ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Timeline of the History of Nuclear Submarines - War At Sea

Updated on November 30, 2011
The Russin Typhoon, the largest submarine ever built
The Russin Typhoon, the largest submarine ever built

In half a century, fleets of invisible giants have patrolled the oceans. You do not see them, hear them or find them. Not until it's too late and the deadly missiles are heading for their targets across the globe.

Fighting below the sea-level is not a new idea. Already around the year 1500 the Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci designed a military submarine, but "given the man's evil," he chose not to reveal any details about how to "fight on the bottom of the ocean." More hands-on was the Dutchman Cornelius van Drebbel, who a hundred years later constructed a watertight covered rowing boat which could travel over water in the River Thames.

The first actual military attack by a submarine was conducted September 6, 1776 by Sergeant Ezra Lee during the American Revolutionary War, when he was using a hand-powered propeller-operated construction called Turtle beneath a British flagship, HMS Eagle. The attack was a fiasco because it failed to attach a bomb at the ship's copper-clad hull. During the American Civil War, in February 1864, the Southern States' lowered a hand-powered submarine which shut down an enemy ship. The submarine's crew died, because of the blast wave that sank the craft.

The First World War was the first major submarine warfare, and during World War II the fighting seriously moved below the surface. During the course of the war the Germans one thousand submarines sank over 2500 Allied merchant ships.

From the earliest prototypes until the Second World War the submarines had a huge problem: They were in fact normal diesel-powered battleships that for short periods could use battery power to dive beneath the surface - either to sneak up on enemy or to hide from an overpowering opponent. First when atomic energy was developed, it became possible to build submarines that could stay submerged for a long time.

Nuclear Submarine
Nuclear Submarine

The first Nuclear submarines

USS Nautilus was the world's first nuclear submarine. It was launched in 1954 and 1958 it crossed the North Pole under the ice. The submarine was taken out of service in 1980 and is now on display at the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

However, it was one thing to exploit new technologies to power submarines, quite another to expand the arsenal of more than the torpedo, which the Briton Robert Whitehead invented as early as the 1860s. When Germany collapsed in early 1945, a new invention fell in the hand of the winners: the rocket technology. U.S. and Soviet Union now wanted German rocket scientists, and after just a few years, the both sides in the new conflict between East and West had their own rockets. in 1947 the Americans placed the so-called Loonmissile, a further development of the German "flying bomb", V-1, aboard two converted submarines.

Loon had a limited range of over 150 miles, but the U.S. Navy's first self-developed missile, Regulus, which was first fired from a submarine in 1953, was more impressive. Regulus was a low-flying cruise missile that was powered by liquid fuel. It had an effective range of about 500 nautical miles, usually with a payload consisting of a nuclear warhead-type W5 and W27 with an explosive force of up to two megatons.

Just like the Loon, the Regulus, and the successor Regulus II, must be launched from a hangar up on the deck, which required that the submarine during the crucial minutes were on the surface. Thus, it lost its biggest advantage: the invisibility of the depth. There were also many problems with the rocket engine liquid fuel, and the big missile hangars was also vulnerable to leakage when the submarine was submerged.

The Regulus programs with all it’s weaknesses became obsolete even before it had time to become widespread. The trend was the same in the Soviet Union, where rocket scientists also developed the German V-weapons so that they could be fired from submarines.

In 1957, the two superpowers conducted test firings of its first ballistic missiles, these nuclear missiles were flying high and fast in a ballistic path towards its target. Soon, the focus is on these new types of weapons, which, with its longer range and more manageable solid fuel became prominent.

In the summer of 1960 the submarine USS George Washington did the first under water launch with a Polaris missile.

The Americans was first out. In November 1960 the submarine USS George Washington started to patrol as an advanced bastion of the U.S. nuclear capability.

The range of a Polaris-missile was about 2200 kilometres, relatively short compared to the intercontinental robots' range, but quite adequate because most of the targets on the mainland could be reached within this distance from the sea. When this deadly ability combined with an almost constant patrol of the enemy's coastline, which was made possible by the fact that each submarine had two identical herds that could quickly succeed one another in the harbor, there was a highly effective new weapon available.

Submarine Timeline
Submarine Timeline

Nuclear Submarines During the Cold War

In the beginning the Soviet Navy could not match the U.S. Polaris submarines. First, in 1967 the Soviet Union succeeded to launch the Yankee-battery, with its 16 ballistic missiles that could responded to the threat from George Washingtons submarines.

Other countries followed: UK missile submarines were equipped with a variant of the Polaris missile. French President Charles de Gaulle was, however, an enemy to the Americans, which meant that the French had to develop its own technology. Both the missile (M1) and the submarines (the redoubtable-submarines), was clearly inspired by the American counterparts.

Missile submarines, which the U.S. became known as boomers (in the UK as bombs), had a unique role during the Cold War. During the month-long mission, they hid in the depths, and awaited the order to which no one wanted, but the order that the crews again and again practiced on: the launching of the submarine's weapons of mass destruction. This strategy meant that new needs arose. While the submarines had primarily been designed to detect and attack targets on the surface, such as convoys, transport ships and warships, they were now a target themselves..

To locate a missile submarine, however, was very difficult, especially during the cold war, when silencing technology was not yet developed. There are even those who claim that the only way to find an American missile submarines of the Ohio-class (in service from 1981) is to listen to the sea which is even quieter than normal.

From the George Washington-submarines to the Cold War during the second half of the 1980s the missile submarines did not develop much. But the technology was refined, especially when it came to weapons systems. Polaris existed in three versions (A1-A3) with ranges from 2200 to over 5000 kilometres. Then came the Poseidon C3 in 1971, which also had a range of about 5000 kilometres and was equipped with MIRV (multiple individually controllable nuclear warheads).

In the early 1980s Poseidon was replaced by the Trident program, with a range of over 7000 kilometres and MIRV. The most deadly Soviet submarine robot got the NATO code number SS-N-20. It could carry up to ten nuclear warheads to 200 kg ton force that had a range of over 8000 kilometres.

With the collapse of the USSR the the constant threat disappeared and thus the need for a balance of terror. This led to that superpowers no longer had a need to maintain a round the clock emergency at sea.

France and Britain have their own type of missile submarines (Le Triomphant and Vanguard), while China has joined the nuclear club at sea in 1981 with the Xia-submarines, Type 092, armed with 12 ballistic missiles. India is developing a series of large missile submarines called Arihant, and both China and Russia has new submarines under development.

Nuclear Submarine
Nuclear Submarine


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      An interesting read. Thanks.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      8 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      My uncle served on a nuclear sub during the Cold War. I admire the courage and dedication required to do the difficult and dangerous jobs those men did.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)