1913 – PERFECTING THE SUBMARINE

The war clouds were continuing to gather over much of Europe.

The Kaiser and his leadership team recognized that in order to continue growing as a country, they needed more land and resources. The English and French were bound together by a series of treaties and this binding would propel all of the Powers towards a conflict that would be massive in scale.

The English were still the predominant naval power around the globe. Having a navy second to none was the only way they could ensure that their far-flung empire would be able to supply the home islands with money, material and food. The growth of submarines was becoming a major force multiplier for many navies that could not match England in battle strength.

This article in an obscure newspaper had an interesting observation in early January 1913.

1913 – PERFECTING THE SUBMARINE

While Germany continues her ambitious program of naval construction, the admiralty authorities of the Empire continue to discuss the practical value of the submarine torpedo boat in time of war. These authorities are a house divided and such a condition is not likely to permit the best or even commensurate development of the submarine branch of the German navy says the Philadelphia Press. Little is heard in the United States of late concerning the submarine arm of the service, but our naval authorities are known to be vigilant in watching what the other nations are doing. Evidence accumulates that England has probably gone ahead of all other governments in bringing the submarine type of torpedo boat to a higher degree of perfection than has been attained elsewhere. It is understood that a flotilla of submarines constructed as part of the British naval program is the most powerful and best equipped in the world. British naval engineers are said to have evolved a type of boat having high speed both on the surface and under the water. If reports are true, the drawbacks of earlier types of submarines have been overcome. The machinery works perfectly and explosions which were formerly frequent in this craft have been eliminated.

Putnam County Herald. (Cookeville, Tenn.), 09 Jan. 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89058133/1913-01-09/ed-1/seq-2/

But the truth far different for the German submarine efforts.

What was really happening in Germany up until 1913 when it came to the navy was the growth of her surface fleet. However, construction began in 1910 of the first submarine powered by twin diesel engines. U-19 was twice the size of the first German submarine, had five times the range at 7,600 nautical miles (14,100 km; 8,700 mi) cruising at 8 knots, or 15 knots maximum. There were now two bow and two stern torpedo tubes, with six torpedoes carried. The ships were designed to operate at a depth of 50 meters (160 ft.), though could go to 80 meters (260 ft.).

U-19 was commissioned on 6 July 1913.

There would be four more just like her that all participated in the coming war.

The arms race between Great Britain and Germany that occurred from the last decade of the nineteenth century until the advent of World War I in 1914 was one of the intertwined causes of that conflict.

While based in a bilateral relationship that had worsened over many decades, the arms race began with a plan by German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in 1897 to create a fleet in being to force Britain to make diplomatic concessions; Tirpitz did not expect the Imperial German Navy to defeat the Royal Navy.

With the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tirpitz began passing a series of laws to construct an increasing number of large surface warships. The construction of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 prompted Tirpitz to further increase the rate of naval construction. While some British observers were uneasy at German naval expansion, alarm was not general until Germany’s naval bill of 1908. The British public and political opposition demanded that the Liberal government meet the German challenge, resulting in the funding of additional dreadnoughts in 1910 and escalating the arms race.

Maintaining Europe’s largest army and second-largest navy took an enormous toll on Germany’s finances. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, German chancellor from 1909, undertook a policy of détente with Britain to alleviate the fiscal strain and focus on the rivalry with France. Under Bethmann-Hollweg, and particularly from 1912 onwards, Germany abandoned the dreadnought arms race and focused on a commerce raiding naval strategy to be conducted with submarines.

One of the ironies of the arms race and subsequent conflict was that while the German battle fleet fought only one major surface engagement, the inconclusive Battle of Jutland, and never seriously threatened British naval supremacy, the commerce raiding strategy that had been the historic focus of German naval doctrine would consistently endanger British merchant shipping and imports throughout the war.

The British Fleet at anchorage

The arms race between the two countries came to an end in 1912, but the Germans pivoted to building submarines that would have greater open ocean capabilities.

In August 1914, a flotilla of ten U-boats sailed from their base in Heligoland to attack Royal Navy warships in the North Sea in the first submarine war patrol in history. Their aim was to sink capital ships of the British Grand Fleet, and so to reduce the Grand Fleet’s numerical superiority over the German High Seas Fleet. The first sortie was not a success. One of U-9’s engines broke down and she had to return to Heligoland. Only one attack was carried out, when U-15 fired a torpedo (which missed) at HMS Monarch. Two of the ten U-boats were lost.

