Grandfather to the Fast Attack – USS Carp (SS 20) F-1 (The Mysterious loss of Bob the Submarine Dog)

A 330 ton Carp (SS-20) lies on the surface with a # 21 painted on its conning tower probably between 6 September & 17 November 1911. If you look closely at the photo, just forward of the diving plane you can see the name “Carp “. This was the original name of the F-1 (SS-20). She carried this moniker from the time of her launching until she was renamed on 17 November 1911. She was commissioned as F-1 on 19 June 1912. This is an unusual photo. There seems to have been an attempt at painting over the print or negative. It doesn’t look like they were trying to alter the photo, just trying to add an artistic element to it.

When the Navy bought its first Holland class submarine, the future of the craft was still as murky as the water it would dive into .

The original boats were very limited in depth capability and the propulsion mechanism was still primitive by today’s standards. The vision for many was to mimic Jules Verne’s novel ideas about 20,000 Leagues under the sea. The limitations in technology included hull construction, propulsion alternatives, atmosphere conditioning, size and on and on. But each new submarine design brought with it a new sense of possibility. By 1912, technology was beginning to move faster and faster. Articles of the day reflected those accomplishments.

Technical world magazine. (1912) Submarine Safety

While it has been conclusively demonstrated — on paper — that the submersible is as much superior to the submarine as the latter is to the former, the significant fact remains that no Holland type submarine has ever been lost, nor has a single life ever been lost on such a craft. Yet in ten years there have been twenty accidents to submersibles, or other submarines, in which one hundred and twenty-nine lives have been lost.

Under these circumstances it is comforting to know that the United States Government has none but Holland type submarines and still more consoling to learn that the requirements of our navy are more exacting than those of any other nation. While submersibles are only capable of descending to a depth of a hundred to a hundred and forty feet at most, no submarine is accepted by this Government until it has undergone the actual test of submersion to a depth of two hundred feet. The boats are really capable of withstanding the pressure at a depth of two hundred and fifty feet.

Should the submarine ever start for the bottom in deep water a safety device is waiting to bring it up again as soon as it reaches a predetermined depth. This device works like the safety valve on a steam boiler. The instant the fixed depth is reached a diaphragm in the outer skin of the vessel yields to the pressure, which opens a cock admitting air at one hundred pounds pressure or more into the ballast tanks, forcing out fifty or sixty tons of water in a few seconds. This tremendous increase in buoyancy, even in spite of a big leak, causes the submarine to dart to the surface at great speed.

In tests the boats jump almost out of the water, sinking back with a resounding splash.

If a Holland type submarine should be irreparably damaged its occupants still stand an excellent chance of escape. All four hatches extent down into the hull so as to form escape tubes. The covers have springs to throw them open when unfastened. If the vessel fills, the pressure is equalized regardless of depth, so there is no trouble in opening the hatches. At the station of every member of the crew where he can lay his hands on it instantly, even if the lights all go out, is an escape helmet with a jacket and belt such as divers wear, together with a breathing apparatus with oxygen enough to last one hour and a life belt. If the vessel fills the water compresses the air at the top so that the men can still breathe while they are putting on their helmets. Then they have but to duck their heads enough to get into the bot tom of the escape tubes and so find their way out. Once at the surface they in flate their life belts, then open the windows of their helmets to the outer air and wait for rescue. In England all members of submarine crews are trained in this method of escape in tanks built for the purpose.

New technology – the diesel engine

The F1 submarine represented the best technology if the day in 1912. Interesting about this submarine was its place in history. The interesting shift from boats named after fish back to numbered hulls must have been frustrating for the sailors. Talk about an identity crisis. This boat would be known as the Carp, SS 20 and F-1.


Preparations are almost completed at the Union Iron works for the launching of the submarine torpedo boat Carp, which will take place early next month from the yard at the foot of Twentieth Street. Miss Josephine Tynan, daughter of J. J. Tynan, general manager of ‘.the Union Iron works, will christen the boat.

The Carp has been more than two years in building, the contract for its construction having been let to the Electric Boat Company of New York March 5. 1909, the New York company subletting the contract for the: hull to the Union Iron works. The contract price was $454,740, add the specified time for completion was June 5 of this year, but delays were occasioned by slow delivery of materials. A sister boat of the Carp, the Barracuda, will be launched about six weeks after the former. Three more submarines are being built at the Union Iron works the Seawolf, the Nautilus and the Orca. The work on the Seawolf and the Nautilus is 70 per cent completed, but the work on the Orca has not yet been begun although the material is on hand.

