Sep 2023 - 1546
Reunions 02 - 06
Papers & Souvenirs
CHARLESTON, SC - 1990
Rate / Rank
9/1962 - 7/1993
Significant Duty Stations
- USS FRANCIS SCOTT KEY SSBN-657 (GOLD) - CO
- USS VON STEUBEN SSBN-632 (GOLD) - XO
- USS MEMPHIS SSN-691
- USS SAM HOUSTON SSBN-609 (BLUE)
- USS HADDO SSN-604
CAPT Tim France graciously responded to my request to write a brief history
of his tenure as CO of the Key from 1984 - 1988. Below is his
briefing. Crew member of the Key that served with Capt France are welcome
to add their comments. Many photos of this period can be seen in the 1980s
photo area on this web site.
Brief might be the hard part, but here’s an attempt:
I received my
orders to the Key in the fall of 1983 as I was finishing my XO tour on Von
Steuben. I had joined the Von
Steuben in the middle of overhaul at Newport News and completed the overhaul,
homeport change to Charleston, shakedown, and two patrols out of Submarine
Squadron SIXTEEN in Kings Bay. I
completed the Naval Reactors PCO course and the Submarine Force PCO school in
June 1984, and found out that the Key was a long way from completing the
overhaul. I received an order
modification to ComSubGru SIX staff in
to wait for the overhaul to be closer to completion.
After five months at Group SIX, I reported to the Key
in overhaul with “a few months” remaining.
A few months
turned into ten, and after completing sea trials in July we were ready for
crew split in August 1985. I took
command of the Gold crew on 26 August 1985, fourteen months after completing
my PCO training. The ceremony was
held in the courtyard of the Mariner’s Museum in
with Admiral Mal McKinnon, the Supervisor of Shipbuilding,
, doing the honors as the principal speaker.
The Gold crew then moved on to
to set up the off-crew office and conducted a shortened training period while
the Blue crew was off on the first part of their shakedown.
November the Gold crew relieved the Blue crew and in 89 days we went through
post-overhaul shakedown, jumping through all the ‘hoops’ to be certified
for strategic patrol operations. The
DASO (demonstration and shakedown operations) at Port Canaveral was quite
memorable, culminating in the successful launch of a Trident I (C-4) ballistic
missile on 7 December 1985. We
had a Christmas break in our homeport of
and then completed our ORSE (operational reactor safeguards exam) in early
January. Then on short-notice we
were able to embark some of our fathers and sons for a two-day cruise from
to Port Canaveral. On arrival at
Port Canaveral we witnessed a launch of the space shuttle on 12 January 1986
as we steamed up the entrance channel.
We turned the
boat over to the Blue crew again in late January 1986 – the day was
memorable because we heard the reports of the loss of the space shuttle
Challenger that morning as we drove from the crew exchange.
Back in off-crew we had an even shorter training period as we prepared
for Patrol 50, the first for Key in several years.
Toward the end of April we again conducted a crew exchange with the
Blue crew and completed refit and refresher training and were off on patrol in
mid May. The memorable event of
that patrol was a mid patrol port stop in
to pick up some targeting materials that had not been available when we left
on patrol. While off Montauk
Point on the end of
, inbound, we had an encounter with a Soviet AGI, one of a half dozen or so
such encounters I had while in command.
Late July we
were back from patrol and into off-crew again.
Toward the end of off-crew we found out that our next patrol would be a
little “different.” Due to
several other of the Squadron SIXTEEN boats being tied up in extended
maintenance, it was determined that the Key would be tasked with maximizing
underway time to cover the strategic target packages.
To make this happen, a cadre of thirty-five of us went to
a few days early, and embarked via tug transfer to start turnover with the
Blue crew. On the scheduled day
we returned to port and were met by the rest of the crew to complete turnover
and get the crews boxes on and off again and do a quick stores load.
