Military Wiki
USS Nautilus (SSN-571)
Nautilus (SSN 571) Groton CT 2002 May 08.jpg
Nautilus, retired, heads for home on 8 May 2002, after preservation by the Electric Boat Division.
Career (United States of America)
Name: USS Nautilus
Operator:  United States Navy
Awarded: 2 August 1951
Builder: General Dynamics
Laid down: 14 June 1952
Launched: 21 January 1954
Sponsored by: Mamie Eisenhower
Completed: 22 April 1955
Commissioned: 30 September 1954
Decommissioned: 3 March 1980
Struck: 3 March 1980
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Displacement: 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 (10.0 MW)[2]
Propulsion: STR nuclear reactor (later redesignated S2W)
Speed: 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)[3]
Complement: 13 officers, 92 enlisted
Armament: 6 torpedo tubes

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) is the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine. She was the first vessel to complete a submerged transit to the North Pole on 3 August 1958. Sharing names with the submarine in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and named after another USS Nautilus (SS-168) that served with distinction in World War II, Nautilus was authorized in 1951 and launched in 1954. 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.

Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. She has been preserved as a museum of submarine history in Groton, Connecticut, where she receives some 250,000 visitors a year.

Planning and construction

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 Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy."[4] 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]

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,[5] 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]

Nautilus was powered by the S2W naval reactor, a pressurized water reactor produced for the US Navy by Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Argonne National Laboratory, together with 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.[6] 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 Argonne at the S1W facility in Idaho.[citation needed]

"Underway on nuclear power"

Following her commissioningting. pooooooooAt 11 am on 17 January 1955 she put to sea for the first time and signaled her historic message: "Underway on nuclear power."[7] On 10 May, she headed south for shakedown. Submerged throughout, she traveled 2,100 kilometres (1,100 nmi; 1,300 mi) from New London to San Juan, Puerto Rico and covered 2,223 km (1,200 nmi; 1,381 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 her 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 the Second World War virtually obsolete. Radar and anti-submarine aircraft, which had proved crucial in defeating submarines during the War, proved ineffective against a vessel able to quickly move out of an area, change depth quickly and stay submerged for very long periods.

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.[8] 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

Nautilus returned to New London, Connecticut, on 21 July and departed again on 19 August for her first voyage of 2,226 kilometres (1,202 nmi; 1,383 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 US Navy to attempt a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for the soon-to-come SLBM weapons system.[9] 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 her wait was over, and she set a course northward. 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.[10] 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. (The N6A-1 had been installed on Nautilus and Skate after initial sea trials on the USS Compass Island in 1957.)[11] From the North Pole, she continued on and after 96 hours and 1,590 nmi (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, 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[citation needed].

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.[12]

Proceeding from Greenland to the Isle of Portland, England, she received the Presidential Unit Citation, the first ever issued in peace time, from American Ambassador J.H. Whitney, and then crossed the Atlantic reaching New London, Connecticut, USA on 29 October. Captain Anderson would also be awarded the Legion of Merit by Eisenhower.[9] For the remainder of the year Nautilus operated from her home port of New London.

Operational history

USS Nautilus c. 1965

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 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. Following repairs in Portsmouth she conducted exercises off the southeastern seaboard. She returned to New London in December 1968.

In the spring[when?] of 1979, Nautilus set out from Groton, Connecticut on her final voyage under the command of Richard A. Riddell. 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.


The hull and superstructure of Nautilus vibrated sufficiently that sonar became ineffective at more than 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) speed.[13] Also, noise generation is extremely undesirable in submarines as this makes the vessel vulnerable to detection. Lessons learned from this problem were applied to later nuclear submarines.

Awards and commendations

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, U.S.S. 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.

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).[15]


Nautilus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of the Interior on 20 May 1982.[16][17]

She was named as the official state ship of Connecticut in 1983.[18] Following an extensive conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Nautilus was towed back to Groton, Connecticut arriving on 6 July 1985. On 11 April 1986, Nautilus opened to the public as part of the Submarine Force Library and Museum.[10]

Nautilus now serves as a museum of submarine history, after undergoing a five-month preservation in 2002 at the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics, at a cost of approximately $4.7 million ($6.16 million in present-day terms[19]). 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, the first Commanding Officer of Nautilus, 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.

Nautilus is the subject of an episode of the syndicated television anthology series, The Silent Service, which aired during the 1957–1958 season.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Nautilus". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command. 1970. 
  2. Polmar, Norman; Moore, Kenneth J.. Cold War submarines: the design and construction of U.S. and Soviet submarines. Brassey's. 
  3. Christley, Jim; Bryan, Tony. US Nuclear Submarines: The Fast Attack. Osprey Publishing. 
  4. "Biography of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover". Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  5. "Video: Atom Sub. President Officiates At Laying Of Keel, 1952/06/16 (1952)". Universal Newsreels. 1952. 
  6. "Lab's early submarine reactor program paved the way for modern nuclear power plants". Argonne's Nuclear Science and Technology Legacy. Argonne National Laboratory. 21 January 1996. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  7. Galantin, I. J. (1 May 1997). Submarine Admiral: From Battlewagons to Ballistic Missiles. University of Illinois Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-252-06675-7. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  8. "Nautilus". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 2012-09-06. "On 4 February 1957, Nautilus logged her 60,000th nautical mile to bring to reality the achievements of her fictitious namesake in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Anderson, William R.. "Fact Sheet – USS Nautilus and Voyage to North Pole, August 1958". Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "History of USS Nautilus (SSN 571)". Submarine Force Library and Museum. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  11. Steel Boats, Iron Men: History of the U.S. Submarine Force. Turner Publishing Company. 1994. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-56311-081-8. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  12. Anderson, William R.; Blair, Clay (May 1989) [1959]. Nautilus 90 North. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-8306-4005-3. 
  13. "Riddell lecture 2004". [dead link]
  14. "Citation – Presidential Unit Citation for making the first submerged voyage under the North Pole". Archived from the original on 2009-02-04. 
  15. "Navy Presidential Unit Citation". 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named nhlsum
  17. Sheire, James W. (12 February 1982). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination / USS Nautilus (SSN-571)" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-09-06.  and
    "Accompanying Photos". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  18. "State of Connecticut, Sites, Seals, Symbols". Connecticut State Register & Manual. Retrieved 2007-01-04. [dead link]
  19. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.

External links

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

Coordinates: 41°23′13″N 72°05′17″W / 41.387°N 72.088°W / 41.387; -72.088

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).