The Navy's Mothaball Fleet in Suisun Bay
The Suisun Bay Naval Reserve Fleet is only one of many groupings of ships held in reserve by the government. In the 1940s there were as many as 2,277 ships, most of which have been deactivated, sunk as reefs, sold to foreign allies, or returned to service. Of the original 2,277 ships, a little over 200 ships remain today; out of those 200 ships only about 50 are in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisun.
WHEN one hears the words, “stealth ship” it’s easy to get excited. Imagine our excitement when I saw the first one known to exist, abandoned, decaying, rusting away in front of my own eyes. Though this ship was small, at 164 feet from bow to stern, I couldn’t believe that we had infiltrated the row that held the IX-529 Sea Shadow. Perhaps more interesting than the Sea Shadow itself was the drydock it was ensconced within: HMB-1, the Hughes Mining Barge, built by the famed Howard Hughes company for the CIA in the early 1970s. HMB-1 was one part of a two-part structure used to lift the sunken nuclear Russian submarine, K-129, from the ocean Northwest of Hawaii. K-129 was 16,000 feet underwater, so Hughes built the Glomar Explorer, ostensibly as a Manganese mining ship. The real purpose of the Hughes Mining Barge was to submerge and serve as a purpose-built submerged (and hidden) drydock for any remains recovered from the submarine wreck site (including cryptographic code books, secret intelligence from the Soviet Navy, and nuclear munitions); the Glomar Explorer on the other hand, served as the cover story (manganese nodule mining) and as the powerhouse for lifting the gigantic, 2700-ton submarine from the depths of the ocean.
In the end, Clementine, the gigantic claw that was used to lift the submarine failed; the submarine split in half. Most of the important intelligence was lost in the process, and “Project Jennie,” as it was erroneously known by the press, was a failure. By 1983, HMB-1 was mothballed, but it oddly disappeared from Todd Shipyards, where it was being stored. Inquiries from the press reached a dead end – the only thing the Navy could say was that it wasn’t being used to lift a submarine from the water. The real story was that HMB-1 housed the top secret stealth ship, Sea Shadow IX-529. It was brought to Lockheed Martin facilities in Redwood City, California, where it remained until 1993, when the Sea Shadow project was finally revealed to the public.