1912 – Captain Nemo Has Rival – Steel Fish Breaks All Records

April is submarine month and April 11 is the day that that is recognized as National Submarine Day in the United States.

It commemorates the official start of the American Submarine Force journey.

While many other events related to submarines happened before that day, the adoption of a submarine led the way to the emerging submarine strategies on how best to modify and use the new weapons.

One of the key events along the way was adopting the heavy oil engine called diesel. In the US, the first boats to use diesel were conceived and built in 1909 and by 1912, these boats were operational.

Diving deeper and gaining more maneuverability was also a goal of the emerging classes of boats. The ability to drive the boat to new depths was a sure way to escape any potential adversaries. In the early days, news of these achievements were great publicity for the fledgling force. Gaining public support for the submarine was a key way to gain funding and overcoming the skepticism of the more established leaders of the “Old Navy”

The story for today is based on the submarine F-1, formerly known as the USS Carp. The naming convention of the boats was changed from fish names to letter/numerical combinations. It would change back later but for now, this was an attempt to be more modern.

At the end of this story are links to two key events that happened to the F-1 including her tragic ending. But first. A series of articles that discuss the achievement and the way it felt for the crew members that were on board the day they broke the world’s record dive.


Captain Nemo Has Rival

Steel Fish Breaks All Records


  • April 7. 1912, the United States navy submarine F-1 reached a depth of 200 feet in Raccoon Straits in San Francisco bay while undergoing its acceptance tests.
  • June 21, 1912. The United States navy submarine Seal reached a depth of 256 feet below the surface of Long Island sound under the command of Captain Danahear
  • September 5, 1912. The United States navy submarine F-1 broke the Seal’s record by a plunge to the depth of 283 feet in San Francisco Bay
  • The United States navy submarine F-1, which yesterday broke all diving records of the world by plunging 283 feet beneath the waves with 26 men and its nervy commander, Lieutenant James B. Howell, U.S.N.

Submarine F-I Takes 27 Men 283 Feet Under Sea

Practically feeling its way through the dark green waters at the bottom of San Francisco Bay off Point Diablo, the United States navy submarine F-l yesterday established a new world’s record when a depth of 283 feet was reached. The submarine remained at this depth for ten minutes, cruising at a speed of six knots and finally rising to within 19 feet of the surface with as much ease and certainty as a sporting porpoise.

The remarkable demonstration in submarine navigation was accomplished under the command of Lieutenant James B. Howell, who has been putting the craft through a series of tests since it was recently launched at the Union Iron works. During the entire cruise – and the vessel was submerged for six hours- the F-l was under perfect control and always responded to the lowering and raising planes with the same exactness that is found in the best type of airships. At no time was the vessel inconvenienced by cross currents, and it was able to cruise along the bottom with safety. Besides the commanding officer the submarine carried a crew of 26 men. At no time during the voyage did the vessel come nearer than 19 feet to the surface. Although the descent was made just inside the heads on the Marin county side, the submarine cruised across the bottom of the channel, going as far to sea as the point where the ill-fated Rio de Janeiro sank In a fog several years ago. It was at this point that the greatest depth to which any submarine in the world has ever “dived” was reached. Meeting, the terrific static pressure of such a depth without a quiver the F-l ploughed through the water at a speed of six knots for ten minutes, and then slowly slanted its course upwards until the usual cruising depth of 19 feet was reached and its speed was increased to eight knots. The world’s record for depth, until broken yesterday by the F-l was held by the United States navy submarine Seal, which was submerged to a depth of 256 feet. The Seal is a “Lake type” submarine.

The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]), 06 Sept. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1912-09-06/ed-1/seq-1/


Sailors Make Thrilling Dive, Establishing New World’s Mark for Craft


One Member Tells Stirring Story of Remarkable. Feat in San Francisco Ba


Twenty four of Uncle Sam’s sailors laughed defiance at death recently when for six hours they descended beneath the waters of San Francisco Bay to a depth never before attained by human beings who survived to tell the tale.

