USS ALBACORE sitting in her berth at Albacore Park in Portsmouth, NH.
PORTSMOUTH, NH- Many of us who head south for various reasons will cross over into New Hampshire via the I-95 bridge. Next time, exit in Kittery and head south over the middle bridge into New Hampshire. At the end of the bridge on the New Hampshire side you will note a submarine sitting in a ground berth. This is the final resting place of U.S.S. ALBACORE in Albacore Park at 569 Submarine Way, which is a museum dedicated to this unique submarine and opened to the public.

The first ALBACORE (SP 751) was a cabin cruiser built by Howard Brothers of San Diego, CA in 1900. Her dimensions were 14 tons with a length of 50-feet 8-inches, beam 9-feet 6-inches and draft of 4-feet 10-inches. Her top speed was 7 knots and she carried one 1-pounder and a machine gun. She was commissioned into the U. S. Navy on 17 May 1917 and was used as a patrol boat in Southern California. She was returned to her owner in January 1919.

The second ALBACORE (SS-218) was a Gato Class submarine and was built by the Electric Boat Co. of New London, CT and launched 17 February 1942. She displaced 1,526 tons; was 311-feet 9-inches in length, 27-feet 3-inches beam and 19-feet 3-inches draft. On the surface she could reach a speed of 20.25 knots and submerged 8.75 knots. For armament she carried a 3-inch gun, two 50 caliber machines guns, two 30 caliber machines and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes. Following sea trials, she headed for the Pacific Theater passing through the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor where she arrived 28 August 1942. In September she saw her first action when she fired on two cargo vessels, possibly damaging one of them. In October she attacked a Japanese oil tanker, but failed to sink her. That same month she sighted a Japanese carrier and a heavy cruiser and was attacked with depth charges. The following day she fired torpedoes at a freighter scoring a hit, and after two additional explosions figured she had gone down. After another heavy barrage of depth charging she headed for Midway where she arrived 20 October. After a refit she departed 11 November 1942 for a patrol off New Guinea. She had several sightings of Japanese vessels, but did not score a hit and then she came under attack. The following month she attacked three destroyers, but did not score a hit. Later that month she scored a direct hit on the Japanese cruiser TENRYO, which exploded and sank. She then headed to Brisbane, Australia where she docked 30 December 1942. Twenty-one days later, after an engine overhaul, she was back to sea heading for New Guinea. She attacked a convoy and followed up with attacking several other vessels over the next several days. She was credited with sinking a destroyer and a frigate on this patrol. She then went into a drydock for repairs and was back at sea in April 1943. She again patrolled off New Guinea and even though she sighted a number of vessels she had no recorded hits. In June she headed out on her fifth patrol off the Solomon Islands. She attacked three convoys, but no confirmed sinkings. After a refit in Brisbane, she headed back out on patrol in August. On this patrol she sank HEIJO MARU, before heading back to Brisbane the end of September. ALBACORE left on her seventh patrol 12 October 1943. While chasing a Japanese convoy she was attacked by friendly aircraft who fortunately did no damaged, but lost contact with the convoy. Not long after she was again attacked by a friendly aircraft, which did a lot of damage. The damage caused her to dive and she did not check the dive until she reached the depth of 450 feet. Her crew managed to gain control by making the necessary repairs. She tried to attack the damaged light cruiser AGANO, but could not get near due to patrolling destroyers and their four hour attack with depth charges. She went back to Australia, but was back to sea on 26 December heading for the Bismarck Islands. On this patrol she sank the cargo vessel CHOKO MARU and the destroyer SAZANAMI. She then headed for the Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul. She left there in May 1944 and headed to Hawaii. With repairs complete she headed out on her ninth patrol, which took her off Palaus. While the Americans began landing on Saipan, ALBACORE was ordered south to protect against a Japanese task force heading for Saipan. On 19 June she found herself in the middle of the task force. She fired six torpedoes and then found herself under attack by depth charges. They heard the explosions caused by the torpedoes. They had hit and damaged the 31,000-ton carrier TAIHO. The torpedo blast had caused a huge gasoline leak and after a time this gasoline ignited and fatally damaged the carrier, which went to the bottom. Those on board ALBACORE did not realize that they had sunk this carrier. It was not until the U. S. Navy had confirmation on the sinking that her captain was awarded the Navy Cross. Her next mission was to rescue pilots attacking Yap and Ulithi. After another refit she headed out on her tenth patrol where she sank a cargo ship and a sub chaser. ALBACORE departed Pearl Harbor on 28 October and was not heard from again. She was deemed lost by the Navy on 21 December 1944 and struck from the Navy list on 30 March 1945. Japanese records showed that she might have hit a mine off Hokkaido on 7 November and sunk. Dr. Tamaki Ura of the University of Tokyo confirmed that ALBACORE was the submarine lost off Hokkaido on 7 November. Despite adverse conditions in the area of the loss, Dr. Ura was able to gain enough evidence to prove the submarine’s identity.

