USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571)
"First and Finest"
Belowdecks Tour (still photo)
Virtual Tour (360-degree QuickTime-VR)
Nautilus Video (2.4MB AVI)
The world's first and finest nuclear submarine alongside one of the latest (USS Connecticut, SSN 22)
Welcome Aboard USS Nautilus
The World's First Nuclear Powered Ship
USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) descended from a long line of proud fighting ships, and was the sixth ship of the fleet to bear the name. NAUTILUS first appeared on the Navy List as a schooner of twelve guns. Under the command of Lieutenant. Richard Somers, she was with Commodore Preble's squadron in the Mediterranean during the campaign against the Tripolitan pirates. Her battle plaque was inscribed with the names Tripoli and Derne from this early war of our infant Navy. She continued in service until she was captured by a British squadron at the outbreak of the War of 1812.
NAUTILUS next appeared as a schooner which was commissioned in 1847 and played a role in the war with Mexico.
In 1911, NAUTILUS made her first appearance in the submarine force, although later that year her name was changed to H-2. Built in San Francisco, she saw service until 1922 when she was decommissioned.
During World War I, the name and tradition were carried on by a Motor Patrol Boat commissioned in 1917 and assigned to patrol and escort duty.
The fifth NAUTILUS, SS-168, was built at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1930 and was one of the largest submarines ever built for our Navy. With the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, NAUTILUS quickly joined the fight and established the reputation which was to characterize her through the next three years of combat. On her first war patrol, she sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu which had been previously damaged by aerial attacks in the Battle of Midway.
On December 12, 1951, the Navy Department announced that the world's first nuclear submarine, SSN-571, would carry the name NAUTILUS. Construction of NAUTILUS was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, USN. Authorized by Congress in July 1951, her keel was laid on June 14, 1952 at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, Connecticut., by President Harry S. Truman. A year and a half later, on January 21, 1954, Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower broke the traditional bottle of champagne across her bow as NAUTILUS slid down the ways into the Thames River.
On September 30, 1954, NAUTILUS became a commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Present on this occasion were many distinguished guests, including Admiral Donald H. Duncan, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Jerauld Wright, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In the commissioning speech Admiral Wright stated, "Today the Navy turns a channel marker in the course of history", and indeed they did.
However, many months of painstaking construction and dockside testing followed. The nuclear propulsion plant was designed and constructed for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Navy by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and first operated on December 20, 1954. The plant developed full power alongside the dock on January 3, 1955.
On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 1100 hours EST, NAUTILUS' Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, USN, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the memorable and historic message "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER", to the Submarine Force Commander, thus adding a new page to world and naval history.
On April 22, 1955, after rigorous and detailed testing of the ship's surface and submerged capabilities, USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) was preliminarily accepted by the United States Navy.
The following month NAUTILUS headed for southern waters on her first shakedown cruise. Travelling 1,381 miles in 89.9 hours, from New London to San Juan, Puerto Rico, she established several new records. It was the longest distrance travelled, by a factor of ten, and the longest period of complete submergence for any submarine. It was also the first time a combatant submarine had maintained such a high submerged speed, about 16 knots average, for more than one hour. This was the fastest passage between New London and Puerto Rico by any submarine, surfaced or submerged.
From July 11, 1955 to August 5, 1955, rigorous exercises were conducted with hunter-killer groups in the Narraganset Bay areas and off the coast of Bermuda. These exercises were designed to investigate the effect of the radical increase in submerged speed and endurance of the NAUTILUS on submarine and anti-submarine warfare.
From September 20 to October 8, NAUTILUS visited Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Annapolis, Maryland, Norfolk, Virginia and Newport, Rhode Island to demonstrate the ship to various military personnel. During this period approximately 300 senior officers rode the ship at sea and another 2,500 military personnel boarded her in port.
During November and December, Bureau of Ships special tests were conducted, including standardization trials at Provincetown, Massachusetts.
On November 27, 1955, with the Honorable Charles S. Thomas, Secretary of the Navy, Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and other Navy and AEC officials present, NAUTILUS completed her 25,000th nautical mile.
On December 2, the ship commenced a restricted availability for the installation of new sonar equipment and the repair of minor defects observed during the preceding year.
Following the availability and a month of operations in the New London area, the ship, on March 19, departed for Key West, Florida, conducting special tests enroute. Many Bureau of Ships tests were conducted in the Key West area.
On completion of the tests, on April 20, NAUTILUS returned to New London from Key West, a submerged run of 1,152 miles. During the 35-day cruise in southern wters, the ship was underway 531 hours, 376 of which were spent entirely submerged.
