‘ Submarine History ’ Archive

The Turtle

In 1870, when Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the idea of a submarine was still a fantasy. It is hard to believe that the technology would be available to create such a piece of machinery in the 19th century. While Verne was ahead of his time with the description of his vessel called Nautilus, the fact remains that Verne based his idea of a submarine on the very real advancements that were being made at the time. Around the world, inventors were working on different methods to create a usable model.  By the time Twenty Thousand Leagues had hit the bookshelves, a submarine had already been used in war  multiple times. In 1863, the H.L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic during the Civil War. And on September 7, 1776, the world’s first submarine attack was reordered during the American Revolution.

In 1740, in what is today Westbrook, Connecticut, David Bushnell was born. He was the eldest of five children, and by the time he was 26, inherited his family farm which he ran with his brother Ezra. David left the farm in 1771 to study at Yale. His studies included mathematics, religion, and natural philosophy, and he was known for doing experiments with gunfire underwater. It was during his last year at Yale that news broke about the battles at Lexington and Concord. The revolution had begun, school was shut down, and David returned to his family farm. With war raging, David set out to build a submarine that could deliver underwater explosions that would help ended British efforts. This submarine became The Turtle.

Figure 1 Print shows three views of the “Turtle”, a one-man submarine designed and built by David Bushnell to attach bombs to British warships during the American revolutionary war. https://www.loc.gov/item/2006691759/

He knew that his device couldn’t simply dive while connected to ropes. David knew that to make an effective weapon, his device needed to be fully submerged, be able to move through the water and, when ready, come back to the surface. Bushnell’s submarine was constructed out of oak, in a barrel shape and bound by heavy iron hoops. To solve the problem of how to submerge the vessel, David decided that the operator would flood the chamber with water, making it heavier as needed to achieve the desired depth. This air-filled chamber was manufactured by Isaac Doolittle, a clockmaker, using specially made valves and pumps. A real ballast was placed on the outside and carried through to the inside to help with stabilization. A front propeller was used to help propel the vessel forward and backwards while a vertical propeller was placed on the top to help with the ascent. Both propellers were operated by a hand crank. To provide air to the single operator inside the boat, two snorkels were places in the chamber that closed over when the boat submerged. Because air was limited, the submarine was designed to stay at the surface until it had to submerge to avoid detection. One of the largest problems that faced The Turtle was the mine that was filled with gunpowder and was attached to the enemy ship. To help Bushnell with this, Doolittle and Phineas Pratt modified a clockwork timing device to trigger a flint from a musket. The sparks would ignite the powder and set it off. The idea was that the operator of the submarine would set off the timing device, leaving him enough time to clear the area.


Figure 2 Ezra Lee

Once The Turtle was deemed seaworthy, she began trials which quickly caught the attention of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. In June of 1776, a British force began to move into New York Harbor carrying supplies and soldiers. Bushnell hoped that sinking the HMS Eagle, the flagship of British Admiral Howe, would be a decisive blow for the British troops. Upon arriving in New York, the operator who had been trained to run the submarine, Ezra Bushnell came down with a fever. Ezra Lee, of Lyme, Connecticut was selected to be the new pilot. Little is known about Lee except that he was a colonial solider who was selected for the mission by his brother-in-law Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons. To avoid being discovered, the Turtle, Lee and Bushnell returned to Connecticut to train in secret. After two weeks of training, the mission was scheduled. On September 7, 1776, Lee set out on his mission to sink the HMS Eagle. Due to the tide, Lee couldn’t maneuver the propellers properly and spent two hours in the water unable to submerge below the British ship. Ezra Lee described the event saying, “When I rowed under the stern of the ship, could see men and deck and hear them talk-then I shut all doors, sunk down, and came up under the bottom of the ship, up with the screw against the bottom but found that it would not enter.”[1] The boring tools attached to The Turtle that would allow Lee to attach the mining device, could not penetrate the iron sheathing on the bottom of the ship. By this time, daylight had begun to break, so Lee headed for shore, hoping to not be detected. British guards on Governors Island saw the craft and made their way towards Lee. Ezra Lee described what happened next by saying, “he let loose the magazine (mine) in hopes, that if they should take me, they should likewise pick up the magazine, and then we should all be blown up together.”[2] The magazine would explode in open water, scaring off the guard boats and allowing Lee and The Turtle to escape. In the following week, the Turtle made several attempts to sink British ships. However, all were unsuccessful. Only Bushnell was fully capable of understanding the submarines complicated functions. However, due to physical limitations, he was unable to power the device himself. The Turtle was lost during the Battle of Fort Lee when the sloop transporting her was sunk by the British.

Bushnell would go on to develop other underwater mines that could be delivered without a submarine. One was used in New London Harbor and the other in the Delaware River, both with successful results. After the war ended, Bushnell would move to Warrenton, Georgia and teach at Franklin College. He died in 1826 while working on a floating torpedo for the US Navy. Bushnell’s device was made known to the public in 1798 by Thomas Jefferson, who used a letter written by Bushnell in 1787 about the details of his inventions. Bushnell is known as the Father of Submarine Warfare. The two propellers on the Turtle were his greatest contribution to submarine development. Like Bushnell’s original design, navies around the world mimicked marine animals natural designs in their hull structures.  Despite its shortcomings, The Turtle marked an important milestone in submarine development. Bushnell created a military vantage point that had yet to be seen. And even though the Turtle failed its mission, it served as an important symbol of American inventions at a time when America was just beginning to discover its identity. Submarine development has come a long way since Bushnell’s time, becoming an essential member of naval warfare.  A replica of Bushnell’s Turtle is on display at the Submarine Force Museum.

