1924 – America is 8 Years behind in Submarine Development

USS Arizona 1924

1924 Navy Behind

There were a number of visionary men in the US Navy that made predictions about the future of warfare. One of my favorites was Chester Nimitz wh was an early proponent of submarine warfare. Much of what he predicted as an ensign came to fruition during the Second World War when the nation’s Pacific Fleet battleships were put out of commission on December 7th. The small but flexible fleet submarines were among the first combat vessels to respond to the Japanese attack and distinguished themselves all during the war. Interestingly enough, Nimitz also predicted the rise of atomic power in the next generation of submarines that are still growing today.

But another man from American naval history was also instrumental in pointing out the lack of vision many from his time had about preparedness and the future role of submersibles. That was Rear Admiral William F. Fullam.

Fullam had an interesting career that played a key role in preparing the American Navy for its key roles in all of the major conflicts it would face in the twentieth century.

Thomas A. Edison shakes hands with Rear Admiral Fullam on board the USS Oregon

From his official biography:

“Born in Pittsford, New York, William Freeland Fullam was admitted into the United States Naval Academy, 24 September 1873; graduating No. 1, June 1877- Class of 1877. His commands through his long and distinguished naval career ranged from the sailing ship USS Chesapeake in 1904 to the battleship USS Mississippi in 1909. On 15 April 1888, Lieutenant (j.g.) William Fullam married Ms. Mariana Winder Robinson; they had two daughters.

“During the Spanish–American War, Navy Lieutenant Fullam served aboard USS New Orleans (CL-22) during the Santiago Campaign- the blockading and bombardment of Santiago and San Juan; earning the Spanish Campaign Medal. Chief among his assignments ashore was as acting aide to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, February 1913 – late January 1914, followed by duties as Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, which he commanded from 7 February 1914 until spring of 1915. Following this successful assignment at the USNA, Rear Admiral Fullam was ordered to report for sea duty at the San Francisco naval district to become Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet Reserve Force; effective 5 June 1915. He hoisted his flag aboard USS South Dakota (ACR-9), and later aboard USS Milwaukee (C-21). As Commander-in-“Chief he was highly critical of the little interest the West coast citizens held in preparing for involvement of the European war. He stated: “It was time they awoke to the necessity for adequate preparedness…In the event of war the United States Navy would need at once 175,000 trained men.”

“In April 1917, Rear Admiral Fullam became Commander-in-Chief Patrol Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and was senior officer in command of the Pacific Fleet during the absence of the Fleet’s Commander-in-Chief in South Atlantic waters. The merit of his service in such responsible positions was recognized with the award of the Navy Cross. In early 1918 Vice Admiral Kantarō Suzuki (who later became the 42nd Prime Minister of Japan from April 7, 1945 to August 17, 1945) brought his two cruisers Asama and Iwate to San Francisco and “banqueted” with Rear Admiral Fullam after receiving harbor entrance by Rear Admiral Fullam. Continuing his duties as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, throughout the World War until 1 August 1919, he coordinated with the Japanese and British forces all ship movements while patrolling the whole Pacific from Alaska to the Panama Canal Zone. This was in order to check all German activities.

“During the summer of 1919, Rear Admiral Fullam, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was instrumental in arranging with the Navy Department for half of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet battleships to be assigned to the Pacific coast; bringing a total of fifteen battleships to protect our Pacific interests and communication sea lanes. Overall, during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief, Reserve Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (1915–1919), Rear Admiral Fullam had a constant struggle with the Navy Department regarding Pacific force policy and shortages in personnel manning the ships. His communicating in personal letters to many of his fellow senior officers were forceful and were written with a freedom of expression- all wishing to prepare their units for the coming World War.

“Rear Admiral Fullam retired (due to age) on Monday, October 20, 1919. At the time of his retirement, he was regarded by young and old alike as an ideal naval officer. Rear Admiral Fullam was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Army and Navy Club, Navy League of the United States, and the United States Naval Academy alumni.”


But Fullam remained active in recognizing the future threats and America’s failure to understand what those threats were. Specifically, he was a strong proponent of Air Power and an advanced fleet type submarine. He saw the dangers of a battleship strategy since those expensive ships were easy targets for the newer and less expensive alternatives in the emerging technologies.

In 1924, his honest and clear eyed assessments were on public display at both the beginning and the end of the year in a number of articles he presented.

The first was in February. The headlines read that America was Behind.


U.S. 8 Years Behind Other Countries – Latest Boats Failures, He Says.

By Rear Admiral W. F. Fullam (US Navy Retired)

There are rumors from abroad that giant submarine and “sea monsters” are being designed for the next world war. Some of these reports are highly sensational, and although it is somewhat dangerous to predict that anything is impossible in these days, we must not be induced to encourage absurd theories or that can have no practical value for years to come.