The San Francisco Call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, 07 September 1911, Image 8 via

The submarine torpedo boat Carp (SS-20), the latest and most efficient type of underwater fighter, was launched yesterday 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.”

The submarine Carp (SS-20) after her launching at Union Iron Works, San Francisco on 6 September 1911.

From the very beginning, the Carp was a boat that would test its operators and the US Navy in new ways.

She almost didn’t make it through initial testing.

Popular mechanics v.18 JY-D(1912).

Contrary to general practice in testing submarines at great depths, the new U. S. submarine ”Carp” was recently sunk to a depth of 200 ft. at San Francisco with a crew of eight men on board, and an accident which might have ended disastrously kept the little vessel at the bottom for over an hour. The trouble was due to fouling of the hawser pipe of the submarine by an anchor chain, which for a time prevented a return to the surface. During the time the submarine was thus caught telephone communication was maintained with the officers in charge of the test at the surface.

The service of the crew was voluntary, and a considerable bonus was offered.

Technical world magazine. v.18 1912-1913 Sep-Feb.


SOME months ago one of our submarine boats, while undergoing a deep-water test, gave her crew an hour and a half of hair-raising anxiety. The Carp had been submerged to a depth of two hundred feet in San Francisco Bay in order to prove that’ her hull was structurally up to contract requirements. Ordinarily, it is the custom, in making this initial test, to seal the boat water tight, without anyone inside of her, and then to sink her two hundred feet below the surface, the little vessel being secured to steel cables and these, in turn, controlled from a floating wrecking derrick.

In the case of the Carp, however, the officer in charge and his crew believed the craft sound, and in a spirit of venture decided to go down in her. Apparently the Carp was anchored, and as she sank, the steel anchor cable was hauled inboard until she settled at the bottom right over the anchor. In some manner, the cable became jammed and would not feed’ out when it was time for the Carp to rise. All efforts to release her were unsuccessful* for more than an hour. Finally, after about ninety minutes of suspense, the Carp rose to the surface suddenly at high speed, and her momentum was such that her bow broke clear of the water for nearly fifty feet like the “broaching” of a big whale. The incident had all of the thrills of a narrow escape from death.

Later in the year, the Carp proved her merit by exceeding all previous limits in depth seeking.

Popular mechanics v.18 JY-D (1912). U.S. SUBMARINE BREAKS ALL DIVING RECORDS

The U. S. submarine “F1” broke all diving records recently by plunging to a depth of 283 ft. beneath the waters of San Francisco Bay. On board were Lieut. James B. Howell, in command, and a crew of 26 men. The little vessel remained down 10 minutes.

The United States Navy has for some time held the record of depths attained by submarines. In April of this year the “F1” reached a depth of 200 ft. in San Francisco Bay while undergoing tests previous to acceptance; and last June the “Seal” descended to a depth of 256 ft. below the surface of Long Island Sound. The U. S. Submarine That Holds the World’s Record for Diving, Having Attained a Depth of 283 Ft. in San Francisco Bay is now the Carp.

It may be possible that pearl divers and divers in rubber suits and brass helmets have descended to depths a few feet greater than those indicated in the illustration, but it is understood that these depths are records.

Bow view of the F-1 (SS-20), in a West Coast harbor, 1912. A barge loaded with lumber is in the left distance.

The fate of the F1 was recorded in an earlier post:

These pioneers broke many barriers that would ultimately lead to submarine force second to none. The legacy of boats like the F1 is that they led the way forward to a desired submarine: the true idea of a deep diving, fast moving submersible that we would come to know as the Fast Attack.

Coming next: The birth of the Fast Attack

Mister Mac

The Carp had a special rider that was with them on all the early dives. Considering what he went through, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he went AWOL in San Francisco. I can only imagine the “tails” Bob the Submarine dog had to tell in the bars around the bay to anyone willing to listen.


7 thoughts on “Grandfather to the Fast Attack – USS Carp (SS 20) F-1 (The Mysterious loss of Bob the Submarine Dog)

  1. On the Carp 338 we had a pet skunk named after the XO who disappeared after the XO found out about it.

  2. The first photo appears to be from the same photo as “The submarine Carp (SS-20) after her launching at Union Iron Works, San Francisco on 6 September 1911”, only touched up to remove the background. It also looks like they enhanced the “21” on the sail and tried to obscure the “Carp” or the bow.

  3. I believe the heavily altered photo of Carp is the same as the one where the boat is shown at the Union Iron Works.

    Changing subjects, Carp had it better than Seal which. due tp an oversight, received the number SS-19-1/2.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s