This Thresher-class submarine was the second in the United States Navy to be named for this type of fish. Her keel was laid by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut on August 15, 1961. Before being launched, the Greenling underwent a change in service plans. On April 10, 1963, the Thresher, the lead ship of this class, was abandoned as a result of serious design flaws in her non-nuclear piping systems.
Because she was still in the construction process, the Greenling was one of three Thresher-class submarines selected to be converted to the “improved Thresher class.” After being launched on April 4, 1964, sponsored by Mrs. H.C. Bruton, she was towed to Quincy Massachusetts on April 29 to be lengthened and undergo submarine safety program (SUBSAFE) modifications. The Greenling’s modifications involved increased buoyancy and adding 13 feet 9 inches of length to the hull, which improved living and working conditions for the crew and added space for additional equipment. However, before commissioning, the Greenling and her sister ships were redesignated the Permit class in tribute to the eldest surviving member of the class. With Commander Guy H.B. Schaffer in command, the Greenling was commissioned on November 3, 1967.
Greenling’s fleet training exercises were interrupted on May 27, 1968 by search and rescue operations for the missing submarine, the USS Scorpion SSN-589. As commander of the SAR Task Element, the commanding officer of the Greenling oversaw three nuclear and four diesel submarines until the assignment ended on June 12, 1968.
Participating in several ASW exercises, she deployed in late 1968. These deployments continued through May 1969, with the Greenling earning several meritorious recognitions for exemplary service. On May 13, 1969, the Greenling saw Commander Austin B. Scott, jr., USN relieve Commander Shaffer as the vessel’s Commanding Officer. She continued to be recognized for exemplary service through 1970, with Commander Scott being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and a gold star.
In February 1971, the Greenling arrived at the Ingalls Nuclear Shipbuilding Division of Pascagoula, Mississippi for its first overhaul. Lasting 13 months, the vessel received major modifications and upgrades to the ship’s sonar and combat systems, as well as major repairs. Following the completion of this overhaul, Commander William T. Johnson, USN, relieved Commander Scott as the commanding officer of the Greenling on March 11, 1972.
After a shakedown cruise and a few smaller exercises, the Greenling then deployed to the Mediterranean, performing a variety of exercises which included anti-submarine warfare exercises, U. S. Naval Academy midshipmen summer training cruises and acoustic communications system tests. Her 1974 deployment with the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean Sea, considered highly successful, won the Submarine its second Meritorious Unit Commendation.
January 14, 1975 saw the Greenling again change commander hands, as Lieutenant Commander Christopher O. Nichols, USN, relieved Commander Johnson as Commanding Officer. Deploying for more operations with the Sixth Fleet in May 1975, the Greenling participate in a major Second Fleet NATO exercise, “Ocean Safari,” on her return to New London from this deployment. Local operations followed for the rest of the year, with the submarine receiving its third Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations conducted as a member of Task Forces Sixty-Seven and Sixty Nine in June and July 1975 in the Mediterranean.
1976 saw the Greenling begin with many operations in the Caribbean, followed by upkeep in New London and operations with U. S. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS and U.S. Marine Corps swimmers for special training. The summer saw the Greenling operate in the Caribbean for a third time, performing various services and exercises. She then joined a major NATO exercise, which sent her to ports in Scotland and Norway. She ended the year in New London, receiving pre-overhaul testing and a short break.
On February 4, 1977, the Greenling arrived in Charleston, South Carolina for a refueling and overhaul which would last 22 months. This overhaul included major upgrades to much of the ship’s equipment, including extensive changes to the ship’s sonar system and a slight appearance alteration with the addition of a storage tube and fairing. With the repairs completed on December 17, 1978, the ship returned to New London, Connecticut to resume operations as a member of Submarine Squadron Ten.
The Greenling again received a new commander on January 27, 1979, as Commander William R. Witcraft, USN, relieved Commander Nichols. That year was then dedicated to services in the Caribbean, followed by inspections, followed by a late operation with the U.S. Task Force working with the navies of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil along various ports along eastern South America.
1980 saw the Greenling make more cruises to the Mediterranean, in addition to port visits in Cartagena, Spain, Sardinia and Naples. Caribbean operations followed, then a Mediterranean deployment in September 1981. A rest and relaxation period followed from February to March 12, 1982. After that, Commander Kevin G. Rogers, USN, relieved Commander Witcraft as commanding officer. 1982 brought more local and Caribbean operations, while 1983 brought more training exercises in preparation for Mediterranean deployment. September’s deployment saw the Greenling participate in more NATO training exercises, as well as visiting ports of call in Spain, Italy and France.
Returning in 1984, on March 23, the command of the Greenling again changed hands as Commander Michael W. O’Neil, USN, took over. Local and Caribbean training exercises took up the remainder of the year. September 1984 saw the Greenling’s final overhaul, which lasted 35 months, until September 1987. During this overhaul she received upgrades of many systems, most notably its fire control system. Sea trials and post-overhaul operations in the Caribbean followed.
Commander Stephen W. Zavadil, USN, took over command of the Greenling on December 18, 1987. May 1988 saw the submarine’s final deployment to the Mediterranean, as well as port calls to France and Italy. Early 1989 saw the Greenling’s operation in local waters for various training exercises, followed by deployment to the Western Atlantic. Additional training followed into 1990, when Commander James A. Campbell, USN, took over the helm of the vessel. Again departing for exercises with South American navies on June 28, 1990, the Greenling made port calls to each South American nation, as well as Curacao, Netherlands Antilles and Port of Spain, Trinidad. 1991 was mainly comprised of training and inspection for the Greenling. It also received unit reassignment to Submarine Squadron TWO when the former parent, Submarine Squadron Ten, was disestablished.
1992 brought another Atlantic deployment and other exercises and local operations, which included visits to Nova Scotia and Puerto Rico. Commander Steven Clark Hall, USN took over command of the Greenling in her final years of service, which more training and local operations. The Greenling was decommissioned on April 18, 1994, being sent through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on September 30, 1994. Some of the Greenling’s control room equipment was salvaged to be used in a simulated reconstruction of a submarine control room at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.