The USS Albacore is a test submarine that was donated to the Navy in 1953 for the purpose of researching experimental features and new technologies. Today, after nearly 20 years of service, it is open to the public as a museum in Albacore Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Tours are self-guided and enhanced by audio recordings of former crew who describe their lives aboard the vessel. Each tour begins outside the ship with a series of five audio recordings on informative podiums, and continue with eleven additional stations inside the ship.
Albacore Park’s Visitor Center contains a small museum with additional information, artifacts and displays related to the submarine. A memorial garden adjacent to the Visitor Center honors the members of the United States Submarine Service who gave their lives for their country. The memorial garden is home to several granite monuments, which honor the submarines that were lost in World War II and the Cold War. A black granite sculpture of a dolphin stands as a symbol of the United States Submarine Service. The dolphin insignia dates back to 1923 and indicates that a serviceman is qualified for submarine service.
The USS Albacore, the third navy vessel to have that name, was the first submarine to have the cylindrical shape that is most commonly seen today. From 1953 to 1972, the submarine was a test platform for the U.S. Navy. Designed by engineers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, it was the first of its kind, built to function primarily underwater. In fact, engineers were instructed to ‘forget about surface performance’ and were thus open to explore new shapes, including those influenced by aircraft and blimps. Previously, submarines were mainly surface vessels that would submerge only for short periods of time. The ship’s motto, Praenuntius Futuri means Forerunner of the Future.
Albacore was smaller than the nuclear powered submarines of the day, and could outrun any with her silver-zinc battery. In 1966, she set the speed record for underwater submarine propulsion at close to 40 miles per hour. In addition to her unique shape and propulsion system, she tested dive breaking systems, escape mechanisms and sonar equipment for the navy. In addition to an improvement on speed, her design allowed her to make tight turns, and steep, sudden dives. All future submarines were based on the Albacore’s unique shape. Up to 55 crewmen lived and worked aboard the vessel while she was operating. Their stories are told throughout the exhibit. A complete listing of all who served aboard the USS Albacore can be searched on the museum’s website. Oral histories of surviving shipmates have also been compiled into a book, which is available at the Visitor Center gift shop.
History: The USS Albacore was decommissioned in 1972 after several failures of her diesel pancake engines. It was not financially feasible to replace the engines and spare parts were hard to come by, thus it ultimately made sense to retire the ship. She was stored at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ten years after her decommissioning, Bill Keefe, a Portsmouth City Councilman, began a campaign to bring her to life again as a museum display. The campaign received overwhelming financial support from the community, and the Navy agreed to release the submarine. The process of towing the submarine back to her birthplace in Portsmouth was a challenging one. The submarine was first towed to New Hampshire over a 70-hour tugboat pull. Her final dry-land resting site was over 1.4 mile from the water and almost 30 feet above sea level. A special marine railway system was designed to carry the Albacore, and in the process, a bridge had to be removed. Once the system was in place, engineers had to overcome the submarine getting stuck in the mud during the transfer from the river to the rails; a process that took months to complete. By May of 1985 she had been moved to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and subsequently, to her resting place at Albacore Park. The submarine opened for public viewing in 1986. In 1989 she was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 2005, was inducted into the Submarine Hall of Fame in Norfolk, Virginia.
Ongoing Programs and Education: All tours of the submarine are self-guided, enhanced by an audio program. Informed staff at the Visitor Center are available to answer questions.
600 Market St, Portsmouth, NH 03801