The third ALBACORE (AGSS 569) (Auxiliary General Submarine) is the one sitting quietly on the side of the road in Portsmouth, NH. Her motto is Praenuntius Futuri, which means Forerunner of the Future. She was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) and launched from there on 1 August 1953. She displaces 1,242-tons on the surface; 203-feet 10-inches in length, 27-foot 4-inches beam, 18-feet 7-inches draft. Her given speed was 25 knots on the surface and 20+ knots submerged. One account says that she reached a speed of 40 knots. It was known that submarines were going to play a significant role in the future of naval warfare. With the advent of nuclear power naval engineers were looking to increase the performance of a submarine underwater. Hydrodynamic studies took place to determine the best hull form. Several hull forms were tested at the David Taylor Model Basin and the top two were then tested in a wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. One was single screw the other twin, and it was the single screw design that performed best. The winning design was then authorized for construction. Following acceptance trails they began experimenting with her configuration, which gave the designers a better understanding of the best hull form for future submarines. During the summer the Navy made repairs and modifications with the input from the David Taylor Model Basin. That fall she sailed out of Key West, FL doing tests and a special operations cruise before returning to PNS in November. For the next several months they modified her stern with propeller aft of stern plane and rudder. After cruising until November of 1956 she returned to PNS to be repowered. In March 1957 she left New London for the Caribbean and then returned to Boston and operated out of there for a time. Then she was back to PNS for another overhaul. The Navy was now testing sound reduction measures, which included sound dampening plastic and decreasing the size of the bow planes. Her next test was the addition of a 14-foot propeller. She then headed south for a number of months conducting tests for a concaved bow sonar dome. She was back at PNS in November 1960 for a major overhaul consisting of a new stern and bow shape, sonar system and a rudder on her sail. In August 1961 she was back to sea to learn how the modifications performed. In 1962 she received a new sonar system and underwent another major conversion. She received concentric contra rotating propellers, silver zinc batteries, a bigger engine and new electronics. She did not go back to sea until March 1965 and headed to Florida to do sea trials on these new changes. She was back at PNS in October 1965 to remove the batteries and modify the propellers. These modifications were completed in August 1967 and back to sea she went. On 1 January she was back in the Shipyard to have her engine system upgraded. She tested new systems in the Gulf of Maine before returning to PNS in 1967 when her operating status was reduced. She went back active in 1970 after more modifications were performed. Following the sea trials she then headed out to do tests on her new equipment. She developed a number of engine issues and was dropped from Project SURPASS and she became deactivated. She was decommissioned 9 December 1972 and moved to Philadelphia. She was stricken from the Naval Register on 1 May 1980. Four years later she was towed to Portsmouth due to efforts of Portsmouth City Councilman Bill Keefe and was dedicated at a memorial on 3 May 1985. She was placed on the National Registered of Historic Places and then designated as a National Historic Landmark on 11 April 1989. ALBACORE was a platform for testing her hull shape, decreasing sound signatures and different systems that bettered the ability of the submarines in the U. S. Navy for many years.

If you get a chance visit this submarine you will not be sorry.

The Early History of Submarines

        Mankind has always looked for a way to travel beneath the waters of the world. The first mention of this can be traced back to the works of Pliny, Aristotle and Herodotus. Maybe the first to go down beneath the surface was Alexander the Great who went down in a glass submarine in 333 BC. It would be safe to surmise that numerous others made attempts to travel beneath the surface of water, but their accounts have not survived.

In the thirteenth century Roger Bacon described a submarine that could be used for war. Leonardo da Vinci is also credited with working with submarines. However, da Vinci felt that they were a deplorable invention, saying, “I do not publish or divulge on account of the evil nature of men who practice assassination at the bottom of the seas.” Then there was English prophetess Mother Shipton who envisioned the modern submarine by writing, “Underwater men shall walk, shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.”

However, technology was slow in evolving. In 1578 the book “Inventions and Devices” written by William Bourne says that it is possible to create a vessel that works below the surface of the water. His idea was put forth and constructed of wood and had leather bags for ballast tanks. It also had a hollow mast for air.

