On May 4th, 1985, (tentatively) the ALBACORE will be towed up the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, NH where she will pass through a cut in the railroad bridge, then move into a dredged canal through the Market Street roadway extension and then be put on a cradle and hauled up a marine railway ramp to her final resting place on dry land. There, she will be facing the sea — in Albacore Park — as a memorial to the submariners who sailed in Portsmouth-built boats and to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard which has produced some of the finest of submarines in the u.s. Navy.
Portsmouth is one of the great names in submarine history and deserves the ALBACORE whose revolutionary design marked the beginning of a new era in submarine speed and mobility. Jane’s Fighting Ships lists her underwater speed as 33 knots while some old hands brag that for short bursts she got as high as 37 knots. Her second skipper, VADM Jon Boyes, USN(Ret.) tells of how ALBACORE — at times with Admiral Arleigh Burke at the joy-stick control of the maneuvering submarine — was able to change depth so rapidly and turn inside of the turning circles of ASW destroyers that they were unable to get in position to use their weapons even though ALBACORE was being easily tracked by the destroyers’ sonars.
The idea for a new type of battery-driven submarine is credited to RADM “Swede” Momsen, USN, who i~ 1948 saw an opportunity to develop a submarine which was optimized for high underwater speed — without compromises for surface operations. Under a program for a purely “target” submarine, Momsen was able to bring forth the best of David Taylor Model Basin ideas on how to achieve maximum speed in a submarine. Models of submarines resembling a “tear drop” or dolphin -with the approximate length to breadth ratio and shape — were tested in the Basin as well as in wind tunnels at the Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and the shape of ALBACORE determined. Although originally funded as a target submarine, later funding was for an “engineering evaluation platform.”
ALBACORE as originally designed and built at the Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, — and only modified slightly through her experimental years –was 203 1 10″ long by 27 1 1″ in breadth, with a 7.5 : 1 length to breadth ratio when launched in August of 1953. Her standard displacement was 1242 tons and submerged displacement 1837 tons -about the same as the “Fleet” boats of WW II. Her complement was 4 officers and 36 enlisted men. She had two GM “pancake” diesels, which, from the records, proved the only unreliable one of the many new features of the ALBACORE. She had a silver-zinc battery of about 3 times the power density of the lead-acid batteries of WW II vintage — but the silver-zinc battery was about 10 times as costly as a lead-acid; $3 m versus $300 k. Later, however this battery was replaced by a 500-cell, lead-acid main storage battery of improved efficiency. ALBACORE was built at a cost ot $5.5 million. In her original configuration, she had a single screw, driven by a 6,400 hp motor. But this was soon changed to a contrarotating, twin-propeller system with an inside drive abaft diameter of 15″ and an outside shaft of 28″ diameter — driven by two armatures, of a 10′ diameter GE main motor that weighed 95 tons and was 22′ long from thrust bearing to thrust bearing. The forward propeller was 10′ in diameter with 7 blades, while the after propeller had 6 blades and was 8′ in diameter. Each propeller ran at 7500 hp per shaft . . . . . 15,000 hp in a submarine the size of a fleet boatt ALBACORE’s original stern configuration bad a single propeller surrounded by the rudder and stern plane control surfaces. In December, 1955, however, a conversion placed the propeller aft of X-configured control surfaces, while a small auxiliary rudder on the sail was removed.
There were other engineering ideas which were tested in ALBACORE before her retirement in the ’70s: use of low level carbon steel in the hull, a single multi-purpose mast, noise reduction modifications, a concave bow sonar dome, a large dorsal rudder, dive brakes installed around the hull circumference, a towed sonar — TOWFLEX, a vernier control system for precise positioning of the sub’s control surfaces at high speed, and an emergency main ballast tank blow system.
ALBACORE set new world’s submerged speed records for submarines and was the model for the nuclear submarine SKIPJACK — the fastest nuclear submarine of the •60s. The Soviet’s ALFA which makes 43+ knots also borrows from ALBACORE’s hull shape.
All in all, ALBACORE should prove to be one of the most interesting tourist attraction in the United States while emphasizing the very important role played by the city of Portsmouth, NH in submarine history. The Portsmouth Submarine Memorial Association, a non-profit organization of which Joseph Sawtelle is the president, has the ALBACORE tied up at the Portsmouth Naval Reserve Center — awaiting the spring 1985 tides for final installation in Albacore Park, ” a short distance from historic downtown Portsmouth’s Market Square.” The Association’s goal is to raise $700,000 by the spring of ’85 and hopes to raise this money by personal appeals to individuals and corporations to become “friends” of Albacore Park. (From information supplied by the ALBACORE Memorial Association)