A Century of Silent Service: Chronology

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Captain Arne C. Johnson, USN (Ret)

Since Holland VI was accepted in 1900, our submarines have evolved from small submersibles with limited capability to proven warfighters to today’s nuclear-powered, multimission warships. A century of technological innovation, undersea exploration, and adaptation to changing strategic and defense needs have made today’s Submarine Force ready to respond across the spectrum of conflict.

Noteworthy is the immense contribution during World War II in which U.S. submarines sank over 4,800,000 tons of Japanese merchant ships and 214 naval vessels. Fifty-two of the 288 U.S. submarines and 3,505 men who manned them were lost.

In the Korean War, U.S. submarines consistently patrolled hostile waters on covert missions.

With the advent of nuclear power under Admiral Rickover, our attack submarines became the premier antisubmarine warfare (ASW) force and accomplished extremely sensitive missions of great importance to our national security. Strategic submarines made over 3,000 deterrent patrols during the Cold War while safely and reliably controlling the nuclear weapons under their responsibility.

Today, the Submarine Force enters its second century of service conducting complex operations demanding a stealthy, mobile, high-endurance platform with great firepower. This dominant undersea force is manned by extraordinary people with superb support forces and backed by the finest families.
—Admiral Henry G. Chiles, Jr., USN (Ret)

Chairman of the Submarine Centennial Committee

7 Sep—Turtle, a one-man submarine built by 34-year-old Yale graduate David Bushnell of Saybrook, Connecticut, unsuccessfully tries to attach a keg of gunpowder to the hull of HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship, anchored in New York harbor. However, the powder keg exploded in the harbor prompting the American General Putnam to exclaim, “God ‘scurse ’em, that’ll do it for ’em.”

3 Jun—Robert Fulton’s submarine Nautilus dives to a depth of 25 feet and remains there for more than an hour.

17 Feb—The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley is the first to sink an enemy ship in combat when it rams its spar torpedo into the hull of the Union screw sloop USS Housatonic off Charleston, South Carolina. Hunley sinks and is lost during escape transit.

—Bureau of Construction and Repair design competition brings inventor John P. Holland a Navy contract to build the unsuccessful steam-powered Plunger.

• Birthday of U.S. Submarine Force
11 Apr—John P. Holland sells his internal combustion, gasoline-powered submarine, Holland VI, to the Navy for $160,000, after demonstration trials off Mount Vernon, Virginia. This marks the official birth date of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force.
12 Oct—USS Holland is commissioned, Lieutenant H. H. Caldwell commanding.

—The Electric Boat company begins building the F class (SS 20 through 23) and the E class (SS 24 and 25). These are the first submarines to be powered by diesel engines.

5 Mar—The Secretary of the Navy establishes the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla, commanded by Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz.

21 Mar—USS F-4 (SS 23), the first U.S. submarine to be lost at sea with no survivors, founders off Honolulu.

19 Jun—Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, is established.
29 Aug—Congress authorizes construction of sixty-eight new submarines.
—E-1 (ex Skipjack) (SS 24) is the first U.S. submarine to cross the Atlantic under her own power.
—The Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Steam Engineering initiate design of the faster 15-knot, 800-ton S-class.


• United States enters World War I.
Jan—Submarine School is established at Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut.
4 Mar—The Appropriations Act of 1917 adds eighteen more boats to the submarine construction program. The Navy uses resources from the Naval Emergency Fund for twenty more.
14 Apr—USS L-4 (SS 43) goes on an antisubmarine patrol the day Congress declares war. This marks the first war patrol of a U.S. submarine.
28 Jun—Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, is established.
Oct—Four K boats deploy to the Azores.

22 May—USS L-1 (SS 40) conducts a torpedo attack on a German submarine near the Scilly Islands, UK. The Germans take L-1 under fire. This is the first U.S. submarine to be attacked by an enemy vessel.


1 Sep—USS S-5 (SS 110) sinks off the Delaware Capes with the bow on the bottom and the stern out of the water. The crew escapes through a hole cut in the tiller room, some two days after sinking.

25 Sep—USS S-51 (SS 162) is rammed and sinks off Block Island, Rhode Island. Captain E. J. King, commanding officer Submarine Base New London, supervises salvage operations.

17 Dec—USS S-4 (SS 109) is rammed and sinks off Provincetown, Massachusetts. The inability to rescue trapped survivors leads to the development of the McCann rescue chamber.

10 May—“Momsen Lung” is tested by Lieutenant Charles Momsen and Chief Gunner C. L. Tibbals from a depth of over 200 feet.

15 Aug—The first submarine escape training tank is placed in operation at the Submarine Base, New London.

—The Washington Navy Yard makes twenty sets of quartz and steel echo-ranging equipment, a major development in sonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) technology.
27 Oct—USS Porpoise (SS 172) is the first U.S. new construction submarine to have electric drive and high-speed diesel engines.

