On This Page:
Level: Pier 86
- Between 1960 and 1964, the submarine USS Growler (SSG-577) sat hidden in the frigid waters off the coast of Russia.
- Its crew of 90 men waited for a signal to fire their nuclear missiles at Soviet military facilities.
- Growler is the only nuclear missile submarine open to the public in the United States.
The former USS Growler is one of the Navy’s early guided missile submarines. It was in service from 1958 to 1964. Growler is moored to the north side of the pier, just across from Intrepid. Its bow faces Manhattan and its stern is toward New Jersey. It’s 317 feet (96.6 meters) long, about the length of an American football field. But it’s only 27 feet (8.2 meters) wide so accommodations down below are very tight.
The top surface of Growler, the deck, is painted black. The rest of the sub is gray. In the middle of the sub rises a big square tower called the sail. The side you see from the dock is about 30 feet (9.1 meters) tall and 30 feet (9.1 meters) wide. The top of the sail has a small bridge area, and the submarine’s periscopes and snorkel emerge from the top of the sail.
Growler’s primary weapon was the Regulus I nuclear missile. Growler carried four of them. One is mounted in launch position on the deck, just in front of the sail. The missile itself is dark blue, 32 feet (9.8 meters) long, and it looks like a small jet plane, but without a cockpit. It has swept wings and a tail, both of which could fold for storing inside the submarine’s missile hangar. Growler could guide the missile for about 150 miles (241 km) using radar.
But to launch the Regulus, Growler had to surface, making the submarine easier for the enemy to detect. So Growler was a transitional weapon until the next generation of submarines that could launch missiles while submerged. But Growler played an important role in the Cold War as it patrolled the eastern coast of the Soviet Union.
The exhibition A View from the Deep: The Submarine Growler and the Cold War explores Growler’s history and technology. You can visit the exhibition before entering the submarine itself. Or you can choose to see the exhibition only, and not enter the submarine. The exhibition covers topics including the Navy in the nuclear age, the technology of Growler and the Regulus I missile, the mission of strategic deterrence and the experience of Growler’s crew. Throughout the exhibition, you’ll find artifacts, archives, oral histories, photographs, video and interactives.
Photos & Videos
Video description: Curator of Aviation Eric Boehm explains the history and technology of the Regulus I missile. He begins in front of the navy blue missile before entering the submarine USS Growler, which carried and launched Regulus I. Eric explains the process of launching the missile while visiting the submarine’s missile hangar and the missile launch and guidance center. Historical videos and images are used throughout to illustrate missile operations.
The Cold War demanded a new type of navy, one suited for the Atomic Age. Submarines offered clear advantages as platforms for nuclear weapons: they were hidden, mobile and difficult to destroy. The U.S. Navy rushed to develop the ideal underwater weapon while recruiting and training men to operate these new submarines and missiles.
The first generation of nuclear-missile submarines, including Growler, emerged in the late 1950s. They carried the Regulus I nuclear missile. Based on proven jet and missile technology, the new missile could be adapted to existing submarine designs. But the missile had to be launched from the surface and manually guided by radar, which made its launch vessel extremely vulnerable to attack.
The five submarines that carried Regulus missiles had a specific mission: conduct deterrent patrols within striking range of military facilities on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The presence of these submarines was intended to deter the Soviet Union from launching a nuclear attack against the United States. Between 1960 and 1964, Growler conducted eight of these patrols.
A diesel-electric submarine like Growler was a demanding work environment. Engine fuel, cigarette smoke and unwashed bodies perfumed the air. Crew members had no space to spread out, to exercise or to be alone. The men settled into a round-the-clock work routine. Days blended into one another as they maneuvered the submarine through the cold, dark waters of the western Pacific. They checked equipment and conducted drills to maintain a state of readiness for a launch order that never came.
Growler and the other Regulus missile submarines patrolled for only five years. Rapid advancements in submarine and missile technology—such as ballistic missiles that could be launched from beneath the surface—made them obsolete. In 1964, the Navy removed the Regulus missile from service. Growler opened to the public at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in 1989.
|Length:||317 feet (96 m)|
|Extreme breadth:||32 feet (9.8 m)|
|Height (bottom of keel to top of sail):||52 feet 6 inches (16 m)|
|Displacement:||2,800 tons (2,540 metric tons)|
|Top speed:||14 knots surfaced (16 mph, 26 kph), 12 knots (submerged (14 mph, 22 kph)|
|Patrol length:||55 – 79 days|