The narwhal, a gray and white arctic whale with a distinctive twisted tusk, was the namesake of the USS Narwhal (SSN-671) — the U.S. Navy’s100th nuclear-powered submarine and the third U.S. Navy ship to bear this name. This namesake was suitable for this particular submarine as she spent a significant portion of her time navigating Arctic waters in an effort to shadow Russian and Soviet vessels.
USS Narwhal was laid down in Groton, Connecticut by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation on January 17, 1966. Sponsored by Mrs. Glynn R. Donaho, Narwhal was launched on September 9, 1967 and later commissioned on July 12, 1969. The vessel’s complement, led by Commander W. A. Matson, consisted of 12 officers and 95 enlisted.
Measuring 303 feet in length, Narwhal displaced 4,948 tons surfaced and 5,292 tons submerged and reached speeds in excess of 20 knots. Her armament included four 21 inch torpedo tubes, MK 48 Torpedoes, UUM-44A SUBROC, UGM-84A/C Harpoon, MK57 deep water mines, MK60 CAPTOR mines, and Tomahawk missiles.
Considered to be in a class of her own, Narwhal possessed some of the design elements of the Sturgeon class, while at the same time, served as a prototype in some respects for the Los Angeles class. At the time of her commissioning, Narwhal earned the reputation of being the quietest submarine of the US Navy fleet due to the implementation of a newly designed natural circulation reactor (NCR). Narwhal served as the prototype for this innovative technology and was responsible for setting a new standard for quiet performance in submarine design that continues to be applied by designers and engineers to today’s ships.
In commission for 30 years (1969-1999), Narwhal conducted approximately 17 deployments worldwide and it is said to have only undergone three overhauls during her entire span of service to her country. After her commissioning, Narwhal’s homeport was New London, Connecticut. Later in her career, Charleston, South Carolina served as her base of operations.
Reports indicated that Narwhal spent a significant portion of her career on the Soviet coast conducting special operations and gathering intelligence from Soviet communications. Historical accounts also document that Narwhal’s deployments brought her to locations such as Florida, Virginia, Paraguay, and the Mediterranean where she conducted training exercises as well as operations crucial to national security.
A highly decorated vessel, Narwhal earned a Navy Unit Commendation in 1972 in addition to Meritorious Unit Commendations in 1971, 1977, 1979, and 1998. Furthermore, she was awarded five Battle Efficiency “Es” and four Engineer “Es.”
Deactivated on January 16, 1999 in Norfolk, Virginia, Narwhal was simultaneously decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register nearly six months later on July 1, 1999. The USS Narwhal entered the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Washington on October 1, 2001 after plans for an exhibit that would have prevented her scrapping were cancelled when fundraising efforts fell short of the targeted goal.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Narwhal (SSN-671)
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral whose low cost and superior heat and fire resistant properties were so valued for industrial applications that the Navy mandated its use in more than 300 products utilized in the construction and repair of ships from the 1930s through the 1970s. Therefore, throughout ships such as Narwhal, asbestos was found in every crevice, from engine rooms to the crew’s living quarters, placing all those individuals who served aboard or conducted repair work in the confines of the ship at an increased risk for the development of an asbestos-related illness.
The main adverse health problems that result from exposure to asbestos include asbestosis, pleural plaques, and cancer (lung cancer and mesothelioma). A key attribute of mesothelioma is an extended latency period ranging anywhere from 15-50 years. Due to this latency period, individuals who came into contact with asbestos during their service in the US Navy years ago may just be beginning to exhibit signs of illness or may have yet to experience any symptoms.
If you have been exposed to asbestos by means of service to your country aboard a ship such as Narwhal, or if you are currently suffering from an asbestos-related illness, it is to your benefit to be aware of all the resources available to you pertaining to both your health and legal rights. Please consult our website for further information regarding what treatment options are available to you as a veteran and what financial compensation may be due to you as a result of your illness.Sources
Wikipedia –USS Narwhal (SSN-671)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
National Cancer Institute