Replica of the Turtle at Submarine Force Museum

Replica of the Turtle at the Submarine Force Museum

[1] https://connecticuthistory.org/david-bushnell-and-his-revolutionary-submarine/

[2] https://connecticuthistory.org/david-bushnell-and-his-revolutionary-submarine/

Submarine School

“Without a doubt, the most momentous day at the Submarine School for the student is the day he is ready to take his first passage on a submarine. It comes early in the course, starting when the student has been at the school for about a week.”  This passage from He’s In The Submarines Now written in 1942 is still as relevant today as it was in the 40’s. Submarine school is a part of the sailor’s journey into the undersea world of the silent service. In 2016, Mark Jones, who works for the public affairs office at naval Base New London, said that “Any and all submariners in Navy history have gone to school here – everyone from Chester Nimitz to Jimmy Carter.”[1]

In 1868, Connecticut gave the Navy 112 acres along the Thames River for a Naval Station. In 1872, two brick buildings and a pier were constructed and became an official Navy Yard. From 1868 to 1912, the yard was primarily used as a coaling station. In 1912, the first diesel powered submarine was commissioned in Groton. In June of 1916, under Commander Yates Stirling Jr., the yard was designated a Submarine Base and Submarine School. In 1916, the first class of officers graduated through the school in New London and headed straight for WWI.

First enlisted muster at Naval Submarine School, winter 1917

While the training and development has changed over the years, the mission has stayed the same.  The purpose is to train the best submariners in the world using combined classroom and hands-on training. The Submarine Force is a volunteer position. Once an individual decides to join the Navy, they head to Great Lakes for Boot Camp. After Boot Camp, a sailor can request to join the submarine force. They are evaluated to see if they can handle the difficult task of being on a submarine. The conditions include tight quarters, days without sunlight, and extremely dangerous circumstances. Once approved, they move on to “A” school, where they begin work in the specialization of their field. Once this stage is completed, most sailors will head to Groton, Connecticut and the Naval Base New London for Submarine School. The six weeks spent in Groton will take the sailor from basic naval knowledge to the ins and outs of working on a submarine. Those who choose specialization of the aft portion of a submarine will attend school elsewhere, but most forward specialized enlisted sailors will begin their submarine careers along the Thames River. For those who are not familiar with submarines, the aft section of the boat is the back portion. It is anything that is past the watertight door that separates the engine room from the forward compartment, or as many sailors call it, “Nuke Land.” This is where the nuclear reactor, which powers the submarine, is located. The Basic Enlisted Submarine School or BESS takes eight weeks to complete and introduces the basics of the construction and operation of today’s nuclear-powered submarines. This includes everything from shipboard organization, fire safety and escape procedures, giving the sailors the proper training necessary in order to serve.


https://www.loc.gov/resource/gsc.5a12757/ Sub School Classroom 1946

While technique may have changed due to the advancements of subs (for example the move from diesel to nuclear), the general layout of submarine school has stayed the same. Sailors are required to take specific courses and pass certain specifications. Training is mandatory in escape training and fire safety.  In the 1940’s a typical daily schedule would look something like this:

6:15am – Reveille

6:30am- Breakfast

7:40am – Quarters – muster and 15mins of physical drills

8am-11:30am – Class (Class can mean in a classroom, on a submarine or in the escape training tank which is the training center today)

11:30am – Lunch

12:45-3:45 – Class

4:00pm – Clean up, recreation or watch

5:30pm – Dinner, free period

9:45pm – Lights out (unless on liberty. If a sailor is on liberty, they are free to do what they want until Quarters the next morning)

https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.ct0564.photos/?sp=21&q=naval+base+new+london+escape+training Inside the Dive Tower circa 1968

Today the schedule is similar, with teachers cramming lessons into short timeframes. “It was much harder than I ever expected it to be,” said Machinist’s Mate Fireman Michael  Bybee. “The information was crammed into your heads so that you had no time to breathe. It took up nearly every second we had here.”[2] The daily grind is still 7am-4pmwith an hour for lunch. Usually after dinner, students will have night study. While the normal school year allows for plenty of recreation, this is not the case in submarine school. In a few short weeks, a sailor must learn all that is needed, which   doesn’t lend itself to much downtime. For many years, one of the most important training courses at submarine school – the escape chamber, dominated the Groton skyline. The escape training facility would allow students to learn how to escape from a submerged submarine. From 1932 to 1992, the “Dive Tower” would have students ascend in a 100-foot column of water.  In today’s facility, a compression chamber simulates the proper depth and a student must climb up from the flooded chamber. As you can see in the photos below, the training facility has changed. In 1992, the tower was replaced with a state of the art facility.

Dive Tower circa 1962

Escape Training Facility circa 2010

While their time in Groton may be short compared with the typical timeline in other schools, a sailor’s journey through sub school will prepare him or her for an underwater world many will never experience.   Since the first class in 1916, some things have not changed. The training is difficult and fast paced, but upon graduation, the sailors know they are prepared to take on whatever mission they are given. Today, many of the students take a course in submarine history. This course gives them an opportunity to come explore the museum and the rich past of the submarine force.    Did you attend submarine training at Naval Base New London? We would love to hear your stories about your time in Groton.

[1] http://www.connecticutmag.com/the-connecticut-story/groton-sub-base-celebrates-years-in-connecticut/article_d79c2788-ef64-5531-bafa-22af438fcb2d.html

[2] https://www.thebalance.com/basic-enlisted-submarine-school-bess-3356087

Naval Station Pearl Harbor

On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became our 50th state. Despite its late entrance into the union, Hawaii had served the US Navy for years, most memorably during WWII. But what is the history between the US Navy and Hawaii?

