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USS Triton (SSRN-586)

USS Triton (SSRN/SSN-586), a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered radar picket submarine, was the first vessel to execute a submerged circumnavigation of the Earth, accomplishing this during her shakedown cruise in early 1960. She also has the distinction of being the only non-Soviet submarine to be powered by two nuclear reactors

Triton was the second submarine and the fifth ship of the United States Navy to be named for Triton, a Greek demigod of the sea who was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. At the time of her commissioning in 1959. Triton was the largest, most powerful, and most expensive submarine ever built, costing $109,000,000 which did not include the cost of nuclear fuel and reactors.

After operating for only two years in her designed role of a radar picket submarine, her usefulness was negated by the advent of the Grumman WF-2 Tracer airborne early warning aircraft. She was then converted to an attack submarine in 1962, and became the flagship for the Commander Submarine Forces U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT) in 1964. She was decommissioned in 1969, becoming the first U.S. nuclear submarine to be taken out of service.

Triton's hull was moored at the St. Julien's Creek Annex of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia as part of the reserve fleet until 1993, though she was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry in 1986. In 1993, she was towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to go through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, with this process initiated effective 1 October 2007.

Design history

Background

The USS Triton (SSRN-586) is considered part of the first generation of nuclear-powered submarines to be commissioned into the United States Navy, joining Nautilus, Seawolf, Halibut, and Skate and her three sister ships. While serving as fully operational units of the U.S. Navy, each vessel also performed a key developmental role.

The Nautilus introduced the use of nuclear power for ship propulsion. The Seawolf developed the use of liquid-metal nuclear reactor using liquid sodium as a alternative heat exchange medium to pressurized water. The Halibut was the first nuclear-powered submarine to perform a strategic nuclear deterrence patrol armed with Regulus cruise missiles. The Skate class were the first nuclear-powered submarines to go into series production.

For Triton, its unique contribution to the development of nuclear power for naval propulsion was its dual reactor plant combined with the high-speed requirement to fulfill its radar-picket mission.

Radar picket role

Radar-picket submarines were developed during the post-war period to provide intelligence information, electronic surveillance, and fighter aircraft interception control for forward-deployed naval forces. Unlike destroyers used as radar picket ships during World War Two, these submarines could avoid attack by submerging if detected. However, a key limiting factor was that these conventionally-powered submarines were too slow to operate with high-speed carrier task forces.

Triton was designed in the mid-1950s as a radar picket submarine capable to operate at high speed, on the surface, in advance of an aircraft carrier task force. Triton's high speed was derived from her twin-reactor nuclear propulsion plant, with a designed speed, surfaced and submerged, of 28 knots (52 kph). On 27 September 1959, Triton achieved 30 knots (56 kph) during her initial sea trials.

Triton's main air search radar was the AN/SPS-26, the U.S. Navy's first electronically scanned, three-dimensional search radar which was laboratory tested in 1953. The first set was installed onboard the destroyer leader USS Norfolk (DL-1) prior to its installation onboard the Triton in 1959. The SPS-26 had a range of and could track aircraft up to an altitude of . It was scanned electronically in elevation, and therefore did not need a separate height-finding radar. The radar could be stowed in Triton's massive sail when not in use.

Triton had a separate air control compartment, located between its reactor and operations compartments, that housed a fully-staffed combat information center (CIC) to process its radar, electronic, and air traffic data.

Twin nuclear reactor propulsion plant

Triton was the only non-Soviet submarine designed with two reactor propulsion plants, with her S4G reactors being identical seagoing versions to her land-based S3G reactor prototype. As originally designed, Triton's total reactor output was rated at . However, Triton achieved during her sea trials, and her first commanding officer, Captain Edward L. Beach, believed that Triton's plant could have reached "had that been necessary."

The number one reactor, located forward, supplied steam to the forward engineering room and the starboard propeller shaft. The number two reactor supplied steam to the after engineering room and the port propeller shaft. Each reactor could supply steam for the entire ship, or the reactors could be cross-connected as required. It is this enhanced reliability, redundancy, and dependability of its dual-reactor plant that was a key factor in the selection of Triton to undertake the first submerged circumnavigation of the world.

Triton's dual-reactor plant served a number of operational and engineering objectives, specifically high speed required to meet her radar-picket mission, which continue to be sources of speculation and controversy to this day. During the early 1950s, many engineers at Naval Reactors branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) were concerned about depending on single-reactor plants for submarine operations, particularly involving under-the-ice Arctic missions. The presence of two de-aerating feed tanks, which are used only on surface warships, suggests that Triton's twin-reactor plant served as a testbed for future multi-reactor surface warships. Finally, the U.S. Navy was debating the best approach to optimize performance, particularly underwater speed. Triton represented sheer brute horsepower to achieve higher speeds, while the other approaches emphasized the more hydrodynamic teardrop-shaped hull-form pioneered by the USS Albacore and, when combined with nuclear power, the USS Skipjack to achieve higher speed with less horsepower.

