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USS Nautilus: under ice on nuclear power.

USS Nautilus (SSN 571) commanding officer Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson sent the message "Underway on Nuclear Power," to the submarine force commander, as the world's first nuclear-powered submarine cast off her lines and departed the pier at Groton, Conn., on the morning of Jan. 17, 1955.

She was the fourth ship to bear the name Nautilus. This Nautilus was made possible only after scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission developed a pressurized water reactor nuclear propulsion plant. The design and construction of Nautilus was overseen by none other than then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, the "Father of the Nuclear Navy."


Her keel was laid by the 33rd President of the United States Harry S Truman, June 14, 1952, and launched Jan. 21, 1954, as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower broke the traditional bottle of champagne across her bow as Nautilus slid down the ways into the Thames River in Groton.

By Feb. 4, 1957, Nautilus logged 60,000 nautical miles, matching the endurance record of the fictionalized submarine Nautilus, from Jules Verne's 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

Under the command of Cmdr. William R. Anderson, Nautilus and her 116-man crew departed Pearl Harbor, July 23, 1958, under top secret orders, Operation Sunshine. Then, on Aug. 3, he announced to his crew, "For the world, Our Country and the Navy--the North Pole."

Nautilus had accomplished what was previously considered impossible--they had reached the North Pole, 90-degrees North.

After 96 hours submerged and 1,590 miles under the ice, Nautilus surfaced in the Greenland Sea, completing the first submerged voyage under the North Pole.

Nautilus then proceeded to Portland, England, where she was presented the Presidential Unit Citation, the first time the "PUC" was ever awarded in peacetime.

The submarine left England for New York City, sailing more than 3,100 miles submerged in six days, 11 hours, and 55 minutes. Upon her arrival, the crew was greeted with a hero's welcome, followed by a traditional New York-style ticker-tape parade.

During the next three decades, Nautilus continued to perform her mission with pride and distinction, passing many milestones and many firsts. Nautilus and her crews earned a variety of awards and commendations for their gallant service.

In the spring of 1979, Nautilus sailed from Groton, Conn., on her final voyage.

Following a career that spanned nearly a quarter century of service--after 2,507 dives and more than 513,550 miles steamed--she was decommissioned March 3, 1980, at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif.

Years later, Nautilus' commanding officer at the time of her decommissioning, retired Rear Adm. (then-Cmdr.) Richard A. Riddell commented on Nautilus' durability and reliability.

"I find it astounding that this submarine, with its first-of-a-kind propulsion plant, could operate so well for almost 25 years. This is like the Wright Brothers aircraft being used for passenger service for 25 years, or the first Model-T Ford being used as a taxi in a big city for 25 years.

"My tour on Nautilus really made me appreciate the genius of Admiral Rickover and his team in building a propulsion plant that could run hard for 25 years."

Nautilus was later designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on May 20, 1982, and was later towed back home to Groton.

On April 11, 1986, the eighty-sixth anniversary of the birth of the submarine force, the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum opened its doors to the public.

"I really loved that old ship," Riddell recalled. "Having command of USS Nautilus was the best assignment I had in the U.S. Navy!"

Story by MC2 Ron Kuzlik

Kuzlik is assigned to Defense Media Activity--Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:History
Author:Kuzlik, Ron
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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