No Waste on Dreams.

We want our navy to be up-to date, but we have much to do to provide it with new weapons or proved power. We can waste no time and no money on dreams.

It is interesting to note, however, that a German designer, Dr. Flamm, has made preliminary specifications for three new types of submarines, as follows.

(a) 1,443 tons, 1%-inch armor, two 6-inch guns.

(b) 4,870 tons, armor protection, two 8-inch guns.

(c) 8,400 tons, heavy armor, several 9-inch guns.

We may say that nothing but the Versailles treaty prevents the development by Germany of a submarine fleet of even greater offensive power than that which nearly won the world war. The whole world should stop, look, and listen, if it is to avoid another menace to civilization!

It is admitted by experts that submarines up to 10,000 tons are possible. The question of underwater stability can be solved by a peculiar heart-shaped cross-section of the hull. But it is important to consider the limitations of the giant submarine in comparison with smaller types. We must spend our money wisely for the type that will render the best service. It is true that the 8,400-ton submarine of Dr. Flamm’s design could successfully fight all cruisers and surface craft whose guns are not heavier than 9-inch. Its stability to submerge or to run awash would give it the advantage of a secret approach to a coast or to an enemy, and and its armor would protect it from ordinary gun fire. It would have special uses as a long distance scout on trade routes and on a hostile coast. But it could not fight a battleship, and it can hide below the surface in an emergency.

Most Practicable Type.

All things considered, it is believed that submarines of from 3,000 to 4,500 tons displacement with guns of 6-inch caliber, will give the best all-around results for the next decade. These boats can have a sigh surface speed, and an economical cruising speed, so that they may cross the ocean and remain at sea three or four months, as did the German Deutschland class. And this type can accompany the fleet in the sea battles of the future. It is a type of vital importance. The United States needs boats of this class.

The English have three “monitor submarines” of 1,950 tons submerged displacement carrying over 12-inch guns. These are very useful for a surprise bombardment. Such a craft can safely and secretly approach within bombarding distance, day or night. This is a great advantage, because no surface ship can avoid being seen in the approach. The British “K” boats have a displacement of 2,140 tons, a surface speed of twenty-four knots and carry two 4-inch guns with a crew of fifty-four men. These boats cruise and can fight with the fleet. It is a valuable type.

British “Mystery Sub.”

The British are now completing a new “mystery submarine,” the X.l. Many details of this boat have been kept secret. It is believed, however, that the X.l. has a maximum displacement of 8,600 tons, a surface speed between twenty-four and thirty knots, a crew of 100 officers and men, and a battery of six 5-inch guns. This boat can fight advantageously with the fleet, and as it has great cruising endurance at moderate speed it can also act as a long-distance scout, and as a commerce destroyer.

The British also have mine-laying submarines. This type is of great Importance. The Germans used such boats with great effect in the world war. In future wars they will be still more valuable. We may say, therefore, that the British have pursued a policy at once progressive and sensible. And the same is the case with Japan. Secretary Denby calls attention to these facts in his annual report, and he is sustained by President Coolidge in his plea for new submarines. It is astonishing, to say the least, that while stressing the 5-5-3 ratio as regards battleships, the United States should ignore the treaty ratio in cruisers, submarines and air forces.

This fact is a grave menace to the navy and to the country. The Naval War College appears to be fully alive to the danger. It is a pity that the naval committees of the House and Senate, and all civil officials, who have anything to do with our naval policies, can not be enlightened on this point. There is no excuse whatever for naval officers who fall to keep up to the times. They should all be required to read and study the latest information from the War College and elsewhere.

Our submarine fleet is totally inadequate. It cannot meet the demands of war. It will require not less than ten years’ strenuous effort to bring it up to date. We are eight years behind the times in submarines today. There are about 100 submarines in our navy. They are all of medium size and of limited usefulness and many of them are unreliable. We have no cruising, long-range submarines. We have no fleet submarines. We have no mine-laying submarines. The situation is serious.

Latest Boats Failures.

Eight years’ neglect dates from the last Administration, which completely neglected to build up our submarine fleet during the war and after the armistice- Our three newest boats—the T-l, T-2, and T-3 are laid up. They are failures. It is humiliating.

T-1 submarine was supposed to be the lead ship for a Fleet Type boat. Failures in the propulsion and other systems rendered them useless within a few years and she was scrapped less than ten years after she was commissioned

We are building three good boats, and the Navy Department has asked Congress for three more. But these will be a mere drop in the bucket. There would appear to be but one way to secure proper attention and proper progress in providing submarines for the next war—establish a bureau of submarines with an admiral at its head in the Navy Department. Until this is done the submarine problem may not be solved. It was this way with aeronautics. Until the Bureau of Naval Aeronautics was established with Admiral Moffett as chief, we made little headway in that branch. It was ignored or belittled. There is no time to lose. It must be understood that our navy may face inevitable defeat in the next war, if we fall to develop our submarine fleet and our air forces.

