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The Story of Submarine

From the end of World War II in 1945 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War dominated international affairs. It was a global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the Cold War was sometimes fought on the battlefield, it involved everything from political rhetoric to sports. Overshadowing all was the threat of nuclear war.

United States
adopted a policy of deterrence. It threatened any would-be attacker with nuclear annihilation. To make the threat credible, the United States developed what came to be called the "Strategic Triad" of nuclear forces—long-range bombers, land-based missiles, and submarines. Each force independently could inflict catastrophic damage and devastating casualties on an enemy.

As the least vulnerable leg of the Triad, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines played a major Cold War role. This exhibition reviews the early history of submarines and their radical transformation after World War II. It shows how submarines are built, how they work, and what they do. It also tells the story of submariners and their families, Americans on the front lines of the Cold War.
During the 1950s, the U.S. Navy developed two major types of nuclear-powered submarine, fast attacks and boomers. The smaller model is a typical fast attack submarine. The real fast attack is a fish-shaped cylinder 360 feet long—exactly the same length as a football field with end zones included—and roughly 33 feet in diameter. Although they have a variety of missions, the main purpose of fast attacks is to locate and track enemy submarines. Both fast attacks and boomers have streamlined superstructures called sails; they hold a pair of horizontal diving planes and enclose the radar masts, radio antennas, and periscopes. The larger model is a typical boomer, or fleet ballistic missile submarine. In life it is 560 feet long—about the same length as this museum—with an oval cross-section, 42 feet from deck to keel and 35.5 feet abeam. Ready to launch their nuclear missiles against the enemy's homeland, boomers deter attack on the United States and its allies.
Submarines have a long history before the Cold War began in the 1940s. The first American example was built during the Revolution, and the first successful sinking of a surface vessel by a submarine dates to the Civil War. However, the development of the nuclear-powered submarine in the 1950s by the United States and its incorporation into the strategic triad of defensive weapons altered global politics significantly, and its presence in the world's waters remains a powerful deterrent to nuclear warfare today.
American attempts to develop underwater boats achieved some success during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Unfortunately, such boats usually proved more dangerous to their crews than their targets. Only in the 1890s did John Holland and SimonLake develop practical submersible boats. The U.S. Navy purchased its first submarine from Holland on 11 April 1900, the traditional birthday of the U.S. Submarine Force.
Quickly adopted by nations throughout the world, improved submarines influenced the course of both world wars, though they remained essentially surface ships able to hide only temporarily under water. During World War II, the U.S. force of large, fast, long-range fleet submarines played a major role in winning the Pacific war by sinking so much Japanese shipping.
In the ten years after the war, a series of technological innovations, culminating in nuclear propulsion, transformed the submarine into a true underwater boat, faster beneath the surface than above and able to remain submerged indefinitely.
The idea of approaching an enemy ship unobserved beneath the water's surface and attacking from below has a long history. American efforts to develop such machines began during the Revolutionary War and continued intermittently without much success for more than a century.
Late in the nineteenth century, after many years of experiment, John Holland produced the first practical submarine, his sixth boat, the Holland VI. Purchased by the U.S. Navy, it joined the fleet in 1900 as the USS Holland (SS-1).
With few exceptions, U.S. submarines ever since have been numbered sequentially according to when construction began. The number is attached to a letter code for the type of submarine. The most common letter codes are SS for diesel-electric submarine, SSN for nuclear-powered attack submarine (nicknamed "fast attack"), and SSBN for nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (nicknamed "boomer").

Horace L. Hunley, a Mobile, Alabama, commodities broker, who financed the Confederate submarine that carried out history's first successful torpedo attack.

