25. U.S.S. Albacore: Forerunner of the Future

by Robert Largess & James Mandelblatt

Albacore, Portsmouth Marine Society

This book is the biography of U.S.S. Albacore, the first wholly streamlined submarine. She twice claimed the record for the fastest submarine in the world. Built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1952-53, she made 27 knots at a time when no other submarine could do much better than 18 knots submerged. Modified in the 1960s, Albacore could make speeds submerged similar to the top speeds of destroyers – around 35 knots – better than any contemporary nuclear submarine. She contributed not only her hull form and speed to most of the U.S. nuclear submarine fleet, beginning with the Skipjack class of 1958 (which temporarily took away Albacore‘s speed record), but many other essential elements of her technology as well.

As a ship memorial in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Albacore is unusual in that she is preserved on dry land, mounted on huge concrete cradles in an excavated, permanent “dry dock.” There, her enormous whale-shaped hull is completely and dramatically visible. Her smoothly curved blackhull, with its impressive fins, evokes the image of some great sea creature, rather than a ship. And most appropriately so, for as a cloak of invisibility, but as her primary medium of operation. From Albacore came the ability of today’s submarines to maneuver like aircraft in a three-dimensional medium, a water envelope much more dangerous and less well known even today than that of the air.

The Albacore represents the remarkable partnership between the U.S. Navy and the American scientific community that developed during World War II and came to fruition in the decade that followed. The fact that she was unarmed meant that the Navy was content to entrust her completely to the control of scientists; and the fact that she was a full-scale, active-service, Navy-manned submarine ensured that the Navy took her acheivements seriously. Dr. Gary Weir, in Forged in War, his scholarly study of the creation of the Navy’s submarine force, says:

“AGSS 569 became the vehicle through which revolutionary ideas generated by the close relationship between the components of the naval-industrial complex found their way to operational forces. Albacore embodied the essence of the future of undersea warfare…, changed forever the character of the world’s submarines, and is, in a comprehensive sense, the most significant submarine ever built.”

7×10 softcover (2002, 2011), 206 pages, 120 illustrations, (Hardcover out of print) ISBN 0-915819-25-2 $20

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