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History of the Submarine Force Atlantic

The story of Submarine Force Atlantic begins with the Navy's acceptance of USS Holland (SS 1) in 1900 and is intertwined with that of its sister force in the Pacific. The first submarines were homeported at the Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut. Prior to World War I, submarines were transferred from the Atlantic to the Pacific and patrolled waters as far as the Philippine Islands to protect U. S. interests.

World War I saw the beginning of formalized submarine training. There were 30 submarines in the Navy at the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917 and it was apparent the submarine had become too complex for on-the-job training. Consequently, on Jan. 19, 1917, the U.S. Navy Submarine School was organized at the Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut. Although the Western Allies had fought "the war to end all wars," there was no hiatus in the building of submarines after it was over. During the war, the U.S. had begun building the R-Class with a total of 27 boats. They were all powered by diesel engines, had four torpedo tubes and a three-inch gun for armament. They carried a crew of 29 men. The R-boat spanned the two world wars.

Early in 1941, Submarine Force Atlantic consisted of two new coastal submarines and a flock of older boats. A good share of these boats had to be reserved for the protection of the Panama Canal. During World War II, Submarine Force Atlantic took on the task not only of "shaking down" new construction submarines, but also the task of training their crews in the operation of the submarine as well as tactics. In preparing these submarines and their crews, the command made its major contribution to the war effort. As a training school for officers and crews going into battle, the Atlantic was a hard and exacting teacher and its undersea graduates proved the value of their education through their accomplishments in the war. Meanwhile, submarines in the Atlantic were getting a taste of realistic action. German U-boats threatened to sever the sea lanes which were providing much needed food and munitions to embattled Britain. In June 1941, U.S. submarines commenced anti-submarine patrols in search of German and Italian undersea raiders in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) was established. Its headquarters was located in New London, Connecticut, until 1960, at which time it relocated to its current location in Norfolk, Virginia. Instructed to groom his submarines for combat duty, Rear Adm. Richard S. Edwards, the first Force Commander, set out with a capacity for work, coupled with experience, which spelled success.

Submarine Force Atlantic also played a crucial role in winning the Cold War and accomplished a number of historical milestones, including specialized training in tactics involving operations under the Arctic ice pack; circumnavigation of the world submerged; and the establishment of a fleet of ballistic missile submarines. But none of the force "firsts" have had more impact than the historic message sent from USS Nautilus (SSN 571), the Navy's first nuclear-powered submarine, to COMSUBLANT in January 1955: "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER."

Today, the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force numbers 32 submarines and more than 15,000 highly trained and motivated officer, enlisted, and civilian personnel providing submarine support to the Atlantic, Arctic, Eastern Pacific, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. COMSUBLANT’s principal responsibility remains the operation, maintenance, training and equipping of submarines in support of fleet and national tasking.

For more information on the history of the Submarine Force, please visit the below websites:
Naval History and Heritage Command
Submarine Force Museum
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