What You Should Know About the U.S. Naval Submarine Force

By Sydney Johnson

The U.S. Submarine Force goes where few can go by exploring and operating in the undersea world. With roots dating back to the birth of the nation, submariners have a long history in the U.S. Navy.

Here are some things to know about the Submarine Force:

The First U.S. Combat Submarine Was Called “Turtle.”

A full-scale reproduction of the submarine “Turtle,” based on the drawings of Lt. Cmdr. F. M. Barber. | Photo credit U.S. Navy/John Nilson

Turtle was created for the American Revolution by David Bushnell, who was an undergraduate student at Yale University, then called Yale College. Bushnell called his creation “Turtle” because its shape reminded him of two tortoise shells put together.

The vessel saw action during the Revolutionary War and was meant to break the blockade the British held at the Boston Harbor. However, it failed several times. After three failed attacks, due to circumstances like navigation and tide miscalculations, Turtle sank. It was recovered but never served again.

The Submarine Force is Comprised of More Than 70 Submarines.

In today’s Naval Submarine Force, there are 53 fast attack submarines, 14 ballistic missile submarines – which currently carry more than 54% of the U.S.’ nuclear deterrent arsenal – and four guided-missile submarines.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 2nd Class Alfred Coffield

Capt. Daniel Packer explains operations in the control room of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albany (SSN 753) to Rear Adm. Thadeu Lobo.

Ships Called “Submarine Tenders” Are Important to the Submarine Force’s Operability.

The purpose of these Naval ships is to literally tend to the submarines – hence their name “submarine tenders” – that are out in the middle of the ocean. For example, if a submarine crew needs supplies, the submarine tender would take those supplies to the submarine wherever it is at the time.

Its Insignia Features Two Dolphins.

In 1923, Capt. E.J. King submitted a sketch of what he thought the Submarine Force insignia should look like. His drawing depicted a shield mounted on a submarine beam with two dolphins leaping toward the tower. Although the Commander Submarine Division Atlantic endorsed the design, the Bureau of Navigation chose to solicit more designs to choose from. Eventually, they landed on today’s Submarine Force Insignia design: dolphins flanking the bow and conning tower of a submarine. The final design recommendation was accepted by then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt Jr. in March 1924.

The Submarine Force Made Its First Big Impact During World War II.

Submarines weren’t really used during World War I, but they played a significant role during World War II. The U.S. Submarine Force sank 540,192 tons of Japanese naval vessels and 4,779,902 tons of merchant shipping during the war, which shook out to 54.6% of Japanese vessel losses.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristen C Yarber

A sailor assigned to the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albany (SSN 753) walks through the missile room.

The Force is Nicknamed the “Silent Service.”

The Submarine Force is often called “The Silent Service” because of how it operates. Submarines can submerge more than 600 feet below the ocean’s surface for up to four months at a time, constantly patrolling and working classified missions. You can’t always see them, but they are always silently moving under the sea doing important work.

Submarine Deployments Can Be Extra Challenging for Service Members and Their Families.

Because they stay hundreds of feet underwater for months at a time, it can be hard for deployed submariners to stay in touch with their loved ones while they serve in the depths of the sea. Though there are ways to email and deliver letters to these service members while they are underway, it is very difficult for them to maintain consistent communication with their loved ones while they are deployed.

-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.

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Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.


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