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U.S. Navy Museum Cold War Gallery Lesson Plan
Scaling the Submarines!
Developed by Rhonda Crawford, Oak Grove High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
2011 Naval Historical Foundation STEM teacher fellowship
  Instructional Goal

It takes a lot of planning and many drawings to design a submarine. In this activity, students will learn about all of the different submarines constructed during the Cold War by researching them, designing one in 3-D, then building a model of the submarine. Students will research information about submarines in the Cold War and collaborate on a multimedia presentation. Students will then create a 3-D model of an assigned submarine in a computer program such as Solidworks or Google SketchUp or on graph paper. Students then will build a scaled model of the submarine.


There were 5 different classes of U.S. ballistic missile submarines of the Cold War: George Washington, Ethan Allen, Lafayette, Ben Franklin, and Trident, in addition to the many classes of diesel submarines and fast attack nuclear submarines. The following video discusses some types of submarines from the cold war era, but not all of them, and the ballistic missiles they carried.

play videoFleet Ballistic Missile Display:  This is a video of the "Fleet Ballistic Missile" display in the Covert Submarine Operations exhibit in the Cold War Gallery.

Three General Types of Submarines During the Cold War

SS (diesel powered submersible ship):  These were the only submarines at the start of the Cold War.
  • The diesel submarines were used at the beginning of the Cold War for all submarine missions.
  • These were powered by diesel, which limited the amount of submerged time at sea.

SSN (nuclear powered submersible ship):  These are attack submarines.
  • These nuclear-powered submersible ships are attack submarines.
  • SSN's seek out and attack enemy ships and submarines and surface ships using torpedoes or cruise missiles.
  • SSN's are smaller and faster than the SSBN missile submarines.

SSBN (ballistic nuclear submersible ship):  These carry long-range ballistic missiles.
  • These fleet ballistic missile submarines have long-range nuclear warhead missiles.
  • The underway SSBNs' ability to survive a nuclear attack against the U.S. made them our most credible deterrent to nuclear war throughout the Cold War.

Teacher Help
Download Teacher Help Guide in PDF format by clicking icon
Download Lesson Plan Resource Kit by clicking icon
Video Resources

play videoAnatomy of a Sub:  Take a quick animated tour inside a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine.

play videoUndersea Warfare: U.S. Navy Submarines:  An informational video on U.S. Navy submarines.

Click icon to download Activity in PDF format
Multimedia Presentation of Submarines During the Cold War


Each student will be assigned a submarine of the Cold War and prepare a slide about the submarine. You will use the handout “Types of Submarines Chart” and the internet as your resources. The teacher will assign you a submarine. Include the following information on your slide.
  1. The title will be the name of the submarine. (Center at the top of the page)

  2. Include a picture of the submarine on the right side of the slide.

  3. Include the following information in this format on the left side (Copy and paste these on the left side of the slide, then research the answers to complete):
      1) Class of submarine
      2) Year first commissioned
      3) Crew size
      4) Weapons carried
      5) Maximum depth


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