The question of the monster (the fictional vision that became the Fast Attack Submarine)

The Monster

“THE year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumours which agitated the maritime population, and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels, skippers, both of Europe and America, naval Officers of all countries, and the Governments of several states on the two continents, were deeply interested in the matter.

“For some time past, vessels had been met by “an enormous thing,” a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.

“The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various log-books) agreed in most respects as to the shape of the Object or creature in question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its surprising power of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it seemed endowed. If it was a cetacean, it surpassed in size all those hitherto classified in science. Taking into consideration the mean of observations made at divers times,—rejecting the timid estimate of those who assigned to this object a length of two hundred feet, equally with the exaggerated opinions which set it down as a mile in width and three in length,—we might fairly conclude that this mysterious being surpassed greatly all dimensions admitted by the ichthy ologists of the day, if it existed at all.

“In every place of great resort the monster was the fashion. They sang of it in the cafés, ridiculed it in the papers, and represented it on the stage. All kinds of stories were circulated regarding it. There appeared in the papers caricatures of every gigantic and imaginary creature, from the white whale, the terrible “Moby Dick” of hyperborean regions, to the immense kraken whose tentacles could entangle a ship of five hundred tons, and hurry it into the abyss of the ocean.

The legends of ancient times were even resuscitated, and the opinions of Aristotle and Pliny revived, who admitted the existence of these monsters, as well as the Norwegian tales of Bishop Pontoppidan, the accounts of Paul Heggede, and, last of all, the reports of Mr. Harrington (whose good faith no one could suspect), who affirmed that, being on board the Cartillan, in 1857, he had seen this enormous serpent, which had never until that time frequented any other seas but those of the ancient “ Constitutionnel.”

Then burst forth the interminable controversy between the credulous and the incredulous in the societies of savants and scientific journals. “The question of the monster” inflamed all minds. Editors of scientific journals, quarrelling with believers in the super natural, spilled seas of ink during this memorable campaign, some even drawing blood; for, from the sea-serpent, they came to direct personalities.”

In 1905, Jules Verne published the book Twenty thousand leagues under the sea: illustrated. The monster was a mythical underwater craft that had overcome all of mankind’s inefficiencies in science and physics to master the vast ocean dwellings of the world. That popular book of fiction would someday become a reality at the hands of the inventors and dreamers that built the modern submarine forces.

The United States Navy Attack Submarine

Commonly known as the Fast Attack Submarine, the Navy describes the current attack submarine like this: Attack Submarines – SSN

Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces (SOF); carry out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support battle group operations; and engage in mine warfare.

The heritage of the US Navy submarine force

If the first USS Carp (F-1) was the Grandfather of the Fast Attack,

the father could logically be represented by the second USS Carp (SS – 338).

This Balao class submarine built by the Electric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut was laid down on 23 December 1943, launched on 12 November 1944, and was commissioned on 28 February 1945.

The Balao Class submarine was listed as a patrol submarine and consisted of 127 boats all told. This was the largest class of submarines in the US Fleet (at the time) and represented improvements over the Gato Class with stronger hull material that gave her a depth capability of 400 feet. Several of the boats infamously exceeded the depth limit and lived to tell the tale.

The boats were 1,526 tons surfaced and 2,420 submerged. At 311.7 feet long by 27 with a 27.3 foot beam and a 15.3 foot draft.

  • Speed: 20 knots surfaced, 9 knots submerged
  • Armament: 2 5″/25, 2 40mm, 6 bow and 4 stern torpedo tubes, 24 21″ torpedoes
  • Complement: 80

The propulsion of the Balao-class submarines was generally similar to that of the preceding Gato-class. Like their predecessors, they were true diesel-electric submarines: their four diesel engines powered electrical generators, and electric motors drove the shafts. There was no direct connection between the main engines and the shafts.

From the Naval Heritage and History Command:

Carp departed New London 14 April 1945, conducted training at Balboa, and arrived at Pearl Harbor 21 May. On her first and only war patrol (8 June-7 August), Carp cruised off the coast of Honshu, destroying small craft and patrolling for the carriers of the 3d Fleet engaged in air strikes on the mainland. Undergoing refit at Midway when hostilities ended, Carp returned to Seattle 22 September.

Based on San Diego as flagship for Submarine Division 71, Carp operated along the west coast with occasional training cruises to Pearl Harbor. Between 13 February and 15 June 1947 she made a simulated war patrol to the Far East, and in 1948 and 1949 Carp made two exploratory cruises to extreme northern waters, adding to the knowledge of an increasingly important strategic area for submarine operations.

