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Franklin’s Guardians

A watercolor of the HMS Terror exploring the Canadian Arctic, which she would never leave (Canadian Museum of Civilization)

Ownership of the two ships, Adm. Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most archaeologically important wrecks in the world, was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony last month with the Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, recognised as joint owners of the wrecks and artifacts.

After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was in 2016, a group of 17 Inuit was enlisted by Parks Canada last year to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus, which was discovered in much the same way in 2014.

The two ships, under the command of Sir John, set sail from England in 1845 through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.

Painting depicting the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. ”They forged the last links with their lives’ by William Smith Via Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich

“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations,” said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Artifacts from the wrecks will be available for display at museums in both countries. Currently, there are examples on display at the Canadian Museum of History as part of the “Death in the Ice” exhibit.

The Expedition’s timeline, from the Canadian Museum:

May 19, 1845: The Franklin Expedition departed from Greenhithe, near London, England.

July 4, 1845: The ships arrived at the Whale Fish Islands, Greenland, after a stormy Atlantic crossing.

July 12, 1845: Officers and crewmembers mailed their last letters home.

July 29 or 31, 1845: HMS Erebus and Terror were sighted in Baffin Bay by whaling ships. This was the last time the ships and their crews were seen by Europeans.

Winter 1845 to 1846: The expedition spent its first winter in the Arctic off Beechey Island. Three members of the crew died and were buried on Beechey Island.

Summer 1846: The expedition headed south into Peel Sound.

September 1846 to Spring 1848: The ships were beset — surrounded and stuck in ice — northwest of King William Island.

June 11, 1847: Sir John Franklin died. He was 61 years old and had served in the Royal Navy for 47 years.

April 22, 1848: The expedition had been stuck off King William Island for over a year and a half. Fearing they would never escape, the men deserted the ships.

April 25, 1848: The men landed on King William Island. Nine officers and 15 seamen had already died. There were 105 survivors. Officers left a note stating their plan to trek to the Back River.

January 20, 1854: Franklin’s Expedition is missing for more than eight years. The Admiralty announced that its officers and men will be declared dead as of March 31, 1854.

1847–1880: More than 30 expeditions sailed, steamed or sledged into the Arctic from the east, west, and south. Very few found any trace of the expedition.

2008: A renewed search for Franklin’s ships began under the leadership of Parks Canada.

September 1, 2014: An important clue is found on an island in Wilmot and Crampton Bay: an iron davit pintle (fitting). Parks Canada refocuses its efforts near that island.

September 2, 2014: 167 years after the British Admiralty’s search began, the first wreck, HMS Erebus, is found.

2016: Almost two years to the day after the discovery of Erebus, Terror is located in Terror Bay, off the southern coast of King William Island.

Coming home from the desert

Delivery of the remains of Sottocapo Silurista (Chief Torpedoman) Carlo Acefalo, late of the Royal Italian Navy submarine Macalle, to Italian Ambassador Fabrizio Lobasso for their repatriation to Italy after 78 years in the Sudanese desert.

The event occurred at Port Sudan, 18 April 2018.

Acefalo, 24, died of food poisoning after the 600-Serie Adua-class submarine was scuttled in WWII and the crew forced to escape and evade the British along the coast of the Red Sea. Italy has sought the return of the remains for years and the lost submariner is the subject of a documentary in that country.

Macalle was one of four Italian submarines lost in action in the Red Sea during WWII.

Poor Mildred, 106 years ago today

Here we see the British three-master barquentine-rig schooner Mildred (207 tons, 116 ft wl) constructed in 1889 by Charles Rawle, shipbuilder at Padstow. As you can see, she is hard aground and swamped at Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall.

“The Mildred, Newport for London with basic slag, struck under Gurnards Head at midnight on the 6th April 1912, whilst in dense fog. She swung broadside and was pounding heavily when Captain Larcombe, the mate, two Irishmen, one Welshman and a Mexican from Vera Cruz rowed into St. Ives at 6am. They later returned in a pilot gig but the Mildred was already going to pieces.”

She was one of a number of shipwrecks photographed by the Gibsons of Scilly.

Keeping up the search for the lost, but never forgotten

A recovery team aboard U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command’s USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) completed an excavation, on Feb. 25, of multiple aircraft losses shot down in 1944 near Ngerekebesang Island, Republic of Palau.

