History of the USS James K. Polk SSBN/SSN 645

President James Knox PolkThe USS James K. Polk SSBN 645 is named after the 11th President of The United States of America, James Knox Polk, who was born November 2, 1795 in Pineville, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. His nickname was ‘Young Hickory’. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1823, elected to the U.S. House in 1825 and served there until 1839. While in the House, he served as Speaker from 1835 to 1839. Polk was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1839, and elected President in 1844 (Democratic Party). James K. Polk died on June 15, 1849.


Original USS James K. Polk SSBN PatchThe burst of sun in the western sky and the eagle in flight symbolize the Spread Eagle Platform, on which James K. Polk campaigned for the presidency to which he was elected in 1844. President Polk sought and achieved territorial expansion to the country’s natural western borders. This vast area, as we know it now, encompasses nine western states of the Union.

The four stars represent the major land areas acquired during President Polk’s term of office – the California Territory, New Mexico Territory, Texas Statehood, and the Oregon Territory.

The field of blue stands for the unity of purpose among the several states and territories for which Polk strived so hard. Finally, the gold edge surrounding the field of blue reflects the foundation of a formal course of education and preparation for Naval Officers at the United States Naval Academy, founded in 1845.

The Polk Insignia was designed by Ruth McMullen, wife of Commander Frank McMullen, the 1st Blue crew CO.

  • Constructed by General Dynamics Electric Boat Division
  • Class: Ben Franklin (640)
  • Length: 425′
  • Beam: 33′
  • Displacement (submerged): About 8,250 tons
  • Displacement (surfaced): About 7,300 tons
  • Submerged Speed: 20+ knots
  • Diving depth: Over 800 ft.
  • Power Plant: One nuclear reactor, two steam turbines, one shaft
  • Crew: 13 Officers, 107 Enlisted
  • Armament:
    • Up to 16 Poseidon Missiles, each missile is capable of carrying up to 14 W68 Warheads
    • Mk48 Torpedoes, four torpedo tubes


SSBN 645 Commanding Officers
Blue Crew Gold Crew
Commander Frank D. McMullen
April 1966 – July 1967
Commander Robert M. Douglas
April 1966 – April 1968
Commander Peter Durbin
July 1967 – May 1971
Commander Curtis B. Shellman
April 1968 – April 1970
Commander Jerry E. Jones
April 1970 – May 1971
Poseidon Conversion
Commander Jerry E. Jones
May 1971 – November 1972
Commander Jerry E. Jones
November 1972 – June 1974
Commander Ernest J. Toupin
November 1972 – July 1974
Commander Norman L. Slezak
June 1974 – February 1978
Commander Richard F. Winter
July 1974 – April 1978
Commander Frank M. Conway III
February 1978 – June 1981
Captain Richard N. Johannes
April 1978 – July 1981
Shipyard – Combined Crews
Commander Samuel T. Nicholson
July 1981 – April 1983
Commander Samuel T. Nicholson
April 1983 – August 1985
Commander W.O. Pool
April 1983 – October 1985
Shipyard – Combined Crews
Commander Robert C. Love
October 1985 – November 1988
Commander Robert C. Love
November 1988 – May 1989
Commander J.D. Reeves
November 1988 – September 1991
Commander R.C. Barnes
May 1989 – September 1991
Commander R.C. Barnes
September 1991 – April 1992
SSN 645 Commanding Officers
Commander J.E. Lyons
April 1991 – August 1994
Commander J.E. Pillsbury
August 1994 – April 1997
Commander J.E. Johannes, Jr.
April 1997 – July 1999



Ships Awards
• Battle ‘E’, 1980, from SUBRON 16
• Battle ‘E’, 1990, from SUBRON 14
About SSBN/SSN 645
(This information comes from the ships’ “Welcome Aboard” pamphlet)

