USS Nautilus (SSN-571)

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Nautilus (SSN 571) Groton CT 2002 May 08.jpg
The retired U.S.S. Nautilus heads home on 8 May 2002, after preservation by the Electric Boat Division
Flag of the United States.svgUnited States
Name: USS Nautilus
Namesake: Captain Nemo's "Nautilus" submarine
Awarded: 2 August 1951
Builder: General Dynamics
Laid down: 14 June 1952
Launched: 21 January 1954
Sponsored by: Mamie Eisenhower (First Lady of the United States)
Completed: 22 April 1955
Commissioned: 30 September 1954
Decommissioned: 3 March 1980
Struck: 3 March 1980
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Nuclear submarine
  • 3,533 tons surface
  • 4,092 tons submerged [1]
Length: 320 ft (98 m)
Beam: 28 ft (8.5 m)
Draft: 26 ft (7.9 m)
Installed power: 13,400 hp (10,000 kW) [2]
Propulsion: STR nuclear reactor (later redesignated S2W), geared steam turbines, two shafts
Speed: 23 kn (43 km/h; 26 mph) [3]
Complement: 13 officers, 92 enlisted
Armament: 6 torpedo tubes
U.S.S. Nautilus (Nuclear Submarine)
USS Nautilus SSN571.JPG
USS Nautilus docked at the Submarine Force Library and Museum
USA Connecticut location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location Groton, Connecticut
Built1952-1955, (commissioned 1954)
Architect General Dynamics Corporation
Architectural styleOther
NRHP reference # 79002653
Significant dates
Added to NRHP16 May 1979 [4]
Designated NHL20 May 1982 [5]

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine and the first submarine to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole on 3 August 1958. Her initial commanding officer was "Dennis" Wilkinson, a widely respected naval officer who set the stage for many of the protocols of today's Nuclear Navy, and had a storied career during military service and afterwards. [6]

North Pole Northern point where the Earths axis of rotation intersects its surface

The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is defined as the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface.

Eugene Parks Wilkinson United States Vice Admiral

Eugene Parks "Dennis" Wilkinson was a United States Navy officer. He was selected for three historic command assignments. The first, in 1954, was as the first commanding officer of the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. The second was as the first commanding officer of the USS Long Beach, America's first nuclear surface ship. The third was in 1980 when he was chosen as the first President and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) from which he retired in 1984.


Sharing names with Captain Nemo's fictional submarine in Jules Verne's classic 1870 science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , and named after another USS Nautilus (SS-168) that served with distinction in World War II, the new nuclear powered Nautilus was authorized in 1951, with laying down for construction in 1952 and launched in January 1954, attended by Mamie Eisenhower, First Lady of the United States, wife of 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and commissioned the following September into the United States Navy. Final construction was completed in 1955.

Captain Nemo Character created by Jules Verne

Captain Nemo is a fictional character created by the French science fiction author Jules Verne (1828–1905). Nemo appears in two of Verne's novels, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874), and makes a cameo appearance in Verne's play Journey Through the Impossible (1882).

Jules Verne French novelist, poet and playwright

Jules Gabriel Verne was a French novelist, poet, and playwright.

<i>Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea</i> A classic science fiction adventure novel by French writer Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World is a classic science fiction adventure novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870.

Because her nuclear propulsion allowed her to remain submerged far longer than diesel-electric submarines, she broke many records in her first years of operation, and traveled to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines. In operation, she revealed a number of limitations in her design and construction. This information was used to improve subsequent submarines.

Nuclear propulsion propulsion methods that use a nuclear reaction as the primary power source

Nuclear propulsion includes a wide variety of propulsion methods that fulfill the promise of the Atomic Age by using some form of nuclear reaction as their primary power source. The idea of using nuclear material for propulsion dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1903 it was hypothesised that radioactive material, radium, might be a suitable fuel for engines to propel cars, boats, and planes. H. G. Wells picked up this idea in his 1914 fiction work The World Set Free.

Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. The submarine has been preserved as a museum ship at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, where the vessel receives around 250,000 visitors per year.

National Historic Landmark formal designation assigned by the United States federal government to historic buildings and sites in the United States

A National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a building, district, object, site, or structure that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. Of over 90,000 places listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places, only some 2,500 are recognized as National Historic Landmarks.

A museum ship, also called a memorial ship, is a ship that has been preserved and converted into a museum open to the public for educational or memorial purposes. Some are also used for training and recruitment purposes, mostly for the small number of museum ships that are still operational and thus capable of regular movement.

