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USS Albacore (SS-559)
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USS Albacore (SS-569)

Overview

USS Albacore (SS-569) was a unique research submarine that pioneered the American version of the teardrop hull form (sometimes referred to as an "Albacore hull") of modern submarines. The revolutionary design was derived from extensive hydrodynamic and wind tunnel testing, with an emphasis on underwater speed and maneuverability.

Her keel was laid down on 15 March 1952 by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard of Kittery, Maine. She was Launched on 1 August 1953, sponsored by Mrs. J.E. Jowers, the widow of Chief Motor Machinist's Mate Arthur L. Stanton, lost with the second Albacore (SS-218) and commissioned and on 6 December 1953 with Lieutenant Commander Kenneth C. Gummerson in command.

The effectiveness of submarines in World War II convinced both the Soviets and the United States Navy that undersea warfare would play an even more important role in coming conflicts and dictated development of superior submarines. The advent of nuclear power nourished the hope that such warships could be produced. The effort to achieve this goal involved the development of a nuclear propulsion system and the design of a streamlined submarine hull capable of optimum submerged performance.

Development

Late in World War II, committees on both sides of the Iron Curtain studied postwar uses of atomic energy and recommended the development of nuclear propulsion for ships. Since nuclear power plants would operate without the oxygen supply needed by conventional machinery, and since techniques were available for converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen, submarine designers turned their attention to vessels, which could operate for long periods without surfacing. Veteran submariners visualized a new type of submarine in which surface performance characteristics would be completely subordinated to high-submerged speed and agility. In 1949 a special committee began a series of hydrodynamic studies which led to a program within the IS Bureau of Ships to determine what hull form would be best for submerged operation. The Davis Taylor Basin tested a series of designs. The best two—one with a single propeller and the other with dual screws—were then tested in a wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base. The single-screw version was adopted, and construction of an experimental submarine to this design was authorized on 25 November 1950. This ship was classified as an auxiliary submarine

Evaluations

Following preliminary acceptance trials, the new submarine departed Portsmouth on 8 April 1954 for shakedown training. She began the first cycle of a career in which she experimented extensively with a given configuration and then returned to Portsmouth for extensive modifications to evaluate different design concepts, to help the Navy develop better hull configurations for future submarines. On this initial cruise, she operated out of New London, Connecticut before sailing for Key West, Florida, to conduct operations out of that port and in Cuban waters. She returned to Portsmouth on 3 July for more than a year of trials in cooperation with the David Taylor Model Basin. Throughout these operations, she underwent repairs and modification to eliminate technical problems. It was found during these early sea trials Albacore could operate at the same maximum speed as the older modernized Guppy-type submarines with half the shaft horsepower.

The submarine departed Portsmouth on 12 October 1955 and sailed via Block Island for Key West, Florida, where she arrived on 19 October 1955 to commence antisubmarine warfare evaluation and to provide target services to the Operational Development Force's Surface Antisubmarine Development Detachment. On 4 November 1955, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, embarked on Albacore for a brief demonstration cruise. On 19 November 1955, Albacore sailed for a rendezvous point off the Bahamas where she conducted special operations until 24 November 1955 and then returned to Portsmouth.

From December 1955 to March 1956, Albacore underwent stern renewal. Until this time, her propeller had been surrounded by the rudder and stern plane control surfaces. With her "new look", she resembled a blimp, with her propeller aft of all control surfaces.

Operation with her new stern configuration started in April 1956 and continued until late in the year. In May, Albacore visited New York City and participated in the television production Wide, Wide World, during which she submerged, with an underwater camera mounted on her forecastle, the first live telecast of a submarine while diving.

More tests

In November 1956, Albacore reentered the shipyard for engine conversion. She departed New London, Connecticut, on 11 March 1957, for operations out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The submarine returned to Boston, MA, on 2 April 1957 and operated locally out of Boston and Portsmouth until entering the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard early in 1958 for an overhaul, which lasted until June. The ensuing tests emphasized sound reduction and included extensive evaluation of Aqua-Plas, a sound damping elastic which had been applied to the ship's superstructure and tank interiors. In October 1958, her bow planes were removed to further reduce noise. The submarine ended the year with a fortnight's run to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and back to serve as a target ship for Canadian warships.

In 1959, a newly designed 14-foot propeller was installed and tested. Albacore sailed south late in May and, after operating in the British West Indies for two weeks, proceeded to Key West to serve as a target for the Surface Antisubmarine Development Detachment. After returning north, she spent much of the remainder of 1959 and most of 1960 undergoing widely varied tests for the David Taylor Model Basin. One of the more unusual consisted of evaluating a concave bow sonar dome.

Testing more equipment

On 21 November 1960, the ship entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a major overhaul and conversion in which she received: a new, experimental, "X"-shaped tail for increased control; 10 dive brakes around her hull, a new bow which included modified forward ballast tanks, new sonar systems, and a large auxiliary rudder in the after part of her sail. following the completion of this work in August 1961, she operated along the east coast learning the effect of her new configuration and equipment upon her capabilities and performance.
In 1962, she received a newly developed DIMUS sonar system and, on 7 December 1962, work began on her fourth major conversion which included the installation of concentric contra-rotating propellers, a high-capacity silver-zinc battery and a larger main motor. New radio equipment, BQS and BQR sonars, an emergency recovery system, and a new main ballast tank blow system were also added. After the work was completed in March 1965, Albacore prepared for deployment to Florida waters to study the results of her changes. She returned to Portsmouth on 8 October 1962 and continued to evaluate her capabilities under the new configuration. On 1 August, she reentered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to replace the silver-zinc battery and to shorten the distance between the contra-rotating propellers—work which lasted into August 1967.
Standardization and machinery tests in the Gulf of Maine during September were followed by evaluation of towed sonar arrays off Port Everglades, Florida, in October and November. Then came acoustics trials in the Tingue of the Ocean, a deep channel in the Central Bahama Islands.

On 1 January 1968, the submarine returned to Portsmouth for a modification of her propulsion system, which kept her in the navy yard until 19 April. Then, following a month of trials in the Gulf of Maine, she headed south for evaluation of her new MONOB I and AUTEC systems and of Fly-Around-Body (FAB), Phase I, equipment on Tongue of the Ocean. She returned to Portsmouth on 24 August 1968 for AUTEC deinstrumentation and installation of FAB Phase II equipment. Then, following evaluation of this new gear in the Gulf of Maine, the Albacore returned to Portsmouth on 30 September and went into reduced operating status pending the results of further studies on the feasibility of using her thereafter for further research.

The ship remained for the most part inactive until 2 February 1970 when she began an overhaul in drydock and modifications to prepare her for Project Surpass, a research and development project sponsored by the Naval Ship Research and Development Center at Carderock, Maryland. The ship left drydock on 16 April 1971, commenced sea trials on 22 July 1971, and completed them on August, 1971. Early in October, she operated off Procincetown, MA, to calibrate her sonar and radar equipment.

Specifications:

Builder:
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
Kittery, Maine
Displacement:
1240 tons surfaced
1540 tons submerged
Length:
204 feet (62.1 m)
Beam:
27 feet (8.2 m)
Draft:
22 feet (6.7 m)
Speed:
25 knots surfaced,
33 knots submerged
Propulsion:
Two Diesels,
One Electric Motor
Complement:
5 Officers 49 men
Armament:
None