Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448
Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189
Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.
In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.
Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port
Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.
View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355
Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.
3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131
Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978
For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.
As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:
“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”
When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”
C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC
C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side
“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460
Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.
The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”
This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at subchaser.org. https://www.subchaser.org/battle-formation via NHHC
The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.
110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks
110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111
Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.
She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.
Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.
U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449
Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687
Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.
The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.
Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.
Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland
Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622
In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742
Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714
The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.
However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.
As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:
The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.
In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.
Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat
Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.
Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166
SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.
S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996
Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096
Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.
USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.
Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.
Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.
SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).
While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.
For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.
Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks
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