Other design features

Triton featured a knife-like bow, with a bulbous forefoot to enhance her surfaced sea-keeping, as well as possessing a high reserve buoyancy (30%) provided by 22 ballast tanks, the most ever installed on an American submarine. She was the last submarine to have a conning tower (a water-tight compartment built into the sail), as well as the last American submarine to have twin screws or a stern torpedo room. Her sail was the largest ever installed onboard an American submarine, measuring long, tall and wide, which was designed to house the large AN/SPS-26 3-D air-search radar antenna when not in use. She also had a compartment dedicated solely for crew berthing, with 96 bunks, and two separate chief petty officer (CPO) quarters. With an overall length of , Triton was the longest submarine ever built by the United States Navy until the commissioning of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

Combat systems

  • AN/BQS-4 — This active/passive sonar detecting-ranging set had a listening range up to for surfaced or snorkeling submarines, optimized to with target tracking capability within 5 degrees of accuracy.
  • AN/BQR-2 — This hull-mounted passive sonar array supplemented the BQS-4 system, with a range up to and a bearing accuracy of 1/10th of degree, allowing the BQR-2 to be used for fire control in torpedo attacks.
  • MK-101 — Fire-control system.
  • Mark 37 torpedo

Construction history

Keel laying

Triton was ordered in October 1956 as SCB 132 under the U.S. Department of Defense appropriation for Fiscal Year 1956. Her keel was laid down on 29 May 1956 in Groton, Connecticut, by the Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corporation, using material supplied by 739 different companies during the ensuing 26 months of construction. Triton's length presented Electric Boat with many problems during her construction. She was so long that her bow obstructed the slipway's railway facility used for transporting material around the yard, so the lower half of her bow was cut away and re-attached just days prior to her launch. Similarly, the last of her stern had to be built on an adjoining slipway and added before she was launched. Her sail was found to be too high to go under the scaffolding, so the top of the sail was cut away and re-attached later.

Launching

Triton was launched on 19 August 1958, with Louise Will, the wife of Vice Admiral John Will USN (ref.), as its sponsor. The principal address was delivered by Admiral Jerauld Wright, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command (CINCLANT), the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) for NATO. Over 35,000 guests attended the launching, the largest crowd to witness a submarine launching up to that time.

On 1 February 1959, Triton was provisionally accepted for service in the U.S. Navy, with Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr., the Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO), now designated as Officer-in-Charge. Triton met several key milestones before her commissioning. On 8 February 1959, reactor No. 2 achieved initial critical mass, while reactor No 1 achieved this milestone on 3 April 1959. Triton passed her initial sea trial on 27 September 1959 and her preliminary acceptance trials from 20 October to 23 October 1959.

Two shipboard accidents occurred during Triton's post-launch fitting out. On 2 October 1958, prior to the nuclear reactor fuel being installed, a steam valve failed during testing, causing a large cloud of steam that filled the number 2 reactor compartment, and on 7 April 1959, a fire broke out during the testing of a deep-fat fryer and spread from the galley into the ventilation lines of the crew's mess. Both incidents, neither nuclear related, were quickly handled by ship personnel, with Lt. Commander Leslie B. Kelly, the prospective chief engineering officer, being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his quick action during the 2 October incident.

Commissioning

Triton was commissioned on 10 November 1959 with Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr. in command. The keynote address was given by Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin, the Deputy CNO for Plans and Policy, who noted:

As the largest submarine ever built, her performance will be carefully followed by naval designers and planners the world over. For many years strategists have speculated on the possibilities of tankers, cargo ships and transports that could navigate under water. Some of our more futuristic dreamers have talked of whole fleets that submerge. Triton is a bold venture into this field.

A watercolor painting of the ship was presented by the American Water Color Society. The final cost of building Triton, less its reactors, nuclear fuel, and other related costs paid by the AEC, was $109,000,000 USD, making Triton the most expensive submarine ever built at the time of her commissioning.

Triton was assigned to Submarine Squadron 10, the U.S. Navy's first all-nuclear force, based at the U.S. Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut, under the command of Commodore Tom Henry. Triton subsequently completed torpedo trials at Naval Station Newport and conducted other special tests at the Norfolk Navy Base before returning to Electric Boat on 7 December 1959 in order to install special communications equipment. Work on the Triton at Electric Boat was delayed as priority was given to completing the Navy's first two fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines, the George Washington and the Patrick Henry.

On 20 January 1960, Triton got underway to conduct an accelerated series of at-sea testing. Triton returned on 1 February as preparations continued for her forthcoming shakedown cruise, scheduled for departure on 16 February 1960, which involved operating with the command ship USS Northampton (CLC-1), the flagship of the U.S. Second Fleet, in northern European waters. On 1 February 1960, Captain Beach received a message from Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Daspit, Commander Submarines Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT), instructing Beach to attend a top secret meeting at The Pentagon on 4 February.

Ship's Crest, Insignia, and Bell

The ship's crest depicts two atoms, which are symbolic of Triton's twin reactors; the falcons are symbolic of reconnaissance, which was Triton's initial mission; and the hand rising out of the sea with the trident refers to the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, and his son Triton, which is symbolic of sea power from the deep. The insignia patch depicts Triton holding his twisted conch shell which he blows like a trumpet to calm or raise the waves, with Triton's ship number SSRN 586 over his right shoulder. The ship's bell was the original ship's bell from the first submarine named Triton at the new Triton's commissioning ceremony on 10 November 1958. The bell was donated by the widow of the late Rear Admiral Willis Lent, the first commanding officer of Triton's namesake from World War II, USS Triton (SS-201).

Operation Sandblast — first submerged circumnavigation

Mission objectives

On 4 February 1960, Captain Edward L. Beach and Commodore Tom Henry of Submarine Squadron 10 arrived at The Pentagon in civilian attire to attend a top-secret, high-level meeting with Vice Admiral Wallace M. Beakley, Deputy CNO for Fleet Operations and Readiness; Rear Admiral Lawson P. Ramage, Director of the Undersea Warfare Division, OPNAV; Captain Henry G. Munson, Director of the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office and representatives from COMSUBLANT and COMSUBPAC.

