Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Nautilus (SSN-571)


Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Albert Murray; 1959
USS Nautilus SSBN-571. Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Albert Murray; 1959. Click image to download.


Ship History

Nautilus (SSN-571) was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel and second submarine to bear the name. She was also the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine and the first submarine to cross the North Pole under the Arctic polar ice pack.

Nautilus was launched on 21 January 1954 by Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Groton, Connecticut. Following additional fitting-out and extensive tests, the submarine embarked on her shakedown cruise on 10 May 1955. Over the next several years, she underwent various types of testing and trials, and took part in the U.S. Navy’s development of new antisubmarine warfare (ASW) tactics — which had to be adapted to the advanced capabilities of Nautilus.

A combination of the Cold War’s quickly evolving intercontinental ballistic missile race and the surprise October 1957 Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite proved to be the decisive impetus behind Nautilus’ mission into polar waters. A successful submarine transit of the North Pole would serve to enhance U.S. defensive and offensive strategic options vis-à-vis the perceived Soviet threat. Thus, Nautilus departed Seattle on 9 June on “Operation Sunshine,” a fully submerged transit under the North Pole. However, this first attempt was blocked by drift ice in the relatively shallow waters of the arctic Chukchi Sea, and the submarine returned to Pearl Harbor. Her second attempt, begun on 23 July, proved successful. Nautilus submerged in the Barrow Sea on 1 August, transited the geographic North Pole on 3 August, and, after running submerged an additional 96 hours, surfaced off Greenland on 7 August. The commanding officer, Commander William R. Anderson, and the crew were subsequently personally congratulated by President Eisenhower and awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

Between 1958 and her 30 March 1980 decommissioning at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, Nautilus was mostly homeported in New London, Connecticut, where she was assigned to Submarine Squadron Ten. The submarine was frequently underway for deployments in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, but more significantly, Nautilus served as a testbed for improved sensor and communications systems. Nautilus was also frequently used as an “opposing force” (OPFOR) unit in Navy ASW training and exercises.

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, the submarine was towed to Groton, Connecticut, arriving on 6 July 1985. There, on 11 April 1986, 86 years to the day after the establishment of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force, historic ship Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum opened to the public as the first exhibit of its kind in the world.

This unique museum ship continues to serve as a dramatic link to both Cold War-era history and the birth of the nuclear age.


Additional Resources

USS Nautilus Christening Launches a Naval Warfare Revolution

USS Nautilus Crew Members Reflect on Launching Anniversary of the Navy’s First Nuclear Powered Submarine

Nuclear Navy and USS Nautilus Celebrate 60th Anniversary

Nautilus, Departing: Navy's First Nuclear-Powered Warship Sets Sail For Historic Overhaul

Historic Ship Nautilus Submarine Force Museum Promote STEM-H with Teacher Fellowship

U.S. Navy Submarine Force Icon, Vice Admiral Kenneth Carr, Remembered

Following in the Wake of USS Nautilus – a Renewed Focus on the Arctic



CNO, SECNAV and other distinguished guests help Naval Reactors celebrate the 60th anniversary of the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) first signaling "underway on nuclear power." 9 January 2015


Selected Imagery (click image to download)

UA 475.05 USS Nautilus (SSN-571) Collection
Christening of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), by Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Groton, Connecticut, 21 January 1954 (UA 475.05).

VADM Charles A. Lockwood, USN (Ret.) and FADM Chester Nimitz are shown at the periscope of Nautilus (SSN-571) while underway on their first cruise on board a nuclear submarine,  1957.
VADM Charles A. Lockwood, USN (Ret.) and FADM Chester Nimitz are shown at the periscope of Nautilus (SSN-571) while underway on their first cruise on board a nuclear submarine, 1957. (NH 62056)

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) at sea, November 1955. (80-G-K-18864)

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) underway at sea, June 1965. (K-30256)

"Nautilus cover"
"Nautilus cover" autographed by President, Vice President, postmaster, commanding officer, and executive officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), and carried aboard her during launch, January 1954. (NH 72808)

Commander William R. Anderson, USN
Commander William R. Anderson, USN, of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), briefs the ship's officers on ice conditions along her transpolar route, August 1958. (USN 1036973)

Presidential Unit Citation for USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571), 1958
Presidential Unit Citation awarded to USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in connection with conducting the first underwater crossing of the Arctic ice cap from the Bering Sea to the Greenland Sea during the period from 22 July 1958 to 5 August 1958. (NH 115433)

USS Nautilus (SSN-571). Undated artwork by John Landry. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 72609-KN (Color).
USS Nautilus (SSN-571). Undated artwork by John Landry. (NH 72609-KN)

“On the Way at Groton, Connecticut, Electric Boat Company," gift of the sponsor, Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower. (NH 93401-KN)

USS Nautilus (SSN-571). (K-20068)

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) moves out of harbor during her shakedown, May 1955. (80-G-K-18450)

View of Fairway Rock
View of Fairway Rock in the Bering Sea, as seen through the periscope of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), proceeding to the North Pole, 12 August 1958. (USN 1037069)

Commander William R. Anderson, USN
Commanding officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571) keeps constant watch as the sub proceeds on the first under-ice transpolar voyage. (USN 1037178)

Commander William R. Anderson, USN
Commander William R. Anderson, USN, commanding officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), on the bridge during a period of low visibility as the submarine prepares to pass under the North Pole, August 1958. (USN 1037145)

Commander William R. Anderson, USN
Commander William R. Anderson, USN, commanding officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and Dr. Waldo Lyon, senior scientist, observe the thickness of the overhead ice by watching the recordings in the attack center, August 1958. (USN 1037825)

Congratulatory Message to USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571)
Congratulatory message, 6 August 1958, from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the officers and men of USS Nautilus (SSN-571) on being the first the first to pass under the ice cap of the North Pole. (NH 115432)

Published: Mon Nov 04 11:01:03 EST 2019