Wilkinson, Eugene P. (1918-2013)
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Based on five interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell in January 1998. The volume contains 436 pages of interview transcript plus a comprehensive index. The transcript is copyright 2006 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.
This memoir reveals a great deal about the character and personality of one of the U.S. Navy’s pioneers—the first officer to command a nuclear-powered submarine and the first to command a nuclear-powered surface ship. The interviews reveal his competitiveness, sense of obligation to fulfill commitments, leadership qualities, and his methods in interpersonal relationships. Wilkinson grew up in California in the 1920s and 1930s, graduated from San Diego State College at age 19, and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer through the V-7 program in 1940. After nearly a year’s service in the heavy cruiser Louisville (CA-28), he completed Submarine School in early 1942. His World War II submarine service was in the R?10, Blackfish (SS-221), and Darter (SS?227). The latter played a significant role in the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. In early 1945 he taught in the PCO course at Submarine School. Later in the 1940s he was executive officer of the Menhaden (SS-377), Raton (SS-270), and Cusk (SSG-348) before getting in on the ground floor of the Navy’s nuclear power program. In the early 1950s Wilkinson commanded the diesel submarines Volador (SS-490), Wahoo (SS?565), and Sea Robin. From 1953 to 1957 he was PCO and then commanding officer of the nuclear submarine Nautilus (SSN-571). After a tour as a student at the Naval War College, he commanded Submarine Division 102, the first division of nuclear-powered ships. From 1959 to 1963 was PCO and then commanding officer of the cruiser Long Beach (CGN?9), the Navy’s first nuclear-powered surface ship. As a rear admiral Wilkinson served from 1963 to 1966 as Director, Submarine Warfare Division, OP-31, in OpNav, from 1966 to 1969 was Chief of Staff, U.S. Forces Japan, and in 1969-70 was Commander Submarine Flotilla Two. In the early 1970s he had two three-star billets, as Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet and as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Submarine Warfare), OP-02. Following his retirement from active duty in 1974, he worked in private industry, most notably as head of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). Because of Wilkinson’s role in the nuclear power program, the oral history contains a great many of his observations on Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.
One of the pioneers in the Navy’s nuclear power program was Vice Admiral Eugene P. Wilkinson. He began working with then-Captain Hyman G. Rickover and his staff in the late 1940s and then went on to command the Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine, Nautilus (SSN-571), and first nuclear-powered surface ship, the cruiser Long Beach (CGN-9). The oral history covers as well his long service in diesel submarines, including the USS Darter (SS-227), which had a prominent role in the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. Wilkinson’s flag officer tours in the 1960s and 1970s included OP-31, Chief of Staff, U.S. Forces Japan, Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet, and Deputy CNO (Submarine Warfare).