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Never has the phrase, “you’ve come a long way, baby” been as appropriate than when applied to the advancement of submarines.

The first submarine, the American TURTLE, was built by David Bushnell in 1776. It was a one man operation, constructed of wood, and housed gunpowder to harass enemy ships. Compared to today’s modem, steel, super-structures it seems as though it came from the Stone Age.

In the early 1900s great improvements were made in the design, propulsion, and safety features of submarines. For example, three very distinctive submarines have had the honor of being called USS NARWHAL.

The first Lady NARWHAL, SS 17, was also known as D-1. She was built at Fore River Shipbuilding and commissioned on 23 November 1909. She derived her power from a gasoline engine whose fumes were a constant hazard to the crew and the threat of an explosion was very real.

During WWI her mission was to train crews and participate in experimental work. She continued her service until being decommissioned on 8 February 1922.

The second Lady NARWHAL, SS 167, joined the fleet in 1930 with her sister sub NAUTILUS. She was 371 feet long, displaced 2800 tons, and was considered a real bargain at just over $6M.

Her power source was diesel/electric with four engines to propel the generators, drive the motors, and tum the propeller shaft. On the surface the diesel engines were engaged; submerged the motors were powered by her large storage batteries. She had a surface speed of 17 knots, housed six torpedo tubes plus four on deck, and two deck guns. The crew was 88 men.

During WWII NARWHAL had a colorful history. She delivered supplies to cut-off troops, evacuated refugees and downed aviators, transported agents and prisoners, gathered weather data, planted mines, participated in shore bombardments, and photographic reconnaissance. In all, she completed IS war patrols and sank six enemy ships. She faced her last battle on 23 April 1945 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was decommissioned and sold as scrap.

In the early ’40s new technology was finding its way aboard submarines to include periscopes for viewing and firing, new and improved torpedoes, and active sonar. Even with these advancements, more than 3000 men and 52 submarines were lost during WWII.

The last proud Lady NARWHAL is the SSN 671. She is quite remarkable to her predecessors. She was built by General Dynamics Corporation and commissioned on 12 July 1969. She is an attack submarine with one nuclear reactor and two steam turbines. She can proudly displace over 4000 tons surfaced and over 5000 tons submerged. Her measurements are 315-38-27, feet that isl She is the ocean home to 141 officers and men.

Within her bull many of the conveniences from home can be found. She possesses a modem galley of which any cook would be proud. It sports a microwave, ovens, large mixing bowls, refrigerator, and a walk-in freezer. The crew is often treated to scrumptious desserts by her chefs. Milk, soft drink, and ice cream machines are the norm. Televisions, VCRs, and stereo systems entertain the crew while they relax in her exclusive Mermaid Lounge.

The NARWHAL’s credits are numerous commendation medals and awards. She alone holds the record for submerging pierside in the Cooper River during the relentless force of Hurricane Hugo.

Yes indeed, submarines have come a long way-from attacking enemy vessels with gunpowder to housing missiles capable of being launched at targets over 6000 miles away. Today’s modern, nuclear propulsion submarines are safe, effective, and powerful machines capable of extended underwater patrols. Man is no longer severely limited by the demands of the machine, the machine is now limited by the needs of man!

Naval Submarine League

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