It was announced that Triton's upcoming shakedown cruise was to be a submerged world circumnavigation, code-named Operation Sandblast, with the following mission objectives:

For purposes of geophysical and oceanographic research and to determine habitability, endurance and psychological stress - all extremely important to the Polaris program - it had been decided that a rapid round-the-world trip, touching the areas of interest, should be conducted. Maximum stability of the observing platform and unbroken continuity around the world were important. Additionally, for reasons of the national interest it had been decided that the voyage should be made entirely submerged undetected by our own or other forces and completed as soon as possible. TRITON, because of her size, speed and extra dependability of her two-reactor plant, had been chosen for the mission.

Triton would generally follow the track of the first circumnavigation (1519–1522) led by Ferdinand Magellan, departing 16 February, as scheduled, and arriving back home no later than 10 May 1960. Beach and Henry arrived back in New London at 5:45 A.M. on 5 February. Later that morning, after breakfast, Beach briefed his officers, whom Beach had insisted needed to know, about their new shakedown orders and the mission objectives for Operation Sandblast.

Operation Sandblast reflected the highest priority within the Eisenhower administration, with President Eisenhower's naval aide, Captain Evan P. Aurand, credited with recommending that a successful submerged circumnavigation, timed to conclude just prior to the upcoming Paris four-power summit in May 1960, would provide a much needed boost to American prestige.

Mission preparations

The officers and crew of the USS Triton had just 12 days to complete preparations for their much more ambitious, but top secret shakedown cruise. With the exception of Chief Quartermaster (QMC) William J. Marshall, the enlisted personnel did not initially know the true nature of their upcoming mission.

A key personnel change occurred on 2 February when Triton's veteran chief engineering officer, Lt. Commander Leslie D. Kelly, left the ship for duty at the Naval Reactors branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. His relief was his former assistant engineering officer, Lt. Commander Donald G. Fears.

A cover story was devised that, following the shakedown cruise, Triton would proceed to the Caribbean Sea to undergo additional testing required by the Bureau of Ships. The crew and civilians were instructed to file their Federal income taxes early and take care of all other personal finances that may arise through mid-May.

Lt. Commander Will M. Adams, Triton's executive officer, and Lt. Commander Robert W. Bulmer, Triton's operations officer, along with Chief Quartermaster Marshall, prepared the precise, mile-by-mile track of their upcoming voyage in the secure chart room, located at COMSUBLANT headquarters. Lt. Commander Robert D. Fisher, Triton's supply officer, coordinated the loading of ship's stores sufficient for a 120-day voyage. Eventually, some 77,613 pounds (35,205 kg) of food were loaded onboard, including 16,487 pounds (7,478 kg) of frozen food, 6,631 pounds (3,009 kg) of canned meat, 1,300 pounds (590 kg) of coffee, and 1,285 pounds (583 kg) of potatoes. Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover sent special power-setting instructions for Triton's reactors, allowing them to operate with greater flexibility and a higher safety factor. On 15 February 1960, Triton went to sea to do a final check of all shipboard equipment. Except for a malfunctioning wave-motion sensor, Triton was ready for her shakedown cruise.

Around the world submerged — 1960

Outward bound — 16 February to 24 February 1960

Triton departed New London on 16 February 1960 for what was announced as her shakedown cruise. Triton shaped course to the south-east (134 degrees True). At dawn on 17 February 1960, Triton performed its first morning star-sighting using the built-in sextant in its No. 1 periscope during the nightly ventilation of the shipboard atmosphere. The inboard induction valve was closed after the removal of a rusted flashlight that had prevented its closure.

Captain Edward L. Beach announced the true nature of their shakedown cruise:

Men, I know you’ve all been waiting to learn what this cruise is about, and why we’re still headed southeast. Now, at last, I can tell you that we are going on the voyage which all submariners have dreamed of ever since they possessed the means of doing so. We have the ship and we have the crew. We’re going around the world, nonstop. And we’re going to do it entirely submerged.

Later that day, Triton experienced a serious leak with a main condenser circulating water pump, and a reactor warning alarm tripped because of a defective electrical connection. Both incidents were handled successfully and did not affect the ship's performance. On 18 February, Triton conducted its first general daily drill and, on 19 February, released its first twice-daily hydrographic bottles used to study ocean current patterns. On 23 February, Triton detected a previously uncharted seamount with its echo-sounding fathometer.

On 24 February 1960, Triton made its first landfall, reaching St. Peter and Paul Rocks after traveling . The Rocks would serve as the home base for Triton's submerged circumnavigation. Photographic reconnaissance was carried out by Lt. Richard M. Harris, the CIC/ECM officer, and Chief Cryptologic Technician (CTC) William R. Hadley, who would be the ship's secondary photo-recon team for the voyage. Triton turned south and crossed the equator for the first time later that day, passing into the Southern Hemisphere, with ship's personnel participating in the crossing the line ceremony.

Destination: Cape Horn — 24 February to 7 March 1960

On 1 March 1960, as Triton passed along the east coast of South America, a trio of crises threatened to end Operation Sandblast. The first was when Chief Radarman (RDC) John R. Poole began suffering from a series of kidney stones. The second was when the ship's fathometer malfunctioned, putting it out of commission, with its loss meaning Triton could no longer echo-sound the sea floor, risking possible grounding or collision. The third was when readings on one of the reactors indicated a serious malfunction which require its shutdown. As Captain Beach noted: "So far as Triton and the first of March were concerned, it seemed that troubles were not confined to pairs. On that day we were to have them in threes.

