Project 629 was started in the mid-1950s along with the D-2 missile system which it was to carry, and was based on the Foxtrot. Design task was assigned to OKB-16, one of the two predecessors (the other being SKB-143) of the famous Malachite Central Design Bureau, which would eventually become one of the three Soviet/Russian submarine design centers, along with Rubin Design Bureau and Lazurit Central Design Bureau ("Lazurit" is the Russian word for lazurite). The submarine was originally designed to carry three R-11FM ballistic missiles with a range of around 150 km. These were carried in three silos fitted in the rear of the large sail behind the bridge. They could only be fired with the submarine surfaced and the missile raised above the sail but the submarine could be underway at the time. Only the first three boats were equipped with these—the remaining ones were equipped with the longer range R-13 missiles.
The first boats were commissioned in 1958 and the last in 1962.
The boats were built at two shipyards — 16 in Severodvinsk and 7 in Komsomolsk-na-Amure in the Far East. Fourteen were extensively modified in 1966–1972 and became known as 629As by the Soviet Navy and Golf IIs by NATO (the original version having been designated Golf I). The major change was the upgrade of the missile system to carry R-21 missiles which could be launched from inside their tubes with the submarine submerged and increased speed. In later years a few were converted to test new missiles and others had different conversions.
All boats had left Soviet service by 1990. In 1993, ten were sold to North Korea for scrap. According to some sources, the North Koreans are attempting to get these boats back into service.
An organization of defectors from North Korea, named In-Kook Yantai, published a report in 2016 entitled "North Korea's Nuclear and WMD Assessment". In that report, North Korean defector Kim Heung-kwang said a 3,500 ton nuclear-powered submarine, one of a pair, was due for launch before 2018. It was described as having four missile launch silos in the sail and is generally thought to refer to a re-powered Golf II class vessel.
In 1959 the project technology was sold to China which built a single modified example in 1966, which is still in service.
Several views of a Project 629A (Golf II) ballistic missile submarine