Barbel-class submarine

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The launch of USS Blueback
The launch of USS Blueback (SS-581) in 1959
Class overview
Name: Barbel class
Preceded by: Darter class
Built: 1956 – 1959
In commission: 1959 – 1990
Completed: 3
Retired: 3
Preserved: 1
General characteristics
Type: Attack submarine
  • 1,750 tons (1,778 t) light[1]
  • 2,146 tons (2,180 t) full
  • 2,637 tons (2,679 t) submerged[1]
  • 402 tons (408 t) dead
Length: 219 ft 2 in (66.80 m) overall[1]
Beam: 29 ft (8.8 m)[1]
Draft: 29 ft (8.8 m) max[1]
Range: 14,000 nautical miles (26,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)[2]
  • 90 minutes at full speed submerged,
  • 102 hours at 3 knots (5.6 km/h) submerged
Test depth: 700 ft (210 m)[2]
Complement: 8 officers, 69 men
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • BQS-4 active sonar
  • BQR-2 passive sonar
  • MK 101 fire control system
Armament: 6 × 21 inch (533 mm) bow torpedo tubes, 22 torpedoes[2]

The Barbel-class submarines (affectionately known in the United States Navy's submarine force as the 'B-Girls'),[citation needed] the last diesel-electric propelled attack submarines built by the United States Navy, incorporated numerous, radical engineering improvements over previous classes. They were the first production warships built with the teardrop-shape hull first tested on the experimental USS Albacore (AGSS-569), and the first to combine the control room, attack center, and conning tower in the same space in the hull. This class of submarine became part of the United States Navy's fleet in 1959 and was taken out of service 1988–1990, leaving the Navy with an entirely nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

The Barbel class' design is considered to be very effective.[3] The Zwaardvis-class submarine of the Netherlands and the Hai Lung-class submarine of the Republic of China (built and sold by the Netherlands) were developments of the Barbel class design. The Japanese Uzushio class and its successors were also influenced by the Barbel class.


The class overall was a somewhat smaller diesel-powered version of the Skipjack-class nuclear submarines, the first of which entered service only three months after Barbel, having been laid down only 11 days later. Several features of the experimental Albacore were used in the Barbel-class design, most obviously the fully streamlined "teardrop" hull. Albacore's single-shaft configuration, necessary to minimize drag and thus maximize speed, was also adopted for the Barbels, Skipjacks, and all subsequent US nuclear submarines. This was a matter of considerable debate and analysis within the Navy, as two shafts offered redundancy and improved maneuverability.[2] For the first time, the Barbels also combined the functions of conning tower, attack center, and control room in the same space, another feature adopted for all subsequent US submarines. This was facilitated by the adoption of "push-button" ballast control, another feature of Albacore.[2] Previous designs had routed the trim system piping through the control room, where the valves were manually operated. The "push-button" system used hydraulic operators on each valve, remotely electrically operated (actually via toggle switches) from the control room. This greatly conserved control room space and reduced the time required to conduct trim operations. The overall layout made coordination of the weapons and ship control systems easier during combat operations.

The torpedo tube arrangement of the Barbels was the same as the Skipjacks', with six bow tubes in a three-over-three configuration. These (and the Skipjack-derived George Washington-class SSBNs) were the only US Navy classes to have this configuration, as subsequent SSN designs used four angled midships torpedo tubes to make room for a large bow sonar sphere, and most SSBNs had four bow tubes.

The Barbels were built with bow mounted diving planes, but these were replaced by sail planes (aka fairwater planes) within a few years. This feature was standard on US Navy submarines until bow planes returned with the improved Los Angeles class, the first of which was launched in 1988.

Ships in class[edit]

Name Hull number Builder Laid Down Launched Commissioned Fate
Barbel SS-580 Portsmouth Naval Shipyard 18 May 1956 19 July 1958 17 January 1959 Decommissioned 4 December 1989, scrapping delayed due to asbestos insulation, expended as a target 30 January 2001
Blueback SS-581 Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi 15 April 1957 16 May 1959 15 October 1959 Decommissioned 1 October 1990, museum ship at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon from 1994.
Bonefish SS-582 New York Shipbuilding, Camden, New Jersey 3 June 1957 22 November 1958 9 July 1959 Not repaired following a fire that killed three on 24 April 1988, decommissioned 28 September 1988, hulked 17 August 1989, hull acquired for tests by Northrop Grumman.



  1. ^ a b c d e Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 283. ISBN 0-313-26202-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Friedman, Norman (1994). U.S. Submarines Since 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 31–35, 242. ISBN 1-55750-260-9.
  3. ^ Polmar, Norman and Moore, K. J. (2004). Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines, 1945–2001. Dulles: Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-57488-594-1, p. 215


  • Polmar, Norman and Moore, K. J. (2004). Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines, 1945–2001. Dulles: Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-57488-594-1.
  • Gardiner, Robert and Chumbley, Stephen, Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1947–1995, London: Conway Maritime Press, 1995. ISBN 1-55750-132-7.

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