responsibility for the incident, and relieved and reprimanded the George Washington's commanding officer and officer of the deck.

On 31 August the Navy released its final report, concluding that the accident resulted from a set of coincidences, compounded by errors on the part of some members of the submarine crew.

Decommissioning

In 1982, the USS George Washington returned to Pearl Harbormarker from her last missile patrol. In 1983 her missiles were unloaded at Bangor, Washingtonmarker to comply with the SALT I treaty. She continued service as an attack submarine (SSN), returning briefly to Pearl Harbor. In 1983 she departed Pearl for the last time and transited the Panama Canalmarker back to the Atlantic and to New London.

The USS George Washington was decommissioned on 24 January 1985, was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 30 April 1986, and was scheduled for disposal through the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyardmarker. Recycling of the ship was completed on 30 September 1998. Her sail was removed prior to disposal and now resides at the Submarine Force Library and Museum, New London, Connecticutmarker. The "Georgefish" made 55 deterrent patrols in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in her 25-year career.

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