Warship Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018: One of the luckier sugars

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018: One of the luckier sugars

Photo by famed Boston Herald cameraman Leslie Jones via The Boston Public Library, colorized by my friend and the most excellent Postales Navales https://www.facebook.com/Postales-Navales-100381150365520/

Here we see the somber crew of the early “Government-type” S-class diesel-electric submarine USS S-8 (SS-113) — back when the Navy just gave ’em numbers– as she pulls into Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard some 90-years ago today: 3 January 1928, in the twilight of her career. They are no doubt still reeling from the loss of her close sister, S-4 (SS-109) just two weeks prior, to which the boat stood by to help rescue surviviors without success.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups. These small 1,000~ ton diesel-electrics took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-8, was 231-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 15-knots on the surface on her twin MAN 8-cylinder 4-stroke direct-drive diesel engines and two Westinghouse electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen fish and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Her Government-type sister, USS S-4 (SS-109) Interior view, looking aft in the Crew’s Quarters (Battery Room), 25 December 1919. Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. Note folding chairs and tables, coffee pot, Christmas decorations door to the Control Room. NH 41847

USS S-4 Description: (Submarine # 109) Interior view, looking forward in the Crew’s Quarters (Battery Room), 25 December 1919. Taken by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. Note folding chairs, table, benches, and berths; also Christmas decorations. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41848

S-8 was technically a war baby.  A BuC&R design Government-type boat, she was laid down 9 November 1918 at Portsmouth Navy Yard, just 48-hours before the Armistice. Commissioned 1 October 1920, she was attached along with several of her sister ships (including the ill-fated Portsmouth-built USS S-4 whose interior is above) to SubDiv 12 and, together with SubDiv18, sailed slowly and in formation from Maine via the Panama Canal to Cavite Naval Station with stops in California and Hawaii.

USS S-8 (SS-113) Underway during the 1920s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41749

In all, the journey from Portsmouth to the Philippines took a full year, but according to DANFS, “set a record for American submarines, at that time, as the longest cruise ever undertaken. Other submarines, which had operated on the Asiatic station prior to this, were transported overseas on the decks of colliers.”

S-8 and her sisters formed SubFlot 3, operating in the P.I. and the coast of China while forward deployed for three years, the salad days of her career.

USS S-8 (SS-113) At the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Islands, circa 1921-1924. Note the awning and the type’s “chisel” bow. Collection of Chief Engineman Virgil Breland, USN. Donated by Mrs. E.H. Breland, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 103259

Submarine tender USS Camden (AS-6) Photographed circa the middle or later 1920s, with ten S type submarines alongside. The submarines are (on Camden’s starboard side, from left to right): USS S-18 (SS-123); unidentified Electric Boat type S-boat; USS S-19 (SS-124); USS S-12 (SS-117); and an unidentified Government type S-boat. (on Camden’s port side, from left to right): unidentified Government type S-boat; USS S-7 (SS-112); USS S-8 (SS-113); USS S-9 (SS-114); and USS S-3 (SS-107). Note the awnings. Collection of Vice Admiral Dixwell Ketcham, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 100459

By Christmas 1924, S-8 was at Mare Island, California and was a West Coast boat for a minute before chopping to the Panama Canal for a while.

Submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) in the Canal Zone, with several S type submarines alongside, circa 1926. Note the Submarine Division Eleven insignia on the fairwaters of the two inboard subs. Submarines present are (from inboard to outboard): unidentified; USS S-25 (SS-130); USS S-7 (SS-112); USS S-4 (SS-109); USS S-6 (SS-111); and USS S-8 (SS-113). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 53436

May 1927 found S-8 and several her SubFlot 3 alumni sisters stationed on the East Coast at the big submarine base in New London.

It was during this time that tragedy occurred off New England.

On 17 December 1927, sister USS S-4, while surfacing from a submerged run over the measured-mile off Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass., was accidentally rammed and sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard-manned destroyer USS Paulding (DD-22/CG-17), killing all on board. An inquiry later absolved the Coast Guard of blame.

As noted by Naval History.org, “The two ships had no idea the other would be there.”

Per DANFS on the incident:

The only thing to surface, as Paulding stopped and lowered lifeboats, was a small amount of oil and air bubbles. Rescue and salvage operations were commenced, only to be thwarted by severe weather setting in. Gallant efforts were made to rescue six known survivors trapped in the forward torpedo room, who had exchanged a series of signals with divers, by tapping on the hull. However, despite the efforts, the men were lost. S-4 was finally raised on 17 March 1928 and towed to the Boston Navy Yard for drydocking. She was decommissioned on the 19th.

Diver descending on the wreck of the USS S-4 from USS Falcon (AM-28)

Half submerged S-4 sub after accident. Charlestown Navy Yard – Pier 4 Leslie Jones Boston Public Library 3 12 1928

USS S-4 Description: (SS-109) Interior of the Battery Room, looking aft and to port, 23 March 1928. Taken while she was in dry dock at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, after being salvaged off Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she had been sunk in collision with USCGC Paulding on 17 December 1927. The irregular object running the length of the compartment, just above the lockers on the right (port) side, is the collapsed ventilator duct through which water entered the Control Room. Into this duct water forced the curtain and flag, which clogged the valve on the after side of the bulkhead, preventing it from closing. It was this water which forced the abandonment of the Control Room. S-4 flooded through a hole, made by Paulding’s bow, in the forward starboard side of the Battery Room. See Photo # NH 41847 and Photo # NH 41848 for photographs of the Battery Room, taken when S-4 was first completed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41833

SS-8 went to the aid of her sister, but it was to no avail.

Sub S-8 at the Navy Yard after standing by S-4 off Provincetown when she was rammed and sent to the bottom by USS Paulding. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

U.S. sub S-8, Charlestown Navy Yard Jan 15, 1928. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

U.S. sub S-8, Charlestown Navy Yard Jan 15, 1928. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

With just a decade of service under their belt, the age of the Sugar boats was rapidly coming to an end as the Depression loomed, and precious Navy Department dollars were spent elsewhere on more modern designs. Three others of the class were lost in peacetime accidents– S-5, S-48, and S-51— while a number were scrapped wholesale in the 1930s.

Departing New London on 22 October 1930, S-8 sailed to Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 11 April 1931.

Subs S-3/S-6/S-7/S-8/S-9 going out of commission at Philadelphia Navy Yard. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

She was struck from the Navy list on 25 January 1937 and scrapped.

Though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

Specs: (Government-type S-class boats which included USS S-4-9 & 14-17)


Displacement: 876 tons surfaced; 1,092 tons submerged
Length: 231 feet (70.4 m)
Beam: 21 feet 9 inches (6.6 m)
Draft: 13 feet 4 inches (4.1 m)
Propulsion: 2 × MAN diesels, 1,000 hp (746 kW) each; 2 × Westinghouse electric motors, 600 hp (447 kW) each; 120-cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h) surfaced; 11 knots (20 km/h) submerged
Bunkerage: 148 tons oil fuel
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h) surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft. (61 m)
Armament (as built): 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes)
1 × 4 inch (102 mm)/50 caliber Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun
Crew: 38 (later 42) officers and men

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

2 responses to “Warship Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018: One of the luckier sugars”

  1. rick says :

    Here is a YT video which was just posted today. It is a US Navy training film on salvaging a sunken submarine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G99zx9hTt4

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