Although remains potentially associated with the losses were recovered by the team, the identity of those remains will not be released until a complete and thorough analysis can confirm positive identification and the service casualty office conducts next of kin notification.

The project was headed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which deployed an Underwater Recovery Team (URT) comprised of U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force service members and Department of Defense civilians that were embarked aboard the USNS Salvor.

“It’s very labor intensive work and they’ve had a large amount of bottom time making this operation successful,” said Lt. Cmdr. Tim Emge, 7th Fleet Salvage Officer. “The Mobile Diving and Salvage Company 1-6 divers for this job have been pulling more than 12-hour-days for the past two months. The URT spent weeks excavating the area using a variety of archeological tools and meticulously inspecting the bottom sediment in their search and recovery of the missing personnel from World War II.”

More here.

76 years ago today: The end of the wagon

Now that’s a flattop! An image taken from a departing biplane, Aug 03, 1923 of the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the converted collier USS Langley. NARA Photo 520639

On this day in February 1942, the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier USS Langley, then operating as a seaplane carrier (AV-3). was attacked by 16 Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine bombers of the Japanese 21st and 23rd Naval Air Flotillas south of Tjilatjap, Java, and was so badly damaged by at least five bombs that she had to be scuttled by her escorts.

The “covered wagon” which operated as the country’s only flattop from 21 April 1920 until USS Lexington was commissioned on 14 December 1927, was the cradle of U.S. Naval aviation. Without her, there would have been no almost 100-years of U.S. carrier dominance.

Via NNAM.1982.071.001 by aivation artist Robert Grant Smith, 1980.

Via NNAM.1982.071.001 by aviation artist Robert Grant Smith, 1980.

The painting is the artist’s rendering of the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS LANGLEY (CV-1), conducting flight operations as a ghost ship in the company with one of the Navy’s most modern aircraft carriers, the USS NIMITZ (CVN-68). The painting celebrates the commissioning of the Nimitz 50 years after the first squadron operation off the Langley in 1925. The Nimitz is accompanied by a squadron of A-4M Skyhawks while the Langley is accompanied by a squadron of F6C -2 Curtiss Hawks

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018: The Saint and the Terror

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, Feb. 21, 2018: The Saint and the Terror

Catalog #: NH 59924

Here we see the U.S. Mail Steamer Saint Paul of the American Line in her guise as the auxiliary cruiser USS Saint Paul, photographed at the end of the Spanish-American War. The 11,612-ton ocean liner was the fastest thing on the Atlantic merchant trade when put in service, was the first to carry a wireless (and she needed it!) and served in two real-live shooting wars, with mixed results.

Saint Paul, a twin-screw steel passenger liner of the newest sort, along with her sister Saint Louis were ordered by the Philadelphia-based International Navigation Company (led by robber baron Clement Acton Griscom) for use by that firm and their subsidiary American Line and Red Star Line flags. As such, they were something of a keynote in U.S. merchant history. They had 17 watertight compartments (two decades before Titanic), could carry up to 1,540 passengers in a variety of styles (350 1st class, 290 2nd, 900 3rd), and were ultra-modern.

As explained by Kenneth J. Blume, they were the first large liners built in the U.S since 1857 (other large passenger liners were all European in origin) and were ordered to take advantage of subsidies set aside in the Merchant Marine Act of 1891. Further, he says “they were the last such large passenger liners built in the United States until the 1930s.”

Built at William Cramp & Sons Building & Engine Company, Philadelphia (yard # 277 and 278), these ships used quadruple expansion engines fed by double-ended boilers capable of speeding them forward at 20-knots (making International Navigation the first to offer such service across the Atlantic). Further, they had a more “modern” appearance than preceding liners, with two stacks and plumb bows. Built to last, they were completed by the same yard that was at the time working on the cruisers USS Minneapolis (C 13) and Brooklyn (ACR 3) as well as the battleship Iowa (BB 6)

Quadruple expansion engines of SS St. Louis (1894) in the workshop of William Cramp & Sons where they were built. Published in Howell’s Steam Vessels and Marine Engines. p. 11, 1896.