Submarine Force Library and Museum Military museum in Connecticut, United States

The United States Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum, located on the Thames River near Groton, Connecticut, United States, is the only submarine museum managed exclusively by the Naval History & Heritage Command division of the U.S. Navy, which makes it a repository for many special submarine items of national significance, including USS Nautilus (SSN-571).

Planning and construction

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover aboard the Nautilus Hyman Rickover inspecting USS Nautilus.jpg
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover aboard the Nautilus
Launching Nautilus Nautiluscore.jpg
Launching Nautilus

In July 1951 the United States Congress authorized the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine for the U.S. Navy, which was planned and personally supervised by Captain (later Admiral) Hyman G. Rickover, USN, known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy." [7] On 12 December 1951 the US Department of the Navy announced that the submarine would be called Nautilus, the fourth U.S. Navy vessel officially so named. The boat carried the hull number SSN-571. [1] She benefited from the GUPPY improvements to the American Gato-, Balao-, and Tench-class submarines.[ citation needed ]

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the Federal Government of the United States, and consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election, though vacancies in the Senate may be filled by a gubernatorial appointment. Congress has 535 voting members: 435 representatives and 100 senators. The House of Representatives has six non-voting members representing Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia in addition to its 435 voting members. Although they cannot vote in the full house, these members can address the house, sit and vote in congressional committees, and introduce legislation.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

Hyman G. Rickover US Navy admiral

Hyman G. Rickover was an Admiral in the U.S. Navy. He directed the original development of naval nuclear propulsion and controlled its operations for three decades as director of the U.S. Naval Reactors office. In addition, he oversaw the development of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the world's first commercial pressurized water reactor used for generating electricity.

Nautilus's reactor core prototype at the S1W facility in Idaho Nautilus core.jpg
Nautilus's reactor core prototype at the S1W facility in Idaho

Nautilus's keel was laid at General Dynamics' Electric Boat Division in Groton, Connecticut by Harry S. Truman on 14 June 1952. [8] She was christened on 21 January 1954 and launched into the Thames River, sponsored by Mamie Eisenhower. Nautilus was commissioned on 30 September 1954, under the command of Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, USN. [1]

Keel Lower centreline structural element of a ship or boat hull

On boats and ships, the keel is either of two parts: a structural element that sometimes resembles a fin and protrudes below a boat along the central line, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap. As the laying down of the keel is the initial step in the construction of a ship, in British and American shipbuilding traditions the construction is dated from this event. Only the ship's launching is considered more significant in its creation.

General Dynamics Corporation (GD) is an American aerospace and defense multinational corporation formed by mergers and divestitures. It is the world's fifth-largest defense contractor based on 2012 revenues. The company ranked No. 99 in the 2018 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. It is headquartered in West Falls Church, Fairfax County, Virginia.

Groton, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

Groton is a town in New London County, Connecticut located on the Thames River. It is the home of General Dynamics Electric Boat, which is the major contractor for submarine work for the United States Navy. The Naval Submarine Base New London is located in Groton, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer is also a major employer. Avery Point in Groton is home to a regional campus of the University of Connecticut. The population was 40,115 at the 2010 census.

Nautilus was powered by the Submarine Thermal Reactor (STR), later redesignated the S2W reactor, a pressurized water reactor produced for the US Navy by Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, operated by Westinghouse, developed the basic reactor plant design used in Nautilus after being given the assignment on 31 December 1947 to design a nuclear power plant for a submarine. [9] Nuclear power had the crucial advantage in submarine propulsion because it is a zero-emission process that consumes no air. This design is the basis for nearly all of the US nuclear-powered submarine and surface combat ships, and was adapted by other countries for naval nuclear propulsion. The first actual prototype (for Nautilus) was constructed and tested by the Argonne National Laboratory in 1953 at the S1W facility, part of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho. [10] [11]

Nautilus' ship's patch was designed by The Walt Disney Company, and her wardroom currently displays a set of tableware made of zirconium, as the reactor core was partly made of zirconium.

"Underway on nuclear power"

Following her commissioning, Nautilus remained dockside for further construction and testing. On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 11 am EST, Nautilus' first Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the memorable and historic message, "Underway On Nuclear Power." [12] On 10 May, she headed south for shakedown. Submerged throughout, she traveled 1,100 nautical mile s (2,000  km ; 1,300  mi ) from New London to San Juan, Puerto Rico and covered 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) 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.

