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Ending a War Without Firing a Shot: the USS Nautilus

USS Nautilus' (SSN-571)

USS Nautilus’ (SSN-571) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was commissioned 60 years ago today.

The first atomic-powered submarine, probably atomic-powered anything, she cruised under the oceans for an unbelievable amount of time–because her nuclear reactor did not require her to “snorkel,” come up to take in air.

When she put out to sea for the first time, she radioed her status: “underway on nuclear power.” Such a description had never been heard before.

The Nautilus was the technological marvel of the time and set all sorts of records.

Wikipedia describes one:

On 10 May, she headed south for shakedown. Submerged throughout, she traveled  1,300 miles from New London, Connecticut to San Juan, Puerto Rico. She covered  1,381 miles in less than ninety hours. At the time, this was the longest submerged cruise by a submarine and at the highest sustained speed (for at least one hour) ever recorded.

She also was the first ship to sail under the North Pole.

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The first I heard of the Nautilus submarine was in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea.

(SSN-571 was named for both the boat in this book and also an earlier US submarine of the same name.

SSN, by the way, stands for Submarine Ship Nuclear. Submarines are boats, NOT ships.).

As a child, I saw the movie based on Neville Shute‘s On the Beach (terrifying).

I rode on the Nautilus submarine at Disneyland.  We watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea years ago.

I thought knew about submarines until my husband became a submariner.

(By the way,  submarines do NOT have any windows and sharks do NOT live in a moat around a nuclear reactor in a submarine’s engine compartment? Hollywood!)

I have many thoughts and feelings about submarines, but about the USS Nautilus I have two stories.

USS Nautilus, submarines, north pole, submarine romance, Cold War, danger, Jules Verne, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Nevil Shute,

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in New York harbor, after completing her trans-polar voyage under the Arctic ice. in summer, 1953 Wikipedia)

Romance

After the Nautilus joined the fleet, she set out on a series of exploits to demonstrate the marvel of being run by a nuclear reactor and not needing to be refueled (see those records above).

This was during the Cold War and she often called on important cities and allowed for tours. It was an exciting time.

She called at New York City for a period of time and tourists routinely came through the boat.

One day, the young Officer of the Deck (OOD) looked up to see a beautiful model coming through. He stopped her and chatted, made a date and later, reader, married her.

He went on to become an admiral and she a Bible Study Fellowship leader in Virginia. Lovely people and a romantic story–who would have guessed that from a port call?

Decommissioning 

We lived at Mare Island at the time of the Nautilus’ decommissioning. She was 25 years old, a little older than me.

This was an historic occasion. I sat in a chair on the quay beside the boat, now stripped of her reactor and about to undergo a long transformation that would turn her into a tourist attraction.

(As it happened, we lived in Groton, Connecticut when a tug boat towed her up the Thames River to her final resting place alongside the Navy Submarine Museum several years later. We’ve toured her numerous times over the years).

The Nautilus was lauded for her historic accomplishments, lists of famous submariners who served on her were read. She sat an empty hulk beside us her exploits imaginable and astonishing.

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The USS Nautilus docked at the US Submarine Force Museum and Library, Groton, CT ( Wikipedia)

The one fact that stood out, however, was the pride in her accomplishment.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the USS Nautilus is she never fired a shot in war.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you for remembering the Nautilus!

    I’m so glad she was preserved. She deserved it.

    Did you ever look into the history of her predecessor, SS-168? A Narwhal-class ‘cruiser submarine’, she achieved fame with Bill Brockman’s stalking of the Japanese fleet at Midway, and with her attack on the Kaga with the then-endemic faulty torpedoes.

    Oddly, for such a big and noisy boat, Nautilus survived the war – and did sink a Japanese destroyer off Japan.

    And – many thanks to your husband for his service.

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  January 21, 2014

    Thanks, Andrew. I’m sure my husband knows all about it! 🙂

    We enjoyed our time in submarines and have made so many extraordinary friends as a result.

    Of course spending 20 years of my life with nuclear engineers has tended to skew my concept of “normal.” 🙂

    Reply
  1. At Sea on the E/V Nautilus | Michelle Ule, Author

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