Steamliner SS Saint Paul of the International Navigation Co. 1895. Photo by Johnston, J. S. (John S.) postcard by Detroit Publishing Co.in the collection of the LOC. https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994011748/PP/

Famously, our new ocean liner ran aground off the New Jersey coast in January 1896 and required an extensive $400,000 effort to free her. Meanwhile, the rescue of her passengers and crew was national news for several months.

“THE STRANDING OF THE AMERICAN LINER ST. PAUL ON THE NEW JERSEY COAST, NEAR LONG BRANCH”, published in “Harper’s Weekly” February 1896.

However, she was back in business and in April 1896 she crossed the Atlantic from New York to Southampton in just six days. Over the next two years, she would repeat her crossing 36 times along the same route, which is impressive by any standard.

Her peacetime passenger service came to a halt due to events in Cuba.

At 21:40 on 15 February 1898, the armored cruiser USS Maine suffered a terrible explosion in Havana Harbor while exercising tense gunboat diplomacy with Spain over Cuba, leading to the death of 266 Navy and Marine personnel.

Though the cause of the explosion would not be known anytime soon, the press whipped the event up to the point of conflict.

When war came, the Navy took up dozens of craft from trade including four large passenger liners for conversion to auxiliary cruisers from the American Line/International Navigation Co: the SS New York (which became USS Harvard), SS City of Paris (who became the matching USS Yale) as well as Saint Louis and Saint Paul, the latter pair of which served under their given names.

On 12 March 1898, Saint Paul was taken up for service by the Navy and, sailing to Newport for crew and conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, Capt. Charles Dwight Sigsbee (formerly commander of the stricken Maine) raised the national ensign and took down the American Line house colors. She commissioned on 20 April. The fast liner was given a coat of gray paint, armed with six 5″/40 Mark 4 guns, another six Hotchkiss 6-pounders, and six 3-pounders in a fit-out that lasted just 14 days. Could you imagine a similar thing today?

USS St. Paul (1898) View looking aft on her forecastle, following conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, 1898. Note 5-inch guns, capstans, winch and other deck gear as well as two Marines. The original photograph was taken by C.H. Graves and published on a stereograph card. Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN(MSC, 1979) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Photo #: NH 89086

Ready for service by the first part of May, the new USS Saint Paul would see the elephant, and soon.

But first, let’s talk about a little Spanish Terror.

In the lead up to the conflict, in 1896 the Spanish Navy ordered a half-dozen Furor-class torpedo destroyers from the shipyards of J & G Thompson of Clydebank in Scotland. These nimble 229-foot 380-ton ships could make 28-knots (when their machinery worked) and carried two 350mm torpedo tubes as well as four Nordenfelt popguns.

A Spanish Terror Class Destroyer in British Waters in about 1897. An unidentified example of the ship class, photographed in about 1897-1898 in British waters and very likely in builders’ hands. Six sisters were built in 1896-1897 by Thompson on the Clyde: AUDAZ (1897-1927), OSADO (1897-1927), PROSERPINA (1897-1931), TERROR (1896-1927), FUROR (1896-1898), PLUTON (1896-1898). NH 88619

NH 111967 Spanish Torpedo Boat Destroyer TERROR

On 28 April 1898, the Spanish Navy’s 1st Squadron, of four cruisers (Infanta Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, and Cristóbal Colón) and three sister-ship destroyers (Pluton, Terror, and Furor) set out from the Cape Verde Islands for the Caribbean, bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, then a Spanish colony. RADM Pascual Cervera y Topete’s mission was to rendezvous with other Spanish ships, engage the American squadron blockading Cuba, and ultimately to attack the United States.

Spain’s torpedo-boat flotilla en route from the Canaries to Puerto Rico. William Sontag. NYPL collection 1898. Terror shown in front

The loose Spanish ships sowed panic on the Eastern seaboard as every coastal town just knew they would wake up to Spanish bombardment at any time. However, Cervera’s fleet was in bad shape, with fouled bottoms, dangerously defective (or in some cases even uninstalled) guns, untrained crews, and poor engineering plants. Terror, carrying the flag of Capt. Fernando Villaamil Fernandez-Cueto (destroyer flotilla commander), and commanded by Lt. Francisco de la Bocha y Pérez, was nursing boiler problems.

Saint Paul sortied out from Philadelphia to look for Cervera on 5 May.