On 11 April 1900, the U.S. Navy purchased its first submarine, the Holland, for $150,000 from the new Electric Boat Company. After a series of trials in 1900-1901, she spent the rest of her service life (until 1905) as a training boat at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
Holland was a 54-foot (16-m) long cylinder with a diameter of 10.5 feet (3.2 m) and a displacement of 74 tons. The standard way of stating a floating ship's size is by the tons of seawater she displaces. In this context, a ton equals the weight of 35 cubic feet (1 cu. m) of seawater, or 2,240 pounds (1,000 kg). A 4-cylinder, 45-horsepower gasoline engine gave Holland a surface speed of 8 knots (15 km/hr); underwater, a battery-powered, 160-horsepower electric motor drove her at 5 knots (9 km/hr). She carried three self-propelled torpedoes.
SimonLake had his Argonaut I built in a Baltimore, Maryland, dry dock. Launched in 1897, her most conspicuous feature was the large retractable wheels intended to enable her to creep along the sea floor, but she proved seaworthy as well. Powered by a 30-horsepower gasoline engine that drew air from the surface through a pair of tubes, the Argonaut I sailed more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km), including an open-sea excursion from Cape May to Sandy Hook during a storm that sank 100 other ships. The feat brought a congratulatory letter from Jules Verne, the world-famous author of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1873). Reading that book as a youth had first aroused Lake's interest in submarines.
Submarine development in the United States during the early 20th century focused on coastal defense. Only when World War I broke out in Europe did Americans realize how far behind they had fallen in submarine design. An extensive building program culminated in the S-class boats, which formed the backbone of the submarine force through the 1920s and early 1930s.
A submarine class is a series of boats built to the same basic plan; the name of the first submarine in a class usually becomes the name of the class as well. From 1911 to 1924, U.S. submarines had only numbers, not individual names, so classes were designated by letter.
During the 1930s, the U.S. Navy developed long-range fleet submarines powered by diesel engines and electric drive. They were designed for speeds high enough to match the surface fleet in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean. The same speed and range that made them vital adjuncts to the fleet proved equally valuable for attacking the Japanese merchant marine in World War II.
During the Second World War, submarines comprised less than 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, but sank over 30 percent of Japan's navy, including eight aircraft carriers. More important, American submarines contributed to the virtual strangling of the Japanese economy by sinking almost five million tons of shipping—over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant marine. Victory at sea did not come cheaply. The Submarine Force lost 52 boats and 3,506 men.
USS Gato (SS-212), launched 21 August 1941, was the first of 54 submarines in her class. Gato-class boats carried the brunt of the U.S. submarine war early in World War II. Later in the war they were joined by the 122 boats of the similar Balao-class; the main difference was a thicker pressure hull for increased operating depth.
World War II submarines were basically surface ships that could travel underwater for a limited time. Diesel engines gave them high surface speed and long range, but speed and range were severely reduced underwater, where they relied on electric motors powered by relatively short-lived storage batteries. Recharging the storage batteries meant surfacing to run the air-breathing diesels. Even combat patrols routinely involved 90 percent (or more) surface operations.
Model of the USS Balao (SS-285) Fleet Submarine
Commissioned in February 1943, USS Balao carried 10 officers and 70 enlisted men in a hull 312 feet (95 m) long that displaced 2,415 tons submerged. Her armament included deck guns and 24 torpedoes. On the surface, powered by four diesel engines, the Balao had a top speed just over 20 knots (37 km/hr); cruising at 10 knots (18 km/hr) her range was 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km). Two 126-cell battery groups gave her a submerged top speed of 8.75 knots (16.2 km/hr); holding her speed to 2 knots (4 km/hr), she could remain submerged for 48 hours.
Between 1945 and 1955, the submarine was transformed from a fast surface ship that could hide briefly underwater into a true underwater boat, able to move and fight for weeks on end without ever surfacing. The process began with German U-boats captured by the Allies at the end of World War II. Displaying a number of advanced features that greatly enhanced underwater speed and endurance, such as highly streamlined hulls and snorkels, these boats inspired new thinking in every major navy.
In the United States, the first step was upgrading existing submarines in a program called Guppy (greater underwater propulsive power). New hull designs followed, emphasizing better underwater performance. Nuclear propulsion was the final stage in creating the true submarine. The world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), went to sea in January 1955.
Tiru was completed as a Guppy II in 1948, then refitted as a Guppy III in 1959. She remained in service until 1975.
Guppy (greater underwater propulsive power), a U.S. Navy program to upgrade the underwater speed and endurance of existing boats, was stimulated by studies of captured German Type XXI submarines. The program included three major phases. Guppy I, essentially experimental, involved only two boats. They both became part of the main program, Guppy II, which converted 24 boats during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The key features were extensive streamlining, more batteries, and a snorkel air-breathing system. Beginning in 1959, nine of the Guppy IIs underwent refitting as Guppy IIIs with lengthened hulls to accommodate new sonar and electronics.
