The Missile Era
1947 -- 1962


       A Loon is prepared for launching off the USS Carbonero (SS337) in 1949.
     The Carbonero and the USS Cusk SS348 were selected to participate in the new Guided Missile Program in April 1947. Captured German V-1 "buzz bombs" were altered for remote control (renamed "Loons") and launched from a railing mounted on the after decks. The primitive control system consisted a modified air-search radar sending signals to speed up or slow down, go left, right or "dump" i.e. dive on the target.
     These tests were conducted off Pt. Mugu, California and Oahu, Hawaii for several years and lead to the development of the Regulus Missile system. Carbonero later had the launching rail removed and became a guidance station boat, performing as an intermediate steering point on the missile's path to its target. The Regulus guidance equipment was removed in early 1962.



Carbonero Launches a Loon in 1949
Carbonero launches a Loon in 1949 testing.
The Loon was an Americanized version of the German V-1 buzz bomb.  The Carbonero did not have a hanger to house the missile.
 She performed her missile experiments with an
SS designation instead of an SSG.



The Development of the Guided Missile Submarine
     From the outset of its development the submarine was considered a "strategic" weapon; many saw it being used to blockade an enemy's coastlines, starve his population, and force surrender. German U-boats were used in this way in both World Wars, while U.S. submarines in the Pacific during 1942-1945 helped to bring devastation to the Japanese homeland.

    Still, submarines were "tactical" weapons in the same sense that they were used as naval weapons at sea. Admittedly, in World War II they did on occasion land agents or raiders on hostile beaches, and shell enemy coasts. Japanese submarines twice launched small floatplanes to bomb the American coast. But their ability to inflict major damage on enemy territory was virtually nil.

    The German Army of the Third Reich appears to have first looked at the concept of firing missiles from submarines. During the war the submarine U-511 was experimentally fitted with six rocket-launching racks by engineers from the Peenemunde rocket research center. These were small, bombardment rockets. The U-511 moved out into the Baltic and, with her deck about twenty-five feet beneath the waves, successfully fired some two dozen of the four-foot rockets, which struck the surface some two miles away.

    German Army-Navy interservice rivalry prevented continuation of the tests, although the German Navy later tried unsuccessfully to repeat the rocket-firing experiments. Then, in the closing stages of World War II a number of German V-1 "buzz bombs" fell into American hands. An airbreathing pulsejet engine could propel the 25-foot missile at 360 m.p.h. for about 150 miles (later boosted to 230 miles by the Germans). Preset guidance devices could send the V-1 diving on a fixed target with a 2,200pound high-explosive warhead.

    The U.S. Army and Navy immediately expressed interest in using V-1s to attack Japan in the final assaults of the war, planned for 1945-46. Although not employed by U.S. Forces, the V-1 was extensively tested by the American services and an Americanized version known as the "Loon" was produced. The U.S. Navy modified the fleet submarine Cusk (SS-348) with a ramp for launching the Loon, and on February 12, 1947, she launched the first guided missile to be fired from a submarine. More shots followed and the fleet boat Carbonero (SS-337) was similarly modified.

     Unlike Polaris and other ballistic missiles, the air-breathing Regulus missile was fired from the surface.   The total surface-to-launch sequence was about eight minutes and exposed the submarine to enemy attack during that period.

     By early 1960 the Navy had five submarines that could carry and launch the Regulus I missile: the USS Tunny (SS282) and Barbero (SS317) (two each), the USS Grayback (SS574) and USS Growler (SS577) (four each), and the USS Halibut (SSGN587) (five). From the late 1950s until 1964 the Navy operated one or two of these submarines on continuous patrol in the western Pacific, with a total of four or more missiles prepared for launching against targets in Soviet Siberia.   (Several U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and cruisers were also fitted to fire the Regulus I missile.)

    This Regulus deterrent program came to an end in 1964 as the Navy deployed Polaris submarines into the Pacific for the first time. The five Regulus missile submarines were then stripped of their missile-firing equipment. The Tunny and Barbero were soon discarded. The Grayback and Growler were decommissioned, with the former later being converted to a transport submarine (LPSS574). The Halibut found employment in a research role for many years, although for political reasons she was given an SSN designation and not classified as an auxiliary submarine (i.e., AGSSN.)

 Loon Testing from Carbonero
Off Oahu Hawaii 1949


Launching with a booster to get the main pulsejet up to operating speed obscures the launch boat.

Here the undercarriage falls away leaving the pulsejet to carry the payload to its target.


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