Mouth and bar of Pearl River, Island of Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1873 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4382p.ct003112

Known to native Hawaiians as Wai Momi (meaning water of pearl), Pearl Harbor has been home to the Pacific fleet for generations.  The harbor was believed to be home to the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau and her brother, Kahi’uka. According to Hawaiian legend, Keaunui, a powerful chief, created a navigable channel named the “Pearl River” making it accessible for navigation. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii for the island’s sandalwood. In the 1830’s the sugar industry was introduced and by the mid-19th century, most of Hawaii had become well established. Up until the 19th century, Pearl Harbor could not be used for large vessels due to its shallow waters and reed blocked entrance. During the 1820’s and 30’s, as the American whaling business grew out of the Port of Honolulu, a growing interest in establishing a naval base in Pearl Harbor began to take root. In 1869, Congress approved the funds to deepen the approach into the harbor. Over the next few years, negotiations would go back and forth over the cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States. In 1887, under King Kalakaua, the United States was given exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor and to establish a coaling and repair station. Over the next 10 years, while the United States had control over Pearl, they did not fortify her as a naval base due to the still formidable barrier that created a shallow entrance. With the Spanish-American War of 1898, a stronger desire to have a preeminent force in the Pacific became a greater concern to the United States. In 1899, with the overthrow of the Hawaiian king, the United Stated annexed Hawaii, and focused on strengthening its naval presence on Oahu. In 1901, work began on dredging the entrance channel, and in 1903, the USS Petral became the first vessel to enter the harbor. While improvements were made in Pearl, most of the Navy’s facilities remained in Honolulu during the beginning of the 20th century. As Honolulu grew, and other governmental agencies began gaining property, the decision was made to begin shifting naval activities to Pearl. In 1908, Naval Station Pearl Harbor was created and construction of the first drydock began the next year. Ford Island, which is in the middle of the harbor, was purchased in 1917 for joint Army-Navy use. In 1919 the first air crews arrived. By 1934, Minecraft Base, Fleet Air Base, and Submarine Base had been added to the existing Navy district. The Submarine Force came to Pearl in 1914 with four F-class boats. These boats were replaced by the K-class submarines in 1915 and operated out of the base until WWI. In 1919, six R-class boats arrived in Pearl, once again bringing a submarine fleet to Hawaii. During WWII, 22 of the 51 American Submarines were homeported in Pearl Harbor. In February 1941, the US Pacific Fleet made Pearl Harbor its permeant base.

U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Submarine Dive Tower, Intersection of Clark & Morton Streets, Pearl City, Honolulu County, HI. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

On December 7, 1941, America was thrust into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was because of this attack that mainland attitudes towards the US territory began to change. Pearl Harbor and Hawaii became a part of the American identity, paving the way for Hawaii to become the 50th state. In March 1959, the US government approved statehood, and in June of that year the Hawaiian people voted and accepted admittance into the United States. Two months later, Hawaii officially became the 50th state.  After December 7th, Pearl remained a main base for the US Pacific Fleet along with Naval Base San Diego. In 2010, the Navy and Air Force merged their two bases, creating Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. From 1932 to 1983, the most recognizable structure on the submarine base was the Escape Training Tank. Just like here in Groton, the 100-foot-tall tower was the escape training method for generations of submariners in up to 80 feet of water. Today, Naval Station Pearl Harbor provides berthing and shore side support to surface ships and submarines. The base accommodates the largest ships in the fleet and is now home to over 160 commands. Pearl Harbor is also the only intermediate maintenance facility for submarines in the Middle Pacific, so it plays host to large numbers of visiting submarines as well.  On January 29, 1964, the base was recognized as a National Historic Landmark district and in 1976 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The USS Arizona, Bowfin and Utah, all memorials, are also recognized National Historic Landmarks. Today 11 submarines call Pearl Harbor home as part of Submarine Squadron 7 which was established in 1951. These boats are from the Los Angeles Class. If you are or have ever been stationed in Pearl Harbor, we would love to hear your stories and what you loved most about this beautiful place.

USS Arizona Memorial

Submarine Naming throughout the Years

Every man or woman who serves on a submarine is proud of his or her boat. Boat hats and patches are worn with pride to tell the world which boats they have served on.  But for those outside of the Navy, have you ever wondered how a ship gets their name? There isn’t a random lottery or a vote that takes place. In fact, there is a unique set of rules and guidelines that throughout the evolution of the submarine force has dictated how submarines are named.

US Submarine K-5 in 1919. For a period of time submarine were only identified by a group of numbers and letters.

On March 3, 1819, Congress formally placed the responsibility of naming US ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a practice which still exists today.  The act designated that “those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name.” The last of these provisions remains in the code today. When Submarines entered in the force in 1900, the first was given the name Holland in honor of the submarine designer and builder John Holland. While the naming of subs did not have any fixed rules, they were generally given names of fish and land creatures that stung. They were given names such as Salmon, Porpoise, and Viper.   By 1911, with the advancement and building of subs at a growing rate, submarines were renamed and carried alpha-numeric names such as A-1 and L-7. This numeric naming code stayed in place until 1931, when once again the boats were named after fish. This time any existing ships were not renamed. The naming of submarines after fish was followed until 1947, when the Secretary of the Navy decided that the boats should be named after WWII boats. Most WWII boats were already named after fish, leaving the naming practice fairly intact with a few exceptions over the years. In 1958, Captain William F. Calkins USNR had reports published describing the difficulties in choosing the names for new ships. They could not use names that were already in use, and of course the names also had to be appropriate.   He said that “Spelling and pronunciation both had to be reasonably simple. The average enlisted man (and his girlfriend) must be able to say the name comfortably.   If his best girl couldn’t spell it, he might not get her letters.” The use of fish names proved problematic for the Navy since the Ichthyologists (Fish Scientists) used Latin names. Since the fleet was growing so fast, easy, popular fish names would go quickly, leaving the Navy secretary to have to become creative with names.  Many times, a name easier to pronounce was assigned to fish for the Navy to use it for a submarine. The Smithsonian would many times send information and pictures of the fish a boat was named for, which would be hung onboard with sailors taking pride in knowing their ships namesake.

