Editor’s Note: This article is taken from a forthcoming book by Mr. Largess and Mr. Mandelblatt, both members of The Naval Submarine League.
On December 15, 1953, Rear Admiral Charles B. Momsen spoke at the commissioning of ALBACORE. This speech summarized the basic characteristics and purpose of ALBACORE, and confidently predicted future submarine speeds of better than 50 knots. This last remark was quoted by foreign naval analysts for the next four decades and obviously rocked the Soviet Navy, which made vast efforts to achieve such unbelievable results.
Admiral Momsen also stated: “Back in 1948, when I held the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Undersea Warfare, I conceived the idea of designing and building this submarine … In 1948, I held a meeting in BuShips and asked the design people how they would like to be given a free hand in making a hydrodynamic study of a submarine from the standpoint of submerged performance only …… Since it would have no ordnance, only the Bureau of Ships would be involved. We wanted to use conventional power plants so it could not be called experimental. But since we wanted high speed, the designers would incorporate in it all of the features of designs which would make a submarine go faster when submerged.”
Admiral Momsen was a man of iron personal courage, a brilliant engineer and inventor, and a superlative leader and administrator. His list of achievements is great: early experiments with submarine-carried aircraft, the invention of the Momsen Lung submarine escape apparatus, and the McCann rescue chamber, or diving bell, as well as the use of helium in diving to prevent the bends. He supervised the use of the McCann chamber to rescue survivors of SQUALUS, which went down on May 23, 1939, during sea trials out of Portsmouth, and supervised the testing off Hawaii in 1943 which discovered a crucial flaw in the design of the American torpedoes.
He commanded the first American wolfpack and the battleship SOUTH DAKOTA during World War II. His appointment as the first ACNO for Undersea Warfare in June of 1948 was truly a defining moment for the U.S. Submarine Service, ending the period of doubt and demoralization following their “silent victory” and the end of the opponent it had been created to defeat-the powerful Japanese surface navy. Plainly Admiral Momsen had thought in terms of submarines with ALBACORE-like capabilities for many years and he played a key role in pursuing and obtaining the authorization for 569.
But was he the first to conceive ALBACORE? Or its most important proponent? Captain Frank Andrews, the submarine project officer at the David Taylor Model Basin in 1953 to 1954, states that the concept of a submarine designed for maximum submerged performance-including the body of revolution hull, single screw, and the use of HY-80 steel-was first proposed by the Committee on Undersea Warfare (CUW) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1948. The NAS, the equivalent of Britain’s Royal Academy, was founded in 1863 to provide the Federal government with expert scientific advice from the nation’s scientific community. The first problem it was called on to solve was compensating for the error caused in magnetic compasses by the iron hulls of the Navy’s new warships. Over the years the NAS created a huge number of committees to deal with specific problems, from insect control in Micronesia to navigation and astronomy for the Navy. The CUW, however, was initiated directly by the scientists themselves.
World War II anti-submarine warfare, depending on the creation of artificial electronic senses, radar and sonar, to penetrate the submarine’s cloak of invisibility, required a huge and innovative research effort, also producing the magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), sonobuoys, the homing torpedo, and operations research analysis. In 1943, when it seemed the U-boat threat had peaked, the effort was switched to support U.S. submarines, providing them with new sensors, weapons, and materiel. But in 1945 with the discovery of German advanced submarine technology, it was apparent that the problems of undersea warfare in the future were far from solved.
Leading scientists, including Dr. Gaylord Barnwell of the University of California and Dr. Detlev Bronk of Cornell, chairman of the NAS National Research Council, sought to continue the close partnership of the scientific community and the U.S. Navy, developed during the war, through a formal liaison body. (As Dr. Barnwell said, “We spent four or five years learning to get along with the Navy-let’s not let that disappear.”) The CUW was established on October 23, 1946. John Tate of the National Defense Research Council became first chairman, Barnwell Vice-chair, and John S. Coleman of Penn State executive secretary. On July 20, 1948, the Chief of Naval Research requested that CUW create a panel to investigate the hydrodynamics of submerged bodies. On November 7, 1949, the Committee submitted its “Interim Report of the Panel on the Hydrodynamics of Submerged Bodies”. This 64 page report examined the scientific principles governing submarine performance and strongly suggested the Navy design and build a high speed research submarine capable of exceeding 20 knots submerged. The report was placed on Admiral Momsen’s desk on January 10, 1950 and it played a key role in securing authorization for ALBACORE. Plainly however, the idea had been growing for several years already in the CUW, in BuShips, in the submarine community, and at David Taylor, gradually taking on a more concrete and detailed form.
