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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND

Nautilus (SSN 571)

See also the I, II, III, Nautilus Showcase

A Greek derivative meaning sailor or ship; a tropical mollusk having a many chambered, spiral shell with a pearly interior; and the namesake of Jules Verne's submersible in his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

IV

(SSN-571: displacement 3,533 tons (surface); 4,092 tons (submerged); length 323'9"; beam 27'8"; draft 22'; speed 22 knots (Surface), 20+ knots (submerged); complement :105; armament: 6 torpedo tubes; class Nautilus)

The fourth Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine, was laid down 14 June 1952, President Harry S. Truman officiating, at the Electric Boat Co., Division of General Dynamics Corp., Groton, Connecticut; launched 21 January 1954; sponsored by Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, wife of President Eisenhower, and commissioned 30 September 1954, Comdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson in command.

Following commissioning Nautilus remained at dockside for further construction and testing until 17 January 1955. Then, at 1100, her lines were cast off and she was “underway on nuclear power.” Sea trials followed, including an overnight dive on 21-22 March with the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy in the wardroom for a hearing with Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, Assistant Chief to the Bureau of Ships for Nuclear Propulsion. After preliminary acceptance by the Navy on 22 April, the submarine headed south for shakedown on 10 May. She remained submerged while enroute to Puerto Rico, covering 1,381 miles in 89.8 hours, the longest submerged cruise, to that date, by a submarine, and at the highest sustained submerged speed ever recorded for a period of over one hour’s duration. In July and August, Nautilus conducted rigorous exercises with hunter-killer (HUK) groups in Narragansett Bay and off Bermuda. The submarine finished out the year conducting visits to east coast Navy bases, a battery of torpedo firing tests and Bureau of Ships standardization trials.

Over the next year, the submarine served as a test platform out of New London, Connecticut, investigating the effects of the radically increased submerged speed and endurance on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) practices. Such changes in submerged mobility virtually wiped out contemporary ASW techniques, as aircraft and surface radar, which helped defeat diesel-electric submersibles during World War II, proved ineffective against a submarine which did not need to surface, could dive deeper and could clear a search area in record time. In between exercises, Nautilus conducted press tours for such luminaries as Edward R. Murrow's "See it Now" program and hosted various distinguished visitors from the Navy and Congress.

On 4 February 1957, Nautilus logged her 60,000th nautical mile to bring to reality the achievements of her fictitious namesake in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It also marked another first for the boat, as the submarine put in to Electric Boat at Groton, Ct., to replace the nuclear fuel core in her Westinghouse Electric submarine thermal reactor. After completing the availability on 11 April, Nautilus operated with her sister boat Seawolf (SSN-575) off Bermuda before departing for the Pacific Coast on 15 May. There, the submarine participated in coastal exercises and fleet exercises designed to acquaint the units of the Pacific Fleet with the capabilities of nuclear submarines.

Nautilus returned to New London 21 July and departed again 19 August for her first voyage under the Arctic polar ice pack. The voyage, of some 1,383 miles, was of great strategic significance, as the frozen northern oceans had prevously been a "no mans' land" since diesel-electric boats could not travel freely under ice. The opening of the Arctic to U.S. Navy submarines allowed access to the previously protected waters of the Soviet Union, a not insignificant capability given the tense relationship between Moscow and Washington during the height of the Cold War.

From the Arctic, Nautilus headed for the eastern Atlantic to participate in NATO exercises off Norway and conduct a tour of various British and French ports where she was inspected by defense personnel of those countries, including Lord Louis Mountbatten, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and the engineers responsible for building HMS Dreadnought, the first British nuclear submarine then under construction. Nautilus arrived back at New London 28 October, underwent upkeep, and then conducted coastal operations until the spring.

On 25 April 1958 she was underway again for the West Coast. Stopping at San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, where the crew began their history making Polar transit, Operation “Sunshine,” departing the latter port 9 June. On 19 June the submarine entered the Chukchi Sea, but was turned back by deep draft ice in those shallow waters. On the 28th she arrived at Pearl Harbor to await better ice conditions. By 23 July her wait was over and Nautilus set a course northward. She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley 1 August and on 3 August, at 2315 (EDST) became the first ship to reach the geographic North Pole. From the North Pole, the boat continued on and after 96 hours and 1,830 miles under the ice, she surfaced northeast of Greenland, having completed the first successful voyage across the North Pole. Proceeding from Greenland to Portland, England, Nautilus received the Presidential Unit Citation, the first ever issued in peace time, from American Ambassador J. H. Whitney, and then set a westerly course which put her into the Thames River estuary at New London 29 August. After a short visit, the submarine sailed for home and spent the remainder of the year operating out of New London.