A memo from 1960 discussing the naming of new nuclear subs using names from WWII submarine names stricken from the naval register

Records from a submarine conference in 1939 discussing different fish names

The naming of Submarines took a full departure from using fish names in the 1960’s with the introduction of the ballistic missile submarine. These submarines were considered such a turning point that they deemed a name source more appropriate for their status. As we discussed in last week’s blog, the first 41 of these submarines were named for famous Americans and others who had contributed greatly to the growth of democracy. After the SALT agreements, some of these submarines were reclassified and lost their missile capabilities. However, they maintained their famous names. Today, the Ohio class of SSBN’s bear state names, which was originally considered a name source for the first Polaris submarines.  In the 1970’s, attack submarines were still continuing the tradition of being named for sea creatures, with a few exceptions such as the Richard B. Russell and L. Mendel Rivers. Many of the nuclear submarines were given names of older non-nuclear submarines. The patches for these new boats usually referenced their non-nuclear ancestor.  For an example see the photo of the patch for the USS Flasher. Both its original number 249 is depicted along with its nuclear counterpart 613.  The nuclear symbol on the patch denotes that the patch is for the newer boat.   Over time the tradition of fish names has evolved to attack submarines being named for American cities. The exception to this was the Hyman G. Rickover, which was named after the “Father of the Nuclear Navy.”

Patch for SSN 613 which pays tribute to its predecessor with the name SS 249

Today, the naming of submarines remains fairly similar to how it was in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The Navy Secretary is still in charge of ship naming and usually reviews a list compiled from the Navy History and Heritage Command.  The list is usually based on Naval History and suggestions from enlisted personnel, veterans, and the public. One example of public influence was when school children from New Hampshire wrote letters for a submarine to be named after their state.  The Los Angeles Attack subs were named after American cities with the new Virginia class choosing state names.   While no document sets specific guidelines on the timing for assigning a name, it is usually done before the ship is christened.  Until the christening ceremony, she is referred to as PCU (pre-commissioned unit) along with what will be her name.  Once she is christened, she becomes an official USS ship. Many times, the ship’s sponsor will be from the state or city that the submarine is being named for.  If the ship is named for an individual, an effort is made to have the eldest living female relative to be the ship’s sponsor. There are always deviations from the current formula of naming ships.  If an important person passes, they could have a ship named after them.   Over the last two decades, some living individuals have had boats named for them, an example being the USS Jimmy Carter. Even though it may be hard to know what a submarine will be named, there is a great amount of thought put into each name and every sailor takes great pride in knowing and learning about their boat’s namesake.

41 For Freedom

The name “41 for Freedom” conjures images of greatness, power, and the beginning of something new. In last week’s blog, we talked about SSBN 598 as the beginning of a group of submarines that would take submarine development in a new direction. The USS George Washington was the first in a group nicknamed the “41 for Freedom.” These 41 submarines were revolutionary, not just for the US Navy but Navies around the world. The furious pace in which submarines were built in the 1960’s was a major component of the United States Strategic Triad. This triad consisted of land based ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine launched missiles. The idea of the nuclear triad was to reduce the possibility of an enemy to destroy all a country’s nuclear defenses; an idea that was considered an imminent threat during the Cold War. All 41 submarines created during this time were named for eminent figures in American history, giving the nickname a double meaning.   Not only were these SSBN’s being created to keep and preserve our freedom from Soviet threats, but they were named for men who had played a role in America’s rise to greatness.

Figure 1 USS Thomas Edison

From 1960 to 1966, the U.S. Navy launched 41 “boomers.”  A boomer is slang for a Ballistic missile submarine that operates on a two-man crew system.  The Blue and Gold crews rotate on approximately 100 – day intervals for the ship to remain on a continuous patrol.  There was usually a 3-day turnover period on each end of a deployment period.  Crews would be flown from their home bases to their deployment site and perform a 30-day refit followed by a 70-day deterrent patrol.   The home base for the Atlantic fleets were Groton, Ct and Charleston, SC with the Pacific Fleet based at Naval Base Pearl Harbor.  From 1960-1969, each SSBN carried 16 Polaris nuclear missiles.   In 1969, SSBN’s were converted to carry the more accurate Poseidon missiles which would change again in 1979 when the Trident I missiles were created.   For many visitors to the museum who are not familiar with submarine history, they wonder what is the difference between an SSN and a SSBN. The most obvious difference is the use of ballistic missiles onboard an SSBN. The SS denotes submarine, the B means ballistic missile and the N denotes that the submarine is nuclear powered.

The original 41 SSBNs could fire missiles thousands of kilometers from their targets and were extremely quiet making them difficult to detect. Compared to an SSN, the SSBN was designed for specific strategic attacks. Their primary mission was nuclear detection making them a major weapon during the Cold War. Their use has been dominated by the United States and Russia, in part due to the 1950’s and the threat of nuclear attacks. The USS George Washington was built in response to Russia’s use of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. The 41 submarines were built to carry the Polaris A-1 missile. The Polaris was developed to complement the limited number of medium range systems that were in use throughout Europe. Before Polaris’s creation, the systems in place lacked the range needed to form a major attack on Soviet targets. In the 1950’s and 60’s few systems were available that could destroy missile systems, making SSBN’s an asset to nuclear deterrence. One of the newest features in the new class of submarines was to the ability to launch while submerged which allowed them to remain a safe distance away and survive from retaliation.  Despite the long range of the Polaris missile, the Atlantic- based fleet still needed closer stations to be effective. In 1961, the US was permitted the use of a base in Holy Lock, Scotland and in 1969, Naval Station Rota in the Bay of Cadiz. To cover the Pacific zone, a base was established in Guam in 1964. By 1972, with the creation of the Poseidon missile, the 10 older SSBN’s that were in use were primarily assigned to the Pacific Fleet with the 31 upgraded boats assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.

