Non-Fiction ~ Military Disasters


The Death of the USS Thresher: The Story Behind History’s Deadliest Submarine Disaster, by Norman Polmar (2004)


As a young child, I lived in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. I was in second grade when a new girl joined our class. Then as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone; her family moved away. Her father had been on the Thresher. It is one of my earliest memories of a news event. I was too young to fully appreciate the significance of the sinking of the Thresher, but because of my classmate, I often think of the event.


The USS Thresher was a new class of nuclear-powered submarines. It was build during the Cold War era and the Thresher was to be a new killer submarine, specifically designed to seek and destroy Soviet submarines. Construction on the submarine began in 1958 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. It was originally launched in 1960 and formally commissioned in August 1961. After some trial operations in 1961 and 1962, the submarine underwent a major overhaul that took several months from 1962 to 1963.


In early April 1963, the submarine was ready again for deep-diving tests. On April 1963, during deep sea dives off the New England coast, the Thresher lost contact with its rescue ship, the Skylark. The last garbled communication may have indicated some minor problems, followed by eerie sounds that were compared to a ship collapsing. The Thresher was officially lost at sea. Aboard the submarine were 129 crew members and shipyard personnel, making the sinking of the Thresher the first nuclear submarine disaster and the deadliest to date.


An inquiry was conducted to determine the cause of the disaster. The formal briefing, issued in June 1963 concluded that, based on current information, it was impossible to determine the cause of the event. Subsequent investigation have led to various theories of the cause, but the actual cause will never be known.


Although the book did not go into detail about the lives of the 129 aboard the submarine, I cried when I got to the part where the families were informed of the disaster.


This book goes into detail about the construction of submarines, but is a quick read.