Take an awe-inspiring tour of New London, the Navy's most important submarine base

Naval Submarine Base New LondonU.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Jeffrey PruneraThe Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Providence (SSN 719) transits the Thames River as it departs Naval Submarine Base New London.

Naval Submarine Base New London is one of the US Navy’s most important and fascinating facilities.

Located along the eastern bank of the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut, New London is home to 15 attack-class submarines, the largest single contingent of subs in the US Navy. The submarines serve throughout the world, including beneath the polar ice cap.

Almost every sailor serving aboard a submarine will pass through New London for some kind of training. The base is known as “home of the submarine force.”

And personnel at the base like to call New London the “submarine capital of the world.”

Steeped in history, in 1915 Submarine Base New London the first port to host US submarines, not long before the country’s entrance into World War I. Since then, the base has continuously expanded as the US has grown into the world’s largest naval power with the most advanced submarine fleet on earth.

In October of 2014, Business Insider was given an all-encompassing tour of the base and its operations.

Naval Submarine Base New London started as a Naval Yard and Storage Depot in 1868 but didn't host submarines until 1915, two years before the US entered World War I.

New London has continuously grown. In the 1960s, the base had expanded beyond the waterfront and into the surrounding hills.

Today the base is the home port of 15 attack subs. Its 10 piers allow it to berth 18 of the vessels. And the base has plans to expand even more over the next two decades.

Located along the Thames river, the base also houses a significant construction yard used for submarine maintenance and repair.

One side of the base is closed off with an underwater buoy fence, which Port Operations must tug open or closed each time a vessel needs to enter or leave.

Port Operations, the base's version of air-traffic control, has a 24-hour job. It coordinates passage for all vessels entering and leaving the base and maintains its own maintenance workshop.

Port Operations also ensures that no hazardous materials from the base pollute the river. Here, a buoy boat and a skimmer stand ready to respond to any potential oil spill -- although they're incredibly rare.

New London isn't just a base for the navy's subs. It's also where future submarine personnel are trained. Every week on Thursday afternoons, the junior enlisted in submarine school march to the center of base to take part in General Military Training.

Aside from basic submarine schooling, future submariners take part in High Risk Trainers ...

... which involve instruction on dealing with life-or-death situations on a submarine, like putting out a fire, fixing leaks, and evacuating a sunken vessel.

To simulate evacuating a submarine, the Navy built a 40-foot-tall column of water at New London which functions as an escape training facility.

At first, future submariners are loaded into a pressurised section 15 feet below the water in the escape trainer.

Then during the second round of training, the students are loaded into a pressurised chamber 37 feet below water that duplicates the conditions a submariner would face when trying to escape an actual vessel. Once the chamber is pressurised, the submariner is shot through the water to the surface at 600 feet per minute, just as in an actual submarine escape.

Trainees also learn how to cook aboard a sub. Within the base's main dining hall is a functional kitchen identical to a galley aboard a submarine. This kitchen is used for cooking classes, and by submarine chefs during their time ashore so that they can continue to practice working under incredibly cramped conditions.

There are 6,500 sailors and 2,000 civilian employees and contractors on base. At some point, almost every submariner in the Navy will be stationed at New London.

About 40% of the enlisted personnel live in on-base barracks, which consist of two single rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom.

The barracks are reminiscent of college dorms and have pool tables and a lounge area on the ground floor.

The college vibe carries over to the Liberty Center, which is similar to a student center on a college campus. It hosts trips for sailors to Boston and New York and has a mini cinema, pool tables, a library, and video game consoles.

Personnel who live on base have a number of dining options, but most eat at the Cross Hall Galley.

When we visited, the galley hosted a celebration for the Navy's 239th birthday. The sea service's anniversary is on October 13 each year.

In an initiative to encourage healthy living among sailors, each item in the dining line lists the calories of the food and the recommended serving size.

Physical fitness is a crucial component of being a sailor. All enlisted personnel have twice-annual fitness tests. To prepare, everyone in submarine school has PT starting at 7 AM.

There's a large, state-of-the-art gymnasium on base as well.

The base is in touch with its long history: The streets at New London are named after submarines that have been lost at sea or destroyed in battle ...

... and a Book of Remembrance is prominently displayed in the entrance to the base's non-denominational chapel as a memorial to the nearly 500 submariners lost during World War II.

Each pew in the chapel is named after a lost submarine.

Six-inch deck guns from a World War II-era submarine sit outside the gymnasium, another reminder of the base's place in US military history.

Just outside of the base's gates is the Submarine Force Museum and Library, which is free and open to the public. The rings in front of the museum's entrance contrast the diameters of the smallest and largest submarines in US Naval history.

The museum's biggest draw is the historic USS Nautilus. The Nautilus was the world's first nuclear-powered vessel, as well as the first craft to reach the true North Pole.

Whether ensuring that the port and submarines are operational or training future submariners, New London is critical for the functioning of one of the major components of the US Navy's fleet.

Now tour an important base overseas ...

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