The Barbels combined the multipurpose orientation of the Tang with the first operational use of the Albacore, tear drop hull form. BARBEL was the first fleet submarine built using the principles of a streamlined hull developed using the experimental USS ALBACORE (AGSS-569). They were of double hull design with 1.5-inch thick HY80 steel. The Barbel Class fast-attack submarines were designed to dive to a depth of over 700 feet, crush depth was 1050 feet. At the time of construction, these three sister ships were the most technologically advanced submarines in the world. This class was the first to incorporate a centralized arrangement of ship controls and combat operations, or "attack center". The design incorporated a revolutionary tear-drop hull shape that enabled superior under-water handling with the latest control, communication, and offensive systems. At 219 feet longand with a beam (width) of 29 feet, the Barbels displaced 2,146 tons when surfaced and 2,637 tons submerged.
Powered by three Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines rated at 3,050 shp driving one shaft, they could achieve 15 knots on the surface and a respectable 21 knots submerged. Cruising range was 19,000 miles on 112,000 gallons of fuel. Two General Electric motors delivered 9,600 shp when submerged for a full speed endurance of half an hour or 102 hours endurance at 3 knots.
Three diesel submarines were approved for the FY1956 building program. The first, Barbel (SS-580) was awarded in August 1955, with Blueback (SS-581) and Bonefish (SS-582) following in June 1956. BARBEL and ALBACORE were both built by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. All three submarines commissioned in 1959. Although only containing three ships, the Submarines of the Barbel Class enjoyed long service histories. Barbel (SS-580), built by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and commissioned in 1958, was decommissioned in 1g89, partially scrapped in the 1990s and finally sunk as a target ship in 2OO1. Her hulk lies off the California coast under 3,600 feet of water. Bonefish (SS-582), built by New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, was commissioned in July 1959.
Bonefish (SS-581) suffered a battery fire off Florida in April 1988 and led to the early decommissioning of the class 1988-90. At the time, they were the last operational diesel submarines of the US Navy. The Bonefish fire in the battery compartments gutted the submarine, and killed three sailors. The damage was so extensive that the sub had to be deactivated and decommissioned. Later in 1988, the sub was scrapped in her entirety. Blueback was the last diesel-electric submarine to join the US Navy, and was also the last to leave. She was decommissioned 1 October 1990, and laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet in Bremedon, Washington. Her name was struck from the Naval Register 30 October 1990 after more than 30 years of service.
Only consisting of three ships, the Barbell class combined proven WWII-era diesel-electric motor technology with a revolutionary tear-drop hull shape, high-strength steel, and other improvements that were incorporated into later submarine designs. The technological advance was driven by the transition in submarine warfare from the older Fleet Boat system to the modern nuclear-powered vessels of the Cold War. However, the Barebels were a transitional design. After independently studying nuclear power in the Nautilus test ship and the tear-drop hull shape with the Albacore test submarine and the active-duty Barbell Class, these technologies were combined to create the modern nuclear submarines used by the U.S. Navy from the Cold War to the present.
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