USS Nautilus during its initial sea trials, 20 January 1955 SS-571-Nautilus-trials.gif
USS Nautilus during its initial sea trials, 20 January 1955

From 1955 to 1957, Nautilus continued to be used to investigate the effects of increased submerged speeds and endurance. The improvements rendered the progress made in anti-submarine warfare during World War II virtually obsolete. Radar and anti-submarine aircraft, which had proved crucial in defeating submarines during the war, proved ineffective against a vessel able to move quickly out of an area, change depth quickly and stay submerged for very long periods. [13]

On 4 February 1957, Nautilus logged her 60,000th nautical mile (110,000 km; 69,000 mi), matching the endurance of her namesake, the fictional Nautilus described in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. [14] In May, she departed for the Pacific Coast to participate in coastal exercises and the fleet exercise, operation "Home Run," which acquainted units of the Pacific Fleet with the capabilities of nuclear submarines.

Nautilus passes under the George Washington Bridge during a visit to New York Harbor in 1956 GWBridgeUSSNautilus.agr.jpg
Nautilus passes under the George Washington Bridge during a visit to New York Harbor in 1956

Nautilus returned to New London, Connecticut, on 21 July and departed again on 19 August for her first voyage of 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) under polar pack ice. Thereafter, she headed for the Eastern Atlantic to participate in NATO exercises and conduct a tour of various British and French ports where she was inspected by defense personnel of those countries. She arrived back at New London on 28 October, underwent upkeep, and then conducted coastal operations until the spring.

Operation Sunshine – under the North Pole

In response to the nuclear ICBM threat posed by Sputnik, President Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Navy to attempt a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for the soon-to-come SLBM weapons system. [15] On 25 April 1958, Nautilus was underway again for the West Coast, now commanded by Commander William R. Anderson, USN. Stopping at San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, she began her history-making polar transit, Operation "Sunshine", as she departed the latter port on 9 June. On 19 June she entered the Chukchi Sea, but was turned back by deep drift ice in those shallow waters. On 28 June she arrived at Pearl Harbor to await better ice conditions.

By 23 July 1958 her wait was over, and she set a course northward. [16] She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley on 1 August and on 3 August, at 2315 (EDT) she became the first watercraft to reach the geographic North Pole. [17] The ability to navigate at extreme latitudes and without surfacing was enabled by the technology of the North American Aviation N6A-1 Inertial Navigation System, a naval modification of the N6A used in the Navaho cruise missile; it had been installed on Nautilus and Skate after initial sea trials on USS Compass Island in 1957. [18] From the North Pole, she continued on and after 96 hours and 1,590 nautical miles (2,940 km; 1,830 mi) under the ice, surfaced northeast of Greenland, having completed the first successful submerged voyage around the North Pole. The technical details of this mission were planned by scientists from the Naval Electronics Laboratory including Dr. Waldo Lyon who accompanied Nautilus as chief scientist and ice pilot.

Navigator's report: Nautilus, 90degN, 19:15U, 3 August 1958, zero to North Pole. Nautilus 90N Record.png
Navigator's report: Nautilus, 90°N, 19:15U, 3 August 1958, zero to North Pole.

Navigation beneath the arctic ice sheet was difficult. Above 85°N both magnetic compasses and normal gyrocompasses become inaccurate. A special gyrocompass built by Sperry Rand was installed shortly before the journey. There was a risk that the submarine would become disoriented beneath the ice and that the crew would have to play "longitude roulette". Commander Anderson had considered using torpedoes to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to surface. [19]

The most difficult part of the journey was in the Bering Strait. The ice extended as much as 60 feet (18 m) below sea level. During the initial attempt to go through the Bering Strait, there was insufficient room between the ice and the sea bottom. During the second, successful attempt to pass through the Bering passage, the submarine passed through a known channel close to Alaska (this was not the first choice, as the submarine wanted to avoid detection).

The trip beneath the ice cap was an important boost to America as the Soviets had recently launched Sputnik, but had no nuclear submarine of their own. During the address announcing the journey, the president mentioned that one day nuclear cargo submarines might use that route for trade. [20]

As Nautilus proceeded south from Greenland, a helicopter airlifted Commander Anderson to connect with transport to Washington, D.C. At a White House ceremony on 8 August, President Eisenhower presented him with the Legion of Merit and announced that the crew had earned a Presidential Unit Citation. [21]

At her next port of call, the Isle of Portland, England, she received the Unit Citation, the first ever issued in peace time, from American Ambassador JH Whitney, and then crossed the Atlantic reaching New London, Connecticut on 29 October. For the remainder of the year Nautilus operated from her home port of New London.