 

Later in the month, the U-boats achieved success, when U-21 sank the cruiser HMS Pathfinder. In September, SM U-9 sank three armored cruisers (Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy) in a single action.

Other successes followed.

In October U-9 sank the cruiser Hawke and U-27 sank the submarine E3, the first time one submarine sank another, and on the last day of the year SM U-24 sank the pre-dreadnought battleship Formidable.

By the end of the initial campaign, the U-boats had sunk nine warships while losing five of their own number.

The U-19 alone would be responsible for the following:

57 ships sunk with a total of 97,921 tons.

3 ships damaged with a total of 4,224 tons.

1 ship taken as prize with a total of 733 tons.

1 ship sunk with a total of 1,261 tons.

Her sister ship, the U-20, was the torpedo that sank RMS Lusitania, a critical tipping point towards bringing America into the war.

What about the American submarine fleet?

In the United States, submarine development was moving forward on a number of fronts. Improved diesel engines and bigger submarines were helping the fledgling fleet gain much needed experience. The first of the H class boats was launched in San Francisco in May of 1913.

Submarine torpedo boat H-1 was launched yesterday/at the Union Iron works in the presence of the men who built it and a large crowd of invited guests. The launching was under the direction of W. R. /Sands, representing the Electric Boat company, officials of the Union Iron works, Assistant Naval Constructor Alexander H. Van. Keuren and Lieutenant J. W. Lewis, U. S. N.

Although destined to go through life designated by a letter- and a numeral, the submarine was given an old fashioned, christening. The vessel’s sponsor was Miss Leslie Meakins, a niece of John A. McGregor, president of the Union Works.

The submarine’s length overall is 151 feet and its bean 16 feet. Its total displacement, submerged, is 500 tons. It is equipped with twin screws propelled by 450 horse power heavy oil engines of the Diesel type. When submerged the propelling power is supplied by motors of 160 horse power.

The boat is the newest type of submarine now being constructed for the United States Navy. A sister ship, H-2, is now on the ways and will be ready for launching in about a month. Three other submarines, of what is known as the K-type, are under construction at the Union Iron works.

Submarine H-1 is equipped with four torpedoes and carries four in reserve in the battery deck. The vessel was built primarily for coast defense work but has a cruising range of 2,000 miles. The vessel will carry a crew of 20 enlisted men and two officers.

When submarine H-1 goes into commission, it will be commanded by Lieutenant H. M. Jensen.

The San Francisco Call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]), 07 May 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1913-05-07/ed-1/seq-3/

USS H-1 (SS-28), the lead ship of her class of submarine of the United States Navy, was originally named Seawolf, making her the first ship of the U.S. Navy to be named for the seawolf.

The new submarine was attached to Torpedo Flotilla 2, Pacific Fleet, and operated along the West Coast out of San Pedro, California. During various exercises and patrols, she traveled the coast from Los Angeles, California to lower British Columbia, often in company with her sister ships H-2 and sometimes H-3.

Sailing from San Pedro, California on 17 October 1917, she reached New London, Connecticut on 8 November. For the remainder of World War I, she was based there and patrolled Long Island Sound, frequently with officer students from the submarine school on board.

H-1 and H-2 sailed for San Pedro, California on 6 January 1920, transiting the Panama Canal on 20 February. On 12 March, as H-1 made her way up the coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, she ran aground on a shoal off Magdalena Bay.

Four men – including the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander James R. Webb – died trying to reach shore. Vestal pulled H-1 off the rocks in the morning of 24 March, but in only 45 minutes, the submarine sank in some 50 ft (15 m) of water. Further salvage effort was abandoned. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 12 April, and she was sold for scrap in June 1920, but never recovered.

 

In 2019, her wreck was identified south of Baja California.

The repair ship Vestal that pulled the H-1 from the rocks was also laid down and commissioned in 1913.

It would play a role in the attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 when it was tied up alongside the battleship USS Arizona. Her captain on that day was a submariner named Cassin Young. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds that day.

Mister Mac

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