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Design, Construction, and Naming Notes

The five C-class harbor defense submarines were built to an Electric Boat Company design at the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, MA. They were the first two propeller boats built for the U.S. Navy, starting a design trend that would last until 1953. They were also the first Electric Boat submarines designed entirely without the assistance of the company's founder, John P. Holland. The boats were all commissioned into the Navy with their "fish" names, but on November 17, 1911 the Navy changed its naming convention for submarines and these boats were renamed with the C-class names. Octopus (C-1) was built in 1906/1907 for a set of competitive trials with the Simon Lake submarine Lake (see this page). The Octopus was judged superior in every category and was selected for series production. Four more boats were later built by Fore River. This early trial accounts for the out of sequence hull number for Octopus.

In an interesting historical footnote... the USN C-class submarines never fired a shot in anger. However, Electric Boat did sell two of their EB-17 design boats to Austria in 1906. These boats were virtual duplicates of the C-class. Famous torpedo inventor Robert Whitehead and his Whitehead & Co. obtained a license from EB to build the boats in Fiume. The boats were partially assembled in the U.S. (presumably at the Fore River Shipbuilding Company), then shipped in broken down form to Fiume where the Whitehead company finished the assembly and fitting out. They were commissioned into the Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1910 as SM U-5 and U-6. Both boats saw combat in WWI, with U-5 in particular sinking or capturing four ships, including the French cruiser Leon Gambetta. Most of the U-5's successes came while she was under the command of none other than Linienschiffsleutnant Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp, the patriarch of the Von Trapp Family Singers of The Sound of Music fame. Von Trapp's first wife, the mother of many of his children, was Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, whose company built the U-5. Agathe also had the honor of christening the U-5 on the day of her launching.

Octopus/C-1 (Submarine No. 9)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman
Octopus underway in the company of another C-class boat, probably in Narragansett Bay, R.I., 1910-1912. Octopus was a prototype for the C-class, built as part of the 1906 Naval Appropriations bill. Octopus passed her trials and was commissioned into the Navy on June 30, 1908, just as other boats of the class were being laid down. She had an early surface steering system, consisting of a vertical shaft with a wheel on top, located just aft of the conning tower fairwater. It can be seen here with a sailor standing next to it. The later boats had the steering station moved to a better location on the bridge.

See more C-1 photos

Stingray/C-2 (Submarine No. 13)

USN photo.
USN photo.
Stingray underway, approximately 1910. Location is unknown, but could possibly be Narragansett Bay, R.I. It is hard to see, but there is another C-class submarine behind Stingray, along with several surface warships.

See more C-2 photos

Tarpon/C-3 (Submarine No. 14)

Photo 19-N-13461 courtesy of NARA.
Photo 19-N-13461 courtesy of NARA.
C-3 underway during the Naval Review in New York City, October 4, 1912. A temporary pipe frame and canvas bridge has been erected on the aft end of the conning tower fairwater. The Naval Reviews were very popular events with the public in these years, and the Navy would provide dozens of ships.

See More C-3 photos

Bonita/C-4 (Submarine No. 15)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
C-4 in a photo taken approximately 1912, possibly taken off Provincetown, MA. making a full speed run for the camera. There is moderate swell running and the submarine is taking water over the bow. There seems to be four or five men on the bridge. One man looks to be climbing the conning tower fair water to keep dry feet. The torpedo loading derrick is rigged up on the forward deck.

The C-class submarines had a reported top speed of 11 knots on the surface and nine knots submerged. They were powered by twin gasoline engines on the surface.

C-4 had a later modification to her bow that made her unique among the C-class. She had a secondary anchor installed in a special housing behind the rectangular door seen here near the tip of the bow. This necessitated the raising of the bow. The remainder of the boats retained the downward angled bow and the mushroom anchor that was deployed from the bottom of the boat and operated from the torpedo room.

See More C-4 photos

Snapper/C-5 (Submarine No. 16)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Snapper maneuvering up to a pier with a tug assisting her, 1910-1911, location unknown. On the left in the background there appears to be one of the early destroyers or possibly a torpedo boat.

See More C-5 photos

General C-class photos

National Archives photo.
National Archives photo.
All five of the C-Class submarines are seen together entering the middle east chamber of the Gatun locks on March 9, 1914, prior to the official opening of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal was officially opened on August 25, 1914. The submarines are entering the locks to use them as an impromptu dry dock.

The Submarines are left to right the C-4, C-5, C-2, C-3 and C-1. The Sub Div designators are on their conning towers as a "1" over another number, (this indicating their physical position in a division at-sea steaming formation). The C-1 is 1 over 3; the C-3 is 1 over 5; the C-2 is 1 over 1 (flagship); C-5 is 1 over 4, and the C-4 is 1 over 2.

Seen on the conning tower of the C-5 (second from left) in the white broad brimmed hat is probably the civilian pilot, whose responsibility it was to guide the submarines through the canal. The is still done to this day.

See more General C-class photos.

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