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Submarine Class Names vs. Class Numbers ??

There has been much debate about how certain classes of submarines became known either by their "class name" or "class number":

Here's the original question that started this page: Ask any DBF'er, one who served only on the old boats, what "class" submarine he served on, and he'll answer something like...."Gato, Tench, Balao, Tang, Barbel"

Ask any NBF'er the same question and you'll get numbers instead of names, even though the nukes had class names too.....why is that? Gary "Cowboy" McLaughlin.

Bill Linne: Maybe it started on the Boomers (FBM's). Lots of the initial boomer crews were ex-smoke boaters. As I recall, the ones I knew detested the fact that boomers were named after men rather than fish. So, rather than say that this is a "Ben Franklin Class Boat" they'd say this is a 640 Class Boat. Just a guess. Lots shorter that way (using numbers), too.

Doc Gardner: I think I'm in Bill Linne's camp on this one. When I reported aboard Skipjack (a real fish) in 1964 it was the first of it's class. I believe there were a total of 5. Well we hardly ever saw the other boats in the class. The Scorpion came to New London once while I was there and I think the Shark was there once too, for Escape Tank training. So, for me, it was hard to relate to the "class of boat" because they were deploye we did use hull numbers rather than boat names. I always attributed it to a sailor's propensity to use shorthand than anything else. 598 class is easier than Washington Class. When I was on the Roosevelt (a Washington Class FBM or 598 Class) which was based on the 585 Class or Skipjack model oh hell see how confusing it is?

Don Gentry: Surface Navy too Gary... I spent six month on the DD-852 which was referred to as a "692/710 class" destroyer yet we may tie up next to a "Spruance Class" destroyer. Go figure... There there are Tridents.....

Dave Gordon: Can't say I disagree with you. However I intercahnge between 637-stretch hull, or "Sturgeon-Stretch." For a while I had a nasty chip on my shoulder regarding names. I kept calling the boat by it's gawd-given intended name for about a year--ticked a few off. Ours was the first to be a fast-attack person. The old name was welded on the hull somewhere--"Redfish."\\\\

Carl Hochstetler: Don't know the answer. My first boat was 486. The response which I didn't post 'til now was "long hull 637". The only one I served on was USS CAVALLA SSN 684. A thing I always liked because the hull number was all the same digits as my first boat, POMODON, except in the exact reverse order!

Patty Wayne: Possibly this phenomenon is duty station related, not necessarily time of service. I served in Pearl where there were no boomers (going off of Bill Linne's reasoning), just nuke fast attacks, one slow attack, and two diesels. Both diesels (Darter and Barbel) were known by name as was the slow attack (Sam Houston), and also the SeaDragon.

As for the rest they were referred to in discussions as Sturgeon or LA class depending on which make and model. If we were looking down the pier or across the harbor and couldn't see the brow of the boat it would be addressed as "the '37 by Beamans" or "the '88 at pier 22"

Either way, how or why did the Ohio/726 class boomers get a class name based on its weapons system?

Jim Christley: Ustabee when I was but a wee lad, you could tell a boat by the way it looked. Down on the river, if a boat was sighted coming up from the bridge, the older guys could tell you which one it was by the standard landmarks. Step sail, EB or Portsmouth, Fleet bow, Northern Sail, Torpedo retreiving derrick up, JP sonar JP with fairing (BQR-3) and so on. Its like telling old cars. A 57 Chev didn't look like a 57 Ford.

With the coming of nucs, the differences were fewer. At best, without the hull numbers you could tell the class but you were lucky if you could spot something that would give the particular boat away. At most you could say "Well, ain't the Scamp, I'm standing on her".

The Shipyards and new construction gave us the tradition of telling a boat by its hull number. It wasn't a nuc thing except that most of the boats being built when most of us were alive were nucs. So many learned as they went aboard their first boat in a yard or went back to new construction or took a boat through the yard, the boat was known by its number. "What boat you working on? OH, the 623. " Everything was by boat hull number. Besides the names got changed every so often. The hull numbers seldom did.

As a boat class gets older, changes are made that differentiate one boat from another to a sharp eyed individual. Topside watches who pay attention look at the boats around and know which ones they are. They look for the same fingerprints we used to. After a while, Philadelphia looks different than Pittsburgh.

What goes around comes around. As the boat class gets older, the money for its support gets smaller and the crew has to rely more on itself for repairs and support. Young sailors on older boats learn the same skills as we did in how to keep their boat running. The Los Angeles Class design is 38 years old. Older than the oldest diesel boat we had. (Tench Class 43-78; 35 years) True the older of the class are gone, but the oldest of the boats in this class are being kept running by technicians skilled in getting from themselves and the shop what ever they need, any way they can.

The young sailors today are every bit as good as we were, and in some cases every bit as colorful. The major difference, is that they are a hell of a lot younger.

Standing down off the soapbox

Flapper: 'Polaris Boat' back in the days when I served on one, that is. Though we ourselves just used 'Boomer' or 'Missle Boat'

And as noted down-thread a bit I never heard 585 class - it was always 'Skipjack class' when I served on Scamp. Likewise it was 'Sturgeon class' when I helped put Seahorse into comission.

Since the 688s can be nicely shorthanded as 'L.A.' that's facilitated the return to calling a class by its lead boat name.

Just one guy's opinion.

- Flapper

Orig: Oct 2003