Fast Attack Submarines in 1958 – Refining the Concept

In 1958, the race to build better and faster submarines had already been underway for a few years. Admiral Rickover had previously stated that the Nautilus design was only the beginning of the evolution. By 1958, the world of underwater warfare was rapidly taking shape


Nuclear power will have a tremendous effect on your Navy. Here’s a report from Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN, who heads Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion unit in the Bureau of Ships.

THE NAVY’s TRANSITION to nuclear propulsion is well underway. The reasons for this rapid transition are simple. Nuclear power permits a ship or a whole Fleet to get where it wants when it wants.

  • All new construction submarines will be nuclear powered.
  • In the surface Fleet, work has started on a nuclear power plant for each of the three basic combatant types; the aircraft carrier, the cruiser and the destroyer. Ships already have been authorized for the first two types; a large destroyer (frigate) will be requested in the Fiscal year 1959 shipbuilding program. For submarines it is accepted that freedom of movement marks a tremendous improvement in submarine capability.

Our diesel submarines were tied to the ocean surface. If they wished to move fast under water, they could do it for only a short time; if they wished to remain under water for as much as 24 hours they were restricted to slow speed and a small submerged radius. Now all that is changed. Nuclear-powered submarines are even faster under water than on the surface; their extremely long ranges are becoming even longer.

Nuclear Mobility

It was not fully realized until Nautilus actually operated, just what a tremendous advantage of mobility the ship possessed. Nautilus could move with complete freedom beneath the seas. The day of the diesel submarine was over. What will nuclear power mean to surface ships? An individual ship, such as the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach will, like the submarine, experience a great increase in mobility.

It is well known that the captain of a ship must take heavily into account his available fuel oil supplies when planning any operation. The selection of speed is a balance between the desire to arrive at the destination in the shortest possible time and the need to minimize fuel consumption. The World War II Pacific operations are one long history of the struggle with supplies and replenishment. Nuclear power eliminates the problem of refueling at sea.

Nuclear Task Force

A task force by its very name, implies a group of ships which can be dispatched to a certain locality to perform a task. The ability to maintain such a force at sea in constant and rapid movement and to deploy it over great distances, without the necessity of concern over fuel supplies, will give to the task force a vast improvement over present day task forces.

All of the Navy’s nuclear plants have one vital requirement: intelligent, well trained crews. Skill is needed to operate the plant and to maintain it. The training is difficult; it takes hard work and long hours of study. It represents a challenge to the men of the Navy, and I am proud to say that the men of the Navy are meeting this challenge. Personnel are needed from all units of the Fleet to work and learn so that they may do their part to help in the transition of the Navy from oil to nuclear power.


A pivotal development in the late 1950’s was the push forward for nuclear submarines. Admiral Mumma was one of the leading proponents of an improved hull design and use of one screw instead of the traditional two on submarines.

In 1951, he became commander of the David Taylor Model basin. He supervised the conversion of the submarine USS Albacore to incorporate a teardrop hull, and successfully pressed for a single-screw design against entrenched prejudice.

Mumma was promoted to rear admiral in 1954, and assumed command of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. He became responsible for celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding by David Farragut in 1854. However, his most important task was converting the shipyard over to the construction of nuclear submarines. This involved extensive retraining of the shipyard’s personnel.

His tour of command was a short one, for in 1955 he became chief of the Bureau of Ships. Disappointed with the performance of the USS Nautilus and the Skate-class submarines, he pushed for the adoption of the single screw and teardrop hull. The result was the Skipjack-class submarine. The George Washington-class submarines that followed were a development of the Skipjack with Polaris missiles. He also oversaw the design of the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and its escorts USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge.

This is an excerpt from the Congressional hearings in 1958 for Naval Appropriations. Note the names of two men who would later play a pivitol role in the nation’s future: Gerald R. Ford Jr. and Melvin Laird.

Department of Defense appropriations for 1959: Department … United States.

Hearings on Naval Budgets for 1959




GEORGE H. MAHON, Texas, Chairman

HARRY R. SHEPPARD, California         RICHARD B. WIGGLESWORTH, Massachusetts


F. NORRELL, Arkansas        GERALD R. FORD, JB., Michigan

JAMIE L. WHITTEN, Mississippi            EDWARD T. MILLER, Maryland


JOHN J. RILEY, South Carolina             HAMER H. BUDGE, Idaho

DANIEL J. FL00D, Pennsylvania            MELVIN R. LAIRD, Wisconsin




Staff Assistants to the Subcommittee


Printed for the use of the Committee on Appropriations


Mr. MAHON. How many submarines, including these that you are requesting now, and including those we have financed in the last few years, do you have coming out of the pipeline, or will you have coming out of the pipeline—all types? –

Admiral MUMMA. To summarize briefly the submarine situation, I will take the attack submarine. I am not talking about the guided missile types. – –

Mr. FLOOD. Why are you not talking about the guided-missile es?

