Monday, December 11, 2017
Nautilus Launch

In less than a century since Jules Verne’s mythical Nautilus had sailed its twenty thousand leagues under the sea, the American nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus had made the dream a reality.

'Nautilus 90 North' was the code message which announced to the world that, on 3rd August 1958, the submarine – with her 116 crew – had reached the North Pole. ‘Piercing the Pole’ marked the climax of a momentous and on-going undertaking: the first trans-polar voyage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It began in Puget Sound, USA, and terminated at Portland in England.

Commander William R Anderson was appointed to command Nautilus. From the first hair-raising submerged probe of the Arctic pack ice in 1957 to Operation North Pole itself, the submarine’s complement were pioneers and trail blazers.

The consequences of its success were soon summed up: ‘Not only did this epic voyage open up the North-West passage – the shortest route from Europe to the Pacific, for submarines of the future, it presented an entirely new field for strategic operations in the northernmost part of the Atlantic with all its vast implications for the future … Most significant of all is the fact that Nautilus has proved that nuclear-powered submarines can operate in an area where no surface ships or aircraft can attack them.’

As Commander Anderson explains: ‘My role in the momentous voyage of Nautilus began on a chilly, overcast January day in 1956. At that time I was in charge of instruction in submarine combat tactics at the United States Submarine School in New London, Connecticut…. I received instructions from the Commander, Submarines, Atlantic, to travel to Washington for an interview with Rear Admiral HG Rickover – the “father of the atomic submarine”’.

In 1946, Rickover, who had worked throughout WW2 in the Bureau of Ships, improving the electrical equipment on naval vessels, sought a post at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Oak Ridge plant to study reactor physics. Then a captain, he and three others became fired with the idea to compress, adapt and marinize the reactor, which was used to make plutonium, to a size small enough to fit into a submarine. They devised a system which they theorized would make an ideal propulsion unit.

Rickover reasoned that it would burn only a minute quantity of fuel – a pound of uranium is equal to tens of thousands of gallons of conventional submarine Diesel oil. Equally important was the fact that since the “fire” in the reactor was not a chemical fire, but rather a fission process, no outside air or oxygen would be required to sustain it. Submarines could do away with storage batteries – vastly increasing the space inside – and, in theory, remain submerged indefinitely.

However, from the practical engineering standpoint, the concept was met with ridicule. Rickover, spurned and relegated to office space converted from a ladies’ powder room, nevertheless pursued the idea relentlessly. After several years, he persuaded the Atomic Energy Commission to form a Naval Reactors Branch and to name himself as its chief. In what has been described as a ‘classic manoeuvre in anti-bureaucracy’, Rickover observed: ‘Super-efficient “administrators” are the curse function seems to be to harass brainworkers with trivia and to waste as much time as possible’.

In an incredibly short time, a full-sized, land-based prototype of the submarine nuclear power plant was in operation, inside an authentic submarine hull, at the AEC’s desert test centre in Arco, Idaho. Shortly thereafter, in January 1954, Nautilus was launched. Before joining the vessel, all officers and engineering ratings, regardless of past experience, studied nuclear propulsion for a full year.

The trial runs of Nautilus astonished even the men who had designed and built her, as recorded by Commander Anderson: ‘She could travel at a sustained underwater speed above twenty knots indefinitely. On her shakedown cruise she had travelled 1,381 miles entirely submerged in 89.9 hours, establishing what was then a remarkable submarine record. She was highly manoeuvrable underwater, could submerge to a very great depth, and in exercises with anti-submarine forces she proved herself fifty times as effective as a conventional submarine. Her power plant generated over twice as much mileage per unit of uranium as even the most optimistic forecasts.’

After a year of operations, the performance and reliability of Nautilus had electrified submariners the world over, but especially those at the New London training facility. They appreciated that the vessel was revolutionising naval warfare. Since her commissioning, Nautilus had been a kind of floating exhibit of practical nuclear power and many dignitaries had been on board to see her in action.

In 1956, Commander Anderson transferred to Admiral Rickover’s Reactors Branch in Washington, having been selected as a prospective commanding officer of a nuclear-powered submarine. Anderson described Rickover’s office as a maelstrom. His new boss suggested to Anderson that he write him a memorandum proposing his own programme of study.