In his book U.S. Submarines Since 1945, author Norman Friedman notes that BuShip’s 11High Speed Submarine Program” began in the Spring of 1946. He writes that BuShips officially requested on July 8, 1946 that DTMB undertake the Series 58 tests, which went on to produce ALBACORE’s hull form. (The tests began in July 1949.) BuShips had a hand in the development of ALBACORE from the beginning: some of its key contributors included naval architect John C. Miedennair, father of the LST Vice Admiral Edward L. Cochrane, Chief of BuShips and later Dean of Engineering at MIT; and Rear Admiral Andrew L. McKee, also a member of the CUW Panel on Hydrodynamics. McKee was the designer of the fleet submarine and later served as design director at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut, responsible for the design work on most new submarine construction until 1961. Dr. Gary Weir quotes a colleague at EB, Henry J. Nardone: The was one of the last of the breed of engineering duty officers who could sit down and design a submarine almost from scratch.”
Many people saw ALBACORE as an idea whose time had come and were determined to make it a reality. Also, there were many who did not; in a Defense Department dominated by the Air Force and concepts of strategic bombing, in a Navy dominated by carrier air, and in a submarine service formed by the experience of World War II-hunting Japanese shipping in wolfpacks on the surface at night, in fleet boats with powerful gun armaments and high surface speed. As John Coleman, first executive secretary of the CUW and a leading figure in wartime sonar research, put it: “We encountered much inertia, some hostility … the CUW was ignored above a certain level.” But 11 ALBACORE was built because enough good men decided it should be built.”
Thus the roles of these key individuals and institutions are overlapping. Perhaps the simplest approach is to look at the contribution of each institution separately, remembering that what is happening is being done by a small group of people working closely together. But-one last time-was anybody first to propose the ALBACORE?
When the question was put to John Coleman and George Wood, first and third executive secretaries of the CUW respectively, 45 years later, both men looked at each other and laughed. George Wood said, “The Navy built ALBACORE to get Ken Davidson off its back.”
Gary Weir quotes Davidson’s July 26, 1946 letter to Captain Harry Saunders at DTMB urging the ALBACORE idea. He called for the production of a completely new approach to submarine design-“a rational design” instead of 11ceaseless modification and juggling” of existing designs, yielding a second rate answer.” But according to Coleman and Wood even earlier 11back in the beginning” Davidson had approached Admiral Cochrane to work out a strategy to get her built. 11The Navy wouldn’t do basic research on hydrodynamics; David Taylor wasn’t interested.”
Dr. Kenneth S.M. Davidson was professor of Engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, as well as Director of Stevens’ Experimental Towing Tank (now known as Davidson Laboratories). Dr. Davidson was also chairman and vocal spokesman for the CUW’s Hydrodynamics Panel, chairman of committees on Towing Tanks and Hydrodynamics for the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, and later Science Advisor to NATO. According to Dan Sawitsky, Professor Emeritus at Stevens, Davidson began his career as a mechanical engineer. Before 1931, Stevens had no ship research facilities but Davidson was an avid sailor who crewed in many yacht races. He became so enthralled with the question of why some yachts always won that he began his own research, towing models with a simple dynamometer in the Stevens 60 foot pool at night, after the pool closed. His results brought a smashing victory to the RANGER in the 1937 America’s Cup race. Meanwhile, he got Stevens to build a towing tank in 1935. In World War II, he worked on the hydrodynamics of seaplanes, PT boats, and torpedoes, and a complex study of the maneuvering capability of many types of ships. It was the study of torpedoes which convinced him that submarines should be similar streamlined bodies. Dr. Sawitsky says: “He (Davidson) approached the Navy’s Experimental Model Basin [predecessor to DTMB near Washington]-they weren’t interested. He spoke to a number of officers-couldn’t break through-then one said to go ahead, do model tests. The data confirmed what Ken had been saying. When things started going well, the Navy opened up its facilities and we kept on working. The genesis of ALBACORE is Stevens, with Ken Davidson’s leadership and his team.”
