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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Guy H.B. Shaffer, USN 

June 28, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Guy Henry Baskerville “Guy” Shaffer, U.S. Navy (Ret.), on 1 June 2022 at age 94. Rear Admiral Shaffer entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1947 and served as a submarine officer until his retirement in 1981 as the deputy director for operations of the Defense Nuclear Agency. His commands included USS Greenling (SSN-614), and Submarine Development Group TWO (SUBDEVGRU 2). He was the dive officer of USS Skate (SSN-578), the first submarine to surface through the ice at the North Pole, in 1959. 

Guy Shaffer attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before entering the U.S. Naval Academy on 15 June 1947. Assigned to 23rd Company, he served as a midshipman company officer and midshipman battalion executive officer, graduating with distinction with a bachelor’s degree in naval science on 1 June 1951. He was commissioned an ensign the same day. He remained at the U.S. Naval Academy for several months, serving as an instructor in seamanship for midshipmen fourth class (plebes). 

In September 1951, Ensign Shaffer reported to heavy cruiser USS Helena (CA-75) at Yokosuka, Japan, midway through her second Korean War deployment. Shaffer served as F Division officer and assistant navigator as Helena conducted numerous gunfire missions along the coast of North Korea. Helena was the first ship awarded the Korean Presidential Unit Citation. He remained aboard for the initial months of Helena’s third Korean War deployment to the Sea of Japan. Selected for submarine duty, he detached from Helena in November 1952 and reported to the Basic Submarine Officer Course at Naval Submarine School, New London, Connecticut. Shaffer was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in January 1953. 

In June 1953, Lieutenant (j.g.) Shaffer reported to USS Sea Cat (SS-399), recently converted to a fleet snorkel submarine and operating from Key West, Florida. He qualified in submarines and served as assistant engineer, engineer, and operations officer for operations in the Caribbean and near Cuba. He was promoted to lieutenant in September 1955. He was then selected for the Naval Nuclear Power Program, reporting to the first class of Nuclear Power School at New London in December 1955. In June 1956, he was assigned under instruction to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, Idaho Falls, Idaho. 

In December 1956, Lieutenant Shaffer reported to the pre-commissioning unit of nuclear attack submarine USS Skate (SSN-578), at Electric Boat Shipyard at Groton, Connecticut. Following the boat’s commissioning in December 1957, Shaffer served in a variety of positions, including as dive officer for both of Skate’s Arctic missions. Skate was the second submarine to reach the North Pole, one week after Nautilus (SSN-571) in August 1958, but was unable to surface at the pole due to thick ice—although she did surface at a point 30 nautical miles away. Skate returned to the North Pole in March 1959 and despite heavy ice, became the first submarine to surface there, planting a U.S. flag. Skate was awarded two Navy Unit Commendations for the two Arctic missions. 

In May 1959, Lieutenant Shaffer was briefly assigned to the staff of Submarine Squadron TEN (SUBRON 10), before reporting in July 1959 to the pre-commissioning crew of nuclear fast attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589), under construction at Electric Boat in Groton, as engineering officer. Following commissioning on 29 July 1960, Scorpion was assigned to SUBRON 6 at Groton, and following shakedown conducted a short deployment to the United Kingdom, on a technology exchange mission. Shaffer was promoted to lieutenant commander in September 1960. 

In December 1960, Lieutenant Commander Shaffer was assigned to the Naval Submarine School, New London, as the nuclear propulsion department head. In November 1962, Shaffer assumed duty as executive officer (Gold crew) of fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600), conducting Polaris deterrent patrols from Holy Loch, Scotland. In November 1964, he was assigned under instruction to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Division of Naval Reactors, and then to the Naval Submarine School in Groton. 

In March 1965, Lieutenant Commander Shaffer assumed duty as pre-commissioning commanding officer of USS Greenling (SSN-614), under construction at the Electric Boat Yard at Quincy, Massachusetts. The construction period was extended to incorporate SUBSAFE improvements following the loss of USS Thresher (SSN-593) in April 1963. Greenling was also equipped with significantly improved acoustic equipment to better detect narrow band acoustic signatures of Soviet submarines. Shaffer was promoted to commander in August 1965. 

Following commissioning on 3 November 1967, Greenling conducted shakedown and exercises along the U.S. East Coast, interrupted by the loss of USS Scorpion. Commander Shaffer was assigned as commander of a search-and-rescue task element for Scorpion that consisted of three nuclear submarines and four conventional submarines. Greenling was awarded two Navy Unit Commendations during the time Shaffer was in command. 

In May 1969, Commander Shaffer assumed duty as chief of staff and operations officer for Submarine Development Group TWO (SUBDEVGRU 2) at New London. In May 1971, he reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) as deputy director, Attack Submarine Division/head, SSN Program Coordination, where he also led a study group defining the characteristics of the “Next Generation Submarine.” He was promoted to captain in September 1971. 

In September 1972, Captain Shaffer assumed command of SUBDEVGRU 2 in New London. In May 1974, he reported to Naval Material Command as deputy director, Strategic Systems Project Office (SSPO), developing the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile for the next generation ballistic missile submarines (Ohio class). 

In September 1976, he was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with the rank, the same month reporting to Naval Electronics Systems Command, Washington, DC, as deputy commander for material acquisition. He was promoted to rear admiral on 1 May 1977. While remaining at Naval Electronic Systems Command, in May 1977 Rear Admiral Shaffer became project manager, Command, Control and Communications (C3) Systems Project Office (PME-108). In June 1980, he reported to the Defense Nuclear Agency as deputy director, operations and administration. Rear Admiral Shaffer retired in 1981. 

Rear Admiral Shaffer’s awards include the Legion of Merit (at least four awards); Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy Unit Commendation (four awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation; Navy Expeditionary Medal (Cuba); National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Korea Service Medal; Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; and the United Nations Service Medal. 

After retiring from active duty, Rear Admiral Shaffer worked for RCA and Martin Marietta Aero and Naval Systems. He was a member of the board of directors, past president, and for 15 years the chief fund raiser for Naval Academy Class of 1951. Along with the Class of 1951, he was a major contributor to the Cold War Gallery of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy on the Washington Navy Yard. He was also a member of the U.S. Naval Institute. 

I have no information on funeral arrangements at this time. 

With the passing of Rear Admiral Shaffer, our wardroom has lost yet another pioneer of the early U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine program. Besides being in the first nuclear power class, the dive officer for the first submarine to surface at the North Pole, and aboard some of the very first ballistic missile deterrent patrols, he was a “plank owner” for three nuclear submarines, Skate, Scorpion, and his command, Greenling. On each, he had the opportunity to instill a culture of excellence to carry through the life of the submarine, sadly too short in case of Scorpion. He served in multiple positions that had major impact on the development of more effective submarine tactics against the increasing Soviet threat, as well as major effect on future submarine and weapon systems programs, including the Los Angeles–class nuclear attack submarine, the Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, and the Trident sea-launched ballistic missile. His influence was truly profound and long outlasted his time in the service. At 60 years remove, it is difficult today to truly grasp the perception of existential threat from the Soviet Union that permeated thinking in the Navy at the time, driving innovation and rapid development at a breathtaking pace, and at significant risk, sometimes compromising safety for speed. Rear Admiral Shaffer was of the generation of nuclear submarine officers that had to learn lessons the hard way, but through their efforts led to the highly capable and much safer submarine force today. Many years at sea, and in particular the unpredictable nature of attack submarine operations, no doubt placed great stress on his family, so our Navy and nation owes them a great debt of gratitude for their sacrifice that enabled Rear Admiral Shaffer’s stellar career of dedicated service. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Shaffer