It proved to be an interesting assignment: ‘Just what should the prospective commanding officer of a nuclear-powered submarine study? Mathematics? Reactor Physics? Chemistry? I had a few ideas, but I spent about a week talking with Rickover’s top people … Then I wrote a memorandum, based largely on their ideas, which included suggestions for several weeks at Arco, Idaho, to study the land-based prototype of the Nautilus plant, to Westinghouse where the engines were built, to Electric Boat Company, where the submarines were under construction, along with a detailed study programme of the history of the project and of Nautilus operations to date. And finally a detailed curriculum of self-study of the multitude of subjects embracing nuclear propulsion. The admiral raised no objections to my plan. In fact, it became, for a time, a kind of standard programme for prospective commanding officers who came later.’

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - November 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

GMS Expedition

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Falklands War Successor is Broken Up +

    Atlantic Conveyor A ship that was built on the Tyne for the Cunard Steam-Ship Co, of Liverpool, to replace one that was Read More
  • Historic Lifeboat Returns Home +

    Bedford A historic lifeboat has returned home to Tyneside after a number of local businesses joined local government to save her. Read More
  • Anchor Catches Torpedo +

    Skaw Provider When the crew of the Maltese-flag oil/chemical tanker Skaw Provider, 4,300dwt, raised the anchor from 15m off Portland, Dorset, they Read More
  • Side-By-Side Supply Ships Sink +

    The Maersk Searcher and Maersk Shipper. (DMAIB) A unique conjunction of events and circumstances led to the sinking of two Maersk offshore supply vessels in December, 2016, Read More
  • Historic Voyage Between China and Russia +

    Lian Hua Song The cargo ship Lian Hua Song (pictured) 20,692gt, of the COSCO Shipping Line, China, arrived at St Petersburg, Russia, in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Bid To Curb Act And Boost Aid To Island +

    Horizon Spirit As Puerto Rico recovers from the series of devastating hurricanes this season, it has been claimed that the Jones Act Read More
  • ‘Best Trading Months’ in History of Long Beach +

    Port Of Long Beach Records were broken in September when the Port of Long Beach, California, moved more containers than in any other September Read More
  • Hudson's Biggest +

    Steam generator The two-day, 170-mile delivery from the Port of Coeymans near Albany, New York of a new 130-foot high steam generator Read More
  • "Friendship of Salem" to Return This Winter +

    Friendship of Salem The Salem Maritime National Historic Site announced agreement on contract changes for the ongoing overhaul of the three-masted, 171-foot Friendship Read More
  • You're Fired! +

    USS John S McCain After a grounding, three collisions and multiple deaths, Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin was relieved of command of the US Navy’s Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Stranded Cargo Ship to be Refloated and Broken Up +

    Kea Trader The container ship Kea Trader, 24,720gt, which went aground on a reef off New Caledonia on July 12, will have Read More
  • Italian Builders to Construct in Australia +

    Fincantieri The Italian shipbuilder and ship designer Fincantieri is to construct sections for cruise ships and frigates in Australia from next Read More
  • Fifteen LNG Carriers For Siberia Project +

    LNG Ice Breaker (DSME) A South Korean company has received a contract to build 15 ice-breaking LNG carriers for Russia, the president of South Read More
  • Asia/Australasia Container Traffic Slumps +

    Drewry Report Container traffic from Asia to Australasia suffered its first quarterly slump in at least five years, falling by 11 per Read More
  • First Order from Taiwan +

    Austal The fast ferry builder Austal Ships, of Henderson, Western Australia, has won its first commercial vessel contract in Taiwan. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • New Oiler for Canada +

    Asterix Canadian News The Royal Canadian Navy’s long wait for a new replenishment oiler for the fleet is nearly at an Read More
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth Arrives at Home Port +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News An event following the 2010 Defence Review many thought would never happen occurred on Wednesday 16 August when Read More
  • Work Starts on Three Warships +

    Type 25 British News After an almost unseemly wait, the Royal Navy can breathe again having held its breath waiting for the Read More
  • Los Angeles Class Decommissioning +

