1925 Cold Shivers Run Down The Spines From the Undersea Monsters
The year did not start out well for the United States submarine services.
Two incidents in January were reminders that the role of submariner remained a dangerous job.
January 13. The S-19 boat grounded during a storm.
In the early hours of 13 January 1925, when the submarine ran aground off Chatham, Massachusetts, on the southern coast of Cape Cod, after strong winds and unusually heavy seas had pushed her far from her course. She had departed Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, the previous afternoon after overhaul, and was en route to New London, Connecticut. The United States Coast Guard cutters Tampa and Acushnet came to S-19‘s assistance, as did life-saving crews from two nearby Coast Guard stations. Heavy seas made it impossible to pass a line to the grounded submarine or to reach her by boat until late on the evening of 14 January, when a party from the Nauset, Massachusetts, Coast Guard station succeeded in boarding. By the morning of 15 January, S-19‘s crew had been safely brought to shore. After strenuous effort by Navy tugs and the Coast Guard cutters, S-19 was finally freed from the shoal.
January 29 – The S-48 boat also runs aground
The S-48 boat grounded off the coast in a blinding snow storm and her crew had to be rescued by Coast Guardsmen that braved strong winds to reach them. The boat later filled with chlorine gas and would eventually be towed back to shore.
On the night of 29 January 1925, S-48 arrived off the New Hampshire coast. At about 18:30, the wind picked up and a heavy snowstorm developed. Visibility was reduced to zero. Soon after 19:34, the S-boat grounded on rocks off Jeffrey Point; pulled herself off; then grounded again in Little Harbor. Messages requesting assistance were dispatched. By midnight, the storm had worsened, seas were coming “clean [sic] over the S-48” and she was rolling – 15 degrees to port, 60 degrees to starboard. Violent rolling lasted for only a little over thirty minutes but a heavy list developed. By 03:30 on 30 January, the battery compartment was taking in water. Chlorine gas was forming. The storm continued; but help arrived at 05:00, and Coast Guardsmen manning lifeboats rescued the crew. After receiving treatment for exposure and gas at Fort Stark, crew members were transferred to the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine.
On 1 February 1925, salvage operations were begun. A week later, the S-boat was freed and towed to the navy yard for repairs. However, the damage was severe and the funds were lacking; and, on 7 July 1925, S-48 was decommissioned. Nearly a year later, though, on 25 June 1926, repairs and alterations were authorized, and, on 3 February 1927, the work began. But, again, a shortage of funds stopped the project. In 1928, the repair and modernization was carried out. In hopes of improving habitability and increasing her range, her hull was extended 25½ feet; her displacement was increased to 1165 tons, and her engines were replaced by German M.A.N. types. On 1 December 1928, the work was finally completed. On 8 December 1928, almost four years after her accident, S-48 was recommissioned.
The S-48 boat had been operating with the S-51 boat which was not damaged.
Sadly, her year would not end well either.
Around the globe, the submarine building surge continued despite all of the problems being experienced. Maritime leaders saw the potential for bigger and faster boats in future wars. SO it was no surprise when England and France, long term rivals, led the way once more despite England’s protestations about the little monsters.
Submarine Role in Future Wars
Great Britain Will Urge Restriction on Building at Arms Conference
London, March 7.—Submarines will play a most important part in the next naval war, according to British naval experts, the Washington treaty notwithstanding.
Already in some quarters there are fears that there is competition in the building of submarines—bigger and faster submarines than the world has known heretofore. The Washington treaty provides: “To the end that the prohibition of the use of submarines as commerce destroyers shall be universally accepted as part of the law of nations, they now accept that prohibition as henceforth binding as between themselves, and they invite all other nations to adhere thereto.”
This provision is all very nice as far as it goes, hut some naval experts point out that it doesn’t go far enough, for there is no prohibition of the number of submarines that may be built, the number of guns they may mount, or their tonnage up to 10,000 tons.
The number of submarines building and projected in the various naval programs of the powers signatory to the Washington treaty is 138. The non-signatory powers are building or propose to build 37. This makes a total of 175 submarines now building, or projected, and these figures make the cold shivers run down the spines of some British naval experts, for they foresee surface navies struggling under limitations, while the growth of and surface navies goes on apace.
Great Britain has recently exulted in the successful completion of the XI, the largest submarine in the world. But gradually there is coming a realization that the undersea monster may not long hold title to being the biggest in the world. In some quarters this ship is regarded as the portent of increasing competition in the construction of submarines.
The French have a new design for a submarine of 3.000 tons, whose speed is described as moderate, but which is intended as a cruiser capable of covering a wide area.
