Submarine commander Edward L. "Ned" Beach Jr. was looking forward to a rather ordinary shakedown cruise in early February 1960. Nothing could have prepared him for what the Navy had in mind.
As skipper of the USS Triton (SSR[N]-586), the world's largest, most advanced submarine, Captain Beach was eager to set sail. A hint something unusual was about to happen came in a telephone call on 10 February ordering him to fly to Washington. He was to dress in a civilian suit to avoid being recognized as the famed World War II sub captain who wrote the bestselling book Run Silent, Run Deep.
At the Pentagon, Beach, 42, slipped unnoticed into the office of the deputy chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Operations. There, he was surprised at the gathering-Admiral Wallace M. Beakley, the crusty deputy chief, plus other admirals, captains, and commanders, some of whom he recognized. Beakley, whose severe countenance could freeze an officer or enlisted man, sat at a large table on which charts of the world's oceans were spread. He looked up as the door closed and bluntly came to the point.
"Beach," he said, "what kind of shape is your ship in?" The captain assured him the Groton, Connecticut-based Triton was in excellent condition, ready to go as the first sub equipped with twin nuclear reactors and so large that some in the Navy wanted her called a "ship." Indeed, she was the size of a World War II cruiser and fanned naval dreams of fleets of tankers, cargo ships, and transports that could submerge.
"Sit down," said Admiral Beakley, motioning to a chair opposite him at the table. "Beach, you're about due to start your shakedown cruise. Can Triton go around the world-submerged-instead?" The room seemed to sway as the skipper braced and replied with a nervous cough, "Yes, sir!"
Beakley followed with a simple question. "When can you get under way?"
Day 1: Thames River, Groton
A cold north wind whipped the channel as the Triton powered from her dock at the sub base into Long Island Sound on 16 February 1960. High on the submarine's sail, Captain Beach surveyed the boat's narrow deck 20 feet below where men scurried about, stowing mooring lines and other equipment. Through his binoculars he picked out the figure of a woman at the channel's edge, a scarf streaming from her hand. He waved his cap as she studied the outbound submarine. "It was magnificent, very long and large," recalled Ingrid Beach from her home in Washington recently. "I felt exhilaration and was very impressed knowing they were on this great mission."
The couple had been married for 16 years dating back to World War II. They viewed submarines with the same sense of wonder shared by sub sailors everywhere, "sinisterly beautiful," as Ned put it. In the Triton, Beach had command of a vessel that had been a mere fantasy when he was executive officer in the Tirante (SS-420) and skipper of the Piper (SS-409), among hundreds of diesel boats that helped subdue Japan. In the two subs he earned what submariners consider a "fully loaded" Submarine Combat Pin along with a Navy Cross.
The Triton, at 448 feet in length and 7,773 tons submerged, was large enough to span a football stadium. With a beam of 37 feet and able to dive to 800 feet, she was a behemoth, more than 100 feet longer than any previous submarine. Her slender hull and pointed bow were built for speed, submerged or surfaced. Commissioned on 10 November 1959, she was the first submarine powered by two independent nuclear reactors, able to produce unprecedented acceleration by means of two 11-foot-diameter propellers. The boat's pressure hull was the first to enclose three decks, including forward and after torpedo rooms. Topside, a 70-foot-long fairwater sail, the largest ever built, protected the boat's tiny conning tower and array of retractable radar masts, antennas, and periscopes.President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a lot vested in the Triton bolstering American prestige as he prepared to attend a mid-May summit with the Soviet Union in Paris. The Soviets had succeeded in putting Sputnik, the world's first satellite, into orbit while the United States' attempt to catch up had ended in highly publicized launch-pad explosions. Eisenhower's naval aide, Captain E. P. Aurand, suggested the administration seize the initiative underseas. "There is no doubt that sooner or later the USSR will put some nuclear submarine to sea," he argued. "It would be a shame if we permit them to announce this to the world by virtue of some dramatic feat which we could have done ourselves. This would be Sputnik all over again, but without any excuses."
In the Triton, the United States had the means to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the Navy could operate unfettered anywhere in the world without being seen. But would the sub's reactors and sophisticated electronics hold up on a mission that would be kept secret in case something went wrong? Also, how would the crew perform sealed off from the external world and unable to communicate with their families? Wives would be told nothing except occasional reassurances phoned by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to Ingrid Beach, for relay to the families.