The keel for the Navy’s 35th Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine and the first ship of the fleet to be named in honor of James K. Polk was laid at General Dynamics Corporation’s Electric Boat Division at Groton, CT, on November 23, 1963. A year and a half later, this submarine began her water borne career after being christened USS JAMES K. POLK (SSBN-645) by Mrs. Horation Rivero, Jr. on May 22, 1965. For the next 10 months, she underwent fitting-out and on March 13, 1966, she conducted her first sea trials. USS JAMES K. POLK was commissioned as a ship of the U.S. Navy on April 16, 1966.USS JAMES K. POLK combined the almost unlimited endurance of nuclear power with the deterrent might of 16 thermonuclear missiles capable of wreaking more havoc than all the bombs of World War II. These missiles had a range of 2500 nautical miles and were housed in 16 launching tubes located aft of the sail.

USS JAMES K. POLK sailed to Charleston, SC in September 1966 to load-out Polaris missiles for her initial deterrent patrol. After completion of the shakedown period, she operated in the Atlantic Ocean and completed 19 strategic deterrent patrols from September 1966 until May 1971.

USS JAMES K. POLK conducted her first overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Virginia for nuclear refueling and conversion of the weapons system to the Poseidon missile system in July 1971. She completed her conversion in late 1972 and commenced a rigorous schedule of sea trials and exercises. These events culminated in the Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO) of the Poseidon missile system. The DASO afforded the opportunity to test the ship’s system, train the crew and launch a Poseidon C-3 missile from the submarine.

USS JAMES K. POLK commenced Poseidon deterrent patrols in the Atlantic Ocean in May 1973. She conducted her second overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard after completing her 50th deterrent patrol in September 1981. The ship completed overhaul in 1983 and conducted 7 more successful patrols.

USS JAMES K. POLK returned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in January 1986 for a third overhaul after completing her 58th deterrent patrol. She departed Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in November 1988 and sailed south for commencement of her Demonstration and Shakedown Operations (DASO). May 1989 marked the beginning of her final series of Poseidon strategic deterrent patrols.

USS JAMES K. POLK celebrated her 25th year of commissioned service in April 1991 and completed her 66th and final strategic deterrent patrol in August of that year. She completed a nineteen month shipyard conversion which removed her 16 Poseidon missiles in March 1994 and converted her designation from SSBN-645 to SSN-645. Since conversion, she has completed two extended deployments to the Mediterranean with Dry Deck shelters and has participated in numerous SPECWAR and NATO exercises.

The following information has been gathered from various sources, including the Internet and former crewmen. Some of the information may not be entirely accurate.1963

  • The construction of the USS James K. Polk SSBN 645 is authorized
  • Keel laid on November 23, 1963 at General Dynamics Electric Boat Division Groton, CT
  • Third ship of the United States fleet to be named in Honor of James K. Polk, and the 35th Polaris Submarine


  • May 22 : The USS James K. Polk is launched and is christened by Mrs. Horacio Rivera, Jr.


  • March 13: First Sea Trials begin
  • April 16: The Polk is commisioned
  • First Commanding Officer (Blue Crew) Commander Frank D. Mullen, Jr.
  • First Executive Officer (Blue Crew) Lieutenant Commander R.L. Thompson
  • First Engineer (Blue Crew) Lieutenant Keith P. Garland
  • First Commanding Officer (Gold Crew) Commander Robert M. Douglass
  • First Executive Officer (Gold Crew) Lieutenant Commander George Henson
  • September 1966: The Polk begins load-out of tactical missile (Polaris) at Charleston, S.C.
  • The Polk completes 19 patrols from September 1966 to May 1971


