Jul 7, 2011
03:11 PMDiscover Connecticut
Submarine Force Museum
A new era in underwater sea travel began in Groton in 1955 when the USS Nautilus embarked on its maiden voyage as the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. A chunk of uranium the size of a golf ball powered the 362-foot sub, which carried a crew of 116 men, and enabled it to travel undetected underwater for longer periods than ever before. The boat made history again three years later during the Cold War, when it reached the geographic North Pole from beneath the polar ice cap. This achievement put U.S. submarines within striking distance of the Soviet Union for the first time.
The USS Nautilus was decommissioned in the 1980s and is currently moored on the Thames River at the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton. The Navy maintains the bulk of its collection of submarine artifacts, documents and photographs here along with a research library that is open to the public. The museum is an absolute gem worth exploring, and charges no admission. It is chock-full of adult- and kid-friendly exhibits, including models of submarines, torpedoes, missiles, simulated attack centers and operational periscopes, as well as a replica of David Bushnell’s Turtle (the first sub used in combat, built in 1775). But the USS Nautilus is the star attraction.
A self-guided audio tour of the compact sub takes about 30 minutes. On the day we visited, several veteran submariners (called "dolphins" during their service because the Submarine Warfare Insignia they were awarded features two dolphins—the fish, not the mammal) who were also touring recounted their remarkable experiences to us as we wound our way around the three-level sub, passing through bulkhead hatches from the torpedo room to the galley to sleeping rooms with narrow berths to state-of-the-art control and attack centers. It was difficult to imagine how so many men could even get along, let alone work, in such cramped quarters. Navy veteran and museum volunteer Dan Murphy put it in context for us: “We had to be ready to handle any job; our lives depended on it, so we depended on each other. We were all brothers under the ‘phin.’”
Open Wed. through Mon. 9-4 (closed Tues.). Admission is free. For info, call (860) 694-3558 or (800) 343-3174, or visit ussnautilus.org.Submarine Force Museum