—The importance of submarine operations in the Pacific, Caribbean, and the South Atlantic leads the Navy Department to install the first submarine air-conditioning system on board USS Cuttlefish (SS 171), in spite of space constraints.

15 April—The keel is laid for USS Salmon (SS 182), lead ship in a new class designed to accompany the fleet. The Salmon-class boats, instead of having riveted hull joints, were of all welded construction.

23 May—USS Squalus (SS 192) sinks during a practice dive off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. By using the McCann rescue chamber, thirty-three men are saved.

—The Navy initiates construction of the long-range fleet submarine (Gato class to be followed by the Balao and Tench classes). These boats become the “workhorses” of World War II.

• United States enters World War II.
—The first radar for submarines becomes operational.
7 Dec—The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II. U.S. submarines are overlooked during the attack. The Submarine Force becomes indispensable while the rest of the fleet recovers.
10 Dec—USS Seadragon (SS 194) and USS Sealion (SS 195) in Cavite, Philippines, are attacked by Japanese aircraft. Ensign Samuel H. Hunter in Seadragon is instantly killed, the first submarine casualty of World War II. Four men in Sealion are killed, and Sealion is so badly damaged that it is scuttled on Christmas Day—the first U.S. submarine destroyed in World War II.
15 Dec—USS Swordfish (SS 193) torpedoes a large freighter for the first confirmed sinking of a Japanese ship by a U.S. submarine.
31 Dec—Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, a veteran submariner, takes command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on board USS Grayling (SS 209).

27 Jan—USS Gudgeon (SS 211) sinks the Japanese I-173, the first confirmed sinking of an enemy warship by a U.S. submarine in history.

Japanese WWII Maritime Losses*
Ships Tonnage Ships Tonnage
1942 139 593,165
1943 308 1,366,962
1944 548 2,451,914
1945 152 449,276
Total 1,152 4,861,317 2,535 8,897,393
*As published by the Joint Army Navy Assessment Committee

• World War II ends.
14 Aug—Japanese agree to surrender terms; hostilities are terminated.
—By V-J Day, U.S. submarines have sunk 5 million tons of Japanese naval and merchant shipping at a loss of fifty-two U.S. submarines and more than 3,500 valiant men.
—Fleet consists of 6,768 active units; 232 are submarines. The defense budget is $83 billion, representing 89.5 percent of federal spending. Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King is the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO); James V. Forrestal is Secretary of the Navy.
—U.S. Navy begins study of German U-boat technology and future ASW problems. Work begins on new sonar, weapons, and propulsion systems.
15 Dec—Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz becomes CNO.

• Cold War develops.
—Captain Hyman G. Rickover arrives at Oak Ridge to begin study of atomic energy.
—Greater Underwater Propulsion Power (GUPPY) program for World War II fleet boat modernization begins.

—First two GUPPY submarines, USS Odax (SS 484) and USS Pomodon (SS 486), complete conversion.
12 Feb—USS Cusk (SS 348) fires the first Loon guided missile from a submarine.
—Regulus missile program begins.
—USS Irex (SS 482), the first fleet snorkel submarine, completes conversion.

—Bureau of Ships forms Nuclear Power Branch, with Captain Rickover assigned as head.
—Westinghouse signs contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to build the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, beginning the Submarine Thermal Reactor (STR) design using pressurized water.
—Submarine Squadron SIX in the Canal Zone conducts tests with USS Tusk (SS 426), concluding that submarines are the best ASW platforms against snorkeling submarines.
20 Jan—Cusk (redesignated SSG 348) is the Navy’s first guided-missile submarine.

18 Apr—Construction of newly designed fast attack submarines (6) commences with the keel laying of USS Tang (SS 563).
9 May—Submarine Development Group Two is established to conduct ASW research and development. Captain Roy S. Benson is first COMSUBDEVGRU Two.
26 Aug—USS Cochino (SS 345) suffers a catastrophic electrical fire and is lost at sea. Tusk rescues crew but six Tusk crewmen and one man from Cochino are lost during high sea rescue operations.

• President Harry S. Truman authorizes the construction of the first nuclear-powered submarine.
—Bureau of Ships begins design work on swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs).


—Bureau of Ships signs contract with Westinghouse and Electric Boat for USS Nautilus (SSN 571), the first nuclear-powered submarine.


