Every April 11, the United States celebrates National Submarine Day, commemorating the purchase of the USS Holland, the first modern commissioned submarine. This day serves as a tribute to the brave men and women who serve in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force, often referred to as the “Silent Service.” Discover more about their origins of submarines and the service members who lead the charge.

Origins of Submarines

Submarines are highly specialized vessels that operate stealthily beneath the ocean’s surface. In addition, they conduct a wide range of critical missions including intelligence gathering, special operations, deterring adversaries and protecting maritime trade routes. These technologically advanced underwater platforms are crewed by highly trained personnel who must navigate the complex challenges of submerged operations.

Submarines have a long history in the United States, dating back to the American Revolution. For example, “The Turtle” was devised as a means of breaking the British blockade of Boston Harbor.

On April 11, 1900, the U.S. Navy officially joined the undersea world with the purchase of the USS Holland. Starting in World War II, the submarine force became heavily relied upon for campaigns against Japanese merchant vessels.

The history of nuclear-powered submarines is a fascinating journey of technological breakthroughs. In 1954, the USS Nautilus made waves as the first nuclear-powered submarine, crossing the North Pole under the Arctic ice.

In 1960, the USS George Washington achieved the first successful launch of a Polaris missile from a submerged submarine. At this time, it demonstrated the versatility and strategic capability of underwater vessels.

During Operation Desert Storm, the Tomahawk land-attack missile was first introduced and found useful in modern warfare. Submarines like the USS Louisville and USS Pittsburgh played a crucial part in this conflict, solidifying their status as vital assets in the nation’s defense.

Stories of Service

Their stories are ones of quiet courage, unwavering commitment, and a profound sense of duty. Beneath the waves, they navigate the unknown, relying on their skill, training, and an unbreakable bond with their crewmates. Explore their stories.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

Commander Dudley Morton

Morton was the commander of the USS Wahoo for three of its seven patrols. The Wahoo became one of the most-celebrated World War II submarines by sinking at least 19 Japanese ships, the highest of its time.

After three arduous war patrols, Morton was given the highly dangerous assignment of penetrating the Sea of Japan in October of 1943. By December, the submarine was presumed lost, and Morton reported missing in action.

Rear Admiral Richard O’Kane

O’Kane is one of the most successful submarine commanders of World War II. In his 10 combat patrols (5 on the USS Wahoo and 5 on the USS Tang), he participated in more successful attacks on Japanese shipping than any other submarine officer during the war. On October 24-25, 1944, the Japanese captured O’Kane due to a rogue torpedo. The leadership he showed throughout the Pacific earned him the Medal of Honor.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

Commander Howard Gilmore

In the darkness of night on February 7, 1943, a Japanese gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the USS Growler. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker, causing severe damage to the sub. Realizing that he could not get back inside quickly enough if they were to escape, an injured Gilmore chose to make the supreme sacrifice for his shipmates. He became the first submariner of World War II to earn the Medal of Honor. On July 13, 1943, his wife and children received the Medal on his behalf.

 “Take her down.”

Famous Phrase from Commander Howard Gilmore

Watch life at sea with modern day submariners:

On this National Submarine Day, we honor the sacrifices and contributions of the “Silent Service.” They play a vital role in safeguarding the United States and its interests around the globe. Their commitment to excellence and their willingness to operate in the shadows, often unsung, are a testament to the enduring spirit of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force.

WEDS-SUN 10 A.M. - 5 P.M.
background image background image

The NVMM is Open on MLK Day!

$1 Admission on Jan. 16 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Be the first to hear about our latest events, exhibitions and programs.