Converted to a guppy-type submarine in February 1952, which added to her submerged speed and endurance, Carp supported United Nations’ forces in the Korean War during her cruise of 22 September 1952-April 1953 to the Far East. Arriving at Pearl Harbor, her new home port 15 March 1954, Carp remained on active duty with the fleet from that port through July 1959. During this time she continued to make cruises to the Far East, one of which included a good-will visit to Australia and participation in a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization exercise, and to Alaskan waters. On 1 August 1959 Carp departed Pearl Harbor for her new assignment with the Atlantic Fleet. Arriving at Norfolk, Va., 28 August 1959, the submarine has conducted type exercises and training off the east coast and in the Caribbean through 1963.

Carp was redesignated an Auxiliary Submarine, AGSS-338, in 1968, and Miscellaneous Submarine IXSS-338 in 1971.

Around 1971, Carp was moored at South Boston Naval Annex, across the harbor from Logan International Airport at about the point where Interstate 90 now crosses. She was used for training. Her battery room was converted into a television lounge, and her rudder was welded in place; otherwise, Carp seemed fully operational to trainees.

She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 20 December 1971 and sold for scrapping in 1973. Her conning tower has been preserved at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island just north of Galveston, Texas.

Carp received one battle star for her service in World War II. Her single war patrol was designated as “successful.”

The Gato, Balao and Tench class boats were the best technology the United States Navy had it its underwater arsenal.

Many would be converted to the longer range GUPPY boats after the war and act as platforms for new weapons testing and missions. They were the result of decades of continuous improvement but they all shared the same limitations. Despite the phenomenal crews, all of them were still tied to the surface or near surface for a good portion of their at sea operational time.

The weakness in this need for air for propulsion was that a submarine could be stealthy for a while but eventually needed to expose itself. With newer technology in radar and sonar, this exposure would be a limiting factor in survival. ASW had advanced so much that a submarine that was forced to be at or near the surface was often compromised. Yes, the battery operations were improved over the oldest boats, but even with the best batteries, at some point you had to charge them.

So the dream for unlimited power that did not require any surface or periscope depth operations would continue.

Until Nautilus.

Nautilus showed what could be. The swift addition of newer classes with better hull designs and improved technology would lead in a revolution of underwater warriors.

USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, was operational in 1955; the Soviets followed this only three years later with their first Project 627 “Kit”-class SSN (NATO November class). Since a nuclear submarine could maintain a high speed at a deep depth indefinitely, conventional SSKs would be useless against them except in shallow water. As the development and deployment of nuclear submarines proceeded, in 1957–59 the US Navy’s SSKs were redesignated and decommissioned or reassigned to other duties. It had become apparent that all nuclear submarines would have to perform ASW missions. Research proceeded rapidly to maximize the potential of the nuclear submarine for this and other missions.

The US Navy developed a fully streamlined hull form and tested other technologies with the conventional USS Albacore, commissioned in 1953. The new hull form was first operationalized with the five Skipjack-class boats, which entered service beginning in 1959. The lead ship of the class was declared the “world’s fastest submarine” following trials in 1958, although the actual speed was kept secret. Sonar research showed that a sonar sphere capable of three-dimensional operation, mounted at the very bow of a streamlined submarine, would increase detection performance. This was recommended by Project Nobska, a 1956 study ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke.

USS Thresher, the first high-speed SSN optimized for ASW

The Thresher class and the one-off Tullibee were the first with a bow-mounted sonar sphere in 1961; midships torpedo tubes angled outboard were fitted to make room for the sphere. Tullibee was a kind of nuclear-powered SSK; she was slow but ultra-quiet with turbo-electric drive. Her slow speed was a liability and the type was not repeated, as Thresher was faster with twice as many torpedoes, included comparable sound silencing improvements, and was commissioned only nine months later. Thresher incorporated numerous advances on previous classes including an increased diving depth; her loss in April 1963 triggered a major redesign of subsequent US submarines known as the SUBSAFE program.

However, Thresher’s general arrangement and concept were continued in all subsequent US Navy attack submarines. The first fully streamlined Soviet submarines were the Project 667A “Navaga” class (NATO Yankee class), Project 670 “Skat” class (NATO Charlie I class), and Project 671 “Yorsh” class (NATO Victor I class), all of which first entered service in 1967.[7][14]. The only time in history a nuclear attack submarine engaged and sunk an enemy warship was in the 1982 Falklands War, on 2 May 1982 the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sank the Argentine light cruiser General Belgrano.