Later that day, Lieutenant Milton R. Rubb and his electronics technicians returned the fathometer to operational status, and Chief Engineer Donald D. Fears, Reactor Officer LCDR Robert P. McDonald and Triton's engineering crew repaired the malfunctioning reactor. Since Poole's symptoms were intermittent, Triton continued south, although there was a detour to the Golfo Nuevo region when the ship investigated an unknown sonar contact. Contemporary news accounts reported that the Argentine Navy had been encountering numerous unknown submarine contacts in the Golfo Nuevo during early 1960, but Triton's sonar contact turned out to be a school of fish.

On 3 March 1960, Triton raised the Falkland Islands on radar and prepared to conduct photoreconnaissance of Stanley, but before they could sight the islands, Poole's condition worsened so, taking a calculated risk, Captain Beach ordered Triton's course reversed, ran up all ahead Flank, and sent a radio message describing the situation. From the ship's log on that date:

In the control and living spaces, the ship had quieted down, too. Orders were given in low voices; the men speak to each other, carrying out their normal duties, in a repressed atmosphere. A regular pall has descended upon us. I know that all hands are aware of the decision and recognize the need for it. Perhaps they are relieved that they did not have to make it. But it is apparent that this unexpected illness, something that could neither have been foreseen nor prevented, may ruin our submergence record.

Fortunately, the heavy cruiser USS Macon (CA-132), Captain Reuben T. Whitaker commanding, was on a good will cruise to South American ports since January as the flagship for Rear Admiral Edward C. Stephan, Commander Naval Forces South Atlantic (Task Force 138). The Macon had been in Argentine waters in conjunction with President Eisenhower's visit to Argentina from February 26 - 29, 1960. In the early hours of 5 March 1960, Triton rendezvoused with the Macon off Montevideo, Uruguay, after a diversion of over . Triton broached, exposing only her sail while the rest of the ship remained submerged. A boat-handling party led by Lieutenant George A. Sawyer, the ship's gunnery officer, transferred Chief Poole to the waiting whale boat, which then returned to the Macon. Poole would be the only crew member who did not complete the voyage. Chief Radarman John R. Poole was subsequently examined by both the medical staff of the USS Macon and subsequently at a hospital in Montevideo, and his third kidney stone attack, which prompted his transfer off Triton, proved to be his last, without the need for an operation.

After the rendezvous, Triton re-submerged and turned south. Triton subsequently passed to the west of the Falklands, and she rounded Cape Horn through Estrecho de le Maire on 7 March. Captain Beach described his first impressions of this legendary lands-end of the Western Hemisphere as being "bold and forbidding, like the sway-backed profile of some prehistoric sea monster. Captain Beach allowed all crew members the opportunity to view the Horn through the periscope, requiring five reverses of course to keep it in sight.

Across the Pacific — 7 March to 31 March 1960

On 7 March 1960, Triton entered the Pacific Ocean and passed into the operational control of Rear Admiral Roy S. Benson, Commander Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), who had been Captain Beach's commanding officer on the USS Trigger (SS-237) during World War II. Triton's first Pacific landfall would be Easter Island, some away. On 8 March 1960, Triton detected a seamount, registering a minimum depth of , with a total height of above the ocean floor. Also on that day, Triton successfully conducted a drill simulating the emergency shutdown of its reactors and loss of all power.

On 9 March 1960, the starboard shaft seal sprung a major leak in the after engine room. A make-shift locking clamp was jury-rigged to contain the leak. On 12 March 1960, the trouble-plagued fathometer ceased operation when its transducer header flooded, grounding out the entire system. Since the transducer head was located outside the ship's pressure hull, it could not be repaired except in drydock. Without an operational fathometer, Triton could be vulnerable to grounding or collision with uncharted submerged formations. It was subsequently determined that the cabling to Triton's fathometer head, located in the bulbous forefoot of her bow, had not been properly insulated, and the constant buffeting caused by Triton's high speed ruptured these cables, rendering the fathometer inoperable.

An alternative to the fathometer was devised involving the use of the ship's active forward search sonar in conjunction with the gravity meter installed in the combat intelligence center (CIC). By using both systems in tandem, underwater masses could be detected and avoided, although this approach lacked the capability of the fathometer to echo-sound the depth of the ocean floor.

On 13 March 1960, Triton detected a submerged peak using active sonar and the gravity meter that confirm the feasibility of this procedure. Triton next raised Easter Island on that same day, first by radar, then by periscope. She photographed the northeastern coast for some two and a half hours before spotting the statue Thor Heyerdahl had erected. Again all crewmen were invited to observe through the periscope. Triton's next landfall would be Guam, some away.

On 17 March 1960, a malfunctioning air compressor was repaired, requiring the re-wiring of its armature, a task ordinarily done by a submarine tender. Captain Beach was deeply impressed by "this spirit and outlook [that] permeated our crew." He was also "astonished" by two different make-shift fathometer sound transmitters created by the electronic and engineering crew. One was based on a general announcing speaker while the other used a stainless steel cooking pot from the galley, with stainless steel rods and copper wiring. Beach noted: "I could only marvel at the ingenuity of the American sailor. On 19 March 1960, Triton detected another submerged peak, using its sonar and gravity meter, and then crossed the equator for the second time and passed into the Northern Hemisphere. Another submerged peak was successfully detected on 20 March 1960. Later that day, Triton made its closest approach to Pearl Harbor, and the crew celebrated with a Luau party.

On 23 March 1960, Triton crossed the International Date Line and lost 24 March from her calendar. On 25 March 1960, sonar indicated another rise from the ocean floor, which was previously uncharted, and was logged with a depth of . On 27 March 1960, Triton passed the point of closest approach to the location where the previous Triton was lost during World War II, and a memorial service was held to commemorate the occasion. A submerged naval gun salute was fired to honor the lost crew when three water-slugs were shot in quick succession from the forward torpedo tubes.