Admiral MUMMA. I thought we had reviewed those.

Mr. FLOOD. The man said submarines, all types.

Admiral MUMMA. All right, sir. Starting with the beginnings of the nuclear submarines, we have in commission the Nautilus, the Seawolf and the Skate. We have three other submarines of the Skate class.

Mr. MAHON. Somebody add these up as we go along, because I want to get an overall figure in my mind.

Admiral MUMMA. We have three other submarines of the Skate class that we are completing this year. They are somewhat smaller than the Nautilus and the Seawolf. However, they are good, efficient operating submarines. The next group of submarines, nuclear-powered, is headed by the prototype, the Skipjack, the 585, and she is the first of the nuclear powered submarines that is equipped with the Albacore-type hull form. She heads the list of seven currently authorized submarines of this type. They are all under construction. They all look something like the submarine in the picture before you. The last of that list of seven submarines has been modified somewhat to incorporate some of these features we plan to use in these submarines on the screen. That is the 593, as yet unnamed, and building at Portsmouth, N. H. That submarine is the prototype for these submarines which are asked for in this program shown on the screen.

Mr. WIGGLESWORTH. When will those seven come into operation?

Admiral MUMMA. That one submarine comes into operation in January of 1961, the first of this variation. The Skipjack herself, which is the lead ship in the whole class, comes into operation this year, sir. She will be launched in May of this year and she comes into service in December.

Mr. WIGGLESWORTH. And the other six come in between that time and 1961?

Admiral MUMMA. Yes, at various times. Now, going back to the guided missile submarines, we have the Halibut, the first of the nuclear-powered guided missile submarines that completes in December of 1959. We have the three guided missile submarines in this year’s program, 1958, and the one guided missile submarine asked for in this year’s program that we have just talked of. They are all complete between 1959 and 1962. That accounts for a total of five guided missile nuclear-powered submarines. There is one additional submarine of a special type, the Radar Picket submarine, the 586 named the Triton, and she is the first and only submarine, so far, built with twin reactors. She will carry heavy fleet radar equipment and is capable of high speed, both on the surface and submerged. That ship will complete in late 1960 and early 961. The one other submarine left in a class by itself it the 597, which is the smallest submarine we have yet built nuclear powered. It is building at the Electric Boat Co., and it is an experimental submarine to some degree because we have not repeated the design yet. It is the first built by the Combustion Engineering Corp. The reactor is built by that company. This one is also the cheapest and the smallest nuclear-powered one we contemplate building. At one time we called that a killer submarine, but we have changed its designation. It is just another nuclear submarine of a small size. I think that tabulates all of them.


Mr. Mahon. What I am looking for here is this: When somebody says that we do not have much of a submarine program I want to say that with regard to modern, recently constructed submarines, we have so many that have already been launched and are in service; we have so many that have been financed that are coming into service, and we have in the 1959 program so many, and this all adds up to a total of modern submarines of so many. I would like to have all types of submarines, Polaris and everything.

Admiral MUMMA. By the time you include the 3 Polaris submarines recently discussed in the supplemental appropriation and the ones added in this program, we come to a total of 35 submarines.

Mr. MAHON. Some of them constructed, some in the process of construction, and some of them being financed in this year’s budget. The Polaris in the supplemental budget, and so forth, and that is a 35-submarine program. Those are modern submarines?

Mr. FLOOD. You are barely adequate and you are short $1,100 million in addition $1,159 million on this in 10 years to do what you say you are going to do. You will never do it with that much money if 13 years is the life expectancy of 1 of those submarines. You will be short 15 submarines.

Mr. FORD. Am I correct in assuming that the $2,300 million that you visualize includes all shipbuilding’

Admiral COMBS. That is correct, the whole thing.

Mr. FLOOD. That is right.

Mr. MAHON. You have summed up the submarine program of 35 submarines. Are all of those nuclear?

Admiral MUMMA. Yes, those that I have been discussing, except eight conventional powered.

Mr. MAHON. I do not want this picture to be out of focus. We do have some modern submarines that are of the snorkel type, which have been constructed since World War II. If you add those submarines in, what figures do you come up with for a total—approximately? You can revise the figure for the record.

Admiral MUMMA. It would be about another 12 submarines built since World War II of conventional power. That is a rough figure. I will refine it for the record.

The launch of the Sputnik Satellite in on October 4, 1957 would accelerate the space race but also accelerate the need for attack and ballistic missile submarines to defend the country. The records would reflect this increased urgency over the next few years. The need to counter the Soviets was abundantly clear to those who were formulating policy.

Mister Mac 


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