  • Around Thanksgiving, 1970: Fire breaks out in a baggage storeroom in the stern of the submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-34) while it is in the Holy Loch, Scotland. The Daily Telegraph reports that it was carrying nuclear-armed missiles and that two U.S.nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, the Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) and James K. Polk (SSBN-645), were moored alongside. The Francis Scott Key cast off, but the Polk remained alongside. U.S. naval authorties in Holy Loch and London dismiss any suggestion that a nuclear explosion aboard the Canopus could have occurred or that “even a remote danger” from missiles or other materials existed. “We have drills and precautions which rule out any danger whatsoever,” the Londonspokesman says. There are precautions against every eventuality in Holy Loch.” The fire was brought under control after four hours. Three men were killed and the cause of the fire was unknown.U.S. Navy documents record that “damage was extensive in the small area in which the fire was contained,” but “repairs were effected on site and Canopus was never ‘off the line'”.
    Remarks from Ron Anstey about this fire: Ron states that the fire was either the night before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving night 1970….he was called to the CO’s stateroom to be informed about his son’s birth on December 3…..and that was the Polk’s first night at sea on way to patrol station….so the Polk was not alongside the tender, therefore the fire must have been earlier….
    Ron remembers: JKP topside watch called below decks on the 1MC to call Canopus Quarterdeck and report of smoke pouring off the main deck amidships. The fire was fought and suppressed by the Lewis & Clark on-coming crew. Canopus had a skeleton crew because of the Thanksgiving Holiday, none were apparently qualified for DC work. The CO of the Polk refused to allow tugs tie to her….Ron was in Liberty section, but stayed aboard and took the midwatch to help. Ron was the JA in Maneuvering and heard the CO yelling obscenities in the background for the phonetalker to pass on through the Conn to the tug skipper…something about ‘get that “&#%*@!%” thing away from my boat !!’. The fire burned up several decks and burned through the main power cable…..the Polk lost shore power just as Ron paralleled the deisel to the bus. JKP pumped seawater against the hotspot on the Canopus using the submersible pump from AMR2 to keep the fire from burning through. The Engineer, on his way back from liberty, said he heard explosions and saw fires popping up in corridors on Canopus as he worked his way to the brow. A Canopus crewman fell down the brow to the JKP missile deck with OBA on but had no air (he had the canister in UPSIDEDOWN and TIGHTENED !). JKP supplied power to a red devil blower on Canopus for a few days to remove smoke from below decks. The three deaths, he believes, were 2 Brig prisoners and the Marine guard. The JKP corpsman reported to Canopus Sick Bay to support the medical staff during the fire and recovery.


  • July: Under the command of CDR J.E. Jones, the Polk sails to Newport News shipyards for conversion from Polaris to Poseidon Weapons system and undergoes a refueling of the reactor plant


  • The Polk performs a flawless DASO after leaving the shipyards


  • May: The Polk resumes patrol operations in the Atlantic


  • On Patrol 38 or 40 (most likely 40) the Blue Crew under the command of Cdr Frank M. Conway performed a 4 shot OT. One of the birds never lit off. It fell back into the water and broke up; however, the other three birds were on target. The launch was from somewhere off the west coast of Africa with the target being the Eastern Test Range in the Bahamas.The purpose of that OT was to test the reliability of the Posiedon Missile after a flaw was discovered and a SPALT was performed to correct it. The SPALT performed was installation of the Digital Alarm Monitoring Panel (DAMP) and installation of second stage motor dome heaters on the missiles with second stage motor seals manufactured by a certain company. The results of the SPALT kept the rubber seals at a constant higher temperature (more flexible), so when the second stage lit off the seals would not break and the second stage motor would not burn through the motor dome with a resulting explosion (tragically similar to the cause of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster) of the second stage motor and subsequent destruction of the equipment section and its payload of W68 warheads.From the recollections of MT2(SS) Ricky Copeland: “I personally installed the heaters on six(?) missiles on the starboard side. We started all of this as soon as the Gold crew tied up alongside the Tender and the entire SPALT was completed during turnover. After upkeep we departed on patrol and after about two days received notification to return to the tender for prep for OT. This took about four days. We again departed on patrol and after about a month or so underway we received the command “Man Battle Stations Missile For Operational Test. Spin up Missiles 2?, 5?, 7?, and 10?” (I’m not sure exactly which four they were). The SPALT was a success. The Jimmy K was the second boat to undergo this SPALT. The first was a boat out of Holy Loch.”
  • February 19: Under the command of CDR Richard N. Johannes (Gold Crew), on Patrol 41, the Polk performs the 36th successful OT (Operational Test) with a launch of 4 Poseidon Missiles. From shipmate Ken Thomas: “One of the birds initially never lit off. Repairs were made and it was launched 13 minutes later. All re-entry vehicles were later reported to have hit their targets.”  The patch at right was commissioned to commemorate this event.


