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The Naval History of Connecticut

By Alex Hays, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Home of the U.S. Navy’s first submarine base, Connecticut plays an important role in the history of the U.S. Navy. Built in 1868, Naval Submarine Base New London began as a storage depot and naval yard. In 1898, work began on the yard to build a coaling station to refuel ships in the New England area. The base barely escaped closure in the early 20th-century as the Navy transitioned from coal to oil for fuel. In October 1915, the first submarines and submarine tenders arrived on the base. In 1916, the base was re-designated as a Submarine Base, and Cmdr. Yates Stirling Jr. took command of the base and the new submarine school.

The base rapidly expanded during the remainder of the 20th-century. In the 1930s, submariners began practicing submarine escapes in the newly constructed Submarine Escape Training Tank. In 1954, the Navy’s first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), commissioned and established its homeport at the base. After its decommissioning in 1980, the submarine became a permanent fixture at the Submarine Force Museum adjacent to the base in Groton, CT. Today, the base’s motto reflects its proud heritage: The “First and Finest Submarine Base.” Currently, the majority of submariners in the Navy train at the base. The base currently occupies 687 acres, houses more than 70 tenant commands, and employees more than 9,500 personnel.

In addition to its famous submarine base, Connecticut has a long line of naval heroes, including Commodore Isaac Hull. Born in Derby, CT, on March 9, 1973, Hull commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Navy on his 25th birthday and served on USS Constitution. In 1810, Hull became the commanding officer of the vessel. During the War of 1812, Hull engaged HMS Guerriere, a British frigate, on Aug. 19, 1812. The battle ended with the sinking of the British vessel on Aug. 20. Under Hull’s command, USS Constitution gained the nickname “Old Ironsides” because the ship’s oak hull was largely immune to British cannonballs. Commodore Hull died on Feb. 13, 1843. Five ships have been named in his honor: Commodore Hull (SwStr), 1862; USS Hull I (DD 7), 1903; USS Hull II (DD 330), 1921; USS Hull III (DD 350), 1935; and USS Hull IV (DD 945), 1958.

Interested in exploring the history of other naval heroes, historic photos, or ships named after Connecticut’s people and places?  Check out the infographic for more on Connecticut’s U.S. Navy history.