Hail Noble Captain, It Is Done Again
This lady is a first. She is the USS Triton, perhaps my favorite submarine. She is the only submarine the United States ever built with two nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are the source of power aboard the ship; the heat they provide is used to provide propulsion and electricity. In 1960, on her shakedown cruise no less, she was tasked with circumnavigating the globe completely submerged.
The voyage took place between February 24 and April 25 April in 1960 and covered 26,723 nautical miles. Her navigational track followed the same course as the first circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan between 1519-1522.
The goal was to complete the voyage before the May 1960 Paris Summit between President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev. It was intended to provide a public demonstration of the United States’ ability to carry out long-range submerged operations. The mission also gathered extensive oceanographic, hydrographic, gravimetric, geophysical, and psychological data.
The New York Times described this as “a triumph of human prowess and engineering skill, a feat that the United States Navy can rank as one of its bright victories in man’s ultimate conquest of the seas.”
There were a number of awards for this mission, but most notable are the Presidential Unit Citation, Captain Beach’s Legion of Merit, and the Magellanic Premium. The Magellanic Premium is a prestigious scientific award, from the American Philosophical Society.
When the Triton completed the mission, She, her commanding officer, and her crew presented a plaque that was designed, and the mold carved, by US Navy Veterans. The plaque was 23 inches in diameter and its design consisted of a sailing ship (Magellan’s Trinidad), above the submarine dolphin insignia. Between the two are the years 1519 and 1960, all within a laurel wreath.
Outside the wreath is the motto AVE NOBILIS DUX, ITERUM FACTUM EST, which translates as Hail Noble Captain, It Is Done Again. (Note to readers, if you are a maritime historian, that visual of two great captains honoring past achievements and building on them, is both humbling and awesome.)
The official plaque was presented to the Spanish Government by the US Ambassador and is hanging in the city hall of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain.
Duplicates were presented to the Mystic Seaport Museum, the Naval Historical Association, the US Navy Submarine School, and the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum.
Of the Triton, Vice Admiral Rickover wrote,
The importance of the Triton goes beyond the specific military task which has been assigned her. The Triton, in her operations, will test an advanced type of nuclear propulsion plant and will pave the way for the submersible capital ships of the future.
Captain Edward L. Beach, quote from the ship’s published log:
The sea may yet hold the key to the salvation of man and his civilization. That the world may better understand this, the Navy directed a submerged retrace of Ferdinand Magellan’s historic circumnavigation. The honor of doing it fell to Triton, but it has been a national accomplishment; for the sinews and the power which make up our ship, the genius which designed her, the thousands and hundreds of thousands who labored, each at his own metier, in all parts of the country, to build her safe, strong, self-reliant, are America. Triton, a unit of their Navy, pridefully and respectfully dedicates this voyage to the people of the United States.
Mission summary from the U.S. Navy’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships:
Triton put to sea on her shakedown cruise on 15 February 1960, bound for the South Atlantic. She arrived in the middle Atlantic off St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks on 24 February to commence a history-making voyage. Having remained submerged since her departure from the east coast, Triton continued on south towards Cape Horn, rounded the tip of South America, and headed west across the Pacific. After transiting the Philippine and Indonesianarchipelagos and crossing the Indian Ocean, she rounded the Cape of Good Hope and arrived off the St. Peter and Paul Rocks on 25 April – 60 days and 21 hours after departing the mid-ocean landmark. Only once did her sail break the surface of the sea, when she transferred a sick sailor to USS Macon (CA-132) off Montevideo, Uruguay, on 6 March. She arrived back at Groton, Connecticut, on 10 May, having completed the first submerged circumnavigation of the earth.
Triton’s globe-girdling cruise proved invaluable to the United States. Politically, it enhanced the nation’s prestige. From an operational viewpoint, the cruise demonstrated the great submerged endurance and sustained high-speed transit capabilities of the first generation of nuclear-powered submarines. Moreover, during the voyage, the submarine collected reams of oceanographic data. At the cruise’s conclusion, Triton received the Presidential Unit Citation and Captain Beach received the Legion of Merit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Circumnavigation details:
- Distance: 26,723 nautical miles (49,491 km; 30,752 mi)
- Time: 60 days and 21 hours
- Average speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
- Crossings of the Equator: four
- Total time submerged for shakedown cruise: 83 days 9 hours
Historian Bern Dibner commented:
The epochal achievement of the fleet of Magellan in circumnavigating the globe was echoed in the magnificent accomplishment by the nuclear submarine Triton in 1960. Like the voyage of Magellan, that of Triton created stirring philosophical concepts. It demonstrated that a company of men could live and work in the depth of the ocean for months at a time. It was shown that through the new technology a source of power had been made in such abundance and so manageable that, without refueling, an 8000-ton vehicle would be driven through the water around the world.
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