USS Triton Made History With
Underwater Trip Around the World
By DAVID F. WINKLER
The return of the Great White Fleet a century ago
would not be the last historic circumnavigation of
the world by U.S. Navy warships. A half century later, a
submarine would be commissioned that would perform
this feat submerged — as its shakedown cruise.
Commissioned in 1959, USS Triton had the distinction of being the largest nuclear-powered submarine to
be placed in service at that time. It also was designed
for a specific mission that would be short-lived: that of
a radar picket submarine.
The mission envisioned for Triton was to serve as a
warning platform for aircraft carrier task forces.
Having two reactors to propel its twin shafts made
Triton an anomaly for the American submarine force,
but the engineering arrangement enabled the submarine to surge ahead at speeds approaching 30 knots
and employ an SPS 26 air-search radar to detect hostile
In addition to the twin reactors, the need to stow
the radar antenna in the submarine’s sail, and the
requirement for a combat information center comparable to that of a surface ship, drove the design requirements for the exceptionally large boat.
Triton’s keel was laid on May 29, 1956. Built by the
Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, Groton,
Conn., the 447-foot-long submarine was launched on
Aug. 19, 1958. Capt. Edward L. Beach Jr., who had
attained national fame due to his gifted writing abilities, was selected that year to be the submarine’s first
commanding officer. For Beach, his selection capped a
momentous year that included the movie release of his
1955 bestseller “Run Silent, Run Deep.”
Commissioned on Nov. 10, 1959, Triton remained
based in New London, Conn., and conducted a series
of short deployments to test its capabilities.
Summoned to the Pentagon on Feb. 4, 1960, Beach
learned of Operation Sandblast — a mission that called
for him to take Triton around the world submerged.
Under waters once cruised by Magellan, Beach
would test his crew’s endurance, important data for the
forthcoming plans to deploy Polaris ballistic-missile
submarines. The cruise also would give the United
States added prestige at talks scheduled in the spring
with France, Britain and the Soviet Union.
With 12 days to prepare for its round-the-world voyage, the crew brought on stores for what was thought to
be an extended cruise to the Caribbean. A day after
departing on Feb. 16, 1960, Beach announced to the
crew: “We’re going around the world, nonstop.”
The cruise did not go flawlessly. However, Beach’s
men skillfully handled several engineering challenges
and made the needed repairs to keep the submarine on
track. Mindful of naval history, as the submarine
passed through Surigao Strait in the Philippines, Beach
collected a water sample for retired Adm. Jesse B.
Oldendorf, who had commanded Seventh Fleet battleships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Traversing the Indian Ocean in early April, Triton
passed around the Cape of Good Hope into the
Atlantic and headed for the northern hemisphere.
After Triton surfaced off Delaware on May 10, 1960, a
helicopter flew Beach to the White House, where
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, accompanied by Vice
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, announced Triton’s feat to
the world’s media. After being flown back to the boat,
Beach and his crew returned to Groton the next day.
In the wake of the crisis caused by the May 1 Soviet
shootdown of an American U- 2 surveillance plane, the
feat did not capture the same media attention as did
the earlier transit under the Polar ice cap by USS
As the submarine cruised around the world, its
future was being debated. The development of the
Grumman WF- 2 Tracer airborne radar aircraft eliminated the need for radar picket submarines. With a
growing Soviet submarine threat, the Navy converted
Triton to an attack submarine to supplement its anti-submarine warfare forces.
Triton’s uniqueness contributed to a short operational longevity. Being a one-of-a-kind boat having two
reactors made it expensive to maintain. Consequently,
on May 3, 1969, Triton was decommissioned after less
than 10 years of service. ■
Source: Edward L. Beach, Around the World Submerged:
The Voyage of the Triton, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Winston, 1962); “Triton SSR (N) 586,” Dictionary of
American Naval Fighting Ships Vol. VII (Washington: Naval
Historical Center, 1981), p. 298.
Dr. David F. Winkler is a historian with the Naval Historical