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 how the installation of a device meant to improve the boat’s safety could well have led to her loss.
“As I recall, Albacore had gone into drydock for a propeller spacing change and some other minor work when the decision was made to implement the ShipAlt [Ship Alteration] that would outfit her with a safety track. To retain Albacore’s streamlined hull shape, the track was to be removable. If it was expected that an operation would require putting people out on deck while at sea, the track would be installed in port before getting underway. Otherwise, the track was to be stored ashore at the shipyard.
“Measurements were taken, plans were drawn, metal cut and welded and a number of short sections of track were produced. Stainless steel bolts were to be used to anchor the sections, and so a series of holes were carefully drilled through the walking deck. As a casual observer, it seemed to me that some of the holes took longer to drill than others, but I attributed it to the amount of force used by the [shipyard worker] behind the drill. After all the holes had been drilled, the track was laid out on deck and the anchoring bolts were fitted. Everything looked fine.
“The day of undocking was one of alternate periods of clouds and sunshine, a good New England day. As part of the procedure for undocking, the boat was rigged for dive and I drew the Machinery Compartment as my space to check. Everything was going well until I climbed into the after escape trunk and was hit in the eye by a shaft of sunlight! My first thought was the upper hatch was not properly seated but that was not the case. The sun was coming in through the side of the trunk! I duly reported my finding and completed my rig for dive check. Due to the location of the hole high up in the trunk, undocking was not held up.
“I thought that the hole probably had not been noticed during the initial rigging for dive because the clouds had blanketed the sun. Fortunately, the sun was out when I climbed into the trunk to do my check.
“An investigation by the shipyard revealed that there were several places under the safety track’s path that had to be welded to fill in spots where an over zealous [shipyard worker] with a drill had gone too deep and nicked the pressure hull.”
Thanks to Jack Hunter and Friends of ALBACORE for this story.