Among the many exciting Fleet Week events was the re-opening of the submarine Growler (SSG-577). One of our most popular exhibits, the Growler is a strategic missile submarine designed to carry, launch and guide Regulus I nuclear missiles. Her mission was to patrol near Russian territory, thereby deterring them from launching an attack on the United States. The Growler was in commission from 1958–1964, and her interior survives largely unaltered from that time. As a result, a walk through the Growler offers a fascinating glimpse into the Cold War 1950s and 1960s.
For me, the highlight of the re-opening was the opportunity to meet Growler crew members who traveled from as far away as Hawaii for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Former commanding officer Robert Owens and a dozen former submariners took Intrepid Museum staff on a spirited tour of their boat, pointing out important features and telling tales about life on patrol. Their stories help us bring the Growler to life, and we hope that they will visit again soon.
Growler crew members have generously donated a number of artifacts to our collection, which we hope to put on display someday. A favorite is this vibrant Growler battle flag, created in 1962. Some of the patches illustrate basic information about the boat, such as the Regulus missile and the yellow stripes marking each of her patrols. Other images hint at more colorful episodes. The totem pole was the symbol of the now-closed Adak Naval Operating Base in Alaska and a focus for practical jokes by visiting submariners. When the Growler was in port in 1962, a group of crew members stole the totem pole and stashed it in a torpedo tube. An angry base officer stormed aboard the Growler convinced that the pole was on the boat, but he could find no trace of it. The totem pole traveled to Pearl Harbor with the Growler, but word of the theft preceded the sub’s arrival. The admiral ordered the Growler’s commanding officer to return Adak’s landmark with a letter of apology – after complementing the CO on a prank well done.
The slogan “Black and Blue Crew, No Reliefs Required” trumpeted the hard work of the Growler’s crew with a reference to the newer Polaris ballistic missile submarines, which soon would replace the Growler and her fellow Regulus boats. The Growler had one crew that operated and maintained the sub both on patrol and in port. Polaris missile submarines had two full crews called “blue” and “gold,” each with its own commanding officer. When one crew was on patrol, the other was in home port, training and preparing to go back to sea. Growler crew members were proud that they did not require a two-crew system.
When you visit us, be sure to make time to explore the Growler! You’ll learn about this significant piece of Cold War technology and her remarkable crew.
Curator of History