110 Years of Submarines


USS HOLLAND (SS-1) (Naval Historical Center)

On Sunday, April 11th, the U.S. Submarine Force celebrated its 110th birthday. From its humble beginnings in 1900, the silent service has developed into a naval component that is the most deadly, the most effective, the most indestructible force in the world.

That’s a big claim. But I challenge anyone to dispute it.

It is fascinating to compare the submarines of today to SS-1. Here are the specifications of John Holland’s design for the first official submarine of the U.S. Navy (from the Naval Historical Center):

Power Plant: Otto Gasoline Engine (surfaced) Electric batteries (submerged)
Length: 53.8 feet (16.4 meters)
Beam: 10.7 feet (3.3 meters)
Displacement: 64 tons surfaced, 74 tons submerged (65/75 metric tons)
Speed: 6 knots (11 kph)
Crew: 1 Officer, 6 Enlisted
Armament: One 18-inch (457 millimeters) torpedo tube, Three Whitehead torpedoes
Date Deployed: 12 October 1900 (USS Holland)

And here are the specifications for today’s modern submarine (from Navy News Service fact file)

Modern Attack Submarine
Propulsion: One nuclear reactor, one shaft
Length: 377 feet (114.8 meters)
Beam: 34 feet (10.4 meters)
Displacement: Approximately 7,800 tons (7,925 metric tons) submerged
Speed: 25+ knots (28+ miles per hour, 46.3+ kph)
Crew: 134: 14 Officers; 120 Enlisted
Armament: Tomahawk missiles, twelve VLS tubes, MK48 ADCAP torpedoes, four torpedo tubes.

Modern Ballistic Missile Submarine
Date Deployed: Nov. 11, 1981 (USS Ohio)
Propulsion: One nuclear reactor, one shaft.
Length: 560 feet (170.69 meters).
Beam: 42 feet (12.8 meters).
Displacement: 16,764 tons (17,033.03 metric tons) surfaced; 18,750 tons (19,000.1 metric tons) submerged.
Speed: 20+ knots (23+ miles per hour, 36.8+ kph).
Crew: 15 Officers, 140 Enlisted.
Armament: 24 tubes for Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles, MK48 torpedoes, four torpedo tubes.

In the time between its birth over a century ago to today’s modern fleet of nuclear submarines, thousands of men have answered the call to fight beneath the waves. Some have never returned from patrol.

In WWII alone, fifty-two submarines were lost, and over 3500 men were killed.

It is a job that has no room for error. Perfection isn’t just expected, it is required.

Today’s Submariner is smart, technically proficient, and so good it almost seems unfair. Ask any Surface Warrior how good a U.S. submarine is. It can’t be found, even if you know where it is. You only know a submarine is in the area when it wants you to know.

USS Georgia (SSGN 729) (U.S. Navy photo)

USS Georgia (SSGN 729) (U.S. Navy photo)

But ask that same Surface Warrior how it feels to know a sub is operating in the area, and he or she will tell you how comforting that fact is – doubly so when operating in a combat situation.

So happy birthday to the Submariners of the U.S. Navy. You have earned your reputation through hard work, a ton of studying, and commitment to being the best.

And you are.


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