USS Albacore (AGSS-569) was a unique research submarine that pioneered the American version of the teardrop hull form (sometimes referred to as an "Albacore hull") of modern submarines. The design was directly influenced by the Type XXI U-boat submarine, and the Soviets had already gained a lead over the US by producing several of these advanced designs. It was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named for the albacore, a small tuna found in temperate seas throughout the world.
Her keel was laid down on March 15, 1952 by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard of Kittery, Maine. She was launched on August 1, 1953 sponsored by Mrs. J.E. Jowers, the widow of Chief Motor Machinist's Mate Arthur L. Stanton, lost with the second Albacore (SS-218), and commissioned on December 6, 1953 with Lieutenant Commander Kenneth C. Gummerson in command.
The effectiveness of submarines in World War II convinced both the Soviets and the United States Navy that undersea warfare would play an even more important role in coming conflicts and dictated development of superior submarines. The advent of nuclear power nourished the hope that such warships could be produced. The effort to achieve this goal involved the development of a nuclear propulsion system and the design of a streamlined submarine hull capable of optimum submerged performance.
Late in World War II, committees on both sides of the Iron Curtain studied postwar uses of atomic energy and recommended the development of nuclear propulsion for ships. Since nuclear power plants would operate without the oxygen supply needed by conventional machinery, and since techniques were available for converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen, submarine designers turned their attention to vessels which could operate for long periods without breaking the surface. Veteran submariners visualized a new type of submarine in which surface performance characteristics would be completely subordinated to high submerged speed and agility. In 1949 a special committee began a series of hydrodynamic studies which led to a program within the IS Bureau of Ships to determine what hull form would be best for submerged operation. The David Taylor Model Basin tested a series of proposed designs. The best two—one with a single propeller and the other with dual screws—were then tested in a wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base. The single-screw version was adopted, and construction of an experimental submarine to this design was authorized on November 25, 1950. This ship was classified as an auxiliary submarine (AGSS-569) and named Albacore.
The submarine departed Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on October 12, 1955 and sailed via Block Island, Rhode Island, for Key West, Florida, where she arrived on October 19, 1955 to commence antisubmarine warfare evaluation and to provide target services to the Operational Development Force's Surface Antisubmarine Development Detachment. On November 4, 1955, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, embarked on Albacore for a brief demonstration cruise. On November 19, 1955, Albacore sailed for a rendezvous point off the Bahama Islands where she conducted special operations until November 24, 1955 and then returned to Portsmouth.
From December 1955 to March 1956, Albacore underwent stern renewal. Until this time, her propeller had been surrounded by the rudder and stern plane control surfaces. With her "new look", she resembled a blimp, with her propeller aft of all control surfaces.
Operation with her new stern configuration started in April 1956 and continued until late in the year. In May, Albacore visited New York City and participated in the television production Wide, Wide World, during which she submerged, with an underwater camera mounted on her forecastle, the first live telecast of a submarine while diving.
The ensuing tests emphasized sound reduction and included extensive evaluation of Aquaplas, a sound dampening elastic which had been applied to the ship's superstructure and tank interiors. In October 1958, her bow planes were removed to cut down still more on noise. The submarine ended the year with a fortnight's run to Halifax Nova Scotia, and back to serve as a target ship for Canadian warships.
In 1959, a newly designed 14-foot propeller was installed and tested. Albacore sailed south late in May and, after operating in the British West Indies for two weeks, proceeded to Key West to serve as a target for the Surface Antisubmarine Development Detachment. After returning north, she spent much of the remainder of 1959 and most of 1960 undergoing widely varied tests for the David Taylor Model Basin. One of the more unusual consisted of evaluating a concave bow sonar dome.
In 1962, she received a newly developed DIMUS sonar system and, on December 7, 1962, work began on her fourth major conversion which included the installation of concentric contra-rotating propellers, of a high-capacity silver-zinc battery and of a larger main motor. New radio equipment, BQS and BQR sonars, an emergency recovery system, and a new main ballast tank blow system were also added. After the work was completed in March 1965, Albacore prepared for deployment to Florida waters to study the results of her changes. She returned to Portsmouth on October 8, 1962 and continued to evaluate her capabilities under the new configuration. On August 1, she reentered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to replace the silver-zinc battery and to shorten the distance between the contra-rotating propellers—work which lasted into August 1967.
Standardization and machinery tests in the Gulf of Maine during September were followed by evaluation of towed sonar arrays off Port Everglades, Florida, in October and November. Then came acoustics trials in the Tongue of the Ocean, a deep channel in the Central Bahama Islands.
On January 1, 1968, the submarine returned to Portsmouth for a modification of her propulsion system which kept her in the navy yard until 19 April. Then, following a month of trials in the Gulf of Maine, she headed south for evaluation of her new MONOB I and AUTEC systems and of Fly-Around-Body (FAB), Phase I, equipment on Tongue of the Ocean. She returned to Portsmouth on August 24, 1968 for AUTEC deinstrumentation and installation of FAB Phase II equipment. Then, following evaluation of this new gear in the Gulf of Maine, the Albacore returned to Portsmouth on 30 September and went into reduced operating status pending the results of further studies on the feasibility of using her thereafter for further research.
The ship remained for the most part inactive until February 2, 1970 when she began an overhaul in drydock and modifications to prepare her for Project Surpass, a research and development project sponsored by the Naval Ship Research and Development Center at Carderock, Maryland. The ship left drydock on April 16, 1971, commenced sea trials on July 22, 1971, and completed them on August, 1971. Early in October, she operated off Provincetown, Massachusetts, to calibrate her sonar and radar equipment.
After frequent diesel engine failures had caused repeated delays in her operations, her deployment in support of Project SURPASS was canceled and preparations for her deactivation were begun. Albacore was decommissioned on December 9, 1972 and laid up at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on May 1, 1980, and she was towed back to Portsmouth late in April 1984. When being towed to her drydock, the Albacore became stuck in the mud of Portsmouth Harbor. In 1985, she was dedicated as a memorial.
Albacore's service as an active experimental submersible for more than two decades steadily increased the Navy's knowledge of both theoretical and applied hydrodynamics which it used in designing faster, quieter, more maneuverable and safer submarines. The Navy's effort to build hulls capable of optimum operation while submerged was wedded to its nuclear propulsion program in the submarine Skipjack (SSN-585) which was laid down in the spring of 1956, and these two concepts have complemented each other in the design of all of the Navy's subsequent submarines.
Albacore is located at the Port of Portsmouth Maritime Museum and Albacore Park, 600 Market Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reference number 89001077. She was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 11, 1989.