On the morning of 28 March 1960, Triton raised Guam and observed activity on shore. Petty Officer Edward Carbullido, who had been born on Guam but had not returned home for 14 years, was asked to identify his parents' house through the periscope while the boat remained submerged in Agat Bay. Triton then changed course for the Philippines, the mid-point of her around-the-world voyage. Carbullido was able to go home to Guam for Christmas 1960 on a 60-day leave, the cost of his flight paid for by selling a magazine article on Triton's circumnavigation and with the assistance of Pan American Airways.

The Philippines: In the wake of Magellan — 31 March to 4 April 1960

On 31 March 1960, Triton crossed over the Philippine Trench and began threading her way through the vast Philippine archipelago, passing from the Philippine Sea through the Surigao Strait into the Mindanao Sea, and then through the Bohol Strait into the Camotes Sea.

A special water sample was taken during Triton's transit of Surigao Strait; its recipient was retired Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf, the task force commander whose battleships had defeated the Japanese Southern Force during the Battle of Surigao Strait, history's last naval battle fought only by surface warships, during World War II. Captain Beach observed: "We think that Admiral Oldendorf will appreciate a sample of this body of water.

On 1 April 1960, Triton raised Mactan Island and shortly before noon sighted the monument commemorating the death of Ferdinand Magellan at that site, with Triton thereby reaching the mid-point of its submerged circumnavigation. Captain Beach reflected on Magellan and his demise:

Ordinarily a leader given to the most meticulous preparations for any important undertaking, one who personally checked every item and left no stone unturned in his effort to eliminate any possible cause of failure, Magellan's every action during this entire episode ... might almost have been calculated with the intention of seeking defeat. Such was the height of his religious fervor that divine intervention was expected as a matter of course. God, having brought him this far, would not forsake him now So much have thought Magellan in the height of his exaltation, forgetting entirely that God is not bound by the conventions of man's thought.

Later that same day, April Fool's Day, Triton was sighted by the only unauthorized person to spot the submarine during her secret voyage — a young Filipino man in a small dugout canoe about off Triton’s beam. Noted photographer Joseph Baynor Roberts of the National Geographic Magazine was able to snap several photos of this unexpected interloper through the ship's periscope before Triton moved out of range. The November 1960 issue of National Geographic Magazine would identify of the fisherman as then 19-year-old Rufino Baring of Punta Engano, Mactan Island, who believed that he had encountered a sea monster: "I was very frightened. I tried to get away as fast as I could.

Later on the afternoon of 1 April 1960, Triton proceeded through Hilutangan Channel into the Sulu Sea via the Bohol Strait. On 2 April 1960, Triton's gyroscopic repeaters experienced severe oscillations, possibly caused by a malfunctioning syncro amplifier, which ceased when shifted to direct gyro input to the helm. Later, while transiting Pearl Bank Passage, this gyro malfunction nearly caused a potentially hazardous helm error, although the problem was quickly corrected. Triton then proceeded through the Sibutu Passage into the Celebes Sea, leaving Philippine waters. Triton entered the Makassar Strait, crossing the equator for the third time, on 3 April 1960, and then, during 4 April, transited the Flores Sea, bound for Lombok Strait, the gateway to the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean: sealed ship — 5 April to 17 April 1960

On 5 April 1960, Triton entered the Indian Ocean via the Lombok Strait. The transition proved to be dramatic. The change in salinity and density of the seawater caused the Triton to dive abruptly from periscope depth to in about 40 seconds. Captain Beach noted: "I had experienced changes in water density many times before, but never one of this magnitude." Triton returned to periscope depth and subsequently entered the Indian Ocean.

While crossing the Indian Ocean, Triton conducted a sealed-ship experiment. Beginning on 10 April 1960, rather than refreshing the air in the boat by snorkeling each night, she remained sealed, using compressed air to make up for consumed oxygen, as well as burning oxygen candles to replenish the ship's atmosphere. Also, starting on 15 April 1960, the smoking lamp was extinguished, with no tobacco smoking permitted anywhere aboard the ship. On Easter Sunday, 17 April 1960, Triton rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the South Atlantic Ocean, returning to the operational control of Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Daspit (COMSUBLANT).

Return to the Rocks — 17 April to 25 April 1960

The smoking lamp was re-lit on 18 April 1960, with the three days of prohibition having taken a noticeable toll on the crew's morale. Rather than passing the word in a traditional manner, Captain Beach demonstrated the lifting of the ban by walking though the ship smoking a cigar, blowing smoke in people's faces, and asking, "Don't you wish you could do this?" He recorded in his log that "it took some 37 seconds for the word to get around." On 20 April 1960, Triton crossed the Prime Meridian, and on 24 April 1960, the sealed atmosphere experiment was terminated.

On that same day, the hydraulic line to the stern plane mechanism in the after torpedo room burst, caused by a fractured valve. Through the quick action by Torpedoman's Mate Third Class (TM3) Allen W. Steele, aided by Engineman Third Class (EN3) Arlan F. Martin, this potentially catastrophic event was successfully contained. Eventually, the main hydraulic system was restored with a control valve from the steering system, but the ship's steering controls remain on emergency mode for the rest of the voyage. For his quick and decisive actions in handling this emergency, Steele was presented the Navy Commendation Medal.

On 25 April 1960, Triton crossed the equator for the final time, entering the Northern Hemisphere, and shortly thereafter, sighted St. Peter and Paul Rocks, completing the first submerged circumnavigation. As Captain Beach noted: "We are not yet home, but we may be considered to have taken a long lead off third base."

