|Ordered:||28 July 1964|
|Builder:||General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut|
|Laid down:||17 January 1966|
|Launched:||9 September 1967|
|Commissioned:||12 July 1969|
|Decommissioned:||1 July 1999|
|Struck:||1 July 1999|
|Displacement:||4,948 long tons
(5,027 t) light
5,293 long tons (5,378 t) full
345 long tons (351 t) dead
|Length:||314 ft (95.7 m)|
|Beam:||33 ft (10 m)|
|Draft:||31 ft (9.4 m)|
|Complement:||12 officers, 95 men|
|Armament:||4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes capable of launching:
• Mark 45 torpedoes
• Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes
• Tomahawk missiles
• Harpoon missiles
Her keel was laid down on 17 January 1966 by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 9 September 1967 sponsored by Glynn R. Donaho, and commissioned on 12 July 1969 with Commander W. A. Matson in command.
Very little of the Narwhal’s design was based on the Sturgeon-class of attack submarine. Her power plant, engine room, and forward compartment layout was unlike any other U.S. submarine. Forward of her reactor compartment the crew enjoyed more available space and berthing than her Thresher/Permit, Sturgeon, or Los Angeles-class sisters. Her engine room was spacious and well laid out.
Elements of her propulsion were incorporated in later ship classes, especially the Ohio-class, but no other submarine has used all of Narwhal’s innovations. These innovations included a natural circulation reactor plant, scoop seawater injection (which was not repeated), the ability to cross connect main and auxiliary seawater systems, main air ejectors instead of noisy R-114 units for cooling, and a directly-coupled main engine turbine. Her small reactor coolant pumps had two speeds: On and Off. The result was the quietest submarine of her era, and for many years to follow. Her silence was equaled only by the Ohio class and finally surpassed by the Seawolf-class.
Little information about Narwhal’s career is available, but it was not uneventful and included a very heavy deployment rate interrupted only by three overhauls (two involving reactor refueling). She was really in her element in Arctic waters, easily shadowing Soviet and Russian vessels (it is said that she spent more time on the Soviet coast than did most ships of the Soviet Navy). Those deployments earned Narwhal a Navy Unit Commendation for a 1972 deployment, and Meritorious Unit Commendations for operations in 1971, 1977, 1979, and 1998. She also earned five Battle Efficiency "Es," four Engineering "Es," and awards of the Anti-Submarine Warfare "A," the Communications "C" and the Supply "E." With the capabilities possessed by Narwhal, it is considered likely that she was used for eavesdropping on Soviet communications and fleet operations, very close to Soviet shores. She may have also been used for special operations duty.
Narwhal sustained minor damage on 22 September 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina. She was moored with nine double wires and two three-inch ship's lines in preparation for the storm. All but one of the lines parted during the first half of the storm, and she drifted into the Cooper River. Tugboats and Narwhal’s crew tried unsuccessfully to move the submarine back to the pier before the second half of the storm. As the storm resumed, Narwhal submerged in the river and rode out the remainder of the hurricane with only part of her sail exposed.
Narwhal was deactivated, while still in commission, on 16 January 1999 in Norfolk, Virginia. She was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 July 1999, and entered the Navy's Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program (NPSSRP) in Bremerton, Washington on 1 October 2001. For a time, it appeared that unlike most hulks processed through the NPSSRP, Narwhal would not be scrapped. Legislation signed on 30 September 2003 authorized the Secretary of the Navy to transfer Narwhal to the National Submarine Science Discovery Center (NSSDC) in Newport, Kentucky. The nuclear reactor and propulsion equipment would be removed and replaced with a plug of the proper dimensions and shape, containing a theater and classroom. However, on 26 April 2006, Peter Kay, board chair of the Discovery Center, announced the cancellation of the exhibit; fundraising fell about $1.5 million short of the $2 million needed.