From May 8 to May 10 the ship was demonstrated to the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey for final acceptance trials, and on May 11, 1956, the USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) was accepted by the Navy "for unrestricted service". This final acceptance of such a truly unique ship is a tribute to the reliability of this vessel, a characteristic of which predominated her history.
In February 1957, after local operations and a leave and upkeep period, NAUTILUS entered the Electric Boat yard in Groton, Connecticut for her first refueling. On her first Uranium fuel core NAUTILUS steamed 62,562 miles in two years, over half of which were completely submerged. To duplicate this performance a conventionally-powered submarine the size of NAUTILUS would have required over two million gallons of diesel fuel.
On April 11, 1957, NAUTILUS departed Electric Boat and commenced a month of local operations, operating with her nuclear sister ship, USS SEAWOLF (SSN-575), to and from Bermuda. During this period she also participated in Operation REMEMBER in New York City, and had an opportunity to proudly show herself off to the dependents of the crew during four days of short cruises.
On May 15, 1957, NAUTILUS deployed to the Pacific to demonstrate her capabilities to units of the Pacific Fleet, including participation in a large-scale fleet exercise called Operation HOMERUN. During her transit to the Pacific, NAUTILUS established another new record by cruising from the Panama Canal to San Diego, California completely submerged, a distance of 3,049 miles. Her sole reason for surfacing on the cruise was to transit the Panama Canal.
On visits to Seattle, Portland, Everett, Port Townsend, Tacoma, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Diego and Panama, NAUTILUS played host to more than 13,000 visitors, 1,100 of whom were taken to sea.
On June 18, 1957, at Seattle, Washington, Commander William R. Anderson, USN, relieved Captain Eugene P. Wilkinson, USN as Commanding Officer of NAUTILUS. At the Change of Command ceremony Captain Wilkinson was presented the Legion of Merit by Rear Admiral A. M. Bledsoe, Commandant, THIRTEENTH Naval District, for the Secretary of the Navy.
NAUTILUS returned to New London in July 1957 and had an availability until August 19 to prepare her for her next trip, which took her to latitude 87-degrees North -- 180 miles from the North Pole, and further north than any ship previously. NAUTILUS steamed 1,383 miles under the polar ice cap on three excursions lasting a total of five and one-half days. On her way to the Arctic, NAUTILUS completed a dive of 287 hours, covering 4,039 miles. This polar trip was of great scientific importance. In the area in which she operated, NAUTILUS was able to gather many times the amount of data on ice characteristics and water depths than previously obtained in the whole of arctic exploration.
Following her northern trip, NAUTILUS participated in Operation STRIKEBACK, a Norwegian Sea exercise. While in European waters NAUTILUS visited Rothesay and Faslane, Scotland; Portland and Plymouth, England; and LeHavre, France. These were the first foreign ports ever visited by NAUTILUS. NAUTILUS took to sea such distinguished visitors as Lord Louis Mountbattan, England's First Sea Lord; Mr. Duncan Sandys, England's Minister of Defense; Mr. Christopher Soames, Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty; and a host of England's top AEC representatives and civilian contractors who were later responsible for building the HMS DREADNAUGHT, the first nuclear-powered submarine in Great Britain's fleet.
NAUTILUS returned to her home port on October 28, 1957 and immediately began an availability period for upkeep and repair which lasted throughout the remainder of the year.
In February 1958, NAUTILUS completed upkeep and commenced operating locally out of New London. On April 1 she became a unit of Submarine Squadron TEN under the command of Captain T. K. Kimmel, USN, and was assigned to the first nuclear division, Submarine Division 102.
On March 10, 1958, NAUTILUS was commended by the Honorable Thomas S. Gates, Secretary of the Navy, for her pioneering voyage under the Arctic ice cap the previous fall.
On April 25, NAUTILUS was underway again from New London, enroute to the west coast via the Panama Canal. The ship stopped at San Diego and San Francisco, California, and Seattle, Washington.
On June 9, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Seattle under TOP SECRET orders to conduct Operation SUNSHINE, the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. NAUTILUS passed through the Aleutian Island chain and transitted the Bearing Sea. On June 17, the ship entered the shallow Chukchi Sea, but was forced to turn back to Pearl Harbor due to a combination of deep ship draft and shallow water.