The series I will be presenting this year (2020) talks about each of the classes in their turn.

Each boat distinguished itself during the Cold War and post-Cold War period. But like the entire submarine story, it is as much about the men as it is about the machines.

Today, the world has many new challenges. Technology has continued to advance almost faster than our ability to keep up with it. But the technology that has been poured into our boats has been a key part of that growth. I hope that we can continue to be masters of the art of submarining. But whoever is the master controls the seas.

Mister Mac

ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 9, 2015) The Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) John Warner (SSN 785) conducts sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries by Chris Oxley/Released)

Addendum from the Navy Submarine Web Site:


With the number of foreign diesel-electric/air-independent propulsion submarines increasing, the United States Submarine Force relies on its technological superiority and the speed, endurance, mobility, stealth and payload afforded by nuclear power to retain its preeminence in the undersea battlespace.

The Navy has three classes of SSNs in service. Los Angeles-class (SSN 688) submarines are the backbone of the submarine force, with approximately 40 now in commission. Thirty of those are equipped with 12 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Navy also has three Seawolf-class submarines. Commissioned July 19, 1997, USS Seawolf (SSN 21) is exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors. Though lacking VLS, the Seawolf class has eight torpedo tubes and can hold up to 50 weapons in its torpedo room. The third ship of the class, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), has a 100-foot hull extension called the multi-mission platform. This hull section provides for additional payloads to accommodate advanced technology used to carry out classified research and development and for enhanced warfighting capabilities.

The Navy continues to build the next-generation attack submarine, the Virginia (SSN 774) class. More than a dozen Virginias have been commissioned to date, and they will replace Los Angeles Class submarines as they retire. The Virginia class has several innovations that significantly enhance its warfighting capabilities, including in littoral — or coastal — operations. Virginia class SSNs have a fly-by-wire ship control system that provides improved shallow-water ship handling. The class has special features to support SOF, including a reconfigurable torpedo room which can accommodate a large number of SOF and all their equipment for prolonged deployments and future off-board payloads. The class also has a large lock-in/lock-out chamber for divers. In Virginia-class SSNs, traditional periscopes have been supplanted by two photonics masts that host visible and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms. With the removal of the barrel periscopes, the ship’s control room has been moved down one deck and away from the hull’s curvature, affording it more room and an improved layout that provides the commanding officer with enhanced situational awareness. Additionally, through the extensive use of modular construction, open architecture, and commercial off-the-shelf components, the Virginia class is designed to remain state-of-the-practice for its entire operational life through the rapid introduction of new systems and payloads.

As part of the Virginia-class’ third, or Block III, contract, the Navy redesigned approximately 20 percent of the ship to reduce their acquisition costs. Most of the changes are found in the bow where the traditional, air-backed sonar sphere has been replaced with a water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) array which reduces acquisition and life-cycle costs while providing enhanced passive detection capabilities. The new bow also replaces the 12 individual Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes with two large diameter 87-inch Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles. The VPTs simplify construction, reduce acquisition costs, and provide for more payload flexibility than the smaller VLS tubes due to their added volume. The design changes were successfully proven out during USS North Dakota’s (SSN 784) builder sea trials in August 2014. Block III hulls include the eight ships procured from 2008 through and 2013 (SSNs 784-791.)

Block IV submarines (SSNs 792-801) incorporate design changes focused on reduced total ownership cost (RTOC). By making these smaller-scale design changes to increase the component-level lifecycle of the submarine, the Navy will increase the periodicity between depot maintenance availabilities and increase the number of deployments. Blocks I-III Virginias are planned to undergo four depot maintenance availabilities and conduct 14 deployments. Block IV RTOC efforts are intended to reduce planned availabilities by one to three, and increase deployments to 15. The Navy refers to this as 3:15.

The next major change will be incorporation of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), planned for the Block V submarines (2019-2022). VPM, currently in the early concept development phase, will add four additional payload tubes — each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles — into the Virginia class design. The VPM tubes will be very similar to the VPTs utilized on Block III and forward ships. By using these tubes in the VPM, the Navy will leverage mission-proven components for the new module, thereby minimizing design and cost risk.

Point Of Contact

Office of Corporate Communication (SEA 00D)

Naval Sea Systems Command

Washington, D.C. 20376



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