The track the big sub would follow-that of the first circumnavigation of the earth by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan's expedition for Spain from 1519 to 1522-posed yet other challenges. Much of it was through uncharted portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. That worried Commander Will Mont Adams Jr., the boat's executive officer and senior navigator, who thought it was unfair for the Navy to make an around-the-world voyage the sub's shakedown cruise given all that could go wrong. Nevertheless, the skipper was confident the mission, Operation Sandblast, would succeed. As the Triton reached the 30-fathom curve southeast of Long Island, Captain Beach-code-named "Sand," to his chagrin-gave the anticipated order. In his stateroom, he pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote: "Dived. We shall not surface until May."
Day 2: At deep submergence
Crewmen were vaguely aware something was up. Unusual amounts of food, enough to sustain a 120-day voyage, had been stowed on board for the boat's complement of 16 officers, 34 petty officers, and 125 enlisted men. It also was odd to have a psychiatrist and a photographer for National Geographic magazine among the crew.
"Men, I know you've all been waiting to learn what this cruise is about," the skipper recalled in his book, Around the World Submerged, saying to the crew over the ship's intercom. "Now, at last, I can tell you that we are going on the voyage which all submariners have dreamed of ever since they possessed the means of doing so. We have the ship and we have the crew. We are going to go around the world, nonstop. And we're going to do it entirely submerged!"
The captain paused. If someone dropped a wrench, he later recalled, it would have sounded like a depth charge.
It wasn't long before the Triton encountered problems, a harbinger of things to come. The inboard induction valve controlling ventilation would not close; a smashed flashlight left by a careless shipyard worker was retrieved, restoring the valve. Next, a faulty outer door temporarily caused the boat's garbage ejector to fail in the bowels of the boat. Also, the sub had to slow to almost a halt when the Fathometer detected a sudden and unexpected rise in the sea floor. It proved to be a submerged mountain 9,000 feet high, with craggy spires resembling those of a medieval cathedral. Captain Beach blanched at the specter of it. "Had the peak reached higher, had we been traveling much deeper than we were, and had we not been keeping the careful watch that we were keeping," he noted, "we might have struck it in the manner of an aircraft striking a mountain."
Day 9: St. Peter and St. Paul's Rocks, Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Still submerged, the Triton arrived just past noon at this "start" point for her mission. The view through the periscope was of barren sea mounts barely breaking surface in mid-Atlantic off the bulge of South America. There, 440 years earlier Magellan's five Spanish ships, so small they could have fit end-to-end on the submarine's deck, had briefly anchored.
The sub passed the Rocks, turned south, and crossed the equator. Time-honored Shellback initiation rites were performed on shipmates who had never crossed before.
Within the next few days, new challenges vexed the sub. First, the Fathometer and precision depth recorder that mapped the ocean floor failed due to overheating. Crewmen fashioned a cooling duct out of sheet metal to remedy the problem. Next, a reactor had to be shut down for five hours to repair a leaking pipe. Moments later the terrifying sound of an alarm rattled everyone. A possible radiation leak? It turned out to be a bad alarm circuit that was quickly repaired.
Of growing concern was a sick crewman. Chief Radarman John R. Poole was enduring excruciating bouts of abdominal pain caused by a kidney stone. He pleaded with the skipper not to terminate the voyage, but Captain Beach and the medical officer agreed something had to be done. "It was almost as though I were writing 'finis' to our effort and to the high hopes with which we had started the cruise," Beach anguished in private.
Day 18: 100 miles off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay
After backtracking north 1,000 miles on 5 March, the Triton rendezvoused with the USS Macon (CA-123) on a rainy night with poor visibility. The sub was completely submerged, with only five feet of her sail exposed. On the bridge, Captain Beach awaited the arrival of a motorboat from the cruiser. "It is a lonely feeling to be the only man topside in an 8,000-ton ship which is 99 percent under water," he later reflected. The launch pulled alongside as the sub came to trim with the entire sail and a tiny portion of the deck exposed so an access door at the base of the tower could be opened for Poole to leave the boat. He was then taken aboard the launch. The sub moved off and returned to depth, her submerged record still intact.
Day 20: Land's End, Argentina
The submarine came to periscope depth off the southern extremity of the Western Hemisphere's continents. Beach offered all on board a view of Cape Horn. He regaled them with tales of the jagged monolith, now braced by 12-foot waves and gale-force winds. In the age of sail, to see Cape Horn meant being shipwrecked at the forbidden end of the world. Now, any who gazed on the craggy crest would be blessed the rest of one's naval career, said the skipper. That optimism would soon lose its promise, however.
