Laid down by the Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corp and launched on August 19, 1958, the Triton was constructed as a nuclear-powered radar picket submarine. With Capt. Edward L. Beach in command, on February 15, 1960, she put out for her shakedown cruise in the South Atlantic.
Arriving in the middle Atlantic on February 24, she made a historic voyage during which she made a complete circumnavigation of the globe. This lasted 60 days and 21 hours and her sail broke the surface just once when she transferred a sick sailor to another vessel. She arrived back at Groton, Connecticut on May 10.
As impressive as that cruise was, it also proved invaluable for several practical reasons. First, it politically enhanced our nation’s prestige. Secondly, it demonstrated the submerged endurance and sustained high-speed transit abilities of this first generation of nuclear-powered submarines. Finally, she was able to collect much oceanographic data during this voyage. At the end of the cruise, the Triton received the Presidential Unit Citation and Captain Beach received the Legion of Merit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Beginning in August 1960, she assumed her duties as a radar picket submarine. She then saw deployment to northern Europe for NATO exercises oriented around detecting and intercepting Soviet bombers overflying the arctic. The first half of 1961 saw her conduct operational patrols and training exercises with the Atlantic Fleet.
However, the rising Russian attack submarine threat and the increased need for nuclear-powered attack submarines with antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capability led to the Triton’s re-designation as the SSN-586 on March 1, 1961. She entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in June 1962 for conversion to an attack submarine.
In March 1964, after this overhaul, the Triton saw her home port switch to Norfolk, Virginia. She then became the flagship for the Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, and served in that role until relieved on June 1, 1967. She was then transferred back to her home port of New London.
However, defense spending cutbacks and the high cost of operating her twin reactors cancelled the Triton’s scheduled 1967 overhauls. Along with 50 other submarines, the Triton was then scheduled for inactivation, then undergoing preservation and inactivation processes before her decommissioning on May 3, 1969.
She was stricken on April 30, 1986, though she remained at Norfolk until 1995, when she was towed to Bremerton, Washington to be disposed of. In mid-2007, she was transferred to drydock at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to undergo scrapping with the Submarine Recycling Program. Final recycling of the Triton was completed on November 30, 2009. During her service, she received a Presidential Unit Citation and a Navy Unit Commendation.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.