14 Jun—Keel laid for Nautilus at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut.

—Fleet consists of 1,122 active units, including 110 submarines (all diesel). The defense budget is $52.8 billion, representing 69.3 percent of federal spending.
—First submarine thermal reactor prototype reaches initial criticality.
—Atomic Energy Commission approves the Submarine Fleet Reactor (SFR) project. This leads to the S3W and S4W reactor designs.
—Keel is laid for USS Seawolf (SSN 575), the second nuclear-powered submarine, at Electric Boat. This submarine is designed with the submarine intermediate reactor (SIR) using liquid sodium coolant.
8 May—USS Tunny (SSG 282) prototype SSG conversion is recommissioned. She is the first U.S. submarine equipped to fire surface-to-surface Regulus missiles.
5 Dec—USS Albacore (AGSS 569) is commissioned. Designed to test new submarine technology, her most important innovation is her teardrop-shaped hull form.

30 Sept—Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered ship, is commissioned, Commander E. P. Wilkinson commanding.

17 Jan—Nautilus sends the historic message, “Underway on nuclear power,” signaling a new era in both submarine warfare and maritime propulsion.
7 Oct—The X-1, the U.S. Navy’s first midget submarine, powered by hydrogen peroxide, is placed in service.


18 May—Construction of newly designed fast attack submarines (3) commences with keel laying of USS Barbel (SS 580). It has an Albacore hull form and a single propeller for improved submerged performance.
3 Dec—The Navy terminates participation in the U.S. Army’s Jupiter missile program and begins pursuing the development of the Polaris missile submarine.

23 Dec—USS Skate (SSN 578), the first submarine to be powered by the submarine fleet reactor, is commissioned.
—Regulus II missile program is terminated to free funds for the Polaris project. SSGNs on order are recast as SSN-593-class attack submarines. Existing Regulus I submarines continue operations.

3 Aug—Nautilus is the first ship to pass beneath the North Pole, on a four-day, 1,830-mile voyage from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
6 Oct—Seawolf completes a sixty day, completely submerged 13,000 mile cruise. This demonstrates the submerged endurance of a nuclear-powered submarine for a normal war patrol.


15 Apr—USS Skipjack (SSN 585) is commissioned, the first submarine combining nuclear propulsion with the Albacore hull form and the first submarine powered by the S5W reactor.
10 Nov—USS Triton (SSRN 586) is commissioned. She is the first and only dual reactor submarine in the U.S. Navy.
30 Dec—USS George Washington (SSBN 598), the first of the “41 for Freedom” fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines, is commissioned, Commander J. B. Osborn commanding.


4 Jan—USS Halibut (SSGN 587), the first and only nuclear-powered, Regulus guided missile submarine, is commissioned.
10 May—Triton completes the first submerged circumnavigation of the Earth, following Ferdinand Magellan’s route and covering more than 41,000 miles in eighty-four days. photo
20 July—While submerged off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, George Washington successfully fires two Polaris A-1 missiles with a range of 1,200 miles.
25 Aug— USS Seadragon (SSN 584) charts the Northwest Passage and surfaces at the North Pole, where the crew plays baseball. 15 Nov—George Washington departs Charleston, South Carolina, on the first operational deterrent patrol with the Polaris missile system.


3 Aug—USS Thresher (SSN 593) is commissioned at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the first unit of what will be a class of fourteen submarines.

2 Aug—Skate and Seadragon rendezvous under the ice and surface at the North Pole.
8 Nov—USS Ethan Allen (SSBN 608) fires six Polaris A-2 missiles (1,500-mile range) on the Atlantic missile range.

—USS Sam Houston (SSBN 609) is the first Polaris submarine assigned to a Mediterranean patrol.
10 Apr—Thresher is lost during a test dive 220 miles east of Boston. SUBSAFE, a wide-sweeping redesign and upgrade of submarine systems and procedures, is initiated as a result of this accident.
23 Apr—USS Lafayette (SSBN 616), lead ship of the third class of SSBNs, is commissioned.
— Polaris A-3 missile with a 2,500-mile range becomes operational.

—Halibut makes the last Regulus patrol.
21 Aug— USS Daniel Boone (SSBN 629) is the first fleet ballistic missile submarine permanently assigned to the Pacific.

18 Jan—President Lyndon B. Johnson announces plans to develop Poseidon C-3, a more powerful missile than the Polaris A-3.


6 Dec—USS Queenfish (SSN 651) is the first Sturgeon-class attack submarine to be commissioned.


1 Apr—USS Will Rogers (SSBN 659) is commissioned. This completes the building of the “41 for Freedom” FBM submarines, two years ahead of schedule.
12 Aug—Submarine Development Group One is established to prosecute deep submergence development. Captain A. G. Butler is first COMSUBDEVGRU One.

—At the height of the Vietnam War, the fleet consists of 932 active units, including 156 submarines (diesel and nuclear).
5 Jun—USS Scorpion (SSN 589) is lost during her transit from the Mediterranean Sea to Norfolk.
17 Aug—USS Dolphin (AGSS 555), a small, deep-diving, diesel-powered research and development submarine, is commissioned.

