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USS Albacore Was the Shape of Things to Come

The USS Albacore (AGSS 569) was a trailblazer in submarine design. World War II-era “fleet boat” diesel subs were designed to travel mostly on the surface and submerge when necessary, and the combination of hull design and less powerful electric motors employed when submerged meant subs were slower under water than on the surface. Nuclear power, and the ability to stay submerged for very long periods of time, called for designs optimized for sustained submerged operations. The answer was Albacore’s “teardrop hull.” Albacore was faster submerged than surfaced. She was the shape of things to come.

Her motto, Praenuntius Futuri, was most appropriate. It translates to “Forerunner of the Future.”

U.S. nuclear submarines did not adopt the “Albacore hull” until the USS Skipjack (SSN 585) demonstrated the design’s advantages in speed and maneuverability.

USS Albacore (AGSS 569)

A model of the USS Albacore undergoes submarine drag tests in the full-scale wind tunnel at the NASA Langley Research Center, Va. NASA photo

Albacore was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Me., and was commissioned in 1953. As naval architects and engineers envisioned the advantages of nuclear power and the ability to stay submerged for long periods of time, performance on the surface was no longer as important compared to that required for sustained underwater operations.

She was a trailblazer in the use of HY-80 steel, stronger than previous steel alloys used in submarines.

She was classified as an auxiliary research submarine, and was used to test many different hull configurations, including some novel rudder and propeller concepts. She was more efficient, too, and could maintain speeds with less power. She served as a test platform for various hull appendages and methods of sound-quieting. She sported different configurations of dive planes, rudders, and propellers. One modification was an X-shaped rudder; another was a dorsal rudder on her superstructure; still another was contra-rotating screws. She had new silver-zinc batteries that could store more energy than lead acid batteries. She was a trailblazer in the use of HY-80 steel, stronger than previous steel alloys used in submarines.

USS Albacore (AGSS 569)

The launching of the Albacore at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Me., Aug. 1, 1953. The Albacore was commissioned in 1953 and left U.S. Navy service in 1972. U.S. Navy photo

Based on lessons learned with Albacore, the U.S. Navy built three conventionally powered subs with HY-80 steel and the Albacore hull. The lead ship, USS Barbel (SS 580) was commissioned in 1959 and was in active service until 1989. Her sisters were USS Blueback (SS 581) and USS Bonefish (SS 582). They were the last Navy diesel attack boats.

This combination of power and streamlined shape has been found in all subsequent Navy submarines.

The Skipjack-class nuclear submarines, with the lead ship being commissioned in 1959, incorporated nuclear power into the Albacore hull, and this combination of power and streamlined shape has been found in all subsequent Navy submarines.

USS Albacore (AGSS 569)

The USS Albacore served as a testbed for a variety of U.S. Navy submarine technologies. The Albacore’s “X” configuration tail planes were fitted in 1960-61. U.S. Naval Historical Center photo

Albacore was decommissioned in 1972, and in 1984 the sub was brought to Portsmouth, N.H., where a special channel was dug to float her to her final resting place. The water was then drained, and she now sits nestled into the ground where people can see and touch this unique sub. She serves as a memorial to those Navy men lost aboard submarines who are on “eternal patrol.”

USS Albacore (AGSS 569)

The Albacore now sits in Albacore Park in Portsmouth, N.H. as a memorial. Photo courtesy of John MacKay

Her motto, Praenuntius Futuri, was most appropriate. It translates to “Forerunner of the Future.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...