    USS Dallas American News The end of May saw a lot of submarine news within the US Navy with the decommissioning of Read More
  • HMS Westminster Returns to Service +

    HMS Westminster British News After two years out of service undergoing a major reconstruction and refit, the Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Nostalgic Scout Trip Remembered +

    South Shields Scouts A morale boosting and nostalgic story from not long after WW2 came to my notice. Read More
  • Morale Boost for CalMac +

    Glen Sannox The major new units of CalMac’s West of Scotland fleet taking shape at Port Glasgow are to bear the much Read More
  • Summer Scenes - Naples +

    GNV Cristal So when arriving at Naples, we now meet the ex Olau Hollandia ex Pride of Le Havre ex SNAV Sardegna, Read More
  • Summer Scenes - Barcelona +

    Abel Matutes As we head through Autumn – or ‘the Fall’ as our North American readers would put it – and some of the Read More
  • Excursion Woes +

    Waverley The excursion business, especially with the preserved classic vessels, has continued to have major disappointments. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • From Rix To Stevie Clarkes +

    “Ronrix” leaving for Hull The name Rix is long associated with Humber ports with origins traced to Hull businessman Captain Robert Rix in the Read More
  • Energy Needs +

    Northern Ocean Charlie McCurdy’s fine image of the Faeroese products tanker Northern Ocean 8,594,’98 passing Greenock, on her way from the fuel Read More
  • Staple Trades - Clay +

    Moelfre Rose Before leaving the economically confused days of 2017, I thought I would remind ourselves of some of the staple trades Read More
  • Colne Racing +

    Edme The 46th Colne Smack and Barge Match was sailed from Brightlingsea on September 2 in a very light southerly breeze Read More
  • West Coast Restorations +

    CA Thayer From the day they are launched, every ship has a life expectancy. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • TMG Delivers Influential Panama Canal Study +

    MSC Antalya A global maritime consultancy has carried out a pivotal assessment review of tugboat operations in the new third set of Read More
  • The Majestic River Rhine +

    MS Charles Dickens In September of this year, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful Riviera Travel river cruise on the majestic River Read More
  • Video Campaign for New Seafarers +

    To Sea or Not to Sea In an aim to plug the shortfall in numbers of British seafarers, the UK Chamber of Shipping and the Merchant Read More
  • Solent Marine Safety Academy +

    Firefighters Any initiative that helps improve safety at sea and the betterment of the skills set of seafarers in reacting to Read More
  • Forth Bridges - The New Queensferry Crossing +

    Forth Bridges At the end of August 2017, the new Queensferry Crossing opened to traffic. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Curaçao’s Colours and Bridges +

    Queen Emma Bridge Many ports of the world that attract cruise traffic are well known for certain iconic aspects that they possess. Read More
  • Shaw Savill and Albion’s New Build ‘Game Changer’ +

    Southern Cross Shaw Savill and Albion’s new build in 1955, the Southern Cross, was a remarkable vessel for a number of reasons. Read More
  • Britain's Boat Builders are Buoyant +

    British Sunseeker 95 Yacht Brand new industry reports, prepared by British Marine, show that Britain’s boat builders are buoyant and riding the crest of Read More
  • Project Echo +

    Project Echo Having recently delivered the 46m composite catamaran yacht support vessel, Charley, to the owners of the superyacht White Rabbit Golf, Read More
  • Two Unique Ships Meet In Douglas Bay +

    Sega Sapphire and Talitha When Hapag-Lloyd’s new build, the Europa (3), was delivered to the company in 1981, the vessel very quickly was awarded Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

John Readhead & Sons

The Role of the Yard Pilot

Anyone who has attended a ship launch will forever remember the thrill of the occasion as the vessel begins its Read More
Duke of Lancaster

TSS Duke of Lancaster

A Typical Summer Sailing From Heysham Harbour – 50 Years Ago Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Low Walker

The Mysterious Ways

When I started work at Low Walker, a Newcastle on Tyne engineering company which was located right next to the Read More
Imo

The Halifax Explosion

On 29th December, 1950, Cairnesk put into Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the first call of the ‘winter schedule’. Read More
  • 1
  • 2