“Underway on Nuclear Power”

Fifty-nine years ago today, USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) became the first submarine to get “underway on nuclear power.” On the fiftieth anniversary of the event, Wilkinson gave a speech in which he described the lead-up to the transmission of those now-famous words.

“Our detailed schedule called for us to get NAUTILUS underway at 1100 on January 17, 1955.

“To prepare to do that safely, we insisted on having the ship to ourselves for four days. We called it a fast cruise—tied fast to the dock, to check out ourselves, and the ship, and the systems.

“…I was a Commander. During that fast cruise period, two Navy Captains from CHINFO [U.S. Navy Chief of Information] arrived…to talk to me.

“They said, ‘You’re about to get underway. This is a historic event. You should send a historic message.’

“ ‘Listen,’ I replied, ‘we’re doing our part getting ourselves, the ship and its systems checked out and ready. You gentlemen are public relations experts. Write a historic message and we’ll send it.’

“That took care of them for a day and a half. Then they gave me a message that was one-and-a-quarter typewritten pages long with some elegant sounding words. But my Quartermaster Rayl was going to send it by flashing light to the tender FULTON at state pier. I wrote a briefer message, ‘Underway on Nuclear Power,’ which my Communications Officer, Ned Dietrich, released and Rayl sent.” It remains one of the most momentous messages in navy history.

Wilkinson, who retired as a vice admiral in 1974, passed away this past 11 July, just a month short of his 95th birthday. He is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA.

5 Responses to ““Underway on Nuclear Power””

  1. John H. Michaud III says:

    My dad was on that boat that day, He was on it till 1960. Chief John “Hank” Michaud so poud him.

  2. Dear friends in the US. Please take a look at http://www.flying-enterprise.com. My friend, Captain Kurt Carlsen, told me the whole story about Nautilus 1 and the drama in the Atlantic ocean in January 1952. The nuclear submarine was delayed a half year until five ton zirconium was picked up. You can also see my memory brick for Flying Enterprise at the entrance to the museum.
    Many kind regards from Denmark and
    Bjarne Bekker, journalist and author

  3. Leah Witzig says:

    My dad was on the boat that day too. Dr. Warren F. Witzig, principal engineer with Westinghouse, took her critical. We lost Dad in 2007. He designed the atomic symbol carved into his tombstone.

  4. paul doucette says:

    My first boat road her from 1978 to decom at MINSY

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