The externally mounted Fathometer transducer failed due to flooding on the 2,400-mile westward run to Easter Island. Worse, a packing gland around the starboard propeller shaft began to leak dangerously. Great sheets of water spewed into the air with the force of a hydrant, soaking the overhead as engineers struggled vainly against the flow. Beach inspected the damage and ordered the propeller shut down and the ship to ascend to a shallower depth to reduce water pressure. That enabled Chief Engineman Clarence "Rabbit" Hathaway to wade into the reduced spray and squeeze below the shaft, where he discovered the cause: a misaligned water seal. It had nearly compromised the voyage. Emergency clamps enabled the mission to continue.
Attempts to repair the Fathometer or create a new depth sensor failed. Experiments using the Triton's search sonar, however, proved that it was reliable in detecting shallow water ahead and to either side of the boat.
The captain faced a critical decision. If he reported the loss of the Fathometer to Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, someone up the chain of command might cancel the remainder of the voyage.
Beach thought of his dad. As captain of the armored cruiser USS Memphis (ACR-10) in 1916, he was strolling the deck at the ship's anchorage at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic when he saw a tidal wave approaching. He sounded the alarm. But the wave swept over the ship, wrecking her on a coral reef and killing 33 Sailors. A court of inquiry found no fault with the captain yet concluded that he nevertheless was responsible for the safety of his ship. He was relieved of command. "A part of Father died that day," said his son. Now, weighing his own ship's predicament, Ned Beach decided not to report the problem. "Come what might," he noted, "we would carry on and complete the voyage."
Day 26: Easter Island, Mid-Pacific
After making a photographic reconnaissance of the remote island and its mysterious stone faces on 13 March, the sub continued northwest across the vast Central Pacific toward Guam, 7,000 miles away. It had taken Magellan three months to get there; it would take Beach two weeks.
As they had all along, crewmen kept up a daily routine of engineering drills and ship upkeep, "strenuous work just keeping the ship clean," as Beach put it. The Triton also went to periscope depth daily to take celestial observations to determine the boat's exact location, and to raise a snorkel tube to freshen air aboard. To break any monotony in off hours, courses in Spanish, mathematics, history, and civics were begun. Lieutenant R. P. McDonald founded the "Triton Lecture Association" to prepare the men for speaking engagements on the sub's return home. The boat's daily newsletter, the Triton Eagle, featured news from the outside world, messages from the captain, jokes, cartoons, and eight "babygrams" that arrived for expectant fathers during the voyage.
During an especially poignant moment, the sub passed close to the presumed location of the World War II USS Triton (SS-201), lost to enemy action. After the war, new submarines were named after those lost. Captain Beach had been on board the Trigger (SS-237), the last sub to have contact with the Triton before Japanese destroyers sent her to the bottom. Now, facing forward, those in the nuclear-powered boat stood in silence as a salute of successive water slugs from the forward torpedo tubes jolted the sub, followed by the mournful strains of taps.
Day 41: Agat Bay, Guam
On 28 March, the sub arrived off the seaside town of Agat, where ship's steward Edward C. Carbullido was born. He had not visited there in 14 years. As the sub moved slowly past, the skipper allowed Carbullido to look through the periscope to see the house where he had grown up.
Three days later, the Triton entered the five-mile-deep Philippine Trench, "a sea of nothingness," as Beach put it. On the far side was the vertical wall of the trench, with a V-shaped notch near the surface marking Surigao Strait. This had been made famous in World War II when Navy battleships resurrected from the attack of Pearl Harbor helped defeat battleships and other vessels under the command of Japanese Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura. Now, as the sub approached at 21 knots, the skipper repressed a twinge of anxiety. "What if the channel we sought were not there?" he thought. "How could we [recover from] the shattering catastrophe of striking the barrier, rather than passing over it?" But Adams, the sub's executive officer, had plotted a true course. Sonar soon detected the strait dead ahead, and the boat passed through into the Mindanao Sea.
Day 45: Mactan Island, Philippines
At noon, the submarine arrived in Magellan Bay. It was here that the explorer had achieved his objective, reaching the Spice Islands by sailing west from Spain. But it was also here that he lost his life when attacked by natives after landing with 48 crewmen from three surviving ships.
Captain Beach made a periscope survey of the monument marking the spot where Magellan died on the edge of the bay. A second look startled the skipper. "Upon raising the periscope I am looking right into the eyes of a young man in a small dugout, close alongside." The sub avoided the dugout and continued on its way, exiting the bay as the Filipino reported seeing "part of a very big monster."
Day 49: Lombok Strait
The Triton rode the warm current of the Java Sea on 5 April as it flowed south toward the cooler Indian Ocean. The scene above was of vessels moving erratically where the two seas merged in a wall of churning seawater. Depth gauges spun wildly in the control room as the sub momentarily lost depth control and plunged to 125 feet within seconds. But a quick nudge of power from the engineering plant and her two powerful screws broke the current's effect. She steadied on depth and continued southwest into the Indian Ocean.
