O-class

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Design, Construction, and Naming Notes

The Fiscal Year 1916 coastal submarine construction program was expanded with 16 submarines authorized. The Navy took the L-class specifications and scaled up the requirements a bit. The result was the O-class. As usual, the Navy chose to have the submarines built to two different designs submitted by Electric Boat and the Lake Torpedo Boat Company. In an unusual move, the Navy obtained a legal license to build two subs of the EB design at government Navy yards. O-1 was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine, and O-2 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, WA. O-3 through O-10 were also EB designs, but they were built at the EB contractor Fore River Shipbuilding in Quincy, MA. O-11 to O-13 were built at the Lake yard in Bridgeport, CT., and O-14 to O-16 at a Lake contractor, California Shipbuilding Company in Long Beach, CA. CALSHIP ran into severe difficulties in construction, and all three boats had to be towed up the coast, incomplete, to Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, CA. for completion. Some of the boats were completed in time to make brief patrols in the Atlantic prior to the WWI armistice. Once the war was over, these boats spent a lot of time in Panama guarding the approaches to the canal.

USS O-5 (SS-66) was sunk in a collision with a steamer near the entrance to the Panama Canal. Three men died, 16 successfully escaped before the boat went down, and two, Henry Breault and Lawrence Brown were trapped alive in the torpedo room. The bow was lifted from the mud and the two men were rescued. O-5 was a total loss and even though she was salvaged the boat was not returned to service. She was sold as scrap in Balboa, C.Z., Panama.

These were the first U.S. submarines with really satisfactory diesel engines from the start. In addition, they were the last USN submarines built with 18-inch torpedo tubes. All subsequent USN designs used 21-inch diameter tubes. In general, they were well liked and quite useful, although once again the Lake variant was rated inferior to the EB boats. This was the last class in which Simon Lake installed midships diving planes in an attempt to promote his zero-angle or "even keel" diving method. The Lake boats were discarded in the mid 1920's and were eventually scrapped, and the EB boats were laid up in mothballs In Philadelphia between 1931 and 1941. They were hurriedly returned to service as war clouds loomed in 1941 and served in a useful capacity as training boats in New London. Unfortunately, USS O-9 (SS-70) was lost with all hands in a tragic accident in June 1941. Her crew is "On Eternal Patrol".

The decommissioned O-12 was pulled out of mothballs and leased back to Lake. He had the boat heavily modified for Sir Hubert Wilkins' polar expedition of 1931 and renamed it Nautilus. It was intended to run the boat under the ice all the way to the Pole. It was not successful in this role and it sank in a deep Norwegian fjord in 1931.

O-1 (SS-62)

Photo NH 44543 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 44543 courtesy of NHHC.
O-1 underway off the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York City, November 1922. There is one sailor half way out of the torpedo room hatch.

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O-2 (SS-63)

USN photo
USN photo
O-2 running on the surface during WWII, November 26, 1943. The location is in the western Atlantic off the coast of Long Island, NY. By this time the original 3"/23 caliber Mk 9 gun had been removed. These boats were used to train basic course students at the Submarine School in Groton, CT. so it was felt that the gun was not needed. O-2 has received the mandated safety modifications, with McCann Chamber compatible hatches forward and aft, rescue/marker buoys, and a motor room escape hatch. The unusual structure on her forward deck that looks like a stick figure is actually the transducers for the JK/SC sonar array.

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O-3 (SS-64)

Photo 19-N-599 courtesy of NARA.
Photo 19-N-599 courtesy of NARA.
O-3 is seen here during her builder's trials off Provincetown in Cape Cod Bay, March 24, 1918. While essentially complete at this point, O-3 has yet to receive her full bridge and conning tower fairwater. The Fore River Shipbuilding Company had painted her hull number on the side of the fairwater. This would be replaced with the boat's name when she was commissioned into the Navy a few months later.

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O-4 (SS-65)

Photo 80-G-466173 courtesy of NARA.
Photo 80-G-466173 courtesy of NARA.
O-4 is seen running trials in Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown, MA., March 23, 1918. O-4 and O-3 were running mates, completed at almost the same time. They ran trials together on the measured mile off Provincetown. Curiously, it seems that O-4 received a much more complete bridge fairwater than O-3 did. The vertical pipe sticking up from the deck forward of the fairwater is actually the barrel of the 3"/23 caliber gun. The gun is retracted into its watertight tub that extended down into the hull in the forward battery compartment. It can also be seen in the O-3 photo above. This gun was never well liked by the crews because it lacked hitting power and it had the