Operation Sandblast - TRITON Remembered - 40 Years Later

From American Submariner Magazine

by Dave Boe

It was 40 years ago this past May that the USS TRITON (SSRN586) returned from her epic making voyage around the world submerged. I was fortunate to be a member of the crew when Triton made that historic cruise. Reporting aboard Triton during her new construction period at Electric Boat Co. in Groton, CT I still have vivid memories of events leading up to the voyage and the voyage itself.

 

USS Triton SSRN 586

 

 

 

After builder's trials and the various acceptance trials, we started preparations for our "shakedown" cruise. There was a lot of speculation as to where we were going but even the old salts on board were baffled by the unusual preparations we made. The forms we filled out for our personal affairs, the extra provisions and test equipment and the added riders from various civilian and Navy organizations gave us a hint that this was to a shakedown cruise of a different kind.

On 16 Feb. 1960, Triton got underway for her shakedown cruise and the crew, save only the Capt. and a couple of other key personnel had no idea what was in store for them. After diving Capt. Beach came on the 1MC and informed the crew that we were under secret orders and were to circumnavigate the world submerged. Our starting point and finishing point would be a small group of islands known as St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks off the coast of South America. We would follow basically the same course as Magellan did in 1519. The purpose of the cruise was to prove the reliability and capability of the US Navy's nuclear submarine program and send a clear message to the Soviet Union. One must remember that it was at the height of the cold war. Needless to say the crew was excited and some could hardly believe what they heard the Capt. say. "Around The World Submerged."

Triton was a unique one of a kind submarine with twin reactors. She was 447 feet long, with twin screws and a crew of about 170. We felt up the challenge in our new "home", with a seasoned skipper and a tried and tested crew with a lot of submarine experience. The trip would last 84 days. We would be a test platform during this cruise for many things including the "poopie suits" for the FBM program, psychological studies for the space program (we carried a civilian psychologist for the trip) and conduct mapping of the ocean floors and currents.

The trip was not without incidents, some good and some not so good, a few of which I will try to relate as best my memory serves. I'll not go into detail but outline these incidents. A full accounting can be found in Capt. Beach's narrative in his book, Around The World Submerged - The Voyage of the Triton.

Some of these incidents were:

  • Loss of the ships fathometer
  • Failure of the stern planes hydraulic control valve
  • Crossed the equator four times
  • Crossed the International Date Line
  • Transferred a sick crew member (Triton broached for the transfer but kept her pres ure hull submerged to preserve our sub erged status)
  • Discovery of a new sea mount, Saunders peak (named after the crew member on watch who discovered it)
  • Ceremony honoring the USS Triton lost in the Pacific in WWII (we passed close to the position where she was believed to have been lost)

Triton remained submerged a total of 83 days 18 hours and 56 minutes traveling 36,102 nautical miles. She was underway a total of 84 days 19 hours 8 minutes and traveled 36,335 nautical miles. She left the EB dock on Feb 16 and arrived at state pier on May 11. When Triton surfaced after 83 days submerged he hull and topside was covered with all manner of living sea life and was rather "slimy." Triton's crew received a heroes welcome upon returning and was met at State Pier by Admiral Rickover, Navy Brass and families and friends. Triton was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by President Eisenhower and Capt. Beach The Legion of Merit. Unfortunately our feat was somewhat over shadowed by the downing of a U2 spy plane and the capture of it's pilot.

Captain Ned Beach

 

Triton remained in commission for only 10 years. During her short life besides earning the Presidential Unit Citation she also earned the Navy Unit Commendation. She was unique in many ways. Besides being the only submarine constructed with twin reactors, she had a compartment dedicated solely for crew berthing that had 96 bunks, was the last submarine built with a conning tower, was the fastest submarine surfaced (and most likely still holds that distinction), had two separate CPO quarters and until recently the biggest submarine ever built at 447 feet. As one of a handful of "Circumnavigators" it was an honor to know and serve with a very special crew and to have served on this proud old lady for over seven years.

USS TRITON - "NULLI SECUNDUS"