Thresher at 60

Laid down only four short years after the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571) took to the sea, USS Thresher (SSN-593) was the lead ship of her 14-unit class.

USS Thresher. Starboard-bow view, July 24, 1961. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph)

Commissioned on 3 August 1961, she was longer than the preceding Skipjack class of attack boats but still ran a good deal shorter at 279 feet than the WWII-era “fleet boat” subs that had brought Japan to its knees.

Designed to dive to as deep as 1,300 feet to seek and destroy the increasing herds of Soviet subs, Thresher was lost with all hands during deep-diving tests, on 10 April 1963– the first of SSN in any fleet lost at sea but sadly not the last.

Her 129 souls aboard represented the largest single loss of life in the 123-year history of the U.S. Submarine Service. 

She was lost in 8,400 feet of water, a depth impossible for any SSN.

Illustration of the depth of 8400 ft where the Thresher sunk. From The Death of the USS Thresher by Norman Polmar, p96

In recognition of this loss, the National Archives has an excellent post on more resources available online.

And there is also this retrospective video from the USNI, and how the loss of Thresher, and later USS Scorpion (SSN-589), helped institute the SUBSAFE changes that have kept American boats from joining the “Eternal Patrol.”

In all, some 64 American submarines were lost between USS F-4 (SS-23) in 1915 and Scorpion in 1968, 52 of them during WWII.

The boats, and their 3,852 forever embarked crewmen, are still on patrol.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

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