USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) may have proved the value of nuclear power to naval propulsion, but her hull shape reflected the traditional surface-ship design that worked well for vessels that spent most of their time atop the waves. It was USS ALBACORE (AGSS-569) which pioneered the teardrop-shaped hull that, when combined with nuclear power, would revolutionize the submarine force. Today, learn why the boat spent part of her career painted a bright, cheery orange.

“The summer of ’59 Albacore travelled to Key West to partake in testing a destroyer-based electric torpedo. We would go to sea every morning, be [a] target for the torpedo during the day (usually 6-7 torpedoes), then come in for the night. When the torpedo acquired, it would attack—generally the screw. When it hit the screw, it would dent one of the blades. We had carried two spare screws lashed down topside. We would come in from the day’s exercises, tie up at the pier, and divers would change our screw. The damaged screw would be taken to a repair facility to either straighten the blade, or to trim all three blades. When we first arrived, we were using 15-foot diameter screws—when we left to go home they were all about 12-foot.

“The waters in Key West were very hard on our topside paint, so the 1st Lieutenant decided to paint the ship during a week in port. He got the primer and the crew painted her out. The paint had to dry for three days before we could paint the black coating, and it was during this time that the pictures were taken. We were taking a lot of gas from the destroyer sailors when a fleet boat returned from an under the ice expedition. Prior to its trip, it had been the submarine used in the movie ‘Operation Petticoat’ and had been painted pink. Operational requirements did not permit its going into drydock to get repainted, so it was painted white for the under the ice trip. When it returned, large patches of the white paint had peeled off, exposing the pink, and it looked down right leprous!! Needless to say, the kidding shifted from us to them. The CO of the ship was a close friend of Capt Rae’s, and his wife had been the stand-in for the nurse for the swimming scenes!! All in all, that was a very interesting summer!!”

Thanks to Lee “Skip” Vellom and Friends of ALBACORE for this story.

For those who are curious, Operation Petticoat employed the services of three U.S. submarines. USS ARCHERFISH (SS-311), used for interior and exterior shots around Key West, was allowed to retain her black paint. So was USS QUEENFISH (SS-393), which was used in the opening and closing scenes and for seagoing shots filmed off the coast of San Diego. Only the unfortunate USS BALAO (SS-285) was subjected to the indignity of pink for exterior shots around Key West.