Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

First Nuclear CO Passes

VADM Eugene Wilkinson, the first CO of USS Nautilus (SSN 751 571), passed away late last week. From the message:
1. It is with sincere sadness that I report the passing of Vice Admiral Eugene P. "Dennis" Wilkinson, USN(Ret) on 11 July 2013. VADM Wilkinson graduated from San Diego State University in 1938 and was commissioned in 1940. His 34 years of honorable service was highlighted by his pioneering of nuclear power and culminated in his appointment as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare. Vice Admiral Wilkinson served in two surface ships and ten submarines, including eight war patrols in USS DARTER (SS 227) and command of three diesel submarines, most notably, he served as the first commanding officer of both the first nuclear powered submarine, USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571), and the first nuclear powered cruiser USS LONG BEACH (CGN 9).
2. VADM Wilkinson was instrumental in the early development of Navy nuclear propulsion. In the late 1940s, he served in a variety of nuclear billets at the Oak Ridge and Argonne National Laboratories and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. At 1100 on 17 January 1955, then-Captain Wilkinson signaled "Underway on Nuclear Power" from NAUTILUS, marking the United States Navy's entry into the nuclear power age. His leadership of NAUTILUS and LONG BEACH were critical to charting the course for today's Navy and fundamentally changed the way we fight from the sea.
3. Following his retirement in 1974, Vice Admiral Wilkinson continued to advance nuclear power by serving as the first president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.
Sailor, Rest Your Oar.

Update 1230 16 July: If anyone who served under Admiral Wilkinson at any time would like to share some memories of him as a leader, a reporter for the Navy Times is looking to do some quick phone interviews. Drop me an E-mail at joel(dot)bubblehead(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll put you in touch with her.

Update 1555 16 July: Updated to correct the Nautilus' hull number based on a comment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an impressive life. Interesting that he commanded Long Beach. Does anyone think that Submarine 0-6s should command carriers? Who used to command the other CGNs? Would save a lot of pilots the pain of power school 20 years into their career.

7/16/2013 10:03 AM

Blogger Alicia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/16/2013 11:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several NROTC mids on a sail training cruise out of Long Beach in 1984 had the distinct pleasure of meeting VADM Wilkinson. The Admiral and a buddy (a retired MMCM) helped repair the sailboat's emergency diesel engine.

7/16/2013 12:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Submariners should not command carriers. Period. Neither should surface line officers.

Carrier COs must be aviators to thoroughly understand the aviation picture. Note that wouldn't necessarily require a pilot, but it would require an aviator. It may be that every or almost every carrier CO has been a pilot as opposed to an NFO. It also may be that every or almost every carrier CO has been a fixed wing pilot as opposed to a helo pilot. You aviators want to chip in with some stats?

CGNs, on the other hand, have had submarine COs when a "true" nuclear-trained surface officer was not available. VADM Harry Schrader as CO of USS Long Beach comes to mind. Actually a submariner, he did have command of a tender in the Med before taking over USS Long Beach. After USS Long Beach, he rose to become COMNAVSURFPAC.

Supposedly, when he took over USS Long Beach, there were no surface nukes senior enough to be the CO. For those year groups, the number of surface nukes was exceptionally small. I think YG-56 or 57 of surface nukes might have been just one person, who was the Engineer or Reactor Officer of USS Long Beach when Schrader was the CO.

7/16/2013 12:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW, 39 years of collecting VADM retired pay!

What a great career!!!

7/16/2013 12:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Submariners should not command carriers. Period." anon 12:26PM

They do not, and I am glad the ridiculous thought that CVN CO's need nuc training would need graduate from power school has already been removed, too.

Amazing how little some people and their spouses learn about our navy.

7/16/2013 12:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

VADM Eugene Wilkinson, the first CO of USS Nautilus (SSN 751), passed away late last week

Should be "571"

7/16/2013 2:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also note that he was an O5 Commander “Not then-Captain” when he was CO on that historic voyage.

7/16/2013 3:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^^ The Senior line officer assigned by billet to a commissioned U.S. Navy ship (i.e. USS xxxxx), is addressed by the title "Captain", even if he (she) is a LCDR on small surface ships (PC, Mine Sweeper), a CDR on most ships, or a CAPT (O6) on large ships (CVNs, Large Amphibs, Tenders, etc) and SSGNs.

7/16/2013 3:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon 7/16/2013 12:58 PM:

When was the requirement for CVN Prospective Commanding Officers to attend Officer Nuclear Power School and spend 3 quality months at Naval Reactors in the PCO course removed?

Must have been in the last couple of years, since there were 2 in my PCO class at NR in 2008.

7/16/2013 3:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^^^ Anon ^^^^

As you were.

On 6 May 2010, Capt Owen Honors was appointed the 21st commander of the USS Enterprise. When did he attend, much less graduate from "Officer Nuclear Power School", much less spend 3 quality months at Naval Reactors"? I ask you.


7/16/2013 7:19 PM

Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

I was OP/NAV on TREPANG when we took VADM Wilkinson to sea for a week when he was CSL. As our WEPS said during one of our approach critiques - "There is only one person on board who has fired a torpedo in anger, I await his opinion of the exercise." The critique was delivered with great panache. Our Goat Locker came home much poorer as he managed to take all of their money playing cribbage. Regarding Nuclear Cruisers, ADM Watkins, a former CO of SHARK and later CNO, also commanded a cruiser.

