The F-1 Started out as the Carp (SS-20)
The submarine torpedo boat Carp (SS-20), the latest and most efficient type of underwater fighter, was launched on September 6, 1911 at the Union Iron Works. Miss Josephine Tynan, little daughter of Joseph. J. Tynan, general manager of the Iron Works, christened the fish-like craft, and the launching was accomplished on time and without a hitch. On the launching platform were officers of the army and navy, members of the national legislature, representatives of foreign governments – and ” men and women prominent in society. Before the launching, W. R. Sands, representing the Electric – Boat Company, pinned a dainty gold watch on little’ Miss Tynan’s breast, and President McGregor of the Union Iron Works “decorated the girl with a jeweled locket.
There was a crash of breaking glass, and the Carp, its green snout dripping with champagne, went scooting down the ways and into the water, which welcomed the latest addition to the navy with a great splash.”
Submarine technology was still in its infant stage in 1911 but the Carp represented the latest in underwater technology.
Gone were the days of gasoline powered boats. Instead, she was fitted out with diesels and improved batteries. She had four eighteen inch torpedo tubes and could dive to a depth of 200 feet. Her seed was also an improvement over earlier classes since she could make 13.5 knots on the surface and 11.5 knots submerged.
Less than a year later, the submarine force was reminded just how perilous the job could be. In 1912, she had two incidents which seemed to foretell a challenging future. In the first, she was doing a test dive and exceeded her design by going to 283 feet. While performing that evolution, the unthinkable happened.
She would have another incident that year. F-1 (SS-20), ran aground off Watsonville, Ca, 11 October 1912.
Two men were killed in the accident.
But the real tragedy was still in the boat’s future
Over one hundred years ago, on Dec. 17, 1917, Submarine F-1 sank about 15 miles west of the San Diego Harbor entrance after colliding with a sister submarine. Nineteen sailors lost their lives; the commander and four men on the bridge escaped. Details of the tragedy remained secret for almost 50 years. From the Union, Aug. 30, 1970:
Navy Lifts 50 Year Silence On Point Loma Sub Sinking
By JOHN BUNKER
On Dec. 18, 1917, the Navy Department issued a brief, cryptic press release to the effect that an American submarine had been lost “along the American coast.” There were no details. Not until many hours later did it become know that the submarine was the F-1 and that it had sunk within sight of San Diego. The tragedy had occurred on Dec. 17 but not until Dec. 19 was The San Diego Union able to print the barest facts about the accident and give the names of five survivors and the 19 who went down with the ship.
“The Navy has withheld details,” the story said.
Because of wartime censorship, no details were ever released and as the years passed, the sinking of the F-1 became an almost unknown and virtually forgotten incident in American naval history.
Now that the 50-year period of military “restricted classification” has passed on the reports of this sinking, full details are available from government records in Washington. They show that the tragedy was caused, as are so many sea accidents, by a simple failure in communications.
F-1 built by the Union Iron Works at San Francisco, was launched Sept. 6, 1911. During construction she was known as the USS Carp and on the naval list was Submarine Torpedo Boat 20.
The new boat operated between San Diego and San Francisco for several months after her commissioning, then was assigned to Honolulu, being towed to her new station behind the battleship South Dakota. In Honolulu, she became part of the First Submarine Division, Torpedo Flotilla, Pacific Fleet, her companions being the other boats of this class; F-2, F-3 and F-4, all mothered by the, submarine tender Alert.
It was on the morning of March 25, 1915, that F-1, F-3, and F-4 left Honolulu for local operations. F-4 did not return and the eventual detection and recovery was a classic of naval salvage.
She was later “interned” at the bottom of Pearl Harbor after it was discovered that she had suffered a leak in the. battery compartment and the crew had been killed by chlorine gas. This was the Navy’s first submarine disaster.
The loss of F-1 so soon after this dealt the fledgling, submarine service a heavy blow
In partial layup during 1916, the F-1 returned to full commission in 1917 and was assigned. to, Patrol. Force, Pacific, taking part in the development of submarine tactics, spending. much of her time maneuvering with her sister subs and making practice attacks on surface ships based at San Pedro.
On a day of generally good visibility, F-1, F-2 and F-3 were making a surface run from San Pedro to San Diego. competing for semi-annual efficiency and performance ratings. All boats were making about nine, knots, running abreast. Point Lorna was just ahead. ‘
What happened then is told in this terse report from the log of F-3.
“Stood on course 142 degrees true until 6:50 p.m. when course was changed to ,322, degrees true to avoid a very thick fog bank. At about 5:55p.m. heard fog whistle and sighted masthead ,light and port side light of approaching vessel. Ship was then swung with 10 degrees right, rudder. Gave hard right rudder and stopped both engines. Closed bulkhead doors. Struck F-1 abaft of conning tower with bow of , ship. Backed -both ,motors.;F-1 listed and sank almost immediately. Stood by survivors of F-1 and brought .five on board.”
F-1 had sunk in 10 seconds at the most, giving the 19 men below no chance to escape.
One of the survivors was Lt. A. E. Montgomery, the commanding officer.
He told a board of inquiry how the lookout, Machinist J. J. Schmissrauter, had called him from the chart room, reporting a light on the Port bow.
“Almost immediately,” said Montgomery, “it grew brighter. I gave the order ‘hard right’ as it was too late to stop and it seemed but· an instant. when F-3 came out of the fog and rammed us.
The board of inquiry found that the three vessels had all decided ,to change course to clear the fog bank and had signaled their intent by radio, but none of the ships had received the others messages. F·3’s change of course was deemed excessive under the circumstances. The board pointed out. in holding. F-3 responsible, that radio failure was partly to blame, all boats of this class suffering from poor radio communication because of weak transmitters and excessive engine noise while underway.
Because of the depth of water and the lack of submarine rescue equipment, no attempt was made to locate the ship.
Postscript: Naval oceanographers located the wreck of the F-1 in 1976.