The USS Nautilus was the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine and the first vessel to complete a submerged voyage under the North Pole. The USS Nautilus was planned and personally supervised by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. The USS Nautilus was built for fleet duty but more importantly as a testing ground for all nuclear designs to come.
At 11:00 hours on January 17, 1955 she put to sea for the first time and signaled her historic message, "Underway on nuclear power." During her shakedown cruise on May 10, 1955 she logged 1,200 nmi (2,223 km) submerged from New London to Puerto Rico in less than 90 hours. Up until that time this was the longest submerged cruise and the highest speed ever recorded, 23.3 knots. The best known voyage in her career was "Operation Sunshine", the submerged crossing under the Polar ice cap. On August 3, 1958 at 11:15 pm USS Nautilus became the first watercraft to reach the North Pole, Commander William R. Anderson, Commanding Officer of Nautilus announced to the crew, "For the world, Our Country, and the Navy...the North Pole." The trip of 1,590 nmi (2,945 km) took 96 hours from a point in the Barrow Sea surfacing north east of Greenland. A Presidential Unit Citation ribbon was authorized for skill, professional competency and courage to all members of the crew who made the voyage with a special clasp in the form of a gold block letter N.
The USS Nautilus is powered by the pressurized water-cooled S2W naval reactor produced by Westinghouse Electric Corporation. The reactor compartment contained the reactor, primary coolant systems, steam generators, and related systems. This area was only accessable when the reactor was offline and the engine room plus the reactor areas took up almost half of the boat. A benefit not seen in fleet boats was an abundance of fresh water for bathing and cooking due to the steam generators. Also air conditioning was needed to maintain an enclosed steam plant generating massive heat. Water, air-conditioning and spacious living and work areas made Nautilus the most human-friendly boat in history.
The armament consisted of six MK 50 bow-mounted 23 feet long torpedo tubes capable of using a varity of torpedo types. Electronics consisted of a BQR-4 passive sonar system; the 48 vertical stave hydrophones were wrapped around inside the skin of a sonar dome faired into the forefoot of the boat. However the sonar was virtually useless with speeds above 7 knots due to the noise level from the engine room.
New tactics were needed for a boat that could stay submerged for long periods. Navigation needed to be changed; no longer would she have to surface using the sun and stars for reference. Attack plans were altered using speed and wait tactics. In one exercise Nautilus proved to be a greater threat than all of the diesel-electric submarines combined. Nautilus had altered the future of all submarines and the course of naval warfare.
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