Coleman and Wood concurred. 11Stevens Institute played more of a role than anybody knows.” Did Davidson work out the final hull form for ALBACORE? “Ken may have-but in any case, he watched it like a hawk,n Coleman and Wood stated.
On the other hand, John C. Niedermair of BuShips, who has been described as being primarily responsible for the basic design of almost all naval ships at that time, said: “Ken Davidson suggested the streamlined hull form to me and to others just as though we’d never thought of it … one thing he did anyway, he got the top guys to listen to us about it, he did that all right … I went up to Electric Boat Co …. saw a model of PLUNGER [an 1897 design by John Holland]. I asked if could have it to show the stream-lined sub wasn’t anything new.”
When the Interim Report appeared, it was voluminous, filled with data, equations, and graphs. But one thing made perfectly clear was that there was no mystery about the potential of streamlining for vastly decreased resistance and increased speed. Drag is essentially based on two things: eddy turbulence caused by the interruptions of flow lines of water around the body, and skin friction. The rounded bow and tapered stern of ALBACORE (as well as the elimination of all projections except the sail and control surfaces) greatly reduced resistance from eddy turbulence. Surface friction was reduced by keeping surface area to a minimum, hence 569’s short, fat shape, a teardrop with no parallel midsection and a low length to beam ration.
Early on, Ken Davidson realized that while almost no work had been done on the hydrodynamics of submerged submarines, much had been done in the field of aerodynamics. Air and water differ in density, but the principles of fluid dynamics remain the same for both mediums. (Indeed, the report speaks of the “Lyon-form submarine”. with a length-to-beam ration of only S to 1. The “Lyon-form” apparently refers back to the work of British scientist Hilda Lyon, who reportedly worked out the ideal streamlined hull form fur the British dirigible R-101 of 1929. This hull form served as the starting point for the ALBACORE researchers.)
The real problem, however, was “the far-reaching consequences of increases in speed”, with their profound and little understood effects on stability, control, and handling. Controlling a submarine moving at the speeds made possible by streamlining and revolutionary new power sources was the problem. And the single concluding recommendation of the report was that the Navy build a test submarine to solve it.
Obviously, proving something on paper does not ensure that it will be done. John Coleman speaks of his own efforts to convince the Navy to build a test submarine, beginning two years before the Interim Report was issued, efforts which were strongly supported by Admiral Cochrane and Admiral Charles W. Styer.
Admiral Styer, who had been Admiral Momsen’s predecessor, had served as a submarine squadron commander during the war, then as ComSubLant (Commander. Submarines Atlantic Fleet), and then as Coordinator for Undersea Warfare. He was the Assistant to the CNO for Operations, with no staff or organization for submarines. Carrier air dominated the Navy command; CNOs Nimitz and Denfield had refused to create a Deputy CNO for Submarines. Styer and Coleman frequently encountered the argument that the Guppies were already “98.6 percent submarines and any improvement would just add a fraction of the remaining 1.4 percent.”
John Coleman attributes much of the development strategy for ALBACORE to Admiral Cochrane. Cochrane was deeply respected; a distinguished naval architect and scientist (and “a hell of a nice guy-very forceful”), he served the purpose of “verifying the concept. If he said it could be done, then it could.” Equally important, Cochrane foresaw that to genuinely convince the Navy of the value of ALBACORE’s achievements, it had to be a ship of the line, a full size Navy-manned submarine built by BuShips, not by the Office of Naval Research. Funding for the submarine had to come from the regular shipbuilding appropriations, not from research funds. If ALBACORE was built as a small test vehicle, manned by civilian technicians, she might have been able to prove the theory perfectly, but unless she went head-to-head against the fleet, a submarine dramatically out-performing all other real submarines, would the Navy really appreciate ALBACORE’s revolutionary but highly practical significance? The concept of using ALBACORE as a high speed target vessel for ASW training was also a useful argument in getting her built as a full sized submarine. Her completion without armament was the other side of the coin; this would ensure that she remained available for research, not taken away for operational missions requiring features that could spoil ALBACORE’s hydrodynamic perfection. Indeed, in April 1950, Captain Armand Morgan of BuShips headed off a request from Buford (Bureau of Ordnance) to add a torpedo tube to ALBACORE by pointing out that by adding the tube, ALBA-CORE’s length would have been increased to such an extent that her underwater speed would have been reduced to that of the Tang class submarines.