The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]), 09 Feb. 1924.



Over the course of the next ten months, Congress heatedly debated about how much money should be spent and how it should be allocated. In 1924, peace advocates were controlling much of the dialogue and no major enemies seemed to be on the horizon. Germany was still staggering under the weight of the Versailles Treaty and payment of its indemnification. Japan was recovering from the largest earthquake in modern times that appeared to push it into a full time recovery status. Russia was still struggling with its transition to a Soviet state and no other belligerents from the Americas had enough strength to directly challenge the United States.

Despite all this, other countries continued to grow and develop their armed forces and their technologies. Even former allies were developing modern devices that could someday threaten the continent.

The resulting appropriations bills in Congress reflected the stubbornness of some leaders to spend any unnecessary funds on offensive weapons. Admiral Fullam penned another article I December to punctuate the failure of leadership to recognize the potential danger.


Expenditure of $110,000,000 Will Not Add Iota of Strength to Fleet

Editor’s Note – The condition of the American Navy and whether it is proportionately equal in strength with the navies of the ether great powers, has been a subject of heated controversy in Congress for several weeks.. Several Congressional investigations have been proposed. In view of these facts, the following analysis of the pending naval bill by Rear Admiral William F. Fullam, U. S. N., retired, is of timely interest:

By REAR ADMIRAL W. F. FULLAM, United States Navy (Retired).

The navy bill just passed by the Senate provides for the “modernization” of thirteen battleships ‘by adding blisters to their underwater hulls to resist torpedo and mine attacks; heavier deck armor for defense against bombs; new oil-burning boilers for six ships; money for six river gun boats to cost $700,000 each, and eight scout cruisers to cost $11,000,000 each.

The bill as passed (1) defies logic, (2) ignores the world war, (3) encourages waste, (4) forgets the budget, (5) adds no fighting power to the fleet, and (6) refuses the two weapons without which our navy is doomed in war.

No Strength Added.

An analysis of this bill reveals the fact that an expenditure of $110,000,000 will add not one iota to the actual fighting strength of our navy in battle. This bill provides for nothing but patches to our battleships, and the addition of fourteen cruising ships, big and little, to our surface fleet—nothing more. The word “submarine” is not found in the building program. Not an ounce of strength is added to our naval air force. And yet, without these two forces, above and below the surface of the sea, our fleet will remain as it is today, helpless in defense and completely impotent in offensive war.

Our battlefleet is strong as such. Attacks upon the Washington conference and upon our battleship ratio are indefensible.

We have a splendid surface fleet. Our weakness is not in battleships nor in matters affected by the Washington conference. The conference left us free to build the most powerful fleet in the world.

Oil Burners Necessary.

Of course, new oil-burning boilers should be supplied the six battleships. They are useless if their speed is not maintained. But this is their only real weakness. Money spent on blisters and armored decks will be wasted. These devices will not project these ships from being disabled. They may delay the inevitable for a few minutes, perhaps, but that is all. The topsides, funnels; bridges, and masts will be blown off, the rudder and steering gear damaged, and the bottom of the ship will be opened up Just the same.

Bigger bombs, bigger torpedoes, and heavier mines will be used to put any battleships out of action, blisters or no blisters. The same applies to our enemy. If he has any money to waste let him waste it. If we command the air, we will put the enemy out. If the enemy commands the air he will put us out.

The report of the Pershing board on the sinking of the Ostfriesland declares:

“Aircraft carrying high-capacity high explosive bombs of sufficient size have adequate offensive power to sink or seriously damage any naval vessel at present constructed, provided such projectiles can be placed in the water close alongside the vessel. Furthermore, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to build any type of vessel of sufficient strength to withstand the destructive force that can be obtained with the largest bombs that airplanes may be able to carry from shore bases or sheltered harbors.”

Further evidence is unnecessary as to the vulnerability of battleships.

Cruisers Vulnerable.

And cruisers are still more vulnerable to air and submarine attack. Admiral Von Scheer who, commanded the German fleet at Jutland, declares:

“Swift cruisers, the eyes of the fleet, are threatened in still greater degree, since, in view of their high speed, they must be content with weaker armour.”

In other words, surface ships of all classes cannot survive air attack combined with the menace of mines and torpedoes. All the fleet auxiliaries—cruisers, destroyers, fuel ships, transports and mine ships can be easily destroyed from the air. And when they are gone what can the battleships do? It would not be necessary to waste ammunition on them. They would be forced to go home if they could get there. Is it not clear, then, that the enemy must not command the air above our fleet, or the sea beneath it? What are we doing to prevent such a catastrophe? Adding blisters and armour will not do it.