The one thing the skipper dreaded most was now upon him: The active sonar stopped working. Without it, the sub could not proceed. Fortunately, the problem was a defective vacuum tube, which was quickly replaced.
Crossing to the southern tip of Africa, various medical studies were completed, including extinguishing the smoking lamp for three days. The boat also was sealed for two weeks from the normal process of taking in fresh air daily. Data from the studies would be useful for the upcoming Mercury manned space program and Polaris missile sub deployments.
Day 61: Cape of Good Hope
The Triton rounded the Cape on Easter Sunday, staying ten miles offshore, and then sped toward the finish line at St. Peter and St. Paul's Rocks. For two weeks, all went well. But on 24 April the stern diving planes malfunctioned. A large control valve fractured, causing a massive leak in the 3,000-pound hydraulic system. Thirty gallons of oil-a quarter of all the oil in the pressurized system-spewed into the after torpedo room bilges. Reacting instinctively, Torpedoman's Mate Third Class Allen W. Steele passed word of the emergency and waded into the oil vapor to manually close other valves to stem the leak. Another few seconds and there would have been a complete loss of the diving and steering systems and their control surfaces, with the sub traveling at high speed. One day short of circling the earth, the result could have been cataclysmic.
A replacement valve was located and installed. The sub continued onward.=
Day 69: 'The Rocks'
It had been 60 days since the Triton last visited the Rocks. She had traveled 26,723 nautical miles at an average speed of just over 18 knots. The submarine circled the islets on 25 April and then set a course northeast for the Canary Islands, where Magellan and his five ships with 250 sailors had begun their quest. Three years later, only one-the badly leaking Victoria with 19 crewmen on board-returned.
Day 76: Standing off Cadiz, Spain
To maintain secrecy, the big submarine remained submerged-similar to when Poole was taken off at Montevideo-when she rendezvoused with the destroyer John W. Weeks (DD-701) at sea. A medical officer boarded for transit back to the United States, and National Geographic photographer Joseph B. Roberts left the boat to fly home with his film. The destroyer also received a 20-inch bronze plaque designed by the men of the Triton for transfer to the American Embassy in Madrid. On it was an engraving in Latin-Hail, Noble Captain, It Is Done Again-to honor Magellan. The plaque was to be presented to the Spanish government. Beach then took the sub deep and headed west.
Day 83: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Covered with sea life, the hull of the Triton surfaced offshore on 10 May, culminating the boat's odyssey. The Navy announced she had been submerged 83 days and 10 hours and had traveled 36,014 nautical miles, equivalent to one and a half times around the world.
Aircraft and small boats greeted the sub. A helicopter appeared, lowered a line, plucked Captain Beach from the deck, then flew him to the lawn fronting the South Portico of the White House, 110 miles away. Among the first to greet him was Ingrid Beach, who threw her arms around her husband. Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the "Father of the Nuclear Navy," and President Eisenhower congratulated him at a ceremony in which the President awarded the skipper the Legion of Merit ribbon for his historic voyage.
The Triton's success was to have been the capstone for Eisenhower's Paris summit. However, an American U-2 spy plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union on 1 May and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, captured. The uproar and embarrassment to the United States pushed the sub off front pages around the world and forced a cancellation of the summit.
Five hours after lifting off the sub, Beach was back on board. Next stop: Connecticut.
Day 83 Plus 1: Thames River
Under drizzly skies, a crowd gathered at the State Pier in New London to await the Triton's arrival. A parade of pleasure boats went out to greet the submarine while on both sides of the river, motorists stopped to honk and wave as the vessel passed.
For the crew, their place in history was secure. They had circled the earth submerged. For Ned Beach, there was an added sense of accomplishment as the sub maneuvered toward the pier. It was an old 48-star American flag fluttering from the highest periscope, the flag of his father.
Months earlier, the skipper had learned that veterans of the Memphis had rescued and preserved the ship's ensign on the day the tidal wave wrecked the cruiser. Beach persuaded them to loan it to him for the Triton's voyage. So now, 44 years after the tragedy in Santo Domingo, the flag streamed again from a naval warship. Said the skipper with misty eyes: "It is more fitting that the last sight graced by this old flag should be one of gladness and success, rather than disaster and death. Father has been gone more than 16 years, but this is something I've always wanted to do for him."