Figure 2 USS Kamehameha

The last of the 41 SSBN’s was the USS Will Rogers, commissioned in 1967.  In 1976, the keel was laid for the USS Ohio, which saw a new class of submarines being built. The Ohio- class boomers were the largest ever built by the US Navy, measuring 560 feet long and displacing 18,700 tons submerged and carry a crew of 157. This new class of SSBN’s were designed to carry the new and more advanced Trident II missiles In 2002, the USS Kamehameha was decommissioned, the last of the original “41 for Freedom: submarines still in use.   At almost 37 years old, she held the record for the longest service lifetime of any nuclear-powered submarine.   Beneath this story you can find the complete list of the 41 submarines that made up the “41 for Freedom.”

The “41 For Freedom” SSBN’s :

George Washington class

  • USS George Washington (SSBN-598)
  • USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599)
  • USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600)
  • USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601)
  • USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN-602)

Ethan Allen class

  • USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608)
  • USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609)
  • USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610)
  • USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)
  • USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)

Lafayette class

  • USS Lafayette (SSBN-616)
  • USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617)
  • USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619)
  • USS John Adams (SSBN-620)
  • USS James Monroe (SSBN-622)
  • USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623)
  • USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624)
  • USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625)
  • USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626)

James Madison class

  • USS James Madison (SSBN-627)
  • USS Tecumseh (SSBN-628)
  • USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629)
  • USS John C. Calhoun (SSBN-630)
  • USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)
  • USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632)
  • USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)
  • USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN-634)
  • USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635)
  • USS Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636)

    Figure 3 Figure 3 41 For Freedom Poster. Available at the museum store. All proceeds from the store go to preserving submarine history. http://store.submarinemuseum.com/Poster-41-for-Freedom-6825

Benjamin Franklin class

  • USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN-640) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)
  • USS George Bancroft (SSBN-643) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644)
  • USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645)
  • USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)
  • USS Henry L. Stimson (SSBN-655) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)
  • USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658) converted to carry the Trident C-4 ballistic missile
  • USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659)

Operation Sunshine

Summer in the Arctic has interesting features. One of the most fascinating is the fact that there are 24 hours of sunlight for six months out of the year.  And, in 1958, a secret mission went 1,830 miles in four days hiding in this unsetting sun. Most people may already know the story. You don’t have to be a submariner to know the tale or what it meant not just for America but for the world. The story of the Nautilus is not a Navy story. It is a moment in history that changed the tide for all countries and opened the door for faster travel, trade routes and the growing technological advancements of the day. On August 3, 1958, history was made as USS Nautilus made it to 90 degrees North.

The 1950’s was a period in world history that will always stand out. Students in classrooms across the world were being taught about the space race and there was growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear weapons.  The decade is remembered for its famous spies and secret missions. What made people so fearful during The Cold War was the public’s awareness that America was behind in terms of rocket power.  There was a very real fear that rippled through communities that a nuclear missile could land on American soil at any time.  Children practiced air raid drills in school, hiding under their desks, afraid of any new noise in the sky.  President Eisenhower had that difficult job of not only keeping up with the new technologies, but keeping the American people feeling safe. The President felt the urgent need to show the American people that they were not only as technicality advanced as the Soviets, but superior.  In 1952, Admiral Rickover’s idea of a nuclear navy was achieved with the start of construction on SSN-571, USS Nautilus – the world’s first nuclear submarine. The Navy’s ability to excel in submarine development was exactly what Eisenhower needed to show America’s technological supremacy.

In 1957, Commander William R.  Anderson, Captain of the Nautilus, suggested a submerged trip under the North Pole to test the strength of America’s new nuclear Navy. At the time, no ship had ever made it to the North Pole due to the depth of ice in the area. An initial attempt was made in 1957 but the ice proved a powerful opponent and the Nautilus returned home unable to complete the mission.   In April of 1958, she set off from New London heading west through the Panama Canal with stops in California and a brief period in Seattle. On June 9, 1958, Nautilus left Seattle to begin “Operation Sunshine,”

gure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1 Commander William R. Anderson, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), far right, on the bridge during a period of low visibility as the submarine prepares to pass under the North Pole, August 1958. National Archives photograph, USN 1037145

the top-secret mission of reaching the geographic North Pole.   It was a fitting name for an excursion that found itself operating during 24 hours of daylight. After some delays due to shallow water, she finally departed Pearl Harbor on July 23, 1958 and successfully made it to the Bering Strait.  The crew of 116 submerged under the icecap at Point Barrow, Alaska, the northern most point in the United States. Nautilus surfaced in the Point Barrow area in order to photograph the area and to find the sea valley in the ocean floor that would allow for a smooth trip. In a press conference following the mission, Anderson commented that they moved quickly through the area due to their proximity to Russian waters. During her trek under the icecap, a closed-circuit television monitored the journey. The Arctic daylight made visibility easy and allowed Nautilus to speed on.

