The creation of SUBSAFE lead directly to tougher—and safer—submarines. (Another U.S. Navy submarine, Scorpion, was lost in 1968 but there is no conclusive explanation for the sinking.) In 2005, the USS San Francisco collided with a seamount at maximum speed—an estimated thirty miles an hour at a depth of 525 feet. SUBSAFE’s careful watch over submarine design and manufacture is credited with ensuring the San Francisco not only failed to sink, but that only one sailor died and the ship could even make it back to Guam on its own power. Although the loss of Thresher to eternal patrol was a painful one, the reforms undertaken by the Navy ensured the 129 lives lost would not be in vain.
In the United States Navy, submarines lost at sea are said to be on “eternal patrol.” One such submarine was USS Thresher. Meant to be the first in a new generation of fast nuclear-attack submarines, today it rests in more than eight thousand feet of water, along with its crew. Thresher is one of two American submarines lost since the end of World War II.
In the mid-1950s, the U.S. Navy was still pushing nuclear propulsion out to the submarine fleet. USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, had just been commissioned in 1954, and nine classes of submarines were created, including the Sailfish, Barbel, Skate and Skipjack classes, before the Navy felt it had a design worthy of mass production. Preceding classes of nuclear submarines were built in small batches, but Thresher would be the first class to build more than five. Altogether fourteen Threshers would be built.
The Threshers were designed to be fast, deep-diving nuclear attack submarines. They were the second class, after the pioneering Skipjack class, designed with the new streamlined hull still in use today. They were the first submarines to use high strength HY-80 steel alloy, which was used through the 1980s on the Los Angeles class.
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