The Flying Squadron, under the command of Commodore Winfield S. Schley, joined the search for the Spanish fleet while the fleet four detailed ships, Saint Paul, her American Line companion auxiliary cruiser USS Yale, the similar USS Harvard, and USS Minneapolis, patrolled the waters off Santiago just in case Cervera made it to the Cuban hub.

In the meantime, the Spanish squadron popped up at the French colony of Martinique on 10 May 1898 and, with Terror‘s engines fully immobilized, the little destroyer that couldn’t was left behind while Cervera beat feet to Santiago, Cuba. Alone, the intrepid Lt. Bocha managed to cobble together Terror‘s condemned piping and nurse her solo to San Juan a week later.

Meanwhile, our hero liner-cruiser Saint Paul found the British steam collier Restormel, which was chartered to bring 2,400-tons of badly needed fresh Cardiff coal to Cervera and captured the same just outside of Santiago on 25 May after firing two blanks and one war shot from her 5-inch battery. She later arranged for the steamer to go to Key West as a prize. The British captain reportedly told his American captors he was glad the U.S. wound up with his valuable cargo since the Spaniards did not lift a finger to prevent his capture even though he was under the heavy guns of Castle Morro and a promised battleship escort into Santiago never materialized.

“I am glad you Yankees have the coal since those duffers inside didn’t have the nerve to come out and back me up with their guns when we were right within range,” he reportedly said as the prize crew of bluejackets and leathernecks from Saint Paul came aboard.

Saint Paul next appeared off Fort Caimanera near Guantánamo, where her 5-inch gunners helped plaster the Spanish shore batteries there from just 1,000 yards off the beach. By early June she was off San Juan along with USS Yosemite and the new cruiser USS New Orleans.

The trio effectively blockaded that Spanish Puerto Rican port, which held the aforementioned Terror as well as the ineffective 1,200-ton Velasco-class unprotected cruiser Isabel II (4×4.7-inch guns), and the two 500-ton 3rd class gunboats General Concha (3×4.7inch) and Ponce de Leon. On the morning of 22 June, while a German tramp steamer made for open ocean, the three Spanish warships made a move to test the harbor blockade and Saint Paul was there. A short and ineffective artillery duel resulted in the two larger Spaniards turning back while Terror made a David vs. Goliath torpedo run on our liner.

The auxiliary cruiser St. Paul repulsing the Spanish torpedo-boat destroyer Terror off San Juan de Puerto Rico, June 22, 1898, by Henry Reuterdahl, NYPL Collection

The run ended badly for the unsupported Terror, who never got closer than 5,400 yards to the big American before two 5-inch shells perforated her, one in the engine room. Listing, immobile and taking on water, the stricken torpedo destroyer had to be beached by towing as Saint Paul watched. For Terror, her war was over.

The damaged Spanish destroyer Terror at San Juan. She was allowed to return to Spain when the war ended.

Isabel II, General Concha, and Ponce de Leon again tried to force the American cordon on 28 June to make a hole for an incoming blockade runner, but after an ineffective artillery duel at long range from Saint Paul, the effort was called off. It was the last naval action at San Juan and the Spanish ships finished the war at anchor, eventually sailing home when peace was concluded.

For Saint Paul, she was recalled to New York in July and, reverting to her original design, brought first the 4th and later the 8th Ohio Volunteer regiments to the theater, carrying over 1,300 troops each trip.

This image shows the ST. PAUL embarking troops for Puerto Rico. Her superimposed gun sponson which she was outfitted with while operating as an auxiliary cruiser can be seen overhanging the side of the vessel. Via SpanAm War.com http://www.spanamwar.com/Stpaultroops.htm

It was some of the first major joint Army-Navy operations since the Civil War, and improvisation was key, with troops moving ashore via sugar lighters and cargo nets.

Troops transferring to sugar-lighters at sea. There was a heavy ground swell and the boat rose and fell alongside, making it a difficult task. NH 108558

Each sugar-lighter held one company of men. NH 108559

Her last trip from Puerto Rico, in August, was to bring soldiers home to New York. From there, she steamed to Cramp’s to be disarmed and refitted for merchant service, decommissioned and released by the War Department on 2 September. Her very active wartime life lasted less than five months.