27 Oct—NR-1, the Navy’s only nuclear-powered deep diving research submarine, is placed in service.

—The first deep submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV), designed for quick deployment in the event of a submarine accident, is launched.
— Poseidon missile conversions begin on SSBN-616-class submarines.

—Design work begins on the Tomahawk cruise missile. This is the U.S. Navy’s first cruise missile since Regulus. Design work begins on a submerged-launch version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile.

16 Feb—The Secretary of the Navy announces Bangor, Washington, as the initial base for Trident submarine operations. Trident is the third generation strategic missile system (following Polaris and Poseidon).

27 Jun—USS Tigrone (AGSS 419), the last surviving World War II fleet submarine in the U.S. Navy, is decommissioned.

13 Nov—USS Los Angeles (SSN 688) is commissioned at Newport News, Virginia, as the first of a new class of attack submarines. She is outfitted with the S6G reactor plant.

—The U.S. Navy consists of 523 active ships, including 118 submarines (3 diesel, 115 nuclear). The defense budget is $95.1 billion, representing 23.4 percent of federal spending.

—Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, is established for Atlantic fleet Trident submarine operations.

—Ten SSBN 616-class submarines begin upgrades for Trident C-4 missile systems.


30 Mar—Nautilus is decommissioned at Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

—President Ronald Reagan plans a 600-ship navy with 100 attack submarines.
11 Nov—USS Ohio (SSBN 726), the first Trident-class submarine, is commissioned. She is outfitted with the S8G reactor plant and twenty-four missile launch tubes.

1 Feb—Admiral Hyman G. Rickover is relieved by Admiral Kinnaird R. McKee as the director of nuclear propulsion.

—Tomahawk cruise missile becomes operational.
—USS Sam Houston (SSN 609) and USS John Marshall (SSN 611) (ex SSBNs) begin conversion as swimmer delivery platforms.
—Design work begins on the Seawolf (SSN 21) class to succeed the SSN 688, Los Angeles class.
—The dry deck shelter, a modular housing capable of being fitted onto the deck of a submarine for swimmers and swimmer delivery vehicles (SDV) lockouts, is introduced.


—U.S. Navy consists of 594 active units, including 139 submarines (3 diesel, 136 nuclear). The defense budget is $274 billion, representing 27.3 percent of federal spending.

6 Aug—USS San Juan (SSN 751), the first improved 688-class submarine (688I), is commissioned. Improvements include a strengthening of the sail and the relocation of the fairwater planes to the bow.
17 Dec—USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), the first Trident submarine employing the D-5 missile system, is commissioned.

—USS Memphis (SSN 691) becomes a research platform to test advanced submarine technology.
21 Mar—The first submerged test launch of the eight-warhead Trident D-5 missile is made by Tennessee off Cape Canaveral, Florida.

—USS Scamp (SSN 588) becomes the first nuclear-powered submarine to be dismantled as part of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. This program leads to a safe and effective process for disposing of decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines.
1 Oct—USS Blueback (SS 581), the last diesel-powered attack submarine in the U.S. Navy inventory, is decommissioned.

—The U.S. Navy consists of 529 active units, including 121 nuclear-powered submarines.
—USS Louisville (SSN 724) and USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) fire the first Tomahawk cruise missiles from a submarine in combat during the Persian Gulf War.

—The SSN-21 construction program is terminated with three boats authorized.
9 Mar—USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN 658), one of the original “41 for Freedom,” is the last to be deactivated.


13 Sep—USS Cheyenne (SSN 773), the 62nd and last unit of the SSN-688-class submarines, is commissioned.

—U.S. Navy consists of 365 active ships, including 91 nuclear-powered submarines. Defense budget is $258.3 billion, representing 16.1 percent of federal spending.
19 Jul—USS Seawolf (SSN 21) is commissioned in Groton, Connecticut. She is outfitted with the S6W reactor plant.
6 Sep—USS Louisiana (SSBN 743), the 18th and last Trident-class submarine, is commissioned.

11 Dec—USS Connecticut (SSN 22) is commissioned.
—Tomahawk cruise missile strikes from submarines against targets inside Iraq emphasize a shift from “blue water” operations to the littorals.
—General Dynamics and Newport News announce a cooperative effort to build the SSN 774-class submarine. Each shipyard will build specific subassemblies for each boat.

2 Sep—USS Virginia (SSN 774) keel laying ceremony is held at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. With construction started at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, and Newport News, Virginia, Virginia is the lead ship of a new class of attack submarines. She is expected to be completed in 2004.

• Submarine Centennial—U.S. Submarine Force commemorates 100 years of “Silent Service.”


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