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SSN-571 Nautilus - Design

Like other postwar US submarines, Nautilus incorporated several design features of the German Type 21 U-boat, including a rounded bow, straight deck lines, and streamlined "sail" structure to house the periscopes and retractable masts. There were no deck guns, a feature that further enhanced her underwater speed.

The foremost compartment of Nautilus was the torpedo room, with the inner doors of the submarined six torpedo tubes. The tubes fired torpedoes almost twenty-one feet long, weighing some two thousand pounds.

The next compartments on the uppermost level were the crew's quarters and "officers 1 country." One Nautilus skipper would write that "two things impressed me almost as much as the [nuclear] plant. One was the crew, the other the comfort of habitability..." In the crew's quarters each sailor had an individual bunk with foam rubber mattress, and adjacent storage for personal items. The officers had small, shared staterooms (except for the captain, who had a private room), and a large wardroom, where the ship's dozen officers could eat, do paper work and relax.

Below these rooms were the submarine's galley, where all food was prepared, and the large crew's mess, which doubled as a classroom and movie theater. Thirty-six men could sit at one time for meals, or fifty could be accomodated for lectures or movies. This was the first submarine to have an ice-cream machine, Coke dispenser, and a nickle-a-play juke box connected to a built-in hi-fi system, which, coupled with bright interior colors, made Nautilus seem unreal to veteran submariners. At the lowermost level Nautilus had storerooms and a large electric storage battery for emergency power.

Amidships, below the sail structure, were the attack center and control room. Nearby were the small radio and sonar rooms. The sail structure was too narrow for the traditional conning-tower compartment from which submarine commanders directed underwater attacks. Other than shafts for the periscopes and masts, the sail, as in later submarines, had only a ladder in a pressure tube opening to a small exposed bridge atop the sail.

Most of the after portion of Nautilus was devoted to the propulsion plant. Behind heavy shielding was the reactor, more than two stories high, with a narrow deck running atop the reactor to the engine and machinery rooms. Twin geared steam turbines, fed with steam from the reactor's secondary coolant system, turned the submarine's two propeller shafts. Nautilus' reactor plant, originally designated Submarine Thermal Reactor (STR) Mark II, was identical with the Mark I plant operating in the Idaho desert. At one point, according to Rickover, a twin reactor plant had been considered, to reduce the hazard of a propulsion casualty with submarine disabled or lost at sea.

But size was a constraint, and Nautilus was built with only one reactor. An auxiliary diesel generator, complete with snorkel installation for submerged operation, was %Lso installed. It could bring Nautilus home in an emergency at a few knots speed.

The aftermost compartment of Nautilus was the after crew's quarters, where the remainder of the submariners ninety-odd crewmen were berthed. There were no stern torpedo tubes as in earlier submarines; there was just not enough space. Stuffed into corners were an automatic clothes washer and dryer, a small machine shop, a photographic darkroom, a library with several hundred volumes, and % small laboratory.

Nautilus was fully air-conditioned with a carbon-monoxide "scrubber" to remove harmful gases from the submarine's atmosphere. With fresh oxygen periodically bled into the craft from storage tanks, Nautilus could remain submerged with a completely closed atmosphere. But the crewmen could smoke as much as they liked. The air-conditioning kept the temperature between sixty-eight and seventy-two degrees and the relative humidity at about fifty percent regardless of what area of the world the submarine happened to be operating in.

These features of Nautilus made ancient history of the comment of German U-boat historian Harald Busch, who, in his classic U-boats at War, wrote: "To those who have never been to sea in a submarine, it is hard indeed to convey an adequate idea of what is means to live, sometimes for months on end, in a narrow tubular space amid foul air and universal damp."

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Page last modified: 07-02-2016 19:42:03 ZULU