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[cdn-nucl-l] Nautilus celebrates 50th anniversary: 'All right,' he said. 'make me a schedule.'
Underway on nuclear power
By: Steven Feller
Nautilus celebrates first underway's 50th anniversary
1955 was a busy year for America. Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was
declared safe for distribution, Scrabble made its debut in the board game
industry, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees, four games to
three, to claim their first World Series Victory, and Rosa Parks and Dr.
Martin Luther King led the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama. So
it's no small wonder that USS Nautilus' (SSN 571) first underway went
A half-century to the day later, shipmates young and old came together to
honor Nautilus at the 50th anniversary of her first underway Monday at the
Submarine Force Library and Museum.
Lt. Cmdr. Chris Slawson, officer-in-charge of Historic Ship Nautilus, noted
that even though there was little fanfare associated with Nautilus' first
underway 50 years ago, in the following years people would come to
appreciate what it meant.
"I'm sure few that day in 1955, could appreciate the enormous impact that
Nautilus' successful application of nuclear power would have, not only on
the submarine force, but also the rest of the Navy, and the civilian power
industry," he said. "Reverberations of that event are still echoing and the
transformation of the submarine force, which began with the nuclear-powered
Nautilus 50 years ago, continues today."
One of the speakers for the event, Capt. Frank Caldwell, Commander,
Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE, examined in detailed the changes
Nautilus brought to the submarine force, and how that desire to improve and
innovate can still be seen on the waterfront today, most notably, aboard USS
Virginia (SSN 774).
"Nautilus is a total warship. With the inherent stealth of a submerged
platform, an impressive speed advantage over earlier submarines, and an
unlimited endurance, Nautilus had the ability to hit targets, evade at
sustained speeds and reengage targets," he said. "Nautilus changed the way
we conduct attacks against surface and submerged targets. Not only did she
set records for submerged endurance, speed and global reach, but she
transformed our force in the way we conduct all of our submarine missions
"Like those who have gone before in taking Nautilus to sea, the submarine
force continues to respond to the nation's needs, transforming the force to
meet our peacetime and combatant challenges," continued Caldwell.
In telling of the story leading to the first underway, Vice Adm. Eugene
Wilkinson, USN (Ret.), Nautilus' first commanding officer, was invited as
the event's featured speaker.
Wilkinson explained how he developed the schedule for the construction for
the project that would become Nautilus, when then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover
hired him as the Navy representative at the Atomic Energy Commission in
"I advised Capt. Rickover that we needed a schedule (for the development of
what would become Nautilus). He said 'you're young and immature,' he said.
'You can't schedule that.' 'Why not?' I replied. 'We'll schedule all the
development items. If we fall behind on one, we'll double the effort. If we
stay behind, we'll develop an alternate approach.' 'All right,' he said.
'make me a schedule.'"
After acquiring help from the Bureau of Ships, the Atomic Energy Commission,
the Westinghouse Company and the Electric Boat Company, Wilkinson developed
a schedule, which he presented to Rickover in the fall of 1949.
"That schedule called for this as-yet-unnamed ship to go to sea on 1 January
1955," said Wilkinson. Because of a steam pipe incident, we didn't make it.
We went later on the 17th; but that's fairly close for government work."
As Nautilus got closer to the historic date of her first underway, the crew
welcomed the 1955 New Year by blowing the whistle with nuclear
"Our detailed schedule called for us to get underway at 11 a.m., January 17,
1955," said Wilkinson. "To prepare to do that safely, we insisted on having
the ship to ourselves for four days. We called it a 'fast cruise.' "During
that 'fast cruise' period...two Navy captains from the Chief of Information
in Washington, D.C. arrived and wanted to come aboard to talk to me. They
said, 'you're about to get underway. This is an historic event; you should
send an historic message.' 'Listen,' I said. "...You gentlemen are public
relations experts. Write an historic message and I'll send it.' They gave me
a message that was one and a half pages long with some eloquent-sounding
words. I wrote a briefer message: Underway on nuclear power."
Wilkinson noted that it's been said that it took the Navy 50 years to shift
from sail to steam. However, the shift to nuclear power was instantaneous.
"Nautilus' very successful operation caused an immediate shift to nuclear
for all attack submarines, for soon-to-follow nuclear plants for the most
important surface ships, and for an as-fast-as-they-could-be-built
survivable, strategic deterrent force of ballistic missile submarines. That
immediate shift was caused by the very extensive evaluation exercises that
were held and documented by the many members of Congress, senior Navy
officials, scientists, key government officials who rode the ship and saw
how well she performed," said Wilkinson. "The famous WWII admiral, Arleigh
Burke, who became the Chief of Naval Operations, rode her twice and was
instrumental in the decision for the early construction of key nuclear
surface ships. Successful Navy nuclear propulsion led to the use of nuclear
energy in plants ashore to produce electricity, which is so important to
many countries in the world today."