Vice Admiral Steele was born 27 July 1924 in San Francisco, the son of the late Captain James M. Steele, U.S. Navy, a graduate of the Naval Academy Class of 1916, and one of the chief strategists on the staff of Fleet Admiral Nimitz during World War II.
He was appointed to the Naval Academy as a Midshipman and graduated with the Class of 1945 in 1944. After training at the Submarine School he was ordered to the Submarine Force, SEVENTH Fleet at Freemantle, Western Australia, joining the USS BECUNA(SS319) and making two war patrols from Subic Bay, Philippines and Freemantle in the South China and Java Seas. He served five years in the BECUNA in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets before going to the staff of Submarine Squadron Eight as Electronics Officer. A tour of duty as Tactical Instructor followed at the Submarine School. He then served two years as Executive Officer of the then new fast attack diesel submarine USS HARDER(SS568) before (now a Lieutenant) commanding USS Hardhead (SS365) for two years.
In the Mediterranean during the British-French invasion of Egypt of 1956, Steele found himself,
by virtue of seniority, Commander Task Force 69 operating five submarines. He observed and reported the amphibious invading forces on their way into Egypt.
After brief service in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations he began twenty months training in the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program under the direct supervision of then Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. In December 1958 he reported at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as Prospective Commanding Officer of the nuclear powered attack submarine USS SEADRAGON(SSN584) . After sea trials the following summer, SEADRAGON was commissioned on 5 December 1959 and ordered to join the Pacific Fleet after shakedown cruise. In August 1960 Commander Steele took SEADRAGON from the Atlantic to the Pacifc via the Arctic Her mission was to transit Baffin Bay and, if possible, the Canadian Archipelago via the classic Parry Channel, proceed to the North Pole conducting various scientific and military tests enroute, and thence to Pearl Harbor. That was the last of the Navy's Arctic submarine voyages of exploration and a team of scientists was embarked. In Baffin Bay SEADRAGON became the first submarine to go under icebergs doing so twenty-two times; the largest berg had a mass of over three million tons being 1470 feet wide and 879 feet long; SEADRAGON had to go her deepest to get underneath. Navigating in previously unsounded water among islands which were found to be five or more miles out of charted position, SEADRAGON located a channel for submarine passage under the ice and made a successful transit of the Parry Channel into the Arctic Ocean.
Conducting experiments and following a track never before used, she proceeded to surface at the geographical North Pole(the third submarine to do so) where the crew played softball on the ice--to demonstrate the new mastery of the area by the nuclear powered submarine. After further investigation of the Arctic Ocean basin, Seadragon proceeded via the Bering Strait to Pearl Harbor and her new fleet assignment. Along with sister ships, she pioneered the development of tactics for nuclear submarines to fight nuclear submarines. Service followed on the staff of the Deputy Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic at New London as Tactical Training Officer being required personally to examine and certify engineering personnel of all new construction nuclear powered submarines.
He was then ordered to command the new nuclear powered, ballistic missile submarine, USS DANIEL BOONE(SSBN629) under construction at the U.S. Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, at Vallejo, California.
In December 1964, as Commanding Officer, he began the first ballistic missile submarine patrol in the Pacific from Guam. After making four successful patrols, Captain Steele was detached, and then served two years in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in charge of the Europe and NATO Branch, Politico-Military Policy Division. During this tour, wanting to stop the rash of dangerous and foolish games at sea by U. S. and Soviet naval and air forces such as playing "chicken", incident to keeping an eye on each other, he proposed the agreement later signed between the U. S. Navy and the Soviet Navy designed to prevent accidents at sea and in the air, between forces of the two great powers.
Upon being selected for promotion to Rear Admiral in 1968 (the youngest naval officer to be so selected up to that date), he spent two years as Commander U. S. Naval Forces Korea;
Commander, Naval Component, United Nations Command; and Chief of the U. S. Naval Advisory Group, Korea. During this period he obtained Naval aircraft for the ROK Air Force and successfully trained the South Korean Navy and Air Force to work together at sea to stop high speed, agent carrying boats infiltrating from North Korea. Admiral Steele then commanded Anti-Submarine Warfare Group FOUR, with his flag in the USS INTREPID(CVS11 ), consisting normally of her anti-submarine air wing and four to six destroyer types, and a submarine, for eighteen months including a deployment to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. This cruise was the last one of a U.S. aircraft carrier into the Baltic Sea and later up the Elbe River to Hamburg. Although the deployment was rated highly successful, RADM Steele recommended against further operation of anti-submarine carrier groups, believing them ineffective against nuclear powered submarines; his view prevailed.
Following a tour in Casteau, Belgium, as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans and Policy on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, he was assigned in July 1973 as Commander,
U. S. SEVENTH Fleet with the rank of Vice Admiral, flying his flag in the USS OKLAHOMA CITY(CG5), homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. During his two years commanding the fleet he was required to institute the continuous presence of the major U. S. force in the Persian Gulf area necessary after the mid-east 1973 war. He began the fleet's operational and training "face about" toward Soviet Pacific forces required after long concentration on fighting the war in Viet Nam.
Under his command, the fleet conducted the evacuation of Cambodia and Viet Nam. The evacuation from Saigon in April 1975 was the biggest conducted by air in history.
While on active duty VADM Steele was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with four Gold Stars in lieu of the second through fifth Legions of Merit, and the Navy Unit Commendation(USS SEADRAGON) with Star (USS DANIEL BOONE) .
He was also awarded the Peruvian Meritorious Navy Cross, Grade of Commander; the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, Second Class; the Republic of China's Cloud and Banner, Second Class; and the Republic of Korea's Order of National Security Merit, Kuk Seon Medal.
He is the author of SEADRAGON, Northwest Under the Ice and Vengeance in the Depths(1963), and co-author of Nuclear Submarine Skippers and What They Do(1962) . He wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles and was the first writer to propose (in the pages of the U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings) a task force consisting of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and escorting nuclear powered ships.
Retiring in September 1975, VADM Steele joined Interocean Management Corporation (managing ocean-going vessels of various kinds) in Philadelphia, rising to Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. He became majority shareholder of the company in 1982, selling his interest and retiring in 1989.
He served for eight years as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and in 1986 was elected to serve for a year as Chairman of the Board of the American Institute of Merchant Shipping. He is a former Member of the Board of Managers, and the Management Committee, of the American Bureau of Shipping.