USS Nautilus was the first nuclear-powered submarine. Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut—the same company that had sold the U.S. Navy its first submarine in 1900—laid her keel 14 June 1952. She was launched 18 months later and commissioned in September 1954.
Although Nautilus was a large boat for her time—323 feet (98 m) long and displacing 4,092 tons submerged, with a crew of 104—she was also fast. The newly developed S2W (Submarine, Model 2, Westinghouse) pressurized-water nuclear reactor provided her power both on the surface, where her top speed was 22 knots (41 km/hr), and underwater, where she could do 23 knots (42 km/hr).
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover is seated behind Senator Clinton P. Anderson, chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, at the controls of USS Skipjack (SSN-585) shortly before her 1959 commissioning. Rickover made a practice of personally riding each nuclear-powered submarine during her trials, to underline publicly his confidence in the nuclear-powered submarine design principles he espoused: simplicity, reliability, and, above all, safety.
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1922, Rickover went to sea for several years before earning a 1929 master's degree in electrical engineering from ColumbiaUniversity. During World War II, he served effectively as head of the Bureau of Ships electrical section. Rickover became the driving force in the U.S. Navy's nuclear propulsion program, against sometimesstrenuous opposition. He retired after 63 years of active
The snorkel has become a standard fixture of all diesel-electric submarines. Developed in its modern form by Germany in World War II, it was widely adopted and improved after the war. Basically, the snorkel connects a submerged submarine's diesels to the atmosphere through a pair of tubes, one for air intake, one for exhaust. A key feature is the head-valve on top of the air-intake mast that prevents water from entering. Before the snorkel, submarines had to surface to run their air-breathing diesel engines, but snorkel-equipped submarines can remain submerged, with only the tip of a mast exposed above the water for the required air.
The brain of a submarine is its attack center. Into this critical location flow data from the boat's sensors and status reports for evaluation; from it issue the commands that direct the submarine and its weapons. The commanding officer normally stands near the periscopes, one of which is purely optical, while the other includes electronics that allow it to function as a video camera. The commanding officer's orders are relayed to sailors seated at the twin wheels of the ship control station, watching depth gauges and other indicators as they adjust the submarine's depth and heading. Other sailors man the fire control system for launching torpedoes and steering them toward their
Two crewmen—called planesmen—sit at the ship control station, where they use hand wheels to adjust the planes and rudder that direct the vertical and horizontal movement of the submarine. The inboard, or near, planesman commonly operates the horizontal, wing-like planes on the boat's bow or sail, steering the boat up or down. He also handles the vertical rudder at the stern of the ship, which controls turning to left and right. The outboard, or far, planesman controls the angle of the submarine through the horizontal planes at the stern. Normally seated behind the planesmen is their supervisor, the diving officer of the watch.d in
Ballast on a submarine is essentially weight, in the form of water, which controls the depth and trim (angle) of the boat. Filling the main ballast tanks at the bow and stern of the boat with water allows the submarine to surface or dive. Pumping water between variable ballast tanks along the submarine's hull, along with the planes, controls the water depth once the boat is submerged. To bring the boat to the surface, compressed air blows the water from the ballast tanks.
Controlling the precise depth near or below the water surface is one of the most critical operations on a submarine. Proper depth control allows a submarine to remain exactly deep enough for periscope viewing, avoid obstacles (especially in polar operations), hide from enemies, or dive quickly to avoid interception.
The red, yellow, and green boxes over the ballast control panel are the ship's alarms. Whenever major events take place on a submarine, such as diving, surfacing, or battle stations, the officer of the deck broadcasts orders from the attack center over loudspeakers throughout the boat. The alarm specific to that activity is then sounded, followed by the order repeated. Only then does the activity take place, ensuring that every crewman is aware of the change in the boat's status.
Conn Central Display Panel This panel displays information that helps the commanding officer (or officer of the deck) to understand the tactical situation of the submerged submarine; it also holds the means of communicating his orders to the crew. The major displays and controls are the: (1) selectable sonar displays from the sonar room (upper left); (2) under-ice sonar display (upper middle); (3) time bearing plot/maneuvering display (upper right); (4) ship's course indicator (middle); (5) underwater communications control system (lower right); (6) internal ship communications controls (middle and lower right); and (7) emergency sound powered phone system (lower left).
