1960: A U.S. Navy Submarine Completes a First-of-a-Kind Voyage Around the World

April 25, 1960

A global circumnavigation milestone took place when the U.S. Navy submarine USS Triton (SSRN-586) completed the first submerged voyage around the world. The U.S. Navy’s code name for this pioneering circumnavigation was Operation Sandblast. Triton, which had been commissioned the previous November and was under the command of Captain Edward L. “Ned” Beach, Jr., began her history-making expedition on February 24 at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago near the Equator in the central Atlantic Ocean. 

Triton generally followed the same route as the 16th century’s Magellan-Elcano expedition, which was the first-ever circumnavigation of Earth. From her starting point, the submarine traveled along the east coast of South America and rounded the tip of that continent. Triton then headed west across the Pacific Ocean, transiting the Philippine and Indonesian archipelagos before reaching the Indian Ocean. The submarine subsequently rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and then, 60 days and 21 hours after the voyage had begun, made her way back to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago. (The above U.S. Navy map depicts the exact route taken by Triton during that voyage.)

Triton covered a total of 26,723 nautical miles (49,491 kilometers) and her sail broke the surface of the sea only once, specifically for the transfer of a sick sailor to the heavy cruiser USS Macon (CA-132) off the coast of Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo. In addition to setting a new record for circumnavigation, Triton’s voyage also resulted in the gathering of a great deal of vital oceanographic, geophysical, and psychological data.

The New York Times hailed that submerged circling of the globe as “a triumph of human prowess and engineering skill,” while technology historian Bern Dibner called it a “magnificent accomplishment” showing “that the arts of observation, navigation, communication and control had reached the point where travel under the water was possible with pinpoint accuracy.” Triton was decommissioned in 1969. 

Image Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Operation Sandblast, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Sandblast

Additional information on USS Triton (SSRN-586) is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Triton_(SSRN-586)

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