Tuesday, September 30, 2014

60th Anniversary of Submarine Nuclear Power

This Day in History

September 30, 1954

On this day in 1954, the first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), was commissioned into the United States Navy.  Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” personally planned and supervised the construction of Nautilus.  The keel was laid at General Dynamics’s Electric Boat Division in Groton, Connecticut on June 14, 1952, by President Harry S. Truman. January 21, 1954, Nautilus was christened by the First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and launched into the Thames River. Nautilus completed 25 years of service to the United States Navy.  During that time the submarine broke records and was put into history books for various missions and cruises due to her nuclear propulsion. 

First Lady Eisenhower christening USS Nautilus.
The S2W Naval Reactor aboard Nautilus was crucial for submarine propulsion because of the reactor’s zero-emission process that consumes no oxygen; was built by Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Bettis Atomic Laboratory. This nuclear propulsion allowed the submarine to remain submerged far longer than diesel-electric submarines.  In World War II, submarines were encouraged to surface every 12 to 36 hours to replenish their oxygen.  After the war the GUPPY (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power) program allowed submarine to stay submerged for over 60 days, but they had to remain within 50 feet of the water’s surface. 

Balao Class Submarine
USS Nautilus
January 17, 1955, Nautilus was put to sea for the first time and sent the message “Underway on nuclear power,” at 11:00 a.m. The commanding officer was Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson.  Then in May, the submarine traveled from New London, Connecticut to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Nautilus covered 1,381 miles in less than 90 hours.  At this time, this was the longest submerged cruise by a submarine and at the highest sustained speed ever recorded. 

The crew earned the Presidential Unit Citation with “Operation Sunshine” in 1958.  This operation was in response to the USSR’s satellite Sputnik.  President Eisenhower ordered the Navy to attempt a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for the soon-to-come SLBM (Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile) weapons system, which is capable of being launched from submarines.
“For outstanding achievement in completing the first voyage in history across the top of the world, by cruising under the Arctic cap from the Bering Strait to the Greenland Sea.”

August 3, 1958, Nautilus passed beneath the geographic North Pole under the command of Commander William R. Anderson.  Thanks to the nuclear reactor, Nautilus could travel to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines.

The final voyage of Nautilus was from Groton, Connecticut, to Mare Island Shipyard, Vallejo, California.  May 26, 1979, was the submarine’s last day underway.  After 25 years of service and over half a million miles steamed the submarine was decommissioned on March 3, 1980.  In 1982, Nautilus became a National Historic Landmark.  Today visitors can see Nautilus floating in the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut. 

Author: Allison Hiblong

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The End of Pearl Harbor Salvage Efforts

"This Day in History"

September 23, 1944

Japan attacked the United States Navy harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  The week after the raid a salvage organization was formerly established for one of history’s greatest salvage jobs.  Captain Homer N. Wallin commanded the salvage efforts for over two years.  United States Navy and civilian divers completed about 5,000 dives and spent around 20,000 hours underwater.  The dives focused on recovering human remains, documents, ammunition, and other items from the ships damaged in the harbor. 

Divers standing in front of a decompression chamber.
Pearl Harbor Salvage Operations, official U.S. Navy Photograph.
Due to the attack five battleships, two destroyers, a target ship, and a mine layer were sunk or so severely damaged that they were considered a total loss.    Three ships that never returned to service due to their damage were USS Oklahoma, USS Utah, and USS Arizona.  In 1942, four ships were refloated and placed back into the active fleet to help defeat Japan.  These ships included USS Nevada, USS California, USS Oglala, and USS West Virginia.

USS Oklahoma righted about 30 degrees on March 29, 1943.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) was a battleship present in Pearl Harbor during the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack. The Japanese bombardment hit the battleship with two bombs and several torpedoes, and though she was saved from capsizing, she still sank to the harbor bottom. Her crew was on board, and over a hundred souls were lost. 

"The conduct of the crew and officers was outstanding.  There was no confusion and
every man and officer did his duty as well as he was able under the conditions."

-- Lieutenant Commander T. T. Beattie

She entered the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repairs and was modernized at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, emerging in July 1944 fully functional. She rejoined the Pacific Fleet on September 23, 1944. 

USS West Virginia in drydock at Pearl Harbor on June 10, 1942, for repair.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

USS Hoga (YT-146), a tug boat, was also present during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. She was able to not only successfully avoid devastating damage, but assisted with rescue and firefighting operations on the battleships that were damaged. She remained in Pearl Harbor after the attacks, assisting with continued debris clean up, salvage efforts, and patrols of the shore. 

The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is continuing its efforts in bringing Hoga to the Arkansas River in the near future, where tours will be available. Currently, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum houses USS Razorback (SS-394) and a museum dedicated to continued education in not only World War II vessels, but different vessels throughout American history. Come down and take a tour and learn something new!

Author: Nicolette Lloyd

Friday, September 05, 2014

USS Finback Saves George H. W. Bush

This Week in History

September 2, 1944

On September 2, 1944, Lt (jg) George H. W. Bush was pulled from the Pacific Ocean by USS Finback (SS-230) after bailing out of his VT-51 aircraft.  Bush's mission was to destroy the Japanese radio station on Chichi Jima, which had been intercepting United States military radio transmissions.  After receiving a devastating hit by Japanese anti-aircraft, Bush still managed to destroy the radio station and was successfully picked up four hours later.  Bush returned to the United States after 30 days aboard the submarine.  Later Bush was elected as the 41st President of the United States; an event which may not have occurred unless he was rescued that faithful day.

George H. W. Bush
Like Finback, USS Razorback (SS-394) also picked up friendly pilots during World War II, totaling five airmen.  These missions were referred to as "lifeguard duty."  Razorback was assigned this duty during her fourth war patrol, from May 7th through June 27th of 1944.  While on patrol in the Nanpo Islands and Tokyo Bay area, she rescued LtCol Charles E. Taylor on May 25th and four crewmen from a B-29 Superfortress on June 5th.  Visit www.aimmuseum.org to read Razorback's war patrols.  In total during World War II, 520 airmen were saved by submarines.

Razorback and Finback share their namesake since both are named after a suborder of the baleen whales, commonly known as the fin whale.  These marine mammals are the second largest animal in the world, beautiful and fast, much like the submarines themselves.  The fin whale, besides being known as both the finback and razorback, is also called a common rorqual.

Fin Whale
The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is the permanent home of the submarine Razorback, and while touring her you will hear tales of the life of a sailor and her history.  Razorback accomplished many feats during her time commissioned in the Navy, but it is her World War II history that you will find most astounding.  Stop by and take a tour to learn more about what Razorback, and her fellow submarines, withstood during World War II!

Author: Nicolette Lloyd