On July 23, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbor and set course northward on the voyage which, when completed, was one of the major historic accomplishments of the 20th century. Passage into the shallow Chukchi Sea, where NAUTILUS surfaced, was uneventful. On August 1, after two days of searching along the edge of the ice pack for deep water, NAUTILUS submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley and headed north.
At 2315 EDST, on August 3, 1958, Commander William R. Anderson announced to the crew "For the world, Our Country and the Navy - the North Pole". With 116 men on board, NAUTILUS had accomplished the "impossible" - reaching the geographic North Pole, 90-degrees North.
After 96 hours and 1,830 miles submerged under the ice, USS NAUTILUS surfaced in the Greenland Sea, on August 5, 1958.
Commander Anderson was flown from Iceland to Washington, D.C., where he was presented the Legion of Merit by President Eisenhower. Upon Commander Anderson's return to NAUTILUS, she proceeded to Portland, England where Ambassador John Hay Whitney presented the first Presidential Unit Citation ever issued in peacetime.
NAUTILUS departed Portland on August 18 and surfaced off New York City, having established another submarine "first" among many. She travelled over 3,100 miles submerged in six days, 11 hours and 55 minutes, at an average speed of more than 20 knots.
On her arrival in New York Harbor NAUTILUS was greeted with a hero's welcome. The city opened her doors to the officers and crew with the traditional ticker-tape parade.
NAUTILUS returned to New London, Connecticut on August 29, 1958, for an upkeep period and a well deserved rest, which lasted until October. For the remainder of the year and into the early part of 1959, NAUTILUS participated in various local operations and fleet exercises.
On May 29, 1959, NAUTILUS entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine for her first complete overhaul - the first of any nuclear powered ship - and the replacement of her second fuel core.
On June 22, 1959 Lieutenant Commander Lando. W. Zech, Jr., USN, relieved Commander W. R. Anderson, USN, to become NAUTILUS' third Commanding Officer.
Upon completion of her overhaul, on August 15, 1960, NAUTILUS departed for the New Hampshire/Maine area to rejoin her sisters in Submarine Squadron TEN. Following a period of refresher training she deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to become the first nuclear submarine assigned to the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
NAUTILUS returned to New London on December 16, 1960, having travelled more than 175,000 miles on nuclear power since becoming a commissioned ship in the United States Navy.
On January 17, 1961, the Sixth Anniversary of NAUTILUS' first "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER", the Honorable William B. Franke, Secretary of the Navy, in behalf of the President of the United States, presented Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN, the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States. The presentation took place aboard NAUTILUS and was witnessed by His Excellency Herve Alphand, Ambassador from the Republic of France, and other Navy, AEC and civilian officials. This day also marked the keel laying of the Polaris Submarine USS LAFAYETTE (SSBN-616). Symbolically, the power used for the initial keel weld of the LAFAYETTE was furnished by NAUTILUS' nuclear reactor.
During January and February 1961, NAUTILUS participated in operations in the Western Atlantic which included a weekend in Bermuda. NAUTILUS visited Portsmouth, England in March, 1961. This enjoyable stay was highlighted by a day at sea with 20 members of parliament embarked.
NAUTILUS spent the month of July in the Key West area engaged in test and evaluation. After returning to New London the ship then proceeded to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, on August 7, where the Honorable Paul B. Fay, Jr., Under Secretary of the Navy, accompanied by Vice Admiral Elton W. Grenfell, USN, Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, was embarked for an overnight demonstration cruise. Upon completion of the cruise NAUTILUS returned to New London.
In 1962 NAUTILUS participated in various fleet exercises. On April 20, 1962, Commander Jeffrey C. Metzel, Jr., USN, became the fourth Commanding Officer of NAUTILUS, relieving CDR L. W. Zech.
On July 1, 1962, NAUTILUS was awarded the Battle Efficiency "E" award for Submarine Division 102. Operations in the Summer and Fall of 1962 included participation in the naval quarantine during the Cuban missile crisis.
In early-1963, NAUTILUS was engaged in the evaluation of anti-submarine warfare defense. On March 25, 1963 NAUTILUS became the first ship to cruise one-quarter of a million miles on nuclear power.
During the remainder of the Spring and early-Summer of 1963, NAUTILUS operated independently conducting a variety of evaluation and training exercises.
In August 1963, NAUTILUS again departed New London for the Mediterranean Sea, to operate as a unit of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. During a visit to Toulon, France, NAUTILUS was host to the Great Great Grandson of Jules Verne, the author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. During this same cruise NAUTILUS visited Naples, Italy. The NAUTILUS received letters of commendation from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and the Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, for her performance during this cruise.