  • Polk was the second boat to refit out of Kings Bay Georgia.


  • Awarded the Battle ‘E’ from Submarine Squadron 16


  • June 27: The USS James K. Polk completes the US Navy’s 2000th FBM patrol and the Polk’s 49th patrol
  • September 1981 – April 1983: The Polk undergoes an extensive overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME.




  • March 1992: The Polk is reclassified as an SSN, assigned to Submarine Squadron Six homeported in Norfolk, VA.


  • January 9,1999: USS James K. Polk SSN 645 is deactivated at Norfolk, VA
  • July 8,1999: USS James K. Polk SSN 645 (formerly SSBN 645) is decommissioned at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

SSN 645 – New Mission, SPEC OPS

[645SDV] SSN 645 Seal Delivery Patch
SSN 645 Dirty Deeds Done Cheap

SPECIAL OPERATIONS Submarines have long been used for special operations – carrying commandos, reconnaissance teams, and agents on high-risk missions. Most special operations by U.S. submarines are carried out by SEALs, the Sea-Air-Land teams trained for missions behind enemy lines.

These special forces can be inserted by fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter, parachute, or surface craft, but in most scenarios only submarines guarantee covert delivery. Once in the objective area, SEALs can carry out combat search-and-rescue operations, reconnaissance, sabotage, diversionary attacks, monitoring of enemy movements or communications, and a host of other clandestine and often high-risk missions.

Nuclear-powered submarines are especially well-suited for this role because of their high speed, endurance and stealth. U.S. nuclear powered submarines have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to carry out special operations involving many swimmers.

During exercises, which include Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps special operations personnel as well as SEALs, submarines recover personnel who parachute from fixed-wing aircraft and rappel down from helicopters into the sea, take them aboard, and subsequently launch them on missions. These Special Warfare Team Missions include:

  • Combat Swimmer Attacks

  • Reconnaissance and Surveillance

  • Infiltration/Exfiltration Across the Beach

  • Beach Feasibility Studies, Hydrographic Survey, and Surf Observation Teams in support of amphibious landing operations.

Any U.S. submarine can be employed to carry SEALs, however, the Navy has several submarines that have been specially modified to carry swimmers and their equipment more effectively, including the installation of chambers called Dry Deck Shelters (DDSs) to house SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs).

These submarines retain their full suite of weapons and sensors for operations as attack submarines. But they have special fittings, modifications to their air systems and other features to enable them to carry Dry Deck Shelters. The DDS can be used to transport and launch an SDV or to lock out combat swimmers. A DDS can be installed in about 12 hours and is air-transportable, further increasing special operations flexibility.

Several units of the STURGEON (SSN 637) class can carryone chamber each, while two former ballistic missile submarines can accommodate two shelters each. The DDS, fitted aft of the submarine’s sail structure, is connected to the submarine’ after hatch to permit free passage between the submarine and the DDS while the submarine is underwater and approaching the objective area. Then, with the submarine still submerged, the SEALs can exit the DDS and ascend to the surface, bringing with them equipment and rubber rafts, or they can mount an SDV and travel underwater several miles to their objective area.

The number of SEALs carried in a submarine for a special operation varies with the mission, duration, target and other factors. One or more SEAL platoons of two officers and 14 enlisted men are normally embarked, plus additional SEALs to help with mission planning in the submarine and to handle equipment. Former SSBNs employed to operate with SEALs have special berthing spaces for about 50 swimmers.