Last Days 

MENU:  Final Days of the USS Robert E. Lee (SSN-601)

Caution: Items on this page may bring a lump to your throat. The material below attempts to document the final days of the boat that so many of us proudly served on to make her one of the best boats in any man's Navy during her 26 years of service to our country.

Special thanks to Sam Shoppell, MM1(SS) RL01-Div, Gold 79-82 for suggesting this page and helping us find the material to start this page.  We also thank Frank Almer, ETCM(SS), Commissioning Gold Crew 59-61 for researching the Lee's "beginning".

Submitted by: Bruce Black, STS1(SS), Blue & SSN-601 Decommissioning Crew 
A photo of SSN-601 (after the missile compartment was removed, looks like a sport coupe) This was taken right around the time she was about to be decommissioned at Puget Sound's mothball fleet. She is tied up outboard of the Thomas Edison (SSN-610) and is next to the USS Missouri (BB-63) where the ceremony took place. She remained there for some time after the ceremony and could be seen by anyone driving past the base.

Ship's Patch when the Lee was an SSN.  This was actually taken from a decal (patch was in color).

Decommissioning Day
Submitted by: Todd Lesser, LT, Blue/SSN-601 80-83 

Decommissioning Envelop
front signed by the last Commanding Officer
back signed by the Decommissioning Ward Room

Beginning of the End

The USS Robert E Lee was the third nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarine to join the US Navy's fleet. She started life as a Fast Attack and ended her service by once more becoming a Fast Attack. When her keel was laid on August 25, 1958.  She was to become the USS Shark (SSN-591), Newport News Shipyard Hull No 545, as one of the boats in the modified Skipjack class (SSN-585) design. Within a few short weeks, she was designated as a SSBN-598 class becoming Newport News Shipyard Hull No 547, had a 130 foot missile section containing 16 Polaris tubes added amidships, and renamed as the USS Robert E Lee (SSBN-601).

During her 26 year career the Robert E. Lee completed 55 Polaris patrols on both sides of the globe. When the Lee underwent her third refueling at Mare Island in 1977, she was not converted to the Poseidon missile system because of her age. With the arrival of the first Trident missile submarines in 1981 and 1982, Robert E. Lee’s days were numbered. Her final patrol on October 1, 1981, was also the US Navy's final Polaris patrol and marked the end of a fleet total of 1,245 patrols and over 24,000 man-years at sea with the Polaris system.

In early January 1982, the Lee left Pearl Harbor and headed for the explosive handling wharf at Bangor. On February 28, 1982 her A3 missiles were off loaded and officially ended the US Navy's Polaris program.  She was then redesignated SSN-601 on March 1, 1982.  Then she operated on the West Cost as a Fast Attack submarine with a consolidated crew for the next year.

In February 1983, Robert E. Lee entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for inactivation. Her reactor was defueled, her missile section was removed and she was decommissioned at Bremerton, WA, on November 30, 1983, in a ceremony held aboard Missouri (BB-63). Robert E. Lee was then laid up there awaiting disposal after defending her country for over 20 years (see photo below).  Finally, on September 30, 1991 the Lee completed her disposal through SRP (Submarine Recycling Program) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  The USS Robert E. Lee's reactor now lies buried in a pit (or trench) at Hanford, WA (see photo below).

Last of SSBN-601's A3 Polaris Missiles Removed
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The USS Navy's Polaris Program ended in January 1982 as the last of 16 A3 missiles were off loaded from the USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601) inside the Explosive Handling Wharf, US Submarine Base, WA.

Photo Submitted by: Allan Dodd and Brian Somers, long time friends & clients of Tim VeArd. Alan & Brian live in Sydney, Australia and are managers of Lowe's Mens Ware (a large retail chain of 120+ stores that uses programs written by Tim).  Brian found this photo in a book entitled "Submarine Command" a  history of the British Submarine Service written by Reginald Longstaff 1984.  At the Nassau Agreement of 1962, President John F. Kennedy agreed that the British navy would deploy 4 SSBNs by 1968.  These boats were built in the UK using US Navy weapons systems, equipment and other designs. The US also supplied the A3 missiles and the UK built their own warheads.

Life as a SSN

The USS Robert E. Lee started life as a Fast Attack (USS Shark SSN-591) and ended her service by once again becoming a Fast Attack, SSN-601.  Below are impressions sent to us by shipmates who were on board at the time.

Darrell Holloway (FTB1(SS), Blue/SSN-601, 77-82):   I can't remember the exact date, but we left Pearl Harbor in early January and headed straight for the EHW (Explosive Handling Wharf) at Bangor for offload missiles on or about January 20th.  I was aboard, as the missile fire control supervisor, when the last missile left the tube and MITRE was shut down for good, followed closely by the rest of Fire Control.  General Electric even sent a photographic crew down on the boat to capture archive footage of the weapons system, which suddenly had gone from an launch capable nuclear deterrent one day to ancient history the next (kind of hurt to see that and it made me feel like an artifact too).  Anyway we left Bangor and headed up to a Canadian naval base (Esquimalt) where we had a few days of R&R before heading back to Pearl, arriving there in mid Feb.  I separated from the Lee in late April 82, after making several weeks of "slow-attack" ops.  It was a miserable time for everyone used to normal boomer schedules.  We hated running in and out of Pearl every time a attack boat wanted a target to play with. Anyway, she'd been officially designated as an SSN ever since the offload of her last missile in January.  I served my last few months in the Navy on her, standing COW and In Port Duty Chief.  The MCC had been gutted of most of it's electronics in Bangor and now served as the crew's gear/clothing storage while was still on board.

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Serial Number Plate from the Robert E. Lee's Fire Control System, that was saved from the scrap heap by Darrell Halloway.  Note that it's S/N #4.

Lee waiting to be scrapped

SSBN's 599, 600, 601 and 602 at PNYS awaiting to be scrapped.  The 599 is at lower right of photo. Next is the 600, it was decommissioned Feb 28, 81 and was disposed of at Puget on Apr 3, 95. Third boat from bottom is the 601, it was decommissioned Nov 30, 83 and it's disposal was completed at Puget Sept 23, 91. Then 602 was decommissioned the same day as the 600 and it's disposal was completed May 10, 94.

Photo donated by: Don Shelton.  Don hosts a web site that completely documents nuclear submarines undergoing SRP (Ship/Submarine Recycling Program) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton Washington.  This is a very interesting site with lots of pictures and it describes the entire process. You can visit this site by clicking here: http://donshelton.net/djs-srp1.htm

Lee's Reactor Lies Buried
Submitted by: Scott DeYoung, MM1(SS), Blue 65-68
 
The USS Robert E. Lee's reactor now lies buried in the trench at Hanford.  The Hanford Site occupies 560 square miles of south central Washington desert. The reactor compartments are placed in a large open pit in the 200 East area of the Site, which is on a plateau about seven miles from the Columbia River. Eventually, the pit will be covered with dirt.  As you can see, a large number of submarine reactor compartments are already there.  The Lee's reactor is Numbered as #5 in photo above, or the last one shown on the right of row #2 (counting from the bottom).