USS Nautilus Commissioned 63 Years Ago Today
Rod Adams, Forbes, September 30
USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine was commissioned on September 30, 1954.
Though I’m a pretty devoted nuclear submarine history buff, I was surprised to learn that fact this morning. September 30 wasn’t one of the dates that I associated with the history of that important ship. I knew that First Lady Maime Eisenhower had christened the ship when it was launched on January 21, 1954 and that CDR Eugene Wilkerson had sent his famous message “Underway on Nuclear Power” on January 17, 1955.
The notification came to me via a tweet from @AtomicHeritage.
As a career naval officer who has been involved in a few ship commissioning efforts, I was surprised to hear that the USS Nautilus had been commissioned before it had undergone any kind of sea trials. The ordinary sequence, at least in the modern Navy, is to conduct sea trials before accepting delivery and commissioning a ship.
However, searches told me that @AtomicHeritage was correct and that the USS Nautilus was commissioned on September 30, 1954 in what was reported to be a “routine ceremony” on page 8 of the October 1, 1954 edition of the New York Times, a publication that likes to call itself the nation’s “paper of record.”
Francis Duncan’s authoritative book about the early days of the Nuclear Navy is simply titled “Rickover.” There is no mention in that book of the fact that Nautilus was commissioned in September 1954. Instead, there is a story about a significant discovery made in mid September that ended up delaying the ship’s sea trials by several months.
Electric Boat, which was the contractor responsible for fabricating and installing certain portions of the steam systems for the Nautilus, its prototype, the Seawolf and its prototype, had installed piping using the incorrect specification.
All four engine rooms required extensive tear out and reinstallation.
Probably A Fiscal Year Move
It is still a mystery to me why Nautilus became the USS Nautilus before it had successfully completed sea trials, but the chosen date might provide a hint about the reason for the decision to perform a quiet, routine commissioning ceremony for a ship that had already become famous around the world.
September 30th is the last day of the Federal government’s fiscal year. All kinds of odd things happen as a result of trying to close out one year and begin a new one. I’d be interested in hearing other theories, but I’d be especially grateful if someone can provide an authoritative explanation.