On the boat's arrival, Secretary of the Navy William B. Frank awarded the Triton's officers and crew the Presidential Unit Citation at a dockside ceremony. Allen Steele, the crewman who had saved the hydraulic system, received the Navy Commendation Medal. The bronze plaque presented to Spain was not the one carried on the voyage; an error in the Latin translation had been discovered after the submarine began her voyage. A corrected plaque was flown to the John W. Weeks to replace the one brought on board from the submarine. It was later mounted on the wall of the city hall at the Spanish port city of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the Magellan expedition had begun its voyage around the world.
The Triton would serve the Navy for the next decade as a radar picket sub, attack sub, emergency presidential command post, and flagship for COMSUBLANT. She was decommissioned on 3 May 1969, the first nuclear-powered boat to be taken out of service. By 1 October 2007, the nation's only sub with twin nuclear reactors would come to an end in a Bremerton, Washington, drydock. There, she was taken apart and recycled. Her sail was cut away and placed in the shipyard park as a lasting testament to her epic voyage. Her ship's wheel and diving stick are on display at the U.S. Naval Institute, Beach Hall, U.S. Naval Academy.
Ink in His Navy Blood
By Edward F. Finch
The August 1950 issue of Esquire magazine carried a short story titled "Mission: 1956," in which an American nuclear-powered submarine had to find and sink a Soviet nuclear-powered sub before it could approach the coast of the United States and launch missiles armed with atomic warheads. "Only this green shakedown crew stood between the U.S. and its terrible enemy," reads one of the subheadings for the story. Edward L. Beach Jr. wrote this Clancy-esque two-page techno-thriller under the not-too-cleverly disguised pen name Beachley Edwards. It was his first published fiction.
By the time Beach skippered the USS Triton (SSR[N]-586) on her record-setting submerged circumnavigation of the globe in 1960, he was the most prominent writer of submarine stories-both fiction and non-wearing a Navy uniform. His highly successful Run Silent, Run Deep set the standard for World War II submarine novels, while in 1952 his nonfiction articles had been collected in Submarine! There was more, however, to Ned Beach than the books by which most Americans knew him.
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936, he had finished submarine school just days before the Pearl Harbor attack. Serving with such legends as Roy Benson and George Street III, Beach rose through the ranks in the Silent Service, finishing the war in command of a boat of his own-the USS Piper (SS-409). For his wartime service he earned a Navy Cross, a Silver Star with gold star in lieu of an additional medal, a Bronze Star with gold star and Combat "V," as well as a long list of other decorations attesting to his experiences and courage. His postwar assignments ashore included aide to Rear Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, then chief of Naval Personnel; naval aide to General of the Army Omar N. Bradley when Bradley was the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and naval aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Run Silent, Run Deep was published while Beach was serving in the White House.
In addition to commanding the Triton, his sea commands included the USS Amberjack (SS-522), Trigger (SS-564), and Salamonie (AO-26). After the Triton voyage, Beach moved into command of a submarine squadron. His final billet before retiring from active duty was as director, Joint Congressional and Special Material Division (Op-90A), Office of General Planning and Programming, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In this position he was responsible for preparing the CNO and Secretary of the Navy for congressional hearings over the Navy's complex budget.
Beach took up the position of Stephen D. Luce Chair of Naval Science at the Naval War College after leaving active duty. Wanting more time to write, he left that position but was soon appointed secretary and staff director of the Republican Senate Policy Committee. After several years working on Capitol Hill he again sought time to write, but his management skills were still needed as he was tapped to be staff director for Senator Jeremiah Denton's (R-AL) Washington office. That would be the last "real" job he would ever hold. In 1981 Beach began to write on a full-time basis.
From the end of World War II until the final year of his life, Beach wrote almost continuously, though most of his early work was written in the evenings and on weekends. Nevertheless, he produced three novels and seven non-fiction monographs on naval history subjects. He coedited several editions of the Naval Terms Dictionary, and authored a long list of articles for both professional and general readership periodicals, including Naval History.
While home on leave in 1944, Beach had married Ingrid Schenck in Palo Alto, California, the town where both had been raised. Ingrid managed her own career as a Swedish language specialist at the Foreign Language Institute while also raising their three children.
Edward L. Beach Jr. died in 2002, just after he had completed editing his father's autobiography, From Annapolis to Scapa Flow: The Autobiography of Edward L. Beach Sr., published by the Naval Institute Press in 2003. Ned Beach emulated his father in both his naval and writing careers. The elder Beach produced 13 published novels about Navy life, as well as writing several professional articles and creating the first index of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.
In recognition of the contributions of the two Beaches, the Naval Institute named its headquarters building Beach Hall-a fitting tribute to two men whose writing so advanced the image of the Navy they loved and whose service always did honor to the uniform they so proudly wore.