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San Juan III (SSN-751)

1988–

The third U.S. Navy ship named San Juan. The first San Juan, a single-screw steam fishing vessel completed in 1904, retained the name she carried at the time of her acquisition by the U.S. Navy on 10 December 1917, but was reclassified to Id. No. 1352, and served as a patrol vessel and minesweeper from 1917–1918. During 1918, passenger-cargo steamer San Juan was assigned the number, SP-2262, but the Navy never acquired the ship. In 1918, steam tug San Juan received the number SP-3306 but was not acquired. The second San Juan, therefore, a light cruiser (CL-54), was named for the capital city of Puerto Rico, reclassified to an antiaircraft light cruiser (CLAA-54) on 28 February 1949, and served from 1942–1959.

III

(SSN-751: displacement 6,197; length 362'; beam 33'; draft 31'; speed 25 knots; complement 110; armament 12 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for UGM-109 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles and UGM-84 Harpoon submarine launched anti-ship missiles, and four torpedo tubes for Mk 48 torpedoes; class Los Angeles)

The third San Juan (SSN-751) was laid down on 16 August 1985 at Groton, Conn., by General Dynamics Electric Boat; launched on 6 December 1986; sponsored by Mrs. Sherrill D. P. De Hernández, wife of Vice Adm. Diego E. Hernández, Commander Third Fleet; and was commissioned on 6 August 1988 at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn., Cmdr. Charles B. Young in command.

San Juan deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom I and on 21 and 22 March 2003, she joined 29 other U.S. and British ships and submarines that fired Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against Iraqi military targets. Cmdr. Michael A. Haumer, San Juan’s commanding officer, later received the Bronze Star for his “extraordinary leadership and operational skills” during these battles.

United States naval forces carried out ‘sustainment training’ about 100 nautical miles southeast of Jacksonville, Fla., overnight on 13 and 14 March 2007. Fifteen ships and submarines took part including aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65), guided missile cruiser Gettysburg (CG-64), guided missile destroyers Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), Forrest Sherman (DDG-98), James E. Williams (DDG-95), and Stout (DDG-55), and attack submarines Philadelphia (SSN-690) and San Juan, Cmdr. Michael W. Martin in command, joined by Columbian attack submarine Tayrona (SS.29).

Martin and the crew of San Juan had become adept at testing and developing undersea warfare tactics, and they operated as an opposition force. During the early evening of 13 March, Enterprise lost contact with San Juan when she failed to send a routine situation report at 2200. Lookouts from other ships spotted apparent yellow flares, and Arleigh Burke reported seeing a red distress flare. The Atlantic Fleet ordered vessels in the area to check in and San Juan again failed to report.

Navy senior officers feared the worst and began to inform the families of the 133 men on board the submarine. Some people spent an agonizing night waiting for news, while others only learned about the crisis after it ended. At 0430 an official called and woke up Connie Burianek, the wife of Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Burianek, the submarine’s executive officer. Burianek began to contact some of the other wives, later describing the stressful night as “surreal” but noting people’s professionalism.

The International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office at Norfolk, Va., stood by; Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet became involved; during the early morning hours on 14 March aides woke up Secretary of Defense Robert S. Gates; and before dawn Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the Chief of Naval Operations, reached the Pentagon to monitor the situation. The Navy also alerted the crewmembers of deep submergence rescue vehicle Mystic (DSRV-1) in California.

Lockheed P-3C Orions, ships, and submarines combed the area for debris for eight hours but failed to locate wreckage. Some sailors believed that the submarine had suffered a catastrophic accident and slid to the bottom. Unbeknownst to most of those concerned, however, Martin had simply begun what the Navy designated as ‘full evasive mode.’

At 0530 San Juan checked in and the service began to notify relieved families. “Although this was a false alarm,” a Navy spokesman announced, “the primary concern was the safety of our submariners and the support of family members,” but adding that the flares and the loss of communications “together is a rare event.”

San Juan III (SSN-751) 1988-131015-N-TN558-131
San Juan’s sailors wave to family and friends as the boat sails from Groton for a scheduled deployment, 15 October 2013. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason J. Perry, U.S. Navy Photograph 131015-N-TN558-131, Navy NewsStand)

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans

25 August 2015

Published: Wed Aug 26 10:29:30 EDT 2015