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