In 1620 Dutch physician Cornelius Van Drebbel used a submarine powered by oars to traverse the river Thames from Westminster to Greenwich in England. Not long after, Monsieur de Son of Rotterdam was the first to design a mechanically propelled submarine and is also credited with creating the first submarine for warfare. He designed and built a 72-foot catamaran which proved ineffective. His biggest problem was propulsion, which is what remained a problem for quite some time.

On 20 June 1774 the first known submarine fatality occurred when Englishman John Day went to the bottom of Plymouth Sound. He had modified a sloop into a submarine that used stones as ballast. On his second dive she failed to surface sinking into the dark depths.

The first notable use of a submarine occurred during the American Revolution. David Bushnell of Connecticut conceived the idea of using a submarine to break the British blockade against the American colonies in New York. He built a plum-seed shaped vessel known as the Turtle that had an explosive charge that could be attached to another vessel. It was Ezra Lee in the Turtle that would be the first to use a submarine in war. Lee was towed down the Hudson River by two rowboats on 6 September 1776. He submerged under the 64-gun British flagship H. M. S. EAGLE, but was unable to attach the charge to the hull because she was copper plated. He was spotted as the sun began to rise and a crew was sent out to capture him. Lee let go of the explosive and set the charge. He escaped when the bomb exploded and distracted the British. It is thought that the Turtle made two other attempts on British ships, but neither were effective. After the conclusion of the war the Turtle was being transported by a ship that went aground and sank with the Turtle on board. George Washington thought Bushnell’s Turtle was an “effort of genius” in a letter he had sent to Thomas Jefferson.

It is also reported that during the War of 1812 the Americans used another submarine to attack the 74-gun British warship RAMILLIES in July 1813. However, the charge failed to detonate.

Most developers of tools of warfare look at them as being the answer to end all aggression. The submarine is no different. Robert Fulton, who at the time was living in France, designed a submarine and took his idea to the French government, who was in the midst of the French Revolution. Fulton met with the Directory of France on 13 December 1797 and offered a way to rid the French coast of the British blockade. Fulton’s proposal was to build the submarine at his expense, but be paid for every ship that it sank. The initial price of 4000 francs per gun was negotiated down, but they added that the crew would not be given naval status and if captured would be hung as pirates.

Fulton left France with no agreement and asked the Dutch if they were interested. They were not and he was back in France negotiating with Napoleon who gave him 10,000 francs to build a submarine two years later. This submarine was named NAUTILUS and was launched in 1801. She was scheduled for sea trials, but the Maritime Prefect of Brest said that he could not go along with the trials because he deemed the vessel an inhumane instrument of war. This was followed by heated arguments from both sides and as peace seemed near Napoleon withdrew support for Fulton’s submarine.

Fulton’s next stop was England where he met Prime Minister William Pitt in 1804. Fulton demonstrated the use of the submarine by blowing up a Navy brig. However, the Royal Navy’s response was negative and Fulton gave up on the submarine and left for America where he began work on steamships.

Denmark and Prussia went to war in 1850 and Wilhelm Bauer designed a submarine named BRANDTAUCHER to break the Danish blockade. Due to this submarine the Danish blockade was withdrawn. However, during a later dive, the stern of the submarine collapsed while down 50 feet. The submarine was allowed to flood and the crew became the first to escape from a damaged submarine.

Bauer went to the British during the Crimean War and after several meetings with British naval architect Scott Russell, Russell designed his own submarine. Prime Minister Henry Palmerston funded the project, but it was apparently not built.

Bauer next surfaced in Russia where he was commissioned to build a 52-foot submarine known as the SEETEUFEL (Sea Devil).

France looked to the submarine as a way to protect their coast, which has always been a problem for them. Charles Brun was contracted to develop their first submarine. She was the 140-foot PLONGEUR, which carried compressed air to expel water from the ballast tanks and also drive her four-cylinder engine. For armament she carried a spar torpedo.

During the American Civil War, the Confederates developed vessels that submerged for a short period of time named “Davids.” On 5 October 1863 at Charleston, South Carolina a David rammed the Union warship NEW IRONSIDES with a spar torpedo. They damaged the Union ship, but also most of the crew of the David lost their lives.

During the war Horace L. Hunley designed a 40-foot submarine named for himself. She was swamped three times with the loss of 23 crew members. Lieutenant George E. Dixon took H. L. HUNLEY across Charleston Harbor to attack the Union fleet on the night of 17 February 1864. His target was the frigate HOUSATONIC, which spotted the submarine just as she neared the vessel. The crew was unable to get the vessel underway and the spar torpedo penetrated the hull and exploded. The HOUSATONIC filled by the stern and sank, becoming the first naval vessel sunk by a submarine. It should also be noted that the H. L. HUNLEY sank too from the explosion taking with her all hands.