Following fleet exercises in early 1959, Nautilus entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, for her first complete overhaul (28 May 1959–15 August 1960). Repairs and modernization included the second replacement of the reactor core, overhaul of almost all machinery and new sensors and other equipment. This was followed by refresher training in September 1960 and on 24 October she departed New London for her first deployment with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. The tour was short, as it was designed to investigate how well nuclear submarines could operate in shallow waters, and she returned to her homeport 16 December after visiting Rota, Spain; Valleta, Malta; and La Spezia, Italy.

By the beginning of 1961, there were almost a dozen nuclear-powered submarines in service. Nautilus, the first of these boats, continued to focus on evaluation tests for ASW improvements and participating in various NATO exercises in the Atlantic. This pattern was broken only during the fall of 1962, when she participated in the naval quarantine of Cuba during the missile crisis. Finally, in August 1963, she headed east again for a two month Mediterranean tour before entering the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for her second boat overhaul on 17 January 1964, a task not complete until 27 months later, in late April 1966. The submarine returned to her homeport at New London to resume operations with the Atlantic Fleet on 2 May.

For the six months she conducted a special operations cruise for ComSubLant, as well as several fleet exercises. During one of the latter, Nautilus closed Essex (CVS-9) to conduct a simulated attack but rapid course changes by multiple ships resulted in a collission with the carrier, heavily damaging the submarines sail. Following repairs at Electric Boat, the submarine shifted back to new London on 15 February 1967. The rest of the spring and summer were spent conducting ASW exercises off the east coast. On 15 August, she again returned to Portsmouth for another year's refueling overhaul, before returning to New London on 12 December 1968.

The submarine spent most of the next two years in an extended upkeep and restricted availability status, carrying out independent submarine type training while intermittently tending to new equipment troubles. Nautilus also conducted half a dozen ASW exercises with other surface ships and submarines in the Narragansett Bay, Virginia Capes and Jacksonville operating areas. In October 1970, she also participated in ASW Exercise "Squeezeplay VI", an evaluation of the new AN/SQS-26 sonar system and the effectiveness of coordinated air, surface and submarine forces against an "opposing force" (i.e. Nautilus) of nuclear-powered enemy submarines. The submarine participated in three more iterations of those exercises in the spring and summer of 1971, as well as providing evaluation services for aircraft-mounted ASW systems, with a final role in Exercise "Squeezeplay XI" conducted in June 1972. She then entered the General Dynamics Shipyard at Groton for an overhaul on 15 August

After completing post-overhaul sea trials on 23 December 1974, Nautilus conducted an outstanding shakedown and refresher training cruise followed by Fleet Exercise "Agate Punch" in April. Success in both endeavors allowed the submarine her first Mediterranean deployment in a decade, with the boat visiting La Spezia, Italy, soon after her arrival there on 6 July 1975. The cruise took the submarine into the central Mediterranean and Ionian Sea, where she trained 6th Fleet units in ASW techniques, and then on to the North Atlantic. After participating in a special operation the warship returned home, returning to New London via Holy Loch, Scotland, on 20 December.

Following a holiday standown period, Nautilus began a year long series of West Indies cruises in the spring of 1976, conducting weapons certification tests, supporting special forces exercises and conducting equipment development evaluations for the Chief of Naval Operations. The following April, the submarine departed New London for another Mediterranean cruise, where she participated in "Dawn Patrol" and other NATO exercises. During the cruise she visited Lisbon, Portugal; Sousse, Tunisia; La Maddalena, Sardinia; and Taranto and Naples in Italy before returning to New London in September 1977.

Nautilus began 1978 slowly, with a six-week upkeep followed by a short dependents cruise in early March. Later that month, the submarine conducted a six-week oceanographic research deployment cruise, which included a port visit to Bermuda. After a summer of interim repair work to replace faulty hydrophones, the crew observed the twentieth anniversary of the historic polar voyage to the north pole on 3 August. This milestone was followed by another in December, when Nautilus logged her 500,000 mile on nuclear power.

On 9 April 1979, Nautilus departed Groton on her final voyage, steaming soth to the Panama Canal via Guantanamo Bay and Cartagena, Columbia. From there she cruised north and reached Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Ca., on 26 May -- her last day underway on nuclear power - to begin inactivation procedures. Nautilus decommissioned at Mare Island on 3 March 1980.

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 20 May 1982. Following an extensive historic ship conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the submarine was towed to Groton, Connecticut, arriving on 6 July 1985. There, on 11 April 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the establishment of the U.S. Submarine Force, historic ship Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum opened to the public as the first exhibit of its kind in the world. The unique museum ship continues to serve as a dramatic link in both Cold War-era history and the birth of the nuclear age.