The possibilities of the submarine have recently been demonstrated by the British submarine R-26, which accomplished a cruise to Singapore and return, unattended by a depot ship, fuel ship or repair ship. This trip demonstrated the capability of the submarine to take up the work of cruisers.
If President Coolidge summons another disarmament conference it now seems certain that Great Britain will strive for an agreement for the regulation of submarines.
British commerce is seaborne. During the last war the British had experience in striving to cope with submarine warfare and they know how difficult it is: therefore they are anxious to eliminate this phase of modern warfare.
As it has not yet been demonstrated that the submarine can be fought with submarines, there is no disposition to enter into any naval race in these ships, but unless there is some agreement for their limitation many British naval authorities fear that such a race will come, if it hasn’t already started.
The Omaha Morning Bee. (Omaha [Neb.]), 08 March 1925.
September 1925 – The Loss of the S-51 Boat
BOSTON. September 26.- The submarine S-51, struck and sunk by the steamer City of Rome, 14 miles east of Block Island last night, rested in 125 feet of water late tonight, with a failure so far the outcome of all attempts to rescue the 34 men believed to be entrapped within her hull. The highest hopes of Navy officials at the scene was that the men might live for 72 hours provided there was no leakage of water into the submarine. Others said that at least two days would be needed to raise the submarine to the surface.
Divers favored by a moonlight night and a calm sea, failed in their attempt to force compressed air into the S-51 and turned their efforts to passing a sling under the stern. Above them floated a large group of salvage vessels, mine swappers and wrecking craft, accompanied by four submarines. The divers failed in all efforts to communicate with those believed imprisoned in the wreck.
Little Hope for Shipmates.
The divers said the S-51 was resting on her keel with a slight list to port, with a large hole in her portside abaft the conning tower. The City of Rome arrived here this afternoon with three survivors on board. Alfred Meier of New Bedford: Michael S. Dint of St. Louis and Dewey Kile of Peoria, Miss. They were taken to the Chelsea Hospital with minor injuries. They told of their narrow escape from death and declared they had little hope that their comrades still aboard the S-51 would he found alive.
The diving operations were conducted from an outfit sent out from Newport, where there is a deep sea diving school in connection with the; naval station. The vessels were the tug Triton, the diving boat Crilly and two range boats. Work was carried on under the glare of searchlights from a fleet of naval and Coast Guard craft assembled about the scene of the collision.
Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 27 Sept. 1925. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1925-09-27/ed-1/seq-1/
The twenty-three men remaining aboard the sunken sub were declared dead.
S-51 was brought to the surface on 5 June 1926, nearly nine months after her sinking. There had been some hope of refitting her for further service, but the damage proved to be too great. The remains of the lost Sailors were removed and the hull was stripped. On 4 June 1930, the Borough Metal Company of Brooklyn, New York, purchased the hulk for $3,320.
A good telling of the sinking is here:
The future looked bleak
By the end of the year, questions about the future were still being debated. The biggest questioned remained: was the reward of having more submarines worth the risk?
“THE TORPEDOED LUSITANIA is the symbol, to the popular mind, of the submarine’s war-time terror. And the fact that in time of peace the undersea boat is so often a death-trap for its crew makes many gravely question whether it ought not to be abandoned. The loss of the American S-51 off the New England coast in September, and of the British M-l in the English Channel seven weeks later, are only the latest of a series of post-war submarine disasters that have afflicted the navies of the United States, Great Britain and Japan. The tragic and mysterious sinking of the giant submersible monitor M-l, with its entire crew of sixty-nine officers and men, has aroused vigorous popular agitation in England for the complete abolition of the submarine. In America the prevailing sentiment toward such a proposal seems to be one of sympathy tempered with doubt as to its feasibility. In Japan the Minister of the Navy calls it “good in principle,” but fears that it is not practicable. In France, where the submarine is regarded as a very necessary weapon of defense, the idea finds scant favor. Read this interesting article in this week’s “Digest.”
Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 27 Nov. 1925.
Note from my soon to be published book on Captain Cassin Young:
Cassin Young had been part of the outfitting crew of the S-51 before his transfer to his new assignment to the Office of Naval Communications in Washington DC in 1923. The S-51 would be the last submarine he was directly assigned to. His future assignments in the submarine community would all be staff or Squadron leadership in charge of other period boats until he was assigned as Executive Officer of Naval Submarine Base New London. In another connection, when the S-51 was finally raised, she was accompanied home by the Repair Ship USS Vestal.
The Vestal was Young’s command at Pearl Harbor where he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 7, 1951.