Flag Day and the Beginning of The Nuclear Navy

We all know June 14th as Flag day. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted what would become the flag of the United States. On this same day, many years later, we would adopt a new form of submarine. The birth of the Nuclear Navy saw its beginning on June 14, 1952 in Groton, Connecticut with the keel of SSN 571- USS Nautilus, being laid by Harry S. Truman. In his opening remarks, Truman said, “As we celebrate this Flag Day, it marks one of the most significant developments of our time.”[1]

Figure 1 Truman signing the keel of USS Nautilus http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/six-new-england-presidential-visits-stories-behind/

Truman was right. The development of the first atomic submarine led the way for a faster, more efficient submarine force. It also marked a turning point in scientific and industrial development. The keel laying ceremony was only the beginning, but served as a marker to celebrate the advancement of this technology. The Nautilus would surpass all of her predecessors with new capabilities and advancements. Once finished, she stretched 319 feet and displaced 3,180 tons. Truman, in his speech on that June day, made multiple references to the profound impact that nuclear power was having not only on military developments but the world at large. Truman passionately went on to say, “I know that all Americans will join me in this. For we are a peaceful people, not a warlike people. We want peace and we work hard for peace. This is a great day for us, a day to celebrate—not because we are starting a new ship for war, but because we are making a great advance in use of atomic energy for peace. We want atomic power to be a boon to all men everywhere, not an instrument for their destruction. Today, we stand on the threshold of a new age of power.”[2]

A keel laying ceremony is a long-standing tradition and the formal recognition of a ship’s construction. The keel laying is the first of four celebrated events in a ship’s life, followed by their commissioning, launching, and decommissioning.  The atomic energy being harnessed for use in the Nautilus gave special meaning to this ceremony. It was only a few short years prior that the world saw the devastating effects of the atomic bomb. With the development of SSN 571, that power was being harnessed and used for development instead of destruction. On that June 14th, no one could have known the long-lasting effects that the Nautilus and this new technology would have on the submarine force and technology. On that Saturday, especially to those in Groton, this was another ceremony. Groton was and is proud of its submarine history and this was just another

Figure 2 Crowd at keel laying of USS Nautilus. Image courtesy of Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

part of it. Down the river from Electric Boat were five submarines anchored and “manning the rails” in honor of Truman’s visit. One Submariner recalled that most of the crews were upset about giving up a Saturday’s liberty without much thought to the historical ramifications of the moment. It wasn’t until later – after Nautilus had reached the North Pole – that those in attendance would realize what they had witnessed. So tomorrow as we celebrate Flag Day, we also celebrate the start of our nuclear navy and the history it created.

 

[1] Harry S. Truman: “Address in Groton, Conn., at the Keel Laying of the first Atomic Energy Submarine.,” June 14, 1952. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14162.

[2] Harry S. Truman: “Address in Groton, Conn., at the Keel Laying of the first Atomic Energy Submarine.,” June 14, 1952. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14162.

 

Leave a Reply