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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

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!

Warship Wednesday, Aug 2, 2017: Uncle’s only submersible aircraft carrier

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Aug 2, 2017: Uncle’s submersible aircraft carrier

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 99774

Here we see the S-class “pigboat” the early direct-drive diesel-electric submarine USS S-1 (SS-105) with her after deck awash, preparing to take a tiny Martin MS-1 seaplane on board during tests in October 1923. Note the tube-shaped sealed hangar behind the tower. The image was probably taken at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

As you can tell, S-1 was the U.S. entry into the oddball inter-war submarine aircraft carrier race.

The Germans first used the concept of a submarine that could support aircraft when SM U-12 helped support a pair of Friedrichshafen FF.29 reconnaissance seaplanes at Zeebrugge in 1915. Though the FF.29s were not housed on the primitive 188-foot U-boat, they did experiment with carrying on the deck of the surfaced submarine in a takeoff position, then launching an aircraft by partially submerging, allowing the seaplane to float off and fly away to strike its target– thus extending their range.

SM U-12 with a seaplane aboard in trials 1915. Note the lollygag under the deck gun. 

In the only German sub-air attack of the war, an FF.29 took off on 6 January 1916, motored around the Kent coast, and returned to Zeebrugge without accomplishing much.

The Brits later experimented with E-class submarines in the Great War and by the 1920s, the RN was joined by Italy (Ettore Fieramosca), France (the Surcouf as detailed in an earlier Warship Wednesday), and later Germany (the Type IX D 2-“Monsun”) and Japan (the I-15 Series and later the huge I-400 series, another WW past favorite) in crafting undersea aircraft carriers.

So why not the U.S., right?

The S-class submarines, derided as “pig boats” or “sugar boats” were designed in World War I, but none were finished in time for the conflict.

Some 51 examples of these 1,200-ton diesel-electrics were built in several sub-variants by 1925 and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online. At 219-feet oal, these boats could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14kts on the surface on their twin NELSECO 8-cylinder 4-stroke direct-drive diesel engines. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen fish and a retractable 3″/23cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

The hero of our tale, SS-1, has an inauspicious name and was a “Holland” type boat laid down at Fore River Shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts on a subcontract by the Electric Boat Co. Launched on 26 October 1918, she was sponsored by none other than Mrs. Emory S. Land, just two weeks before the Great War ended.

The USS S-1 slides down the ways at the Fore River Ship Builders on October 26, 1918. Via Pigboats.com

USS S-1 (Submarine # 105) Off Provincetown, Massachusetts, on 17 April 1920, while running trials. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41988

She was commissioned on 5 June 1920 and was attached to Submarine Division (SubDiv) 2 out of sometimes-chilly New London.

(SS-105) Covered with ice while underway in Long Island Sound, January 1922. Note the retractable 3/23 deck gun at right. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Lieutenant O.E. Wightman. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 80576

On 2 January 1923, she shifted to SubDiv Zero, for “experimental work” involving a dozen all metal Cox-Klemin XS-1 (BuNo A6508-A6520) and six wood-and-fabric Martin MS-1 (BuNo A6521-A6526) seaplanes.

These small (1,000lb, 18 feet long, 18 foot wingspan) experimental biplanes were envisioned to fly off S-class submarines for over-the-horizon scouting and observation missions.

Martin MS-1 scouting seaplane (Bureau # A-6525) being assembled on the after deck of USS S-1 (SS-105), at Hampton Roads, Virginia, 24 October 1923. Note the entrance to the submarine’s small hangar, at left, booms used to erect the plane’s structure, and the seaplane’s metal floats and three-cylinder engine. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave Freret, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 71028

(SS-105) Hangar installed at the after end of the submarine’s fairwater, circa October 1923. This hangar was used during tests with the very small Martin MS-1 scouting floatplane. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave Freret, USN (Retired), 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 76124

XS-1, a seaplane housed in a hangar and operating when the submarine surfaced (NNAM photo)

The seaplanes were to be knocked down, sealed in a hangar attached to the deck behind the conning tower, then after surfacing in a calm area, the little doodlebug could be rolled out and assembled. Like SM-12, they would be launched by ballasting the sub until the deck was awash and allowed to float off and take air.