Twenty four hours after tying up we had completed the turnover and
relieved the Blue crew. Twenty
four later, after an abbreviated fast cruise we were underway, covering
targets. We remained in the local
operating areas and had about 50 or so days of provisions on board, so we knew
we would have to go back in to load out before we could do a full patrol.
As it turned out, after a week at sea we had a material casualty that
we could have fixed at sea, but the powers that be decided to bring us in for
a short refit and to complete load out. After
a week in port we were ready to go again, and headed to sea just after dark to
keep from another day of target coverage degrade.
It was an interesting trip down the St. Mary’s River, but we were
underway for Patrol 52.
It turned out to
be an eighty four day patrol, with a slight break after sixty one days at sea
for a port visit in
, the first ever for a U. S. SSBN. We
pulled in to the anchorage on the Friday of Martin Luther King Weekend, and
left on Tuesday morning. A
handful of the wives were able to meet us there and we enjoyed learning about
. The other memorable thing about
that patrol was the number of medevacs we conducted.
We had several critical medical situations taking us to the Azores and
for tug transfers before our port visit.
We completed Patrol 52 in early February 1987 with a successful ORSE
and were once again to off-crew in
we enjoyed the time with families and conducted our training evolutions to
prepare for Patrol 53. That
off-crew and the subsequent patrol were fairly routine.
We were back to
in mid May and off on Patrol 54. Note
the pattern. We were on patrol in
the hottest and coolest months of the year and back home with families to
enjoy the springs and autumns in
off-crew was somewhat routine until a few weeks before the end when I was
tasked by ComSubGru SIX to a bit of “extracurricular” duty.
I ended up flying to
and riding the USS Tecumseh on their initial sea trials as they were
completing overhaul there about two years behind the Key.
When a boat is completing an overhaul or new construction there is the
requirement that a submarine command qualified officer senior to the skipper
ride the boat as the “Type Commander’s Representative.”
It seems that Group Six was fresh out of deputies and they could not
find another candidate from another staff, so I was “elected.”
It was an enjoyable but totally unexpected break from off-crew and CDR
Bob Gay and his crew conducted themselves in a very professional manner.
I guess I was the logical person for this task as I had participated
initial sea trials on all five of my submarines, four overhauls and one new
construction, and there was not much that I did not know about that particular
Patrol 56 was my
last in command. We went to
in early December and relieved the Blue crew and sent them on their way.
We completed all the upkeep maintenance a week or so before Christmas
and conducted our refresher training and sea trials en route
to spend Christmas with our families. We
were able to arrange a short dependents’ cruise from the Naval Station to
the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston a day or two after Christmas,
completed our load out and we were underway for Patrol 56 before the start of
1988. Another routine patrol was
concluded by yet another successful ORSE, returning to Kings
in mid March.
About a month
into off-crew my relief was on board, our turnover was completed, and the
change of command was held on the Submarine Birthday, 11 April 1988.
Admiral Bill Owens, ComSubGru SIX was the principal speaker and had a
few kind words for me and the crew as CDR Jimmy Ellis relieved me as
Commanding Officer, Gold. The
ceremony was held in the courtyard of the Naval Base Headquarters in
with the azaleas in full bloom. The
circle was complete. From the
to the courtyard in
Charleston, a most enjoyable tour of duty was history.
No one runs a
submarine all by himself. Anyone
who has ridden the boats knows that it is a team effort, and I could not have
done what I did without my team. My
executive officer, two chiefs of the boat, two engineers, my navigator, two
weapons officers, two supply officers, two corpsmen, the many junior officers,
the Chiefs, and each member of the crew were part of my team and contributed
significantly to any successes I might have had in command.
And there are also the families. My
family made many sacrifices and did not have me around for many special
occasions as did each family of my crew.
My two Cob’s wives and two Ombudsmen were there for the families when
the husbands were out at sea. We could not have done what we did without the
support of the families. It was a
great job and an unforgettable experience.
Now almost twenty years down the road, there are many good memories.
Yes, there were the not so good days, but they fade away and it is the
good days that come to mind.