Saint Paul was also notable as the first merchant ship fitted with a Marconi wireless, in 1899. On November 15 of that year Guglielmo Marconi issued The Transatlantic Times, the first newspaper ever published at sea, using information received by radio transmission from his wireless telegraph station on the Isle of Wight.

By November 1898, she was back on the Southampton run, which was her regular route, carrying passengers, mail, and coin. For example, on one 1902 run, she brought “670 passengers eastbound, 1.173 mailbags and $200.000 in gold” to England from New York. It was her bread and butter and in her career she completed more than 200 such crossings across two decades.

William M. Vander Weyde photo of ladies waving bon voyage as St. Paul leaves the pier, from the George Eastman Kodak Museum.

Photographed circa the 1890s or early 1900s. Description: Courtesy of the Saint Paul “Minnesota Dispatch,” 1963. Catalog #: NH 92841

SS St. Paul Bain News Service, 1915, via LOC

ST. PAUL sails, 8/7/14 (LOC)

Then it was back to peacetime liner operations for an uneventful (for us) 19 years other than a 1908 collision with the British Arrogant-class cruiser HMS Gladiator, killing 27 RN personnel and sending the smaller 5,700-ton manowar to the bottom off the Isle of Wright. A British high court held Gladiator responsible.

Then, war came once again.

Saint Paul was taken over by the War Department for use as the troop transport Knoxville on 27 October 1917, making 12 rushed crossings over the Atlantic carrying the boys “over there” to fight the Huns over the next five months. For such duty, the fast transport was given a Navy gun crew to man four newly-installed 6″ guns and painted in Thayer’s quarter-shading camo process. She was credited with carrying more than 30,000 GIs to France.

The Navy, in turn, arranged for the former auxiliary cruiser’s transfer in April 1918 to the sea service and, designated USS Saint Paul (SP 1643), was taken back into Navy service. While being further converted, on 28 April, she flooded and capsized in the North River in New York.

Lot-10821-4: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: First stage of pumping and rolling operation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (2017/08/04).

Lot-10821-2: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: As she lay on the bottom

Lot-10821-3: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: 6-inch gun on the starboard side of the foredeck.

Salvage operations continued into 1919 and she was eventually returned to the American Lines in floating condition. Returning to service in the low-rent steerage trade, she was still too uneconomical to run at a profit and by 1923 was retired. She was towed across the Atlantic by Jacob van Heemskerk and broken up at the former naval dockyard at Wilhelmshaven in Weimar Germany, where labor at the time was dirt cheap.

As for her sister, Saint Louis, she also served in the Great War as the armed transport USS Louisville (there was another USS St. Louis in the fleet at the time), but was gutted in a fire in 1920 and scrapped in 1924. As it turned out, the proud “20-knot” liner never made it back to carry civilian passengers after their second war.

Their company likewise faltered. The American Line itself was defunct by 1932 as was the Red Star Line by 1935. The International Navigation Co. endured in a way, merging in 1931 with the Roosevelt Steamship Company under the United States Lines banner.

Curiously, Saint Paul‘s nemesis, the Spanish Terror, outlived her. Returning to Spain following the loss of Puerto Rico in 1899, she was repaired and served in the Spanish Navy in North Africa and European waters until she was retired in 1924.

Our liner is, of course, remembered in various period maritime art.

Specs:
Displacement: 11,612 in commercial service, 14,910 long tons (15,150 t) as aux cruiser
Dimensions 535’6” (bp) x 63′ x 27’5”
Machinery 2 screws, VQE, 6 D/E & 4 S/E boilers, IHP 20000,
Speed: 19.25 knots practical but made 22 knots after funnel caps removed in 1900
Coal: 2677 tons
Complement 281 crew + 1540 passengers as liner,
1898: 357 Navy, 50 Marines
Armament: (1898)
6 5”/40 Mark 4 rapid-fire guns (four fwd, two aft) in open mounts with 600 rounds
6 6 pdr. Hotchkiss with 1800 rounds
6 3 pdr. Nordenfeldt guns (two on promenade deck, four on wings) with 1800 rounds
Extensive small arms locker for Marine detachment
(1917-18)
6 6″/50 Mark 6 guns repurposed from old battleships and cruisers.

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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

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