Homeward bound — 25 April to 11 May 1960

During 28 - 29 April 1960, Triton conducted engineering drills, and then proceeded to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, arriving on 30 April 1960, and thereafter setting course for Cadiz, Spain, to complete two additional goals of Operation Sandblast on 2 May 1960. These two goals were to honor the seaport where Magellan set sail from in 1519, and the other was to make the delivery of the plaque created to honor Magellan's and Triton's historic voyages (see below). Afterward, Triton descended to cruise depth and increased speed to all ahead full. As Captain Beach noted: "We are on the last leg of our trip enroute to the United States. Triton returned to the United States, surfacing off the coast of Delaware on 10 May 1960. Captain Beach was helicoptered to Washington, DC, where news of Triton's submerged around-the-world voyage was announced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House, with Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, known as the Father of the Nuclear Navy, in attendance. Beach was helicoptered back to his ship later that day, and Triton arrived back at Groton, Connecticut on 11 May 1960, completing her shakedown cruise and the first submerged circumnavigation of the earth.

Mission accomplishments

Key mileage and duration figures

Total Mileage and Duration of Actual Submerged Circumnavigation

  • Nautical Miles -
  • Dates - 24 February to 25 April 1960
  • Duration - 60 days and 21 hours
  • Average Speed of Advance (SOA) -

On the full shakedown cruise Triton was submerged for a total of 83 days, 09 hours, covering . The total shakedown cruise length was 84 days, 19 hours, 8 minutes, covering . Triton also crossed the equator four times during its circumnavigation on the following dates and locations:

Scientific accomplishments

Water samples were taken throughout Triton's circumnavigation, which were tested for differences in chemical composition, salinity, density, and temperature. Such samples were vital for submarine operations. Water salinity and density affects submerged trim while warmer water affects the efficiency of shipboard condensers and, consequently, ship speed. Measurements from the installed gravity meter provided a continuous record of variations in earth's gravity field throughout Triton's circumnavigation. This extensive gravity study would assist the Navy in developing navigational aids. Some 144 hydrographic bottles to track ocean currents were released during Operation Sandblast. Triton mapped uncharted seamounts, coral reefs, and other submerged topographic structures using its fathometer and sonar systems.

Vital national interests

Operation Sandblast proved nuclear-powered submarines could undertake extended operations independent of any external support. Specifically, Triton tested a prototype ship inertial navigational system (SINS) for submarine use, as well as being the first submarine to test the floating very low frequency (VLF) communications buoy system, with both systems being vital for the Navy's upcoming Polaris fleet ballistic missile submarines (FBM) deterrence patrols. Finally, the psychological testing of Triton's crew members to determine the effects of long-term isolation was particularly relevant for the initial deployment of the Navy's fleet ballistic missile submarines, as well as NASA's upcoming manned space program, Project Mercury.

Aftermath

Media coverage

Because of the public uproar over the U-2 Incident, most of the official celebrations for Triton's submerged circumnavigation were canceled. The voyage did receive extensive contemporary coverage by the news media, including feature magazine articles by Argosy, Life, Look, and National Geographic, as well as television and newsreels. Triton's submerged circumnavigation was the subject of the ABC television series Expedition! broadcast on Tuesday, 14 February 1960, 1961.

The U.S. government published an 82-page redacted version of the USS Triton log following the submerged circumnavigation. Captain Edward L. Beach wrote the lead article ("Triton Follows Magellan's Wake") on the Triton's circumnavigation for the November 1960 issue of National Geographic Magazine, and he also wrote a book-length account of the Triton submerged circumnavigation published in 1962.

Official recognition

On 10 May 1960, Triton received the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) from United States Secretary of the Navy William B. Franke, which was accepted by Chief Torpedoman's Mate (TMC) Raymond Chester Fitzjarrald, the chief of the boat (COB), on behalf of the officers and crew of the Triton. This was only the second time that a U.S. Navy vessel had been awarded the PUC for a peacetime mission. The citation for the PUC read:

''For meritorious achievement from the 16th of February 1960 to the 10th of May 1960.

During this period TRITON circumnavigated the earth submerged, generally following the route of Magellan’s historic voyage. In addition to proving the ability of both crew and nuclear submarine to accomplish a mission which required almost three months of submergence, TRITON collected much data of scientific importance. The performance, determination and devotion to duty of TRITON’s crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service.

All members of the crew who made this voyage are authorized to wear the Presidential Unit Citation ribbon with a special clasp in the form of a golden replica of the globe.

Captain Edward L. Beach received the Legion of Merit from President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House on 10 May 1960,. The citation read:

For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service while serving on board the U.S.S. TRITON from the 16th of February 1960 to the 10th of May 1960. As Commanding Officer, Captain Edward L. Beach, United States Navy, led his crew with courage, foresight and determination in an unprecedented circumnavigation of the globe, proving man's ability under trying conditions to accomplish prolonged submerged missions as well as testing new and complex equipment in the world's largest submarine. This historic voyage took his ship into strange waters under difficult and frequently unknown conditions, as a result, the TRITON collected much valuable oceanographic information. Captain Beach's sound judgment, masterful leadership, professional skill and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service.

Captain Beach received the 1960 Giant of Adventure Award from the popular men's magazine Argosy, which dubbed Beach the "Magellan of the Deep. Beach also received an honorary doctorate of science (Sc.D) from the American International College, whose citation reads:

Your most recent exploit in commanding the largest submarine in existence during an historic submerged voyage around the globe has won for you and your crew the admiration of the world you circled.

In 1961, the American Philosophical Society presented Captain Beach with its Magellanic Premium, the nation's oldest and most prestigious scientific award, in "recognition of his navigation of the U.S. submarine Triton around the globe.

