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USS Blueback (SS-581)

Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine

Naval Warfare / Ships

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USS Blueback SS-581 became the last diesel-electric attack submarine to be commissioned into U.S. Navy service.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 1/10/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
Considered the ultimate in American diesel-engine attack submarine for her time, USS Blueback (SS-581) and her group of three Barbel-class boats operated with the United States Navy during the critical Cold War years. The class was constructed from 1956 to 1959 and operated from 1959 until 1990. Succeeding the Darter-class of fighting boats, the three Barbel boats provided decades of service to the USN for their time at sea.

USS Blueback was awarded on June 29th, 1956 and laid down by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi on April 15th, 1957. She was launched on May 16th, 1959 and formally commissioned into service on October 15th, 1959. She was serve until decommissioned on October 1st, 1990 and struck from the Naval Register on October 30th of that year.

The boat measured 219.5 feet with a beam of 29 feet and a draught of 25 feet. Displacement included a light weight of 1,775 tons, a full loaded weight of 2,180 tons, and a submerged weight of 2,700 tons. Power was from 3 x Fairbanks-Morse 38 8-1/8 diesel engines developing 3,150 horsepower with 2 x General Electric electric motors generating 3,150 horsepower, all driving a single shaft astern. The boat made headway at 12 knots when surfaced and could manage an excellent speed of 25 knots when submerged. Range was out to 14,000 nautical miles / 16,155 miles and the hull was tested to depths of 700 feet.

Aboard the vessel were eight officers with 69 enlisted personnel. The boat carried both active (BQS-4) and passive (BQR-2) sonar fits as well as the Mk 101 Fire Control System (FCS) for the tasks at hand. Armament was fairly modest, this being 6 x 533mm (21") torpedo tubes all set in the bow with 18 x Torpedo reloads to be had.

Blueback conducted her trials in the Gulf of Mexico and transited the Panama Canal for operations in the Pacific Theater (the Soviet Union being the primary enemy of the day). The boat conducted a series of training exercises and undertook operations in and around Hawaii. In the mid-1960s, the boat supported American operations related to the Vietnam War (1955-1975). This was had in 1965 and 1967 with an overhaul at Bremerton WA in-between. She returned to Vietnam in the early 1970s to help train destroyer crews. In the post-war period, she was part of various trials, joint exercises, and general operations leading up to her decommissioning in 1990.

Of the three ships-in-class, only Blueback survived and was preserved as a museum ship, this at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, OR beginning in 1994. Barbel was expended as a target in January 2001 and Bonefish was not refurbished following a fatal fire in April 1998 - her hull was claimed by Northrop Grumman for tests.


Decommissioned, Out-of-Service
77 Personnel
Ship Class [ Barbel-class ]
Ships-in-Class [ 3 ] Ship Names: USS Barbel (SS-580); USS Blueback (SS-581); USS Bonefish (SS-582)
National flag of United States United States
- Blue Water Operations
- Fleet Support
- Hunter
- Direct-Attack
219.5 ft (66.90 m)
Width / Beam:
29 ft (8.84 m)
Height / Draught:
25 ft (7.62 m)
Displacement (Surface):
2,000 tons
Displacement (Submerged):
2,700 tons
3 x Fairbanks-Morse 38 8-1/8 diesel engines developing 3,150 horsepower with 2 x General Electric electric motors generating 4,800 horsepower;1 x Shaft astern.
Speed (Surface):
12 kts (14 mph)
Speed (Submerged):
25 kts (28.77 miles)
14,038 nm (16,155 miles; 25,999 km)
6 x 12" (533mm) torpedo tubes in bow-facing arrangement; 18 torpedo reloads.

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