A James Madison-class fleet ballistic missile submarine, this submarine was named for for Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730—1794), a Prussian army officer who served in the American Revolutionary War. Constructed by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, she was launched on October 18, 1963. Her commissioning took place on September 30, 1964, with Commander John P. Wise in command of the Blue Crew and Commander Jeffrey C. Metzel in command of the Gold Crew.

Service History

Two shakedown cruises, one for each crew, occupied the Von Steuben’s autumn. A period of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) training between the two crews followed. The Gold Crew fired her first Polaris missile on the Atlantic missile range on December 22 before returning to Newport News for Christmas. Again changing crews at the start of 1965, she returned to the missile range off of Cape Canaveral so the Blue Crew could fire its first missile. All initial training complete, in February the vessel returned to Newport News.

March saw her first duty assignment, joining Submarine Squadron (SubRon) 18 at Charleston, South Carolina. This became her new home base and she began conducting classified deterrent patrols there, staunching aggression by providing a highly-mobile launch platform for her nuclear warhead-bearing Polaris missiles.

Following her 11th patrol in early 1968, she was reassigned to SubRon 16 and operated out of Rota, Spain until mid-1969. Summer 1968 saw her travel for repairs at Groton, Connecticut before returning to deterrent patrols out of Rota. November 1970 saw her undergo a 16-month overhaul at Groton to modify her to carry the newly developed Poseidon C-3 missile. Post-conversion shakedown during the early months of 1971 followed before she fired her first and second Poseidon missiles in February and March. In May 1971, she returned to deterrent patrols out of Charleston.

The early 1980s saw another missile system upgrade to the Von Steuben. This time, she was refitted to carry the Trident I (C4) ballistic missiles, which were three-stage missiles that provided for increased range along with advances in inertial guidance systems. Her strategic patrols with this upgraded missile continued into the early 1990s. She was finally decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on February 26, 1994. Her scrapping by the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington was completed on October 30, 2001.

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.


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