At 11:15 PM Eastern Time on August 3, 1958, Nautilus passed directly below the North Pole. The event was only marked by Anderson’s comment to the crew of “For the World, our Country and the Navy – The North Pole.” The crew didn’t pause and simply continued on.   Anderson didn’t notify Washington DC until some 36 hours later when they surfaced in the Greenland Sea.   All that was sent to the President was the message “Nautilus 90 North.” Once in Iceland on August 7, Anderson was flown back to the United States to meet with President Eisenhower. The commander was awarded the Legion of Merit, and the Nautilus a Presidential Unit Citation, the first one ever conferred in peacetime.   Once Anderson was back with the crew, USS Nautilus began its journey back the New London. She entered New York Harbor with a hero’s welcome and a parade.   Her journey home established another first –

Nautilus entering New York Harbor

travelling over 3,100 miles submerged in six days with an average speed of more than 20 knots.   She finally returned home to Connecticut on August 29, 1958 for an upkeep period and a well-deserved rest.

“Operation Sunshine” created a new and shorter route from the Pacific to the Atlantic.   At the time, it was said that it was normally 11,200 miles from London to Toyoko.   This new route would save ships 4,900 miles, opening up greater opportunities.   The Nautilus’s  journey also created new technology with advanced navigation and guidance systems.   A normal magnetic compass did not work in the North Pole. A ship could lose her bearings quickly with the old system, either going in circles or ending up where she had begun.   The crew experimented with a new design of the gyro-compass. This design was more reliable than the previous system since it did not rely on magnetics, which were not accurate in the Poles.   The new system used inertial navigation that compromised of motion sensors and gyroscopes that continuously calculated position and orientation.   Beyond the technological discoveries made on the voyage and the shortcut for world travel, Nautilus’ trip to the North Pole was a reminder to the American people of their country’s strength and perseverance.   The story of SSN 571’s trip is worth retelling because it is a part of our history.   It represents America’s pioneering spirit and the ability to achieve the impossible.   It symbolizes and conveys a message that should be passed on for generations to come.

Nautilus in her current home at the Submarine Force Library and Museum

To learn more about the historic trip to the North Pole, check out the book “Arctic Mission” on sale now in the museum store and website. http://store.submarinemuseum.com/Book-Arctic-Mission-6974/


SSBN 598


Sitting off to the side of the museum entrance stands a piece of submarine history that is just as historic as the Nautilus. The Nautilus began the way of innovation within the submarine force. Nuclear power would forever change the way the Navy operated, creating faster and more powerful weapons. With the invention of the nuclear bomb, the world began to envision ways to harness this power and strengthen their military arsenal. The US Navy developed an idea that would come to fruition on July 20, 1960.

George Washington’s keel was laid on November 1, 1957 at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. SSBN-598 was the world’s first ballistic missile submarine. Launched on June 9, 1959, she was sponsored by Mrs. Robert B.

2 http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2012/10/17/sea-based-strategic-deterrence-past-present-and-future/

Anderson, the wife of the 56th United States Secretary of the Treasury. The 1950’s were a tumultuous time in American government and military operations. At the height of the Cold War, America found itself locked in a geopolitical struggle with the powers of the Eastern Bloc, mainly the Soviet Union and its satellite states. This tension most famously led to the Space Race. In August of 1957, the Soviets successfully launched the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. This led the United States to make a change in their military armament that most people are unaware of. The George Washington’s original keel was laid down as the attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589). It was during construction that she was given a ballistic missile section by an insertion of 130 feet. With this change, she was renamed the George Washington and another submarine under construction received the original name and hull number. Inside of the George Washington’s forward escape hatch was a plaque that bore her original name. The missile compartment that was added during construction was designed with a deeper test depth rating than the rest of the submarine because of its intended use in later ship classes.

On July 20, 1960, SSBN 598 launched the first of two Polaris missiles. She had left Groton for Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 28, 1960 and headed to the Atlantic Missile Test Range, where Rear Admiral William Raborn, the head of the Polaris submarine development program, was waiting to board as an observer of this first launch. At 12:39, George Washington’s commanding officer sent President Dwight Eisenhower a message that read: “Polaris – From out of the deep to target. Perfect.” Less than two hours later the second missile was launched.  Forty days later, the Soviets would make their first successful underwater launch of a submarine ballistic missile. Despite this proximity in feats, by the time the Soviets had their first SSBN with 16 missiles in 1967, the United States had built 41 SSBN’s, nicknamed the “41 for Freedom.”

The George Washington performed a total of 55 deterrent patrols in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with its final ballistic missile patrol in 1982. In 1983, under the SALT I treaty, her nuclear missiles were removed and she was converted back into an attack submarine. The SALT I treaty, between the US and Russia, was the first time the countries agreed to limit the number of nuclear missiles in their arsenals. The George Washington was decommissioned on January 24, 1985 with her sail being given to the Submarine Force Library and Museum. A fun fact for many visitors is that the sail on display actually holds pieces of the USS Abraham Lincoln. A collision in 1981 with a Japanese commercial vessel caused repairs to the sail that utilized pieces from the Lincoln which was awaiting disposal at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Sail of SSBN-598 with a Polaris Missile in the background. Image courtesy of Erica Buell

The Polaris missile and George Washington sail that stand guard at the gate of the museum serve as reminders of the great advancements that were made in the early 1950’s and 60’s that paved the way for our current nuclear navy.

The Submarine and The Train

Submarines are the silent protectors of the oceans. They are shrouded in mystery with much of their technology listed as classified material. Powerful cities moving through the waves, submarines are trillions of tons of high tech power and stealth capabilities. While submarines carry massive power, that power is isolated to the waters. Submarines monitor shore and port activities. They monitor surface ships and other submariners. When it comes to a land attack, one does not think about a boat. This is the story about the time that a submarine took out a train.