NAUTILUS returned to New London in late-September and on October 12, 1963, her fifth Commanding Officer, Commander Francis C. Fogarty, USN, read his orders and assumed command.
The remainder of the year saw NAUTILUS participating in a major fleet exercise involving units of the U.S. Second Fleet, and in several SSN versus SSN anti-submarine warfare exercises. These latter exercises proved to be of significant value in increasing the level of knowledge of how to employ the SSN weapons system. Also included in this trip was an enjoyable and welcome visit to Bermuda.
NAUTILUS returned to New London in mid-December and immediately commenced a pre-overhaul upkeep in preparation for her forthcoming shipyard overhaul.
On January 16, 1964, NAUTILUS departed New London enroute to her second complete overhaul. She arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the occasion of her Ninth Anniversary of "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER", January 17. The total number of miles steamed when NAUTILUS shut down her reactor was 284,599, of which 220,714 were spent entirely submerged.
NAUTILUS rejoined the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force in the Spring of 1966. On September 14, she re-entered the record books when she logged her 300,000th mile on nuclear power.
On April 3, 1967, NAUTILUS welcomed her sixth Commanding Officer, CDR Norman E. Griggs. During the Spring and Summer of 1967 NAUTILUS supported various Atlantic Fleet ASW exercises.
On August 15, 1967, NAUTILUS entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a refueling availability. In December, 1968 she again returned to the fleet and for all of 1969 she operated with the ASW, HUK and submarine elements of the Atlantic Fleet.
On January 31, 1970, CDR David W. Crockfield, USN, assumed command of NAUTILUS and she commenced a period of crew training and ASW support operations for the rest of 1970.
In the Spring of 1971, NAUTILUS deployed for NATO exercises and a trip to Faslane, Scotland. In early-1972 she moved to SUBASE New London for a repair availability.
In June 1972, CDR Alex Anckonie III assumed command of NAUTILUS and in August of that same year, she entered Electric Boat Shipyard for a complete overhaul. She had steamed for a total of nearly 400,000 miles since the historic days of 1954-1955.
The overhaul was completed on January 15, 1975. Following overhaul, NAUTILUS completed a shakedown cruise in Caribbean waters.
In the Spring of 1975, NAUTILUS partipated in a major Second Fleet exercise, AGATE PUNCH, after which she was cited by Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group TWELVE as "Not getting older -- getting better!"
Completing a Mediterranean deployment in September, NAUTILUS participated in the NATO exercise OCEAN SAFARI, conducted in the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean. She had steamed over 35,000 miles in the eventful year of 1975.
NAUTILUS completed various operations in the Spring and Summer of 1976. During a Bicentennial Weekend, COMSUBLANT awarded NAUTILUS a White "A" for Antisubmarine Warfare Weapons and Operations Excellence.
Operations in 1976 included at-sea evaluations of a major OPNAV project sponsored by Naval Underwater Systems Center, New London and the Navy's Operational Testing and Evaluation Force.
On December 19, 1976, CDR Alex Anckonie III, USN, was relieved by CDR Richard A. Riddell, USN, NAUTILUS' ninth Commanding Officer, in ceremonies held at sea off Bermuda, British West Indies.
During January and February, 1977, NAUTILUS conducted a research project in the Gulf of Mexico.
In April, 1977, NAUTILUS began a five-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. During this period, she participated in fleet exercises with ships, aircraft and submarines of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and NATO forces. She visited the ports of Lisbon, Portugal; Sousse, Tunisia; Taranto, Italy; Naples, Italy and La Maddalena, Sardinia. NAUTILUS returned to New London in September.
In March and April, 1978, NAUTILUS was involved in a CNO oceanographic project and, during the project, paid a port visit to Bermuda, British West Indies.
In December, 1978, NAUTILUS conducted exercises with U.S. and Canadian forces and visited Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In the Spring of 1979, NAUTILUS set out from Groton, Connecticut on her final voyage. She reached Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California on May 26, 1979, her last day underway. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1980 after a career spanning 25 years and almost half a million miles.
In recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power, NAUTILUS was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on May 20, 1982. Following an extensive historic ship conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, NAUTILUS was towed to Groton, Connecticut arriving on July 6, 1985.
On April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force, Historic Ship NAUTILUS and the Submarine Force Museum opened to the public as the First and Finest exhibit of its kind in the world, providing an exciting, visible link between yesterday's Submarine Force and the Submarine Force of tomorrow.