April 11: How the Subs Got to Groton


Today in Connecticut history, Naval Submarine Base New London — the home of the United States submarine force — was first established as a navy yard and storage depot.

In 1868, several towns in Southeastern Connecticut jumped at the chance to host a naval installation in their area, pooling their resources to offer the U. S. Navy a 112-acre tract of land along the Thames River. For nearly 50 years, the New London Navy Yard (technically located in Groton, across the river from its namesake) functioned as a storage area for inactive Navy ships and, around the turn of the century, as a coal depository and refueling station for Navy ships patrolling the coastal waters.

As the Navy increasingly turned to oil instead of coal as a fuel for its ships, the base narrowly escaped closure in 1912, but found a renewed sense of purpose a few years later with the onset of World War I. As the United States increased the size and scope of its submarine force in response to aggressive German U-Boat attacks, Groton quickly emerged as an excellent strategic location for a dedicated submarine base. The Connecticut coast offered an ideal launching point for excursions into hotly contested North Atlantic waters, and the former fuel depot had both space and capacity. On June 21, 1916, the navy yard was recommissioned as a the United States Navy’s first submarine base, complete with its own submarine flotilla and training school.

The USS New Mexico sails past the New London’s iconic Ledge Light on its way up the Thames River to Naval Submarine Base New London.

Today, Naval Submarine Base New London remains a bustling hub of activity, home to over a dozen active-duty fast-attack submarines and neighbor to General Dynamics, the foremost builder of submarines for the U. S. Navy. The base also features a free submarine museum open to the public and is the permanent home of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S Nautilus. “The Submarine Capital of the World” has come a long way from its humble origins as a navy storage depot, established on this day in 1868.

Further Reading

Naval Submarine Base New London: History,” U.S. Navy Commander, Navy Installations Command website

Korky Vann, “Connecticut Celebrates a Century of Submarine History,” Hartford Courant.