Commander Eugene B. Fluckey, USN – Photograph dated 20 August 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives


June 1945 saw the USS Barb in her 12th and final war patrol.  The Barb was a Gato-class, diesel powered submarine that had helped her commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Eugene B. Fluckey earn a medal of honor in their 11th war patrol. During the war, the Barb sunk Japanese supply transports off the northern coast of Japan. She was also the first submarine to launch ballistic missiles onto Japanese soil. The crew of the Barb had, over time, noticed trains bringing supplies to enemy ships on the Japanese island of Karafuto. They had already had successful missions stopping supplies from getting to the fleets by transport ships. Fluckey and his crew wanted to find a way to keep the supplies from getting to the transport ships. Attempting to take out a train by submarine had never been done before and proved to be not only difficult but also dangerous. If the shore crew would try to put explosives under the tracks, they would be at serious risk of getting caught. It was Engineman 3rd class Billy Hatfield that offered up a solution that proved to work. The crew would tie a micro-switch on the track that would trigger a set of explosions once the train went over the device. Once weather provided enough cloud cover, the Barb came within 950 years of the shoreline. Just after midnight on July 23, 1945, the shore crew slipped into their small boats and headed to shore. According to a passage in his book, Thunder Below, Fluckey is quoted as telling the crew, “if you get stuck, head for Siberia, 130 miles north, following the mountain ranges. Good luck.” This shore crew of Navy sailors led by Hatfield was the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese soil during the war.

While this mission was safer than the original alterative, it still had its dangers. The crew landed near the backyard of a Japanese home but thankfully were able to go by unnoticed. Once at the tracks, three men set up guard posts. However, they then realized that a water tower nearby was actually a Japanese lookout post. Yet again, thankfully the crew went by unnoticed.  They worked quickly and silently, just like a submarine, to dig holes for the 55-pound explosives and detonator switch. Just as they were about to finish, an express train came hurling by, forcing the men to run into the brush nearby and wait for it to pass. Once they had finalized the detonator switch, they headed back to the Barb, which was now within 600 yards of the shore. The entire mission was one of close calls and sheer luck. It was this way all the way to end. The men were halfway to safety when another train came down the track headed in their direction. At 1:47 AM, the train hit the micro-switch. Barely missing pieces of the explosion, all of the men were back on the Barb by 1:52 AM. Once they were clear of the shore, Fluckey ordered all non-essential hands on deck to share in the achievement. The Barb’s final patrol ended on Aug 2, 1945 at Midway. It was only a few short days later that the Japanese surrendered with the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II.


Members of the submarine’s demolition squad pose with her battle flag at the conclusion of her 12th war patrol at Pearl Harbor, August 1945. During the night of July 22-23, 1945 these men went ashore at Karafuto, Japan, and planted an explosive charge that subsequently wrecked a train. They are (from left to right): Chief Gunner’s Mate Paul G. Saunders; Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Billy R. Hatfield; Signalman 2nd Class Francis N. Sevei; Ship’s Cook 1st Class Lawrence W. Newland; Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd Class Edward W. Klingesmith; Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class James E. Richard; Motor Machinist’s Mate 1st Class John Markuson; and Lt. William M. Walker. This raid is represented by the train symbol in the middle bottom of the battle flag. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The USS Barb’s battle flag that hangs in the museum reflects its many accomplishments. It took part in twelve war patrols – five in Europe and seven in the Pacific. Members of the crew earned numerous accolades, including Six Navy crosses, 23 silver stars, 23 bronze stars and a Medal of Honor, a presidential Unit Citation, a Navy Unit Commendation, and eight battle stars; 34 merchant ships damaged or sunk, five Japanese’s warships damaged or sunk, rocket and gun symbols to denote shore bombardments, and lastly, a train to commemorate the Barb’s final war patrol. The merchant ships sunk or damaged are denoted by white flags with either solid or hollow red suns in the center. One case is represented by a German Nazi flag symbolizing a tanker sunk in the Atlantic. Rising sun flags represent the five Japanese warships sunk or damaged. The largest rising sun depiction in the top center represents Unyo, a 22,500-ton escort carrier. The smaller merchant flags with the numeral “7” represents seven smaller carriers that were less than 500 tons each. The gun and rocket symbols represents shore bombardments including the train at the middle bottom. Despite the remarkable feat of “sinking a train”, it is said that if you asked Fluckey which award he was most proud of, it was the Purple Heart award which is not on the flag. Despite sinking the third most tonnage during WWII, not a single sailor lost his life or was wounded on USS Barb.

USS Barb Battle Flag on Display in the Museum above the Medal Of Honor Room. Photo Courtesy of Erica Buell

Medal of Honor wall featuring Fluckey and his accomplishments.

The Submarine That Toured America

The Submarine Force Museum is known for being able to tour the first ever nuclear-powered submarine. While the Nautilus is the only submarine at the museum that can be toured from the inside, it doesn’t mean that it is the only submarine on display. Standing outside of the museum doors, a row of smaller submarines greets visitors. People may be surprised to see a submarine on display, on concrete, on a walkway in front of the museum. The “Type A”

Photo of the HA-8 outside the museum. Photo Courtesy of Erica Buell

submarine on display is not your typical submarine and recalls a time in our nation’s history when a Japanese submarine was generating ticket sales across the country.


On December 7, 1941, America was thrust into WWII with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The aerial strike in Hawaii was devastating and began a series of events that would lead our government to declare war on Japan. While the facts of that day can be found everywhere, many people aren’t aware of the Japanese naval attack that was also occurring at the same time. The Imperial Japanese Navy sent a group of submarines to surround Oahu to sink any American ships that attempted to flee. Some of these submarines were equipped with top secret “mini-submarines” that were each armed with two torpedoes and carried two crew members. The plan was for these “mini submarines” to surface and fire their torpedoes during the aerial attack. While we all know the very devastating effect of the air attack, the submarines failed in their mission. Only one was able to escape but was sunk once out of the harbor. Another washed ashore the next day and its surviving crew member was captured. A third submarine was sunk before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It had been seen following a U.S. ship that


was heading into the harbor. The failed mission of the “mini submarines” is not the end of their short history. The submarine captured by the U.S on December 8th was studied by our government and then was used to garner support for the war effort and sell war bonds. This was an effective way to show the American people exactly what they were fighting against.