Operational history

Even before her launch, there was considerable discussion of Triton's role beyond its radar picket mission. An internal Navy memorandum set forth four options for the submarine's extended use. These options included configuration to serve as a command ship (SSCN) for a fleet or force commander, an advanced sonar scout for the fleet, a regulus cruise missile submarine (SSGN) or a minelaying submarine. However, with the exception of the command ship option, all would require extensive modification to Triton's original design.

Another potential mission for Triton was as a underwater tugboat that could rescue disabled submarines under the Arctic ice pack. Captain Edward L. Beach, Triton's first commanding officer, requested that plans be drawn up for this modification, which he characterized as being "easy and inexpensive" to do. Although this underwater towing capability was never used, it later became a key plot element in Beach's 1978 novel Cold is the Sea.

Initial deployments

Following her post-shakedown availability (PSA), Triton assumed her duties as a radar picket submarine in August 1960. She deployed to northern European waters with the Second Fleet to participate in NATO exercises oriented around detecting and intercepting Soviet bombers overflying the Arctic. Triton also participate in NATO exercises against British naval forces led by the aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Hermes under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Charles Madden. Triton climaxed the deployment with a port visit to Bremerhaven, West Germany, the first visit by a nuclear-powered ship to a European port, from October 2 - 9, 1960, with an estimated 8,000 touring the ship during this port-call. For the first half of 1961, Triton conducted operational patrols and training exercises with the Atlantic Fleet. She also deployed to monitor the Soviet 50-megaton hydrogen bomb detonation at Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Sea during late October 1961.

Overhaul and conversion

During this period, the rising threat posed by Soviet submarine forces increased the Navy's demands for nuclear-powered attack submarines with antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capability. Accordingly, upon the demise of the Navy's radar picket submarine program following the development of the carrier-based Grumman WF-2 Tracer airborne early warning aircraft, Triton was redesignated to hull classification symbol SSN-586 on 1 March 1961. Triton entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in June 1962 for conversion to an attack submarine. Her crew complement was reduced from 172 men to 159. The Navy had no plans to use her radar picket capability, but she still carried her BPS-26 search radar and could have fulfilled this role. She was overhauled and refueled at Groton, Connecticut, from September 1962 to January 1964, which included modification to serve as the flagship for the Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT).

Floating White House theory

Because she would subsequently serve as the COMSUBLANT flagship (see below) following her overhaul, one area of continuing speculation has been whether Triton was part of the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA) program. NECPA was tasked to provide afloat facilities for the President of the United States in case of an emergency or war, with the USS Northampton (CC-1) and USS Wright (CC-2) assigned to perform this mission.

Triton offered a number of compelling attributes that would have made her an attractive NECPA platform. Her size allowed for ample growth margins for additional shipboard systems and accommodations while her designed speed allowed for rapid transit and her nuclear power plant offered virtually unlimited endurance and range. The Combat Information Center (CIC) provided substantial command-and-control capabilities as did the very-low-frequency (VLF) communication buoy system that could receive and send radio transmissions while submerged. Finally, because she was a submarine Triton offered superior protection against nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) contaminants over surface ships or aircraft. However, the record remains unclear if such an explicit conversion was ever undertaken.

Subsequent operations & decommissioning

In March 1964, upon completion of its overhaul, Triton's home port was changed from New London, Connecticut, to Norfolk, Virginia. On 13 April 1964, Triton became the flagship for the Commander Submarine Forces U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT), and served in that role until relieved by submarine Ray (SSN-653) on 1 June 1967. Eleven days later, Triton was shifted to her original home port of New London. The submarine was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation by the Secretary of the Navy in 1967, with the citation:

For exceptionally meritorious service during a period in 1967, USS TRITON, a nuclear submarine, conducted an important and arduous independent submarine operation of great importance to the national defense of the United States. The outstanding results during this operation attest to the professional skill, resourcefulness, and ingenuity of TRITON’s officers and men. Their inspiring performance of duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Because of cutbacks in defense spending, Triton's scheduled 1967 overhaul was canceled, and the submarine — along with 60 other vessels — was slated for inactivation. From October 1968 through May 1969, the submarine underwent preservation and inactivation processes, and Triton was decommissioned on 3 May 1969. Triton became the first U.S. nuclear-powered submarine to be taken out of service, although the Soviet Navy's November-class submarine K-27, equipped with two liquid metal (lead-bismuth) cooled VT-1 reactors, had been deactivated by 20 July 1968.

Final deposition

On 6 May 1969, Triton departed New London under tow and proceeded to Norfolk where she was placed in the inactive fleet. She remained berthed at Norfolk or at the St. Julien's Creek Annex of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia into 1993. Triton was stricken on 30 April 1986 from the Naval Vessel Registry.

In August 1993, the hulks of Ex-Triton and Ex-Ray were towed by the USS Bolster (ARS-38) to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PNSY), in Bremerton, Washington, arriving on 3 September 1993, to await their turn through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program (SRP). Effective 1 October 2007, Ex-Triton landed on the keel resting blocks in the drydock basin to begin its recycling.

The USS Triton (SSN-586) was the 2003 inductee into the Submarine Hall of Fame following its nomination by the Tidewater chapter and Hampton Roads Base of the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI) in 2003. A shadow box filled with Triton memorabilia was placed in Alcorn Auditorium of Ramage Hall located at the U.S. Navy Submarine Learning Center, Naval Station Norfolk.

