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USS Narwhal (SSN-671)
USS Narwhal
Namesake: Narwhal
Ordered: 28 July 1964
Builder: General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut
Laid down: 17 January 1966
Launched: 9 September 1967
Commissioned: 12 July 1969
Decommissioned: 1 July 1999
Struck: 1 July 1999
Fate: Uncertain
General characteristics
Type: Nuclear submarine
Displacement: 4,948 long tons (5,027 t) light
5,293 long tons (5,378 t) full
345 long tons (351 t) dead
Length: 314 ft (95.7 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Propulsion: S5G reactor
Complement: 12 officers, 95 men
Armament: 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes capable of launching:
Mark 45 torpedoes
Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes
Tomahawk missiles
Harpoon missiles

USS Narwhal (SSN-671), a unique submarine, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named for the narwhal, a gray and white arctic whale with a unicorn-like, ivory tusk.

Her keel was laid down on 17 January 1966 by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 9 September 1967 sponsored by Glynn R. Donaho, and commissioned on 12 July 1969 with Commander W. A. Matson in command.[1]


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Very little of the Narwhal's design was based on the Sturgeon-class submarine. Her power plant, engine room, and forward compartment layout was unlike any other U.S. submarine. Forward of her reactor compartment the crew enjoyed more available space and berthing than her Thresher/Permit, Sturgeon, or Los Angeles-class sisters. Her engine room was spacious and well laid out.

Elements of her propulsion were incorporated in later ship classes, especially the Ohio class, but no other submarine has used all of Narwhal's innovations. These innovations included a natural circulation reactor plant, scoop seawater injection (which was not repeated), the ability to cross connect main and auxiliary seawater systems, main air ejectors instead of noisy R-114 units for cooling, and a directly coupled main engine turbine. Her small reactor coolant pumps had two speeds: On and Off. The result was the quietest submarine of her era, and for many years to follow. Her silence was equaled only by the Ohio class and finally surpassed by the Seawolf class. Narwhal was fitted with a "turtleback" structure just forward of her rudder that may have been used for remote-controlled underwater vehicles, or for housing an experimental towed sonar array.


File:Ssn 671a.jpg

Official picture of the submarine, as shown on the "Welcome Aboard" package given to visitors. The boat's logo is depicted on the lower right.

Little information about Narwhal's career is available, but it was not uneventful and included a very heavy deployment rate interrupted only by three overhauls (two involving reactor refueling). Narwhal had few difficulties in Arctic waters, easily shadowing Soviet and Russian vessels. Those deployments earned Narwhal a Navy Unit Commendation for a 1972 deployment, and Meritorious Unit Commendations for operations in 1971, 1977, 1979, and 1998. She also earned the Battle Efficiency E (five awards), the Engineering E (four awards), and the Anti-Submarine Warfare A, the Communications C and the Supply E. She may have also been used for special operations duty.

Narwhal sustained minor damage on 22 September 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina. She was moored with nine double wires and two three-inch ship's lines in preparation for the storm. All but one of the lines parted during the first half of the storm, and she drifted into the Cooper River. Tugboats and Narwhal's crew tried unsuccessfully to move the submarine back to the pier before the second half of the storm. As the storm resumed, Narwhal submerged in the river and rode out the remainder of the hurricane with only part of her sail exposed.

Narwhal was deactivated, while still in commission, on 16 January 1999 in Norfolk, Virginia. She was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 July 1999, and entered the Navy's Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program (NPSSRP) in Bremerton, Washington on 1 October 2001. For a time, it appeared that, unlike most hulks processed through the NPSSRP, Narwhal would not be scrapped. Legislation signed on 30 September 2003 authorized the Secretary of the Navy to transfer Narwhal to the National Submarine Science Discovery Center (NSSDC) in Newport, Kentucky. The nuclear reactor and propulsion equipment would be removed and replaced with a plug of the proper dimensions and shape, containing a theater and classroom. However, on 26 April 2006, Peter Kay, board chair of the Discovery Center, announced the cancellation of the exhibit; fundraising fell about $1.5 million short of the $2 million needed.[2]


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