The USS Darter was a unique submarine based on the Tang-class, but incorporating many improvements and innovations, some for use on future submarines, during her career. She was the second submarine in U.S. Navy history to be named after the small American fresh-water fish.
The contract to build the Darter was awarded to General Dynamics Corp.’s Electric Boat Division, located in Groton, Conn., on June 30, 1954. Her keel was laid down on Nov. 10, 1954; she was launched on May 28, 1956. She was commissioned on Oct. 20, 1956, with Lt. Commander Ralph R. Blaine in command.
As part of her role as a testing platform, the Darter underwent constant modifications and conversions to make her performance similar to new submarines entering service. She would be the first submarine to use a three-man helmsman-planesman station using aircraft-style stick controls, a setup that would later become common on U.S. Navy submarines.
The Darter was initially assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and homeported at New London, Conn. She would take part in torpedo test firings, fleet and NATO exercises and cruises to the Caribbean Sea before an overhaul at Portsmouth, N.H. in 1959.
When that overhaul was completed, the Darter was transferred to Charleston, S.C. She largely served as an “enemy” during anti-submarine warfare exercises and as a platform for experimental programs, but did make two deployments to the Mediterranean Sea in 1963 and 1967.
The second of these two deployments came after a major overhaul in 1966, when the hull of the Darter was cut in half and a 16-and-one-half foot section added. The extra section was in preparation for a planned fast-attack conversion. She also received new engines, new batteries and improved distilling plants and air compressors during the overhaul. The Darter also received an improved communications system and an emergency main ballast tank blow system.
In 1970 the Darter changed homeports again, moving to Pascagoula, Miss., for another overhaul. In 1971, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and was based at San Diego. While once again serving as a training platform and anti-submarine warfare foe, the Darter also deployed to the Western Pacific in late 1971, serving on Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. She would make Western Pacific cruises in 1973 and 1975, but also underwent two more overhauls, in 1973 and 1976.
In 1978, the Darter deployed to the Western Pacific for a fourth time, taking part in a number of training exercises. When she returned in 1979, she stayed, as her homeport had been changed to Sasebo, Japan. For the final decade of her career, the Darter would stay at Sasebo and take part in numerous exercises with U.S. and allied ships; she would also serve as a submerged platform for U.S. Navy SEALS, as well as Marine Recon and U.S. Army Special Forces Units.
The Darter was the first U.S. submarine to make ports of call at Sogwipo, South Korea; Paton Beach, Thailand; Cebu City in the Philippines and Penang, Malaysia. She would win seven Battle Efficiency “E”s for outstanding combat preparedness during her career, and made her 4000th dive on the way back to Pearl Harbor for decommissioning.
The Darter was decommissioned on Dec. 1, 1989, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on Jan. 17, 1990. On Jan. 7, 1992, the former Darter was sunk by the submarine USS Taugtog in the waters off Pearl Harbor.
Characteristics of the USS Darter
Class and type: Submarine
Displacement: 1,620 long tons (1,646 t) surfaced 2,372 long tons (2,410 t) submerged Length: 283 ft 3 in (86.3 m) o/a
Beam: 27 ft (8.2 m) overall
25 ft (7.6 m) waterline
Draft: 19 ft (5.8 m)
Speed: 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph) surfaced
16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) submerged
Test depth: 700 ft (210 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 75 men
Armament: 6 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes, (4 forward, 2 aft)
Name: USS Darter
Awarded: 30 June 1954
Builder: General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut
Laid down: 10 November 1954
Launched: 28 May 1956
Commissioned: 20 October 1956
Decommissioned: 12 December 1989
Struck: 17 January 1990
Fate: Sunk as a target, 7 January 1992
June 1954: Contract to build USS Darter awarded
November 1954: USS Darter’s keel laid down
May 1956: USS Darter launched
October 1956: USS Darter commissioned
1960: USS Darter transferred to Charleston, S.C.
1963: USS Darter makes first Mediterranean Deployment
1971: USS Darter transferred to Pacific Fleet and makes first Western Pacific deployment
1979: USS Darter transferred to Sasebo, Japan
December 1989: USS Darter decommissioned
Crewmembers of the USS Darter:
An unofficial list of crew members that served on the USS Darter can be found on the unofficial navy website at: http://navysite.de. This list is compiled by former crewmembers that voluntarily register. Some quoted comments from former crewmembers are listed below; many more are available on the web site.
Charles Phillips (served August 1963-May 1964): “My first of 5 ships, shortest but most memorable tour of all.”
Robert Christensen (served September 1963-January 1965): “One of the great experiances of my life . . . everyone loves the Darter!”
Tom Jernigan (served March 1967-October 1967): “Came to Darter as a RMSN after walking off of the Roosevelt as an RM3 who being promoted to 2nd class – when I told the XO (J. Slough) that I’d rather be a seaman on the Darter than a 2nd class on the Roosevelt, I meant it. Best crew ever.”