Operational history

USS Nautilus, c. 1965 USS Nautilus SSN-571 - 0857101.jpg
USS Nautilus, c.1965
USS Nautilus (SSN-571) profile SSN571.svg
USS Nautilus (SSN-571) profile

Following fleet exercises in early 1959, Nautilus entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for her first complete overhaul (28 May 1959 – 15 August 1960). Overhaul was followed by refresher training and on 24 October she departed New London for her first deployment with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, returning to her home-port 16 December.

Nautilus spent most of her career assigned to Submarine Squadron 10 (SUBRON 10) at State Pier in New London, Connecticut. Nautilus and other submarines in the squadron made their home tied up alongside the tender, where they received preventive maintenance and, if necessary, repairs, from the well-equipped submarine tender USS Fulton (AS-11) and her crew of machinists, millwrights, and other craftsmen.

Nautilus operated in the Atlantic, conducting evaluation tests for ASW improvements, participating in NATO exercises and, during October 1962, in the naval quarantine of Cuba, until she headed east again for a two-month Mediterranean tour in August 1963. On her return she joined in fleet exercises until entering the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for her second overhaul 17 January 1964.

On 2 May 1966, Nautilus returned to her homeport to resume operations with the Atlantic Fleet, and at some point around that month, logged her 300,000th nautical mile (560,000 km; 350,000 mi) underway. For the next year and a quarter she conducted special operations for ComSubLant and then in August 1967, returned to Portsmouth, for another year's stay. During an exercise in 1966 she collided with the aircraft carrier USS Essex on 10 November, while diving shallow. [22] Following repairs in Portsmouth she conducted exercises off the southeastern seaboard. She returned to New London in December 1968 and operated as a unit of Submarine Squadron 10 for most of the remainder of her career.

On 9 April 1979, Nautilus set out from Groton, Connecticut on her final voyage under the command of Richard A. Riddell. [23] She reached Mare Island Naval Shipyard of Vallejo, California on 26 May 1979, her last day underway. She was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 3 March 1980. [24]


Toward the end of her service, the hull and sail of Nautilus vibrated sufficiently that sonar became ineffective at more than 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) speed. [25] As noise generation is extremely undesirable in submarines, this made the vessel vulnerable to detection. Lessons learned from this problem were applied to later nuclear submarines. [26]

Awards and commendations

Puc-nautilus1.JPG National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Presidential Unit Citation
with Operation Sunshine clasp
National Defense
Service Medal

Presidential Unit Citation

For outstanding achievement in completing the first voyage in history across the top of the world, by cruising under the Arctic ice cap from the Bering Strait to the Greenland Sea.

During the period 22 July 1958 to 5 August 1958, USS Nautilus, the world's first atomic powered ship, added to her list of historic achievements by crossing the Arctic Ocean from the Bering Sea to the Greenland Sea, passing submerged beneath the geographic North Pole. This voyage opens the possibility of a new commercial seaway, a Northwest Passage, between the major oceans of the world. Nuclear-powered cargo submarines may, in the future, use this route to the advantage of world trade.

The skill, professional competency and courage of the officers and crew of Nautilus were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States and the pioneering spirit which has always characterized our country. [27]

To commemorate the first submerged voyage under the North Pole, all Nautilus crewmembers who made the voyage may wear a Presidential Unit Citation ribbon with a special clasp in the form of a gold block letter N (image above). [28]


Nautilus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of the Interior on 20 May 1982. [5] [29]

She was named as the official state ship of Connecticut in 1983. [30] Following an extensive conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Nautilus was towed back to Groton, under the command of Captain John Almon, arriving on 6 July 1985. On 11 April 1986, Nautilus opened to the public as part of the Submarine Force Library and Museum. [17]

Nautilus now serves as a museum of submarine history operated by the Naval History and Heritage Command. The ship underwent a five-month preservation in 2002 at Electric Boat, at a cost of approximately $4.7 million. Nautilus attracts some 250,000 visitors annually to her present berth near Naval Submarine Base New London.

Nautilus celebrated the 50th anniversary of her commissioning on 30 September 2004 with a ceremony that included a speech from Vice Admiral Eugene P. Wilkinson, her first Commanding Officer, and a designation of the ship as an American Nuclear Society National Nuclear Landmark.

Visitors may tour the forward two compartments, with guidance from an automated system. Despite similar alterations to exhibit the engineering spaces, tours aft of the control room are not permitted due to safety and security concerns.

See also

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  25. "Riddell lecture 2004".
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  28. "Navy Presidential Unit Citation". 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
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  30. "State of Connecticut, Sites, Seals, Symbols". Connecticut State Register & Manual. Archived from the original on 20 January 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2007.

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Coordinates: 41°23′13″N72°05′17″W / 41.387°N 72.088°W / 41.387; -72.088