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This short film – originally titled as "USS Nautilus: Operation Sunshine" – is a documentary produced by the United States Navy. It was released in 1959 and narrated by the distinguished CBS News analyst, Edward R. Murrow.
The film documents the historic voyage of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean via the North Pole while submerged beneath the polar ice cap in the summer of 1958. It was a successful top-secret U.S. Navy mission code-named "Operation Sunshine."
The film highlights the heroics of the crew for the good of their country. Further, it plays recordings of Commander William R. Anderson’s inspirational announcements over the submarine’s radio such as, "For the world, our country, and the Navy – the North Pole" and shows footage of the celebratory parades in honor of the Nautilus’s safe return to New York. The film even emphasizes the impact of civilian scientists aboard the Nautilus, a reference to the work of everyday Americans in furthering the mission of the United States on a global scale through scientific development. Operation Sunshine was not just a scientific expedition or experiment, it was a form of propaganda meant to give tangible evidence to support the idea that the United States was more advanced than the Soviet Union in Naval prowess.
Prominent persons and important moments in the film:
- Rear Admiral Elton Watters Grenfell welcomes the crew at 3:24
- Commander William R. Anderson officially announces to the crew that the Nautilus has reached the North Pole from 10:56 to 12:08
- Commander Anderson was awarded the Legion of Merit from President Eisenhower and the crew received a Presidential Unit Citation, the first awarded in peace time at 13:06
- Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, father of the nuclear submarines, leads the ticker tape parade through New York City at 13:21
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND / CONTEXT
During the late 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union were entering into a technology race. Russia was celebrating the successful launch of their Sputnik I satellite into orbit in 1957. The issue was not just that the U.S. was behind the Soviets in terms of space technology, but it was that the American public was aware of it. What Eisenhower needed was something to show America and the rest of the world that the U.S. government was ahead of the Soviets technologically. Their answer for that was to take the two areas where they were ahead of the Soviets (submarines and nuclear technology) and combine them.
USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine built by the United States. The vessel was the first submarine to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole on 3rd August 1958.
Named after Captain Nemo's fictional submarine in Jules Verne's classic 1870 science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Nautilus was authorized in 1951, with laying down for construction in 1952 and launched in January 1954, and commissioned the following September into the U.S. Navy.
Because her nuclear propulsion allowed her to remain submerged far longer than the then current diesel-electric submarines previously, she broke many records in her first years of operation, and traveled to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines. In operation, she revealed a number of limitations in her design and construction. This information was used to improve subsequent submarines.
Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and has been preserved as a museum ship at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut.
For more information about USS Nautilus, see:
First Nuclear Submarine: USS Nautilus & Its Secret Mission to the North Pole | Documentary | 1959
NOTE: THIS VIDEO DOCUMENTS HISTORICAL EVENTS. THE VIDEO HAS BEEN UPLOADED WITH EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. ITS TOPIC IS REPRESENTED WITHIN HISTORICAL CONTEXT.
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