J. P. Ronald
The following is an exerpt from my new narrative 594 Tough...
Thresher’s loss stunned the Navy like none prior, and the submarine community, in particular, was rocked hard. Many began to question the validity of the Thresher’s design, and crews serving aboard her sister boats could not help but wonder if they too were serving on death traps. Over the next few months, everything pertaining to Thresher underwent extreme scrutiny, and the inquiry was able to piece together a rather detailed scenario of the events, as well as identify the systems most likely to have suffered the casualties necessary to have led to her demise. New and improved safety features were incorporated into the Thresher’s design and added to boats still on the building-ways, or retrofitted to existing boats during periodic overhauls.
But, just as critical as determining and correcting the causes of Thresher’s loss, is the fact that the US Navy did not give up on her design or concept, as the class continued in production with major improvements, for a total thirteen additional boats. But not only did the class continue, the Navy evolved Thresher‘s design into an improved class that would number 37 boats, and become the ”workhorses” of the submarine fleet for the duration of the Cold War; that class was the vaunted USS Sturgeon SSN-637 class. And when the Navy started with a new design that would become the Los Angeles SSN-688 class, the basic layout and design concepts introduced in Thresher were continued. The design proved successful enough, that even the current Seawolf SSN-21and Virginia SSN-774 classes are built to much the same concepts that first spawned Thresher.
Yet as durable, rugged, viable as the class would prove, in 1963 the Thresher’s loss still left a stigma hanging over the class that had to be addressed. The first immediate change, was to minimize the humiliation of losing the class leader (the Cold War was as much about propaganda, good or bad, as anything else that defined it). By default the the second boat in the class, the USS Permit SSN-594, took on the moniker “class leader,” and henceforth the class was referred to as the “Permit class” or “594 class”. However, even with a name change, and design improvements added, these thirteen boats still held a reputation as hard handlers, requiring care and concentration to control. Their characteristics, of speed and maneuverability, in conjunction with the location of their control surfaces relative to their length, meant they could be ”tough to handle, ” especially when compared to the previous Skipjacks, or the follow-on Sturgeon and Los Angeles classes. The sailors who served aboard them, either loved them or hated them for this trait, but the fact that they endured as frontline, first rate fast attack boats right up through their retirement, gave real meaning to the phrase ”594 tough.” This phrase symbolized both a respect or hatred for a class of submarines, that like a wild animal, if not tamed could bite the men who sailed in them, just as easily as their Soviet prey; indeed Thresher‘s crew paid the ultimate sacrifice. Nevertheless, the phrase also symbolizes the type of men who went to sea in these boats and carried out hard assignments that very few in the US Military could handle. So whether referring submarine or sailor, they were 594 TOUGH.