The same argument as to vulnerability applies to the battleships and cruisers of our possible enemies. They, too, are helpless against air and submarine attack. Then why not provide ourselves with the weapons with which, to sink or disable them? If we command the air, and if we have a big submarine fleet we will menace our enemy.

The offensive is the best defensive.

If we have powerful air forces and submarines, no fleet will dare to cross the sea to attack us, and it logically follows that without these two forces our fleet cannot cross the sea to attack the enemy, nor can it meet his fleet upon the high seas with the slightest hope of success.

Ignores Submarine.

Not only does this bill fail utterly to take any account whatever of the vital importance of air forces, using bombs, torpedoes, mines and poison gas as demonstrated by development since the Armistice, but it likewise ignores the record of the submarine in the world war.

Submarines sank sixty-two of the 134 ships lost by the British navy. They sank eight big French and Italian ships. They sank the dreadnaught Audacious. They sank the Hampshire with Kitchener on board. They drove the allied fleet away from the Dardanelles. They were the only craft that dared penetrate into the Baltic or the Sea of Marmosa. They sank 11,000,000 tons of merchant ships and brought England to the verge of starvation. They crossed the Atlantic and sank fifty ships on our coast. The German submarine fleet, manned by only 10,000 men fought the combined navies of the world manned by more than 1,000,000 men, and came •within an ace of winning the war. Jellicoe told Sims in April, 1917; “We cannot go on with the war if these losses continue.”

And yet, in the face of the awful fact of a great war, the United States has no modern submarines, and the bill just passed, ignores the weapon that nearly brought the British Empire and the whole world to ignominious defeat.

Is there any such thing as logic in our naval policy? Is the truth or history of no account?

Can naval experts and Congress itself neither see, nor hear the approach of the storm that sounds the wreck of out navy if it ever goes into another war against a nation that provides itself with a modern fighting fleet?

There is too little space to cover this subject. Economy, however, cannot be forgotten. It is a condition forced upon us. It is not a theory. The budget cannot be evaded. Waste cannot be justified. The needs of the navy are so vital that the people must be awakened. They may give us the important Items if we stop waste.

Gunboats Needed.

It is agreed that the gunboats should be immediately built. They are needed for the routine of peace. The item is small. And it is also true that we do need cruisers. If money without limit were available we should build fifty cruisers at once. But money is not available, and we need airplane carriers and submarines vastly more than we need cruisers just at present. In the submarine ratio and the air ratio we find our weakness. It is these two ratios that our Navy is helpless today. We need not less than $300,000,000 for submarines and air forces. Every penny should be spent on these weapons.

And another forgotten fact: We have $400,000,000 worth of modern destroyers rusting at docks. If these destroyers were manned and added to our fleet they would be equal to twenty cruisers in battle. Shall we virtually ignore or destroy $400,000,000 worth of fighting ships and build new cruisers that are of less use in battle?

 Every admiral at Jutland turned away from destroyers. They did not fear nor turn away from cruisers. We have twice as many destroyers as the combined fleets of Germany and England in that battle. -And we permit these ships to rust at our docks. Why not use them, instead of spending more millions on new ships.

The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]), 17 Dec. 1924.


The cruisers that ended up populating the post Washington Arms Limitation Treaty were the Pensacola, Northampton, New Orleans, and Portland classes. These four classes were known as “Treaty cruisers” and were seen even before World War II as deficient by the Navy due to the treaty limitations, but despite their high losses in the early days of the war they performed well.

The rusting destroyers would end up helping the British during the darkest days of the early part of World War 2.

The United States Navy commissioned 51 S-class submarines from 1920 to 1925. These boats would be the platforms for much of the interwar years that trained our crews on how to operate in the blue ocean. While not technically “fleet boats” they helped prepare the navy for the boats that would soon follow.

Fullam was indeed a visionary reformer. He was in charge at the Naval Academy at a time when technology was pushing its way into the curriculum. The men who graduated while he was in command would be a large part of the air and submarine community after graduation. He deserves more recognition than he has been given for his role in preparing the navy for the American Century.

He died in 1926 and did not live to see the predictions he had made come true. The accuracy of the damage caused by air and submarines would result in the greatest naval disasters in US Naval history on December 7th, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.


He strongly supported bringing the battleship into a lesser fleet role, allowing for increased procurement and utilization of submarines, aeroplane carriers and aeroplanes as offensive weapons- what he referred to as our “Three-Plane-Navy”. Thus, a “balanced fleet” was more critical to the overall naval strength. He coined the term “battleshipitis”

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