As John Coleman says, his own task and that of the CUW was largely one of taking political initiatives within the Navy, convincing it of the vital submarine warfare challenges the service faced and of the solutions. “Tite CUW were all unpaid volunteers acting in an association of trust; admirals talked to them as equals, knowing that the CUW members represented people whose help had been vital to winning the war. The Committee’s job-at a time when there was no real submarine community to speak of-was to scout around, see what the real needs and ideas were, and organize things to do it. The Committee was a driving force.”
The creation of an ACNO for undersea warfare, OP-31, in June of 1948 ended this state of affairs. Admiral Forrest Sherman, CNO in 1949, restored ASW and submarine warfare to prominence. The minutes of the Submarine Officers’ Conference (SOC), created in 1925 to provide Washington with the views of submariners themselves, now began to show a proliferation of new ideas, designs, and prototypes being discussed. These included the nuclear boat, other air independent propulsion systems including hydrogen peroxide, the so-called “high speed submarine”, which became TANG, radar pickets, a submarine oiler, a submarine minelayer, a 25 ton midget submarine, a 250 ton boat to test the threat of the numerous Soviet Malyutka class coastal submarines, and-ALBACORE.
The first mention of “the high speed submarine hull” appeared on March 11, 1949. And on May 18, wrhere is an immediate requirement for a high speed submarine (at least 25 knots … ) as an anti-submarine warfare target. The committee recommends that the above be submitted as an operation requirement.” Captain Dan Daspit discussed this “high speed training submarine. .. with no military characteristics … which you heard about before … primarily for submerged operation. It is not a surface ship designed to dive.” On August 15 of that year, Daspit also told the SOC of Dr. Harnwell’s proposal for an unarmed, scientific “research fleet”.
On January 10, 1950, the Interim Report reached Admiral Momsen’s desk and on January 24, SOC minutes refer to the “SST experimental hull for studying stability and control at high submerged speeds: And on April 3, 1950, the minutes also add ” … it is to be constructed under a 1950 supplementary shipbuilding program, if … approved by Congress.”
Meanwhile, at DTMB, several years of work by Dr. Louis Landweber and the Hydrodynamics Division were nearing completion. Landweber had been hired on as a physicist at the old Experimental Towing Basin by Captain Harry Saunders, to upgrade the scientific level of ETB’s work. His team of scientists-including Georg Weinblum, Phil Eisenberg, Marshall Tulin, and Bill Cummins-made seminal advances in the understanding of frictional resistance, surface wave effects, dynamic stability, viscous resistance, computer modeling, and many other areas. Hartley Pond solved the problem of downward force created by the flat decks of the Guppy class boats. In July of 1949, Landweber and Morton GertJer began the Series 58 program, testing 24 lathe turned wooden 9 foot models of varying length-to-beam ratios and nose and tail shapes, starting with a form based on the R-101 and H.B. Freeman’s study of the Navy’s 1931 airship AKRON. The Series 58 tests were divided into four phases, as determined by alterations to the stern control surfaces, including X and cruciform stern planes, in combination with single or twin screws. The results were published in April 1950 as 11Resistance Experiments on a Systemic Series of Streamlined Bodies of Revolution for Application in High-Speed Submarines”, by Morton Gertler. The results of these tests showed that a smoothly tapered hull with a length-to-beam ratio of 6.8 and a single screw as found to be ideal.
Later, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, the forerunner of NASA) and the California Institute of Technology developed free-running models of ALBACORE to test computer predictions of the hull’s behavior. A 30 foot model was tested at NACA’s wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to investigate attachment and filleting of its sail and fins. According to Captain Harry Jackson, this was done to generate higher Reynolds numbers since they could not get the models up to high enough actual speeds in the limited length of the DTMB towing tanks.
