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The Launching of the USS Nautilus

Fear of nuclear warfare engulfed both the United States and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. In an effort to “one up” the opposing country, both sides developed new, ground breaking offensive and defensive technology on a continuous basis to intimidate the other side from taking action. From the sea to the sky, scientific and human boundaries were pushed to prove the superiority of each nation.

In 1951, in the midst of McCarthy’s communist witch hunt and the Korean War, Congress authorized President Truman to create the worlds “first nuclear powered submarine.” Named after 5 preceding boats, the USS Nautilus was completed and launched from Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut on January 17, 1955, captained by Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson.

During its long naval history, the USS Nautilus accomplished many missions while “shattering all submerged speed and distance records.” In 1958, the boat was used to accomplish Operation Sunshine, the first crossing of the North Pole by submarine. Like the first landing on the moon, this daring expedition was aimed at proving superiority in technology, bravery, and strength to the Soviet Union. The completion of Operation Sunshine achieved its purpose, winning the US great admiration from numerous countries. It was a “new and superb achievement of the American pioneer spirit,” as Cherman Chancellor Adenauer proclaimed. For the next 20 years of the USS Nautilus’ service to the Navy, she covered more than 300,000 miles of ocean, completing missions and participating in various training and testing programs. Like fine wine, the Nautilus only got better with age, winning a white “A” for Antisubmarine Warfare Weapons and Operations Excellence in 1976.

On May 26th, 1979, the USS Nautilus completed her last mission and was retired after 25 years of service. She is now available for visiting at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, where she is an iconic figure of submarine warfare of years past.

Research by Brittany Kneidinger
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


“History of USS Nautilus (SSN 571).” U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum. 2004. Submarine Force Museum. Apr.-May 2008 .

“U.S.S. Nautilus.” Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. Presidential Libraries. Apr.-May 2008

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