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Submarine Force

DASO off Cape Kennedy, Florida

"DASO off Cape Kennedy, Florida." An A-3 Polaris fired from USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624) on 15 October 1969, with USS Lowery (DD-770) and USS Observation Island (AG-154) in the background. Painting by James E. Mitchell (70-731-B).

Submarines have a long history in the United States, beginning with Turtle, during the American Revolution. The world’s first combat submarine, invented by David Bushnell, was devised as a means of breaking the British blockade of Boston Harbor but was unsuccessful on multiple attempts. The U.S. Navy officially joined the undersea world when it purchased USS Holland (SS-1) on 11 April 1900, and commissioned her on 12 October 1900. The boat, designed by John P. Holland, proved valuable for experimental purposes during her 10-year career.

Although submarines did not play a large part for the U.S. during World War I, submarines such as USS K-5 (Submarine No. 36), one of the first U.S. diesel-electric submarines, deployed to the Azores patrolling for German submarines. World War II was when the submarine force became the workhorse of the U.S. Navy. Assessments indicated that U.S. submarines sank 540,192 tons of Japanese naval vessels, and 4,779,902 tons of merchant shipping during the course of the war, accounting for 54.6 percent of all Japanese vessel losses.

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) — developed by Hyman G. Rickover — was the first nuclear-powered submarine, and the first submarine to cross the North Pole under the Arctic polar ice pack. USS George Washington (SSBN-598) made history on 20 July 1960, when she successfully launched the first Polaris from a submerged submarine. The Tomahawk land-attack missile was later developed, and was first used by, submarines in combat during Operation Desert Storm by USS Louisville (SSN-724) and USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720).

Today’s submarine force is the most capable force in the world and the history of the U.S. Navy. The composition of the current force consists of Los Angeles, Ohio, Seawolf, and Virginia-class submarines.


The Naval Undersea Museum and Submarine Force Museum
The Naval Undersea Museum collects, preserves, and interprets naval undersea history, science, and operations for the benefit of the U.S. Navy and the people of the United States. The Submarine Force Museum collects, preserves and interprets the history of the United States Naval Submarine Force in order to honor veterans and to educate naval personnel and the public in the heritage and traditions of the U.S. Submarine Force and its relationship to America’s freedom.


Video: The History of Submarines



Suggested Reading

Notable Submariners

Underwater Archaeology Sites and Projects

Art Exhibit

Selected Imagery

Photo #: NH 59 USS Holland (Submarine Torpedo Boat # 1)

USS Holland (SS-1) in dry dock soon after it entered U.S. Navy service, circa 1900 (NH 59).


USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, underway (K-20068).

USS Thresher (SSN-593)

USS Thresher (SSN-593) at sea, 24 July 1961 (NH 97545).

USS Triton (SSN-586)

USS Triton (SSN-586) underway in the Atlantic (USN 1122245).

USS Los Angeles (SSN-688)

USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) underway in the Atlantic during sea trials, 19 September 1976 (USN 1167880).

Photo #: NH 42273 USS Tang (SS-306)

USS Tang (SS-306) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 December 1943 (NH 42273).

Polaris Missile

The first firing of a Polaris missile from USS George Washington (SSBN-598) shot from beneath the surface, July 1960 (K-25571).

USS Skate (SSN-578)

USS Skate (SSN-578) surfaced at the North Pole, 1 April 1959 (USN 1040961).

USS Narwhal (SSN-671)

Nuclear-powered submarine Narwhal (SSN-671) underway prior to its commissioning in July 1969 (L45-195.01.01).

Christening of USS Houston (SSN-713)

Principals stand on the christening platform as Mrs. Barbara Bush, sponsor, prepared to christen the nuclear-powered-attack submarine USS Houston (SSN-713) during launch ceremonies, 21 March 1981, at Newport News, Virginia (K 130668).

Published: Mon Feb 12 10:25:32 EST 2024