7/16/2013 8:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were two O-5 aviators in my power school section en route to their assignments as CVN XOs. No idea if it's a requirement, but it happens.

It's also an obsolete idea that only an aviator can be the CO of a carrier. As if a blackshoe couldn't learn how to employ a ship just like he learns to do everything else in the Navy.

7/16/2013 8:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anon 7/16 @ of this past January carrier PXOs still attend power school, prototype, and NR. I spent my last few months at prototype training two of them.

7/17/2013 3:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, there is an air boss billet that you can think of being equivalent to the RO on a carrier. So an O6 submariner on track to make flag could probably learn what he needs to know to be the CO of a deep draft vessel, if they created a school for it.

Thing is, it ain't broke so don't fix it.

7/17/2013 10:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 7/16/2013 3:54 PM

Thanks for the lecture but we all know that. Now go back and read it again and you might see the difference. The writer was clearly referring to his rank not his position.

7/17/2013 12:39 PM

Anonymous Sparky WT said...

CO has to be an aviator --
10 USC Sec. 5942
Subtitle C - Navy and Marine Corps
Sec. 5942. Aviation commands: eligibility
(a) To be eligible to command an aircraft carrier or an aircraft tender, an officer must be an officer in the line of the Navy who
is designated as a naval aviator or naval flight officer and who is
otherwise qualified.
As the CO is responsible for the ship AND the reactor, the CO has to be an aviator; qualified for command, and nuclear trained.
OBTW, CO/XO has to be an Air Scout but there isn't a similar requirement for the battle group commander. Aviator and Surface warfare O-7/8 flags command battle groups. I'm certain a submarine admiral would do well if e had the right background.

7/17/2013 12:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Submarine Flag Officers have served as Strike Group Commanders. Admiral Vanbuskirk commanded the Lincoln Strike Group.

7/17/2013 1:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 7/17/2013 12:39 PM said...

"Thanks for the lecture but we all know that. Now go back and read it again and you might see the difference. The writer was clearly referring to his rank not his position."

The article stated...
"At 1100 on 17 January 1955, then-Captain Wilkinson signaled "Underway on Nuclear Power" from NAUTILUS, marking the United States Navy's entry into the nuclear power age."

Captain Wilkinson was the Captain of the ship, and it refers to his POSITION, not rank.....If you are allowed to even step foot on one of our awesome Submarines, and you address the Commanding Officer as Cdr, vice "Captain", you'll be quickly (and politely these days) reminded.

If you don't understand that, re-read the "Lecture" and don't repost!

7/17/2013 7:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The obvious question is "Why would a Submariner want to Command a huge TARGET???"

Opt for an SSGN, 100+ Tomahawks,
60+ snake eaters, and infinite stealth...

7/17/2013 7:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't posted on this yet, but anon @7:45, you fail to appreciate the context. The "then Captain" phrasing is clearly used deliberately because every other reference to the gentleman in the article includes his retired VADM rank. Admittedly, reading for context is a learned skill, but you're a submariner - try applying yourself...

7/17/2013 9:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... 1st CO of NAUTILUS; Rickover's BABY. Talk about push-up position, shipmate!! That's flying real close to the sun right there! I can't imagine the microscope he lived under during that tour.... quite literally the future success of submarine nuclear power resting on that tour. Makes ORSE look simple, doesn't it!

7/17/2013 9:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since no one else feels it is appropriate I will

Fair winds and following seas

7/17/2013 10:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I can't imagine the microscope he lived under during that tour.... quite literally the future success of submarine nuclear power resting on that tour." - anon

A similar event is going to happen again, much sooner than many expect after the first woman becomes a sub XO. The pool in my unit gives lowest odds for 4Q2015.

7/18/2013 12:19 PM

Anonymous SSN CO said...

Anon 7/17 901PM

If you even begin to think that the navy times knows proper English Grammar, much less has a decent editorial dept....Pass me what you're smok'in

But I in the big picture of the article, the first Captain of the first Nuclear submarine - probably "tortured" daily by ADM Rickover - did the unprecedented and did the first polar crossing.

ADMIRAL Wilkinson SIR, Rest Your Oar....

7/18/2013 7:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you all should go to and read it. Then-Commander Wilkinson was not an O-6 when he went "underway on nuclear power". Also, according to the paste below from the website, he was not the CO when the Nautilus crossed the pole.

On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 11 am EST, NAUTILUS' first Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the memorable and historic message, "Underway On Nuclear Power." Over the next several years, NAUTILUS shattered all submerged speed and distance records.

On July 23, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii under top secret orders to conduct "Operation Sunshine", the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. At 11:15 pm on August 3, 1958, NAUTILUS' second Commanding Officer, Commander William R. Anderson, announced to his crew, "For the world, our country, and the Navy - the North Pole." With 116 men aboard, NAUTILUS had accomplished the "impossible", reaching the geographic North Pole - 90 degrees North.

7/19/2013 12:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Capt. Baucom, former CO of the Vinson was a F-14 backseater. But an aviator nonetheless.

7/20/2013 3:51 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On point about "Underway on nuclear power"--at that instant the reactor may have been scrammed. See

7/20/2013 6:40 AM

Anonymous Tony said...

This is cool!

8/13/2013 10:27 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

"Whatever his rank may be, the commanding officer is always called 'the Captain'" - U.S.Naval Institute, "The Bluejackets' Manual",
eds 1902 - _?_.

The French navy uses the the full title "capitaine de vaisseau" = ship's captain.


8/25/2013 1:34 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home