The diving record formerly held by the submarine Seal, and attained off Nantucket Light last May, when the craft went down 256 feet, was shattered when the submarine F-l manned by Lieutenant James B. Howell sad a crew of  23men, drove down to a depth of 283 feet. ,

The 126 pounds of pressure of each square Inch of hull caused the water to spurt into the interior of the shell through different joints in tiny streams while the sides of the hull were squeezed together until the deck was forced upwards in a decided curve.

The story of the feat was told by the crew describing the submarine cruise:

Day after day Lieut. Howell and 18 regular men of the crew have speeded over and under the water of San Francisco Bay while giving the craft the severest tests possible.

“The day of the record dive we headed toward the sea and descended until only the two slender periscopes were above the water. The little mirror reflectors threw into the interior an exact photograph of the vast expanse of bay, so it was a simple matter to shift the rudders and avoid a collision.

“When we neared the ferry fairway, there were three commuter laden steamers directly ahead of us. A single word or two from our commander amd the F-1, deflected by the horizontal planes and propelled by the electric engines, shot toward the bay bottom until 60 feet intervened between our conning tower and the surface of the bay.

“As we passed beneath the ferry the vibration of the surface propellers could be distinctly heard by the man at the submarine telephone.

“As our commander gave the order which would again take up to the unknown depths below, below, even the rawest recruit could notice that something was about to happen out of the ordinary.

“When the pressure gauge showed of 200 feet Lieut. Howell showed no sign of stopping our downward progress. If there is anything that wins the respect of an officer it is an exhibition like that of our commander at that time.

“Slowly but surely, the hand of the gauge indicated an increasing depth. We had reached a depth of 280 feet when a number of snappy reports not unlike the explosion of small pistols was heard. The tremendous pressure of the water began to effect even the stanch construction of the F-l

“At the same time it was noticed that the water was beginning to leak into the craft at some of the joints. This was first noticed at the combing of the torpedo hatch.

“Every regular man breathing the battled atmosphere of the stifling interior knew what this meant. So did the commander, for after we had gone dawn another three feet we went forward on the level, each eye In the meantime looking anxiously and nervously toward the little rivulets of water which streamed in.

“That we had .reached the limit of the depth test became apparent just then when slowly and almost imperceptibly the deck upon which we stood began to curve upward slowly, forming an arch in the center. This was caused by the pressure of the sea against the sides of the boat.

“Then after ten minutes of suspense we began to forge rapidly toward the surface until we had but 60 separating us from the surface and freedom.”

The Detroit times. [volume] (Detroit, Mich.), 21 Sept. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016689/1912-09-21/ed-1/seq-6/



Out of victory, comes tragedy just a short time later.

The fragility of submarines was brought into public view and the cost was very expensive.


U.S. Submarine F-l Aground Off California Coast; Two of the Crew Drowned.

WATSONVILLE. Cal., Oct. 11. G. A. Schroeder of Milwaukee and T. J. Turbet of Newark, N. J., seamen on board the United States submarine F-l, were drowned today when a giant wave swept over the little craft, which later went aground near Port Watsonville. The extent of the damage to the submarine could not be determined today. Low tide left it fast in the sand in three feet of water.

The F-l is the holder of the world’s record for submarine diving, having gone down 283 feet In San Francisco bay September 5, 1912. She was christened the Carp, and was renamed November 17. 1911. Schroeder and Turbett were on watch at daybreak with another seaman named “Blinky” when a rising sea tore the submarine from its mooring to a buoy. Before the seamen could get control of the steering gear the deck was engulfed ln a wave and Schroeder and Turbett were carried overboard. The third seaman saved himself by grasping the railing. He was badly bruised and almost drowned when rescued a few moments later by his comrades. The body of Turbett was washed ashore late today. Schroder’s has not been recovered. The thirteen remaining members of the boat’s crew fought for six hours to save the craft from being beached. When it was seen that the vessel was being driven irresistibly “inward. It was abandoned, and a few moments later the little diver rammed her nose into the sand. A tug sent from the Marc Island navy yard will convey the submarine to Mare Island for repairs. There is now about three feet of water in her hold, but she is still believed to be seaworthy. The F-l was in command of Lieutenant James B. Howell.