The Union also looked into the use of submarines as a means of warfare. Frenchmen Brutus de Villeroi had been trying to interest the Union Navy in purchasing his submarine when she was discovered tied up to an island in the Delaware River. This brought the idea to the public and de Villeroi was awarded a contract and built the ALLIGATOR, which was launched 30 April 1862. While being towed she sank off Cape Hatteras on 2 April 1863.

Another Union submarine was designed by Oliver Halstead and was nicknamed the INTELLIGENT WHALE. During sea trials she sank with the loss of 39 men. This submarine’s mishap caused a negative attitude to the submarine’s development and use by the U. S. Navy for a number of years.

It should also be noted that the development of the periscope came during the American Civil War but was not developed for use on a submarine. The first boat to carry a periscope was the MONITOR OSAGE, an ironclad, and used to monitor troop movements.

The submarine had yet to have a weapon developed for it that was truly effective. However, in 1866 Englishman Robert Whitehead introduced a self-propelled tube that carried an explosive charge. This invention was given the Latin name for the electric eel, Torpedo Electricuicus. The torpedo was used mostly from surface ships before the problems associated with instituting them into a submarine were answered.

The next great advances in the design of the submarine came from John Philip Holland. The Irish-born Holland look to this submarine as a means to end British rule over Ireland. Holland was born in Liscannor, Ireland on 24 February 1841. He became a teacher of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1858, but soon became part of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, who fought for Irish freedom. He looked to the submarine as a means to attack the Royal Navy. He designed a submarine but was unable to get it built.

He left Ireland for Boston, Massachusetts in 1873 and ended up teaching in Paterson, New Jersey. There was little to no interest in his invention in the United States, but he continued to work on its development. The Fenian Brotherhood for Irish Freedom wanted to build a submarine to Holland’s design and they took their plight to the public. The response from the Irish Americans was immense and Albany Iron Works in Paterson began construction on the 14½ foot vessel. In a test run on the Passaic River she quickly sank to the bottom. Holland had calculated the design for use in saltwater not fresh. With a few alterations the submarine was back on the surface in an hour, but the steam engine would not work. After weeks of experimenting, he was back and proved that he had designed a successful submarine. He flooded the ballast tanks and sank to 12 feet. He resurfaced and then later disappeared for an hour.

The Fenians were pleased with the sea trials and ordered another of Holland’s submarines for their cause. This submarine was 31-feet in length, powered with a gasoline engine and named the FENIAN RAM. During sea trials she sank in a freak accident and was raised at a cost of $3,000. Patients grew thin on all sides. The Fenians broke into the shipyard, took the submarine and tried to sail it themselves, but failed. Holland was disheartened with them and said, “I will let her rot in their hands.”

Financial troubles arose and Holland try to sell his submarine to the U. S. Navy, but they were not interested. He then took a job in the Pneumatic Gun Company. There he met Capt. Edmund L. Zalinski, who he built a wooden submarine for in order for him to test his dynamite gun. She was launched in 1885 and was a failure. Holland later said that the failure of this boat set his career back 10 years.

The development of the submarine continued in Europe and Holland. The U. S. Navy showed no interest in the submarine so Holland wrote an article, “Can New York be Bombarded?” to spark their interest. It worked and the Navy set up a design competition, but the specifications could not be met by any designer. A second competition was held and Holland won it. In 1893 Holland’s luck changed when Grover Cleveland became president. Another competition was held and Holland won that and was awarded $200,000 to produce the design. He formed the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company and contracted with a Baltimore shipyard to produce PLUNGER, which was launched in 1897. Due to financial constraints the submarine did not perform well, but Holland was able to convince the Navy that he could build a second one that would perform much better. She was the 53-foot 10-inch-long HOLLAND IV and was launched in 1898. She had a 45-hp engine that charged batteries which allowed her to run submerged. She also had a torpedo tube and carried three Whitehead torpedoes.

The HOLLAND IV made her first dive off Staten Island on St. Patrick’s Day in 1898 and she proved a success. Shortly after, war was declared on Spain and Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy wrote John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, that the Holland submarine should be purchased. Holland even offered to take the submarine to Havana to blow up the Spanish fleet, but the Navy turned his offer down.

Again, in a poor financial position the Holland Boat Company was forced to merge with the company that supplied them with their batteries and they became the Electric Boat Company. The U. S. Navy finally saw the value of Holland submarine and accepted the HOLLAND IV on April 11, 1900.

Holland then built submarines for the Russians and the Japanese. However, in 1903 Holland received an order for six submarines from the U.S. Navy and this gave them the first United States Submarine Service.