Atomic submarines, capable of staying hidden while moving at brisk speeds deep in the ocean, are ideally suited for lanching ballistic missiles. These ships can roam free of the earths atmosphere almost indefinitely, ready to strike with atomic and hydrogen warheads at surface or land targets. The Polaris missile, for example, has a range of 1,500 miles. With this capability, missile-packing submarines may discourage aggressive nations from provoking war.

The U.S. Navy selected the nation's most experienced submarine builder, General Dynamics Corporation's Electric Boat Division of Groton, Connecticut, to design and build the USS George Washington. General Dynamics built the world's first three atomic vessels, the submarines Nautilus, Seawolf and Skate, and has been a world leader in the design and construction of undersea ships for over half a century.

The George Washington is the first Fleet Balististic Missile submarine. Others in the same class are the Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Each is 380 feet long, has a surface displacement of 5,400 tons and uses one large propeller. Each submarine is powered by a Westinghouse watercooled nuclear reactor, which generates steam to drive turbines. The turbines not only turn the propeller for propulsion but also drive generators which supply the ship with all of its electrical requirements.

Prior to the successful harnessing of the atom for propulsion, submarines were severely limited in underwater endurance. The oil-consuming diesel engines require air with which to burn the fuel. Therefore, the engines could be operated only when the submarine was on the surface, or when the snorkel - a pipe to the surface - was raised. The snorkel, of course, presents an object which can be seen or detected by radar. When completely submerged, a conventional submarine must derive her propulsion from her storage batteries. With no means of recharging other than by snorkeling or running on the surface, the submerged endurance on a single charge was limited to a matter of hours.

Atomic engines overcame the handicap that had plagued submarines through their entire history. The nuclear power plant is, in the simplest terms, a steam engine of fantastic endurance.

Here's how the Nautilus and her atom-powered sister ships operate. A tiny lump of enriched uranium, about the size of a light bulb, makes possible a controlled nuclear reaction, causing tremendous heat. This heat boils water, converting it to steam which drives large turbines. The movement of these turbines turns the submarine's propellers and also drives turbo-generators which fill the crew's electrical needs. The atomic engine, needing no oxygen, thus makes the submarine a sort of underwater city, capable of subsistence to the limits of the humans aboard.

The nuclear submarines Nautilus, Seawolf, Skate and Triton have rewritten the submarine record Book. Nautilus travelled more than 60,000 miles on its first charge of atomic fuel. Skate Crossed the Atlantic twice submerged all the way. Nautilus opened a new northwest passage between the world's two major oceans, travelling from the Pacific to the Atlantic under the Arctic ice pack. Seawolf established a new endurance record in 1958 by remaining totally submerged for 60 days. Skate made two voyages under the ice and surfaced at the North Pole. Triton made an 84-day submerged circumnavigation of the world, travelling 41,500 miles along the route of Magellan.

A crew of approximately 100 men is required to operate an atomic submarine. Crew members specialize in one aspect of the ship's operation and also are trained in all jobs essential to diving and surfacing the vessel.

The crew works under conditions that can only be described as luxurious by early submarine standards. Interior space in nuclear submarines is roughly twice as large as conventional subs. In addition, due to the ability and in wartime the necessity to stay under water indefinitely great care has to be taken in making the submersible's living spaces

particularly suited for around-the-clock occupancy. In the interests of morale, such submarine innovations as juke boxes, ice cream makers, motion pictures and well-equipped libraries have been added to the recreational facilities.

A qualified doctor is also carried by each atomic sub but the first four years of operation have shown that his main function is not radiation protection but atmosphere control, the vital art of circulating fresh oxygen within the submarine's pressure hull.

Oxygen supplies for the living compartments are carried in large bottles and the atmosphere is periodically revitalized by "bleeding" fresh oxygen into the submarine. Using air scrubbers to take out impurities, this limited amount of life-sustaining oxygen can be stretched out over a number of weeks, as evidenced by Seawolf's two-month submergence.

Nuclear submarines dive and surface by the conventional method, taking on and discharging quantities of water, the ship's most readily obtainable ballast. Diving planes, located both at the front or bow of the ship and the rear or stern, regulate the angles of descent and ascent ordered by the commanding officer. Modern submarines can fully submerge in less than a minute.

Speeds and maximum operating depths have also improved markedly with the advent of nuclear power. These characteristics are secret for any atomic sub but the Navy will admit to an underwater speed of "more than 20 knots" for sustained periods of weeks or months. This is approximately three times faster than any World War II sub could do for one hour's duration.

The George Washington, unlike the Nautilus, Seawolf, or Skate, has a revolutionary hull form to combine with its atomic engine. The early nuclear subs were operated primarily for testing their propulsion plants and, with overwhelmingly successful results the Navy and General Dynamics turned to the task of giving the new source of power a streamlined vessel to push. The solution was a shark-shaped hull with one large propeller to do the work of two small ones. The designers also moved the traditional bow diving planes to the "sail" of the ship, where they resemble somewhat the wings of an airplane. The entire sub, in fact, takes on the appearance of aircraft and its underwater movements are by necessity handled by the one-man airplane system instead of the old submarine threeman control.

The George Washington's principal weapon will be intermediate range ballistic missiles, called Polaris after the North Star. The Polaris has a designed range of 1,500 nautical miles and is capable of being launched when the submarine is hidden far below the surface.

Since three-fourths of the earth's area is water, every major target in the world will be susceptible to retaliatory attack by submarines of the George Washineton class and later designs that follow.


1. What is an atomic powered submarine?
2. Describe the source of energy used in an atomic powered submarine.
3. How do nuclear powered submarines differ from the early conventional submarines?
4. Name two features of the U.S.S. George Washington which are different from the atomic powered submarines Nautilus, Seawolf and Skate.
5. To what distance can the U.S.S. George Washington launch a missile?
6. What distance did the Nautilus travel on its first charge of atomic fuel?
7. What historic voyage was made by the Nautilus?
8. Compare the underwater speed of an atomic submarines with that of World War 1I submarines.
9. How often will the U.S.S. George Washington have to surface in order for its crew to breathe?
10. What particular feature of the world's geography makes the atomic submarine important in commerce as well as warfare?
11. What is the size of the uranium which makes possible the nuclear reaction in the submarine's atomic power plant?
12. Why did submarines operated by diesel engines have to surface every hour or so when under full power?
13. Compare the size of the interior space in nuclear subbmarines with conventional submarines.
14. What company, builder of the Nautilis, Seawolf and Skate, built the U.S.S. George Washington?


1. Draw and compare the differences between the hull of the U S. S. George Washington and the other nuclear submarines Nautilus, Seawolf or Skate.
2. Describe how the heat of uranium creates the power to propel the atomic submarines.
3. Launch the scale model Polaris missiles from the U S.S. George Washington model. Describe how it works. What is its range?
4. Display the model of the U.S.S. George Washington with its interior assembled. Describe the interior, explaining the feature and the reasons for the various elements.
5. On a world map trace a voyage of the U.S.S. George Washillgton from New Londoll, Cotlllecticut to: (a) Indiall Ocean. (b) Sydney, Australia. (c) Point Barrow, Alaska.


The Virtual Atomic Museum

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