Meanwhile, on March 2, Captain F .X. Forest reviewed progress at DTMB following a visit by Admiral Momsen. Forest noted: 11There has been some tendency to consider the submarine [SST] as an underwater airplane. This analogy is good but … limited … principally because the airplane is not limited to vertical movements within three of its own lengths.” Also, 11surface effect forces would be 5 or 6 times those of Guppies, making near surface operation a problem.” The new submarine can be driven at 27 knots with less than 10,000 horsepower, and 11it is clear that it would be totally impossible to drive the Guppy at 27 knots with any such power.” Also:
“Perhaps the most pressing and different problem in the entire program is the study of control and response. .. the submarine in a dive has little or no margin … in a dive at 27 knots, the controls must start the pull-out almost as soon as the submarine has entered her dive.” The merits of directionally stable versus unstable submarines was also discussed. The former had the advantage of being more easily controlled in level flight and in maneuvers at depth it will not overshoot … ”
On May 5, a conference on “Submarine Maneuvering” (attended by Ned Beach, Dr. Landweber, and John Niedermair) discussed the SST’s role in developing high speed tactics for evasion and attack. They also noted the potential danger of a casualty to the bow or stem planes-jamming in position, something impossible totally prevent-which could send the submarine below her collapse depth. Incorporation of fail-safe hydraulic circuits was suggested.
Meanwhile: on March 10, 1950, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson approved the Secretary of the Navy’s request to construct the SST in fiscal year 1951, as a substitution for one of the ODE (escort destroyer) conversions in the 1950 budget. On March 27, the Ship’s Characteristics Board (SCB) submitted its 11First Preliminary Characteristics for Shipbuilding Project No. 56, proposed for the 1952 increment.”
Several issues surfaced over the SST’s characteristics. On September 26, 1950, Captain Armand Morgan told the SOC that two SST designs had been prepared for use, an 11austerity model” and a “target model”. The secondary ASW target role envisioned was starting to cause some problems and misgivings. For the SST to be able to survive the impacts of inert Mark 35 torpedoes, the submarine needed a double hull, even though a single hull would have given her 1h knot more. A snorkel would also have been valuable with her use as an impact target, although this would have increased considerably the size of the sail, already a major source of drag.
From ALBACORE’s original size of 150 feet long and a beam of 30 feet, with a crew of 4 officers and 36 men, she was enlarged to 200 feet length, 27 foot beam, 1,692 tons surface displacement, with a complement of 5 officers and 52 men, along with 7 scientists. This increase resulted in some loss of speed. Besides the double hull and other requirements needed for the target role, Captain Harry Jackson says that it was originally intended to operate the submarine from Portsmouth, returning to port daily with a very small crew. It was realized that the nearest waters deep enough for submerged testing, the Wilkinson Deep, were far enough from PNS to require operations on the basis of weekly cruises and thus enlarged berthing and galley spaces.
BuShips began to have severe misgivings about the impact target role, pointing out the danger of a hit on the submarine’s control surfaces, causing a loss of control which could send the submarine below her collapse depth. BuShips pointed out that the SST’s value as a hydrodynamic test vehicle and as a “non-impact” ASW target for sonar tracking were considerably more important; these roles should not be compromised. They strongly argued against a snorkel, suggesting economical provisions for this and other “impact target” features at a later date. (This would most likely still have compromised the submarine’s design and was probably not done.)
On November 29, 1950, the SCB noted that “the Committee on Undersea Warfare of the NAS strongly advocates the construction of this ship.” The recommendation was then made that “the Experimental and Target Submarine … tentatively designated ‘SST’ … be classified as ‘AG(SS)’ and assigned the name ‘T-1 ‘.”
On December 6, 1950, a memorandum from the Assistant CNO for Undersea Warfare agreed that the test submarine be classified as an auxiliary type. 11It is felt, however, that the unique features of the ship should be identified in her designation, and that the ship should bear a name. It will be noted that a priority list for naming of new construction submarines was established … and that ‘ALBA-CORE’ is the next name on the list.
“It is therefore recommended that: a) subject vessel be classified AG(SST)-1; b) subject vessel be named ALBACORE. Signature: C.B. Momsen, R. Adm. USN, ACNO (Undersea Warfare).”