By Wyatt Martin
For 31 years the USS Blueback (SS-581) submarine patrolled the waters of the Pacific Ocean on various missions for the United States Navy. It was the second ever “Barbell-class” sub used by the Navy and the last non-nuclear, fast-acting sub to be in service. The Blueback or SS-581 now rests as memorial and interactive tour site at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR. Tourists and historians are eager to dive into USS Blueback (SS-581).
The Barbell (or “B-Girl” as they’re known to sailors) class of submarines incorporated several radical engineering improvements at the time of their construction. The first being the tear-shaped hull, which allowed for easier propulsion and less drag when submerged. It was also the first type of submarine to combine the control room, attack center and conning tower in the same area in the hull. While it was in use, the sub could accommodate a crew of up to 85 and traveled at a top speed of 25 knots (29 mph) while submerged.
During her tenure in action, the Blueback received two US Navy battle stars for its service in Vietnam. The sub has also been made famous on the silver screen with a spot in the Hollywood thriller The Hunt for Red October as well as appearances on the television series Hawaii Five-O.
The Blueback was commissioned on October 15, 1959 and held home ports in San Diego, Keyport, WA, San Francisco, Seattle and Pearl Harbor, HI. During the 50’s when she was originally built, the Navy used fish names for subs as opposed to cities or states which they’re commonly named after now. The Blueback received its name from the common name of the sockeye salmon.
When the 220-foot sub was finally decommissioned in 1990 it laid in retirement in the Bremerton Naval base until 1994 when it was acquired by OMSI and towed back to Portland. The Blueback now serves as a fun, informative historical site. Guided tours are available as well as specialized tours and overnight stays. Visitors are able to get a true sense of the type of life sailors lived for months at a time while serving on the vessel.
This classic feat of engineering is a must see for any history or military buff and is a great way to spend a day in the Portland area.
Dive into USS Blueback (SS-581)!