War bonds are debt securities that help to finance military efforts in times of war. Sold by the government, they are usually retail bonds marketed to the public or wholesales ones sold on the stock market. During WWII, posters encouraged citizens to show their patriotism and buy war bonds and many different events were held throughout the country to encourage sales.  However, promotional art and film reels of the frontline could only elicit so much support. But a Japanese submarine provided a physical reminder of what Japan had done to them and promote the rally cry “Remember Pearl Harbor”. The “mini submarine”, or HA-19, that was captured on December 8th was sent around the United States on war bond rallies between 1942 and 1945. Admission to view the submarine was made possible through the purchase of war bonds and stamps. One stop on its tour was Washington D.C. on April 3, 1943.

postcard printed to publicize the submarine’s tour showed the trailer on which it was transported and exhorted American’s to avenge Pearl Harbor by buying war bonds. Photo courtesy of Arnold Putnam.

Upon arriving in Alexandria, Virginia, $40,000 was raised in a little over 20 minutes with a total of $1,061,650 by the end of the day.  When she made her way to Hartford, Connecticut, $250,000 worth of bonds were sold with over 20,000 people descending to the city center to view the submarine. War bonds were crucial to the war effort and kept troops supplied with what they needed. While the HA-19 was the more popular

A sailor posed next to the conning tower of the HA-19 on the Capitol grounds. The war bond rallies focused on the supposed small stature of the Japanese and their “midget” submarines and likened this smallness of size to smallness of character and to the perceived perfidy of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Library of Congress

“mini submarine” due to its involvement at Pearl Harbor, she was not the only one to participate in war bond rally tours.


On May 7, 1943, a Japanese midget submarine was salvaged off the coast of Guadalcanal. The HA-8, as she is known, was launched on November 11, 1942 from her carrier submarine I-16. During the launch, her rudder was damaged and lost steering. The mission was aborted and the submarine was scuttled. HA-8 has a length of 79 feet and a displacement of 46 tons. She arrived in Groton as part of one of the War bond efforts between 1943 and 1944. She is just one of four Type A midget submarines on display in the world, including HA-19.  While a novelty now, submarines such as HA-8 and HA-19 served as a stark reminder in the 1940’s that the world was not as large as everyone thought. The fight had been brought to our shores, and our military was doing what they had signed up to do – to defend and protect.

HA_8 at the Submarine Museum. Photo Courtesy of Erica Buell






Steel Beach Picnic

This week, the smells of summer can be found in backyards, driveways, and parks around the country. The fourth of July is celebrated with BBQ’s and fireworks and usually time in the pool or on the beach. As we celebrate with family and friends, we can’t forget those who are always on watch in our Navy. But just because a submariner is currently deployed, it doesn’t mean that a little fun and celebration can’t be had.

Life on a submarine can be boring. And for the most part, you want it to be. Submarine movies like to have us believe that it’s all action and secret missions. But most of the time it is routine patrols with the crew taking turns sleeping, eating, and standing watch. So, what do submariners do in their down time? While there isn’t always a lot of downtime between routine maintenance and studying for qualifications, down time does occur.  Most of a sailor’s down time will be spent in the mess hall. They watch movies, play video games, play cards, or just sit around and hang out. Sometimes they will get in a gym workout or run. Yes, submarines have gyms. Some modern-day subs are the length of two football fields and seven feet tall. So, while most of the space is taken up with state of the art navigation and warfare equipment, there is still a little room for a treadmill or two. What equipment comes aboard can vary depending on the type of submarine. For instance, an SSBN has a little more space than an SSN. Sometimes there will be a stationary bike or row machine and other times a weight machine with adjustable dumbbells. As far as a run is concerned, if a sailor does 17 laps in an SSBN missile compartment upper level, they have gotten in a nice one mile run! Even this can all get mundane after months at sea and sailors need to let off some steam. So, when weather and schedule permits, a captain may call for a Steel Beach Picnic.

A steel beach picnic is just as it sounds. A picnic topside of the submarine. The cook will bring out a grill and cook up some burgers and hot dogs and the crew will eat on top of the submarine and relax in the sun. For the most part, while out to sea, the Navy maintains a no alcohol policy. However, when a ship or submarine has been out for over 45 days, the captain can request a ‘beer day’, which allows the crew to really get a chance to unwind and feel a little taste of home. Depending on mission status and location, this can be held on the same day as a steel beach picnic. The captain may also allow a swim call. During a swim call, sailors will use the top of the submarine as their diving board and get to swim in the world’s best swimming pool – the open ocean. These activities allow a submariner some fresh air, sun and a little fun during long deployments. Therefore, this week, we would like to share some of our favorite images from Steel Beach Picnic’s and swim calls in the US Navy.  We hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th!

Steel Beach Picnics are not new to the Navy http://www.scout.com/military/warrior/story/1731342-photo-essay-life-on-a-navy-submarine


                          Need a raft? A submarine will do!
                             Photo from Business Insider

              Just catching some sun – Navy style!


                                  Who’s Hungry? https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/steel-beach-when-us-navy-ships-throw-giant-beach-picni-1658725234



                                One, Two, Three, JUMP!ttps://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/steel-beach-when-us-navy-ships-throw-giant-beach-picni-1658725234


                                               Cannon Ball!


                                         Swim Anyone?