Commanding Officers

  • Edward L. Beach — November 1959 to July 1961
  • George Morin — July 1961 to September 1964
  • Robert Rawlins — September 1964 to November 1966.
  • Frank Wadsworth — November 1966 to May 1969

Legacy

Triton Plaque

In the eight days prior to Triton's departure on its around-the-world submerged voyage, Captain Edward L. Beach approached Lt. Tom B. Thamm, Triton's Auxiliary Division Officer, to design a commemorative plague for their upcoming voyage as well as the first circumnavigation of the world led by Ferdinand Magellan. The plaque's eventual design consisted of a brass disk about in diameter, bearing a sailing ship reminiscent of Ferdinand Magellan's carrack Trinidad above the US submarine dolphin insignia with the years 1519 and 1960 between them, all within a laurel wreath. Outside the wreath is the motto AVE NOBILIS DUX, ITERUM FACTUM EST ("Hail Noble Captain, It Is Done Again").

Commodore Tom Henry of Submarine Squadron 10 supervised the completion of the plaque. The carving of the wooden form was done by retired Chief Electrician's Mate Ernest L. Benson at the New London Submarine Base. The actual molding of the plaque was done by the Mystic Foundry.

During the homeward leg of its around-the-world voyage, Triton rendezvous with the destroyer USS John W. Weeks (DD-701) on 2 May 1960 off Cadiz, Spain, the departure point for Magellan's earlier voyage. Triton broached, and the Weeks transferred the finished plaque to the Triton for transport back to the United States. The Triton plaque was subsequently presented to the Spanish government by John Davis Lodge, the United States Ambassador to Spain. Copies of the Triton Plaque are located at the City Hall in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain; the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut; the Naval Historical Association in Washington, DC; and two locations in Groton, Connecticut: the U.S. Navy Submarine School and the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and Library. The plaque mounted on the wall of the city hall of Sanlucar de Barrameda also has a marble slab memorializing the 1960 Triton submerged circumnavigation.

Triton Medal

The Triton Medal is a special commemorative heirloom of the 1960 around-the-world voyage by the Triton. It was presented to each member of the Circumnavigation Crew by Captain Edward L. Beach, who had the medals cast in Bremerhaven, West Germany, when the Triton visited that port following her first overseas deployment during the Fall of 1960.

On the face of the medal is a clear anchor with three electron rings circling the shank. The name of each recipient is engraved below the anchor crown. Around the circumference of the medal's face is the inscription, FIRST SUBMERGED CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF THE WORLD and USS TRITON SSRN 586 1960. The edge of the medal's face is encircled by rope. On the reverse of the medal is a miniature replica of the Triton Plaque.

Triton memorials

Triton Light is a navigational beacon on the seawall of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Severn River meets Spa Creek and the Annapolis harbor. It was donated to the Academy and named for the Greek god by the USNA Class of 1945. The crew of the USS Triton (SSRN-586) provided samples of water taken from the 22 seas through which their ship had passed during their submerged 1960 circumnavigation, which were used to fill a globe built into the Triton Light along with a commemorative marker.

Beach Hall is the new headquarters for the United States Naval Institute which was dedicated on 21 April 1999. The facility is named after Captain Edward L. Beach, Sr., who served as the Institute's secretary-treasurer, and his son, Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr., who commanded Triton during Operation Sandblast. Triton's dive wheel from its conning tower is on display in the lobby of Beach Hall.

USS Triton Recruit Barracks was dedicated in ceremonies at the U.S. Navy's Recruit Training Command (RTC), Naval Station Great Lakes, near North Chicago, Illinois, on 25 June 2004. The facility honors the memory of two submarines named Triton and includes memorabilia from both vessels. Triton Hall is the fifth barracks constructed under the RTC Recapitalization Project, covering 172,000 square feet (15,979 square meters) in floor space. The facility is designed to accommodate 1056 recruits, and it includes berthing, classrooms, learning resource centers, a galley, a quarterdeck, and a modern HVAC system.

Triton Park is a future memorial park to be located along the Columbia River in Washington. The park will feature Triton's massive sail superstructure and an information display on the history of the Triton The park will also serve as a tourist attraction, especially due to its location, since Hanford is the resting place of spent reactor cores from several Navy ships. The park's tentative location is at the end of Port of Benton Boulevard in north Richland, Washington. The sail would be cut up for transport and re-assembly at the park site. Ground-breaking would taken place on 3 April, 2008, with the dedication ceremony set for 19 August 2008 and a Fall 2009 start-date for construction. The port authority's plan estimates the project will cost $400,000 USD for the memorial, parking, rest rooms, and informational kiosks.

Cultural references

Triton was referenced briefly in three popular Cold War novels. In The Last Mayday by Keith Wheeler (1968), Triton was depicted as participating in a submarine training exercise at the beginning of the novel, with special notice made of her large, rectangular sail. In Cold is the Sea by Edward L. Beach, the 1978 sequel to his 1955 best-seller Run Silent, Run Deep, Triton was mentioned several times. Finally, in The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (1984), the biographical background for Marko Ramius mentioned that, while commanding a Charlie-class submarine, Ramius had "hounded mercilessly for twelve hours" the Triton in the Norwegian Sea. Subsequently, Ramius "would note with no small satisfaction that the Triton was soon thereafter retired, because, it was said, the oversized vessel had proven unable to deal with the newer Soviet designs.

Triton was also the name of one of the submersibles used in the Submarine Voyage attraction at Disneyland which operated from 1959 to 1998. Operation Sandblast may have inspired two globe-circling submarine films of the period, Irwin Allen's 1961 film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Ivan Tors' 1966 film Around the World Under the Sea. Finally, Antigua-Barbuda issued a stamp commemorating Triton's 1960 submerged circumnavigation (pictured).

See also

References

Notes

Bibliography

Primary sources

- USS Triton (SSRN/SSN-586)

External links

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