Damage Control Bills Bills are checklists outlining proper procedures for most submarine activities and operations. They are bound into notebooks and conspicuously mounted in all of the boat's compartments for quick and easy reference. If a flooding alarm is sounded, for example, a crewman reaches for the damage control bill, which will outline the steps necessary to deal with the emergency in that particular area of the boat.
The emergency blow activator The emergency blow activator, or "chicken switch," is located at the ballast control panel in the submarine's attack center. Used as a last resort in emergency situations, it can be activated only by the chief of the watch. Throwing the switch immediately blasts large volumes of compressed air into all of a submarine's ballast tanks, bringing the boat to the surface as quickly as possible.
The Electronic Surveillance Receiver The electronic surveillance equipment, located in the periscope stand, detects and analyzes electromagnetic radiation, such as radar. The system's antenna is integrated with the periscope; raising the periscope activates the electronic surveillance system.
Periscopes are optical instruments that can afford submariners a limited though vital visual picture outside their windowless hull. Traditionally, periscopes offered the submerged submarine its only glimpse of the outside world. Movies have also made them the submarine's most familiar feature.
Periscopes are still useful, despite the sonar and electronic sensors of modern submarines. They can also be fitted with video cameras or other means of collecting permanent data. But operating at periscope depth, just beneath the surface, submarines are relatively easy to detect. To prevent detection, periscopes are used as infrequently and briefly as possible.
Search Periscope and Electro-Optical Periscope
Shown here are the two periscopes normally mounted in a fast attack: a Type 2 (attack) optical scope to the left, a Type 18 search scope with video recording capability to the right.
Navigation is another requirement that may bring submarines to periscope depth. The U.S. Navy developed the ships inertial navigation system (SINS), which allows a submarine to navigate underwater by keeping track of its relative motion from a known starting point. In practice, errors accumulate, requiring the submarine to approach the surface for periodic updates from external sources at periscope depth.
Until the early 1980s, updates were provided by loran shore stations. Loran is an acronym for long-range radio navigation. Loran has now been replaced by the global positioning system (GPS), a space-based navigational network with ground control and data processing stations. All 24 satellites, the first of which was launched in 1978, are in one of three polar orbits at an altitude of 11,000 miles (18,370 km).
Sonar The primary source of information about the world outside the hull of a submerged submarine is sound, detected by instruments and translated into visual data by computers. Sonar—an acronym for sound navigation and ranging—allows submariners to locate and track their targets, identify potential threats, and determine their own position. The sonar dome, a spherical array of several hundred sound detectors (hydrophones) mounted near the bow, is often supplemented (for improved accuracy) by a towed array—a series of hydrophones mounted on a cable towed behind the submarine.
Active sonar bounces sound waves off the target and detects the reflected echoes; it is rarely used because it can also easily be detected by the target. Passive sonar detects sounds generated by the target, such as clanking machinery or noisy propellers. Sonar can be used at any depth. All other means of observation and communication are more dangerous because they require bringing the submarine up to periscope depth. Visual observation, radio communication, and navigational updates all require running near the surface, where submarines are most vulnerable.
Submarines can receive radio waves of very or extremely low frequency (VLF/ELF), which can penetrate seawater deeply; this one-way communication allows submarines to remain in constant contact with the outside world. The ability to receive VLF/ELF was, and still is, especially important to boomers, which must have presidential authorization to launch their missiles.
Two-way communication requires submarines to come to periscope depth and break the surface with an antenna, risking detection. Communications satellites have helped minimize the risk by greatly reducing the time spent at periscope depth to exchange data.
Radar is an acronym for radio detection and ranging. A radar system transmits a radio beam, then detects and measures the echo when the beam bounces off an object. This provides information about both the target's direction and range. Like periscopes and radio antennas, however, radar masts protruding above the water provide vital information at the expense of increased risk of detection. Submarines generally use radar only on the surface when leaving or entering port.
Maneuvering Room Consoles
Supervised by the engineering officer of the watch, one petty officer mans each of these three consoles to monitor and control the submarine's entire nuclear power plant. The console to your left controls the steam turbines. The center console is the nuclear reactor control panel, while the right-hand console controls the electrical system.

Displaying consoles like these in public, something never before done, has required modifications to protect sensitive classified information about the design and operation of nuclear-powered submarines. Where necessary, scales on instrument faces have been modified, instrument labels altered, or instruments repositioned, and some classified nuclear instrumentation has been removed.

The Navy has worked closely with the Museum to keep such changes to a minimum and to preserve overall appearance. These consoles look much as they did during their active life aboard the fast attack USS Sand Lance (SSN-660).



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