Champion Diver of Uncle Sam’s Swordfish

Craft Hurled on Sands in Monterey Bay

WATSONVILLE, Oct. 11.The submarine F-l, champion diver of all the undersea fighting craft, is ashore near here with her nose rammed in the sand and two of her seamen are dead. T. J. Turbett of Newark, N. J., and G. A. Schroeder of Minneapolis were swept from the deck of the little vessel and drowned when it was torn from its moorings near the end of the Watsonville pier at daybreak.

Schroeder and Turbett were on watch with another seaman named “Blinky” when the chain which held the craft to a buoy, parted. Before the seamen could gain control of the steering gear, the vessel was wallowing in a heavy sea. A big wave swept the craft, carrying Schroeder and Turbett to death. “Blinky” bruised and almost drowned, was clinging to the rail when other members of the crew rushed on deck.

The crew began an unsuccessful fight to keep the vessel off shore. As the waves beat the little diver relentlessly inward, Lieutenant James B. Howell, in command, gave the order to abandon the craft. A few moments later it was hurled like a javelin into the sands by a huge wave, and low tide left it in three feet of water.

The body of Turbett drifted ashore late today, but Schroeder’s body was not recovered. A message has been sent to Mare island navy yard asking for a government tug to tow the F-l to Mare Island. It is believed that the vessel can be made seaworthy. The F-l won the submarine diving championship by descending 283 feet in San Francisco bay September 5. 1912. The previous record was held by the Seal, which dove 256 feet in Long Island sound June 24.

The F-l, originally christened Carp, was renamed November 17, 1911.

The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]), 12 Oct. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1912-10-12/ed-1/seq-11/


Sailors Were Asleep With Short Air Supply When Disaster Came

Fort Watsonville, Cal., Oct. 11, John Schroeder and E. Turcett, United States sailors aboard submarine F-l, are dead and the little sea fighter is pounding to pieces in heavy breakers off shore here as a result of slipping her moorings, crashing into a pier and drifting out of reach of assistance. Submarines F-2 and F-3 and three other United States vessels which have been maneuvering here for Watsonville carnival crowds are standing by helpless as their sister ship is somersaulting in only twenty-five feet of water. The two sailors were asleep on board, with only enough air supply to last till morning. The body of Schroeder came ashore before noon. How it escaped from the airtight submarine is a mystery.

The sun. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 12 Oct. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1912-10-12/ed-1/seq-1/

The rest of the story


Assigned to the First Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, F-1 operated in the San Francisco area on trials and tests through 11 January 1913, when she joined the Flotilla for training at sea off the California coast between San Diego and San Pedro, then in San Diego Harbor. Between 21 July 1914 and 14 November 1915, the Flotilla, towed to their destination by armored cruisers, based at Honolulu for development operations in the Hawaiian Islands.

F-1 lay in ordinary between 15 March 1916 and 13 June 1917. When she returned to full commission, she served with the Patrol Force, Pacific, making surface and submerged runs to continue her part in the development of submarine tactics, basing on San Pedro.

On 17 December 1917, while maneuvering in exercises at sea, F-1 and F-3 (Submarine No. 22) collided, the former sinking in 10 seconds, her port side torn forward of the engine room. Nineteen of her men were lost, while the others were rescued by the submarines with which she was operating.


During the month of April, American submariners take time to remember the life they led and the brave men (and now women) who came before them. But it is also a month to remember the high cost of living on boats designed to operate in the depths. The lessons learned along the way have made it safer to operate. But no amount of engineering, training or experience can ever completely remove the danger of being a submariner in an unforgiving ocean.

Mister Mac


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