(SS-105) With a Martin MS-1 seaplane on her deck, circa the mid-1920s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41986

(SS-105) Underway, while fitted with an aircraft hangar aft of her fairwater, circa the mid-1920s. Note the 4″/50 that has replaced her original gun. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41987

Curtiss HS-2L seaplane operating with and S-1 type submarine, 1924. These big flying boats were bought in quantity in WWI and were the backbone of the USN and Coast Guard until the late 1920s, but it was thought that submarines could refuel them– another experiment by SS-1. Catalog #: NH 60769

(SS-105) Martin MS-1 scouting seaplane (Bureau # A-6525) on her after deck, during the mid-1920s. Among the submarines docked in the background is USS K-7 (SS-38), at left. USS L-8 (SS-48) is at right, with USS L-9 (SS-49) just to her left. Original photo caption gives location as New London, Connecticut. However, the view may have been taken at Norfolk or Hampton Roads, Virginia. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave Freret, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 70979

(SS-105) With a Martin MS-1 scouting floatplane (Bureau # A-6525) on her after deck, probably at Norfolk, Virginia, on 24 October 1923. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave Freret, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 72793

Control Force submarines and their tenders at Christobal, Panama Canal Zone, circa 1923. Description: The tenders are (from left to right): Savannah (AS-8), Bushnell (AS-2), Beaver (AS-5) and Camden (AS-6). Submarines are mostly R type boats, among them R-23 (SS-100) and R-25 (SS-102), both in the nest alongside Savannah’s port quarter. The larger submarine alongside Savannah’s bow may be S-1 (SS-105), with her large seaplane hangar. Photographed by A.E. Wells. Courtesy of Commander Christopher Noble, USN (Retired), 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42573

Over the next three years, SS-1 was busy with the project until finally, the “first full cycle of surfacing, assembly, launching, retrieving, disassembly, and submergence took place on 28 July 1926 on the Thames River in New London.”

Deemed unproductive for the outlay in slim peacetime funds, the aircraft experiments were canceled and the tiny seaplanes scrapped.

By July 1927, SS-1, with her hangar removed, was back in regular squadron work. First transferred to SubDiv 4, then SubDiv2, she made regular training cruises in the Caribbean, East Coast, and Canal Zone until 1931 when she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet, operating from Pearl Harbor.

At the same time, many of her classmates were retired and scrapped, replaced by newer and much larger fleet boats. Accordingly, SS-1 was given orders to proceed to Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 20 October 1937 and mothballed.

With tensions rising at the start of WWII in Europe, the old SS-1 was taken out of storage and brought back to life, though she was in poor shape. Carrying new and would-be bubbleheads, she made two cruises to Bermuda, training submariners, and returned to Philadelphia from the second cruise on the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Ironically, as noted by Capt. Julius Grigore in his work on Surcouf, the two submarine carriers may have crossed paths at this time.

Though several S-boats served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific, six were transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease. USS S-1 was in this lot and swapped to the Brits at New London on 20 April 1942, to be struck from the Navy List on 24 June 1942.

In her new career, with Lt. Anthony Robert Danielle, DSC, RN, in command, she was known as HMS P-552.

Just out of New London on 1 May she encountered three survivors from the Norwegian steam ship Taborfjell (1,339GT), which had been claimed by the German submarine U-576 under Hans-Dieter Heineken. Saving Radio Operator Olaf Alfsen, Second Officer Erling Arnesen, and Third Engineer Officer Ole Karlsen Svartangen after a two-hour search about 95 nautical miles east of Cape Cod, P-552 diverted to St. Johns and landed the men ashore 7 May.

The sub arrived in Durban South Africa, via Gibraltar and Freetown, in December 1942 where she was used for training for several months.

She was paid off by the RN 11 August 1944 and given back to the USN while still in Durban two months later. She never left the harbor again and was scrapped in September 1946.

None of her sisters endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

The Navy revisited the possibility of submarine aircraft carriers again during World War II and the early 1950s but nothing came of it. They did experiment with refueling large seaplanes via submarine as well as using them in helicopter landings for special operations into the 1950s, using the abbreviations AOSS — submarine oiler, and SSP–submarine transport.


USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes. During the war, Germany and Japan used this technique with some success. After the war this technique was experimented with within the US Navy. It was planned to use submarines to refuel the new jet powered P6M Seamaster flying boats. As part of this program Guavina was converted to carry 160,000 gallons of aviation fuel. To do this blisters were added to her sides and two stern torpedo tubes were removed. When the P6M project was canceled, there was no further need for submarine tankers. This concept was never used operationally in the US Navy.

USS Corporal’s emergency helicopter op

And today, there are several programs to put UAVs on subs, for scouting and observation missions–proving that everything old is new again.

Still, SS-1 was the only U.S. Navy submarine to have the capability to submerge with a manned aircraft aboard and then successfully launch it. For that, she will be immortal.

Specs:


Displacement: Surfaced: 854 t., Submerged: 1062 t.
Length 219′ 3″
Beam 20′ 8″
Draft 15′ 11″(mean)
Speed: surfaced 14.5 kts, submerged 11 kts
Complement 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted
Propulsion: New London Ship & Engine Co (NELSECO) diesel engines, HP 1200, twin propellers
Fuel capacity: 41,921 gal.
Electric: Electro Dynamic Co., electric motors, HP 1500, Battery cells 120, Endurance: 20 hours @ 5 kn submerged
Armament: 4 21″ torpedo tubes, 12 torpedoes, one 3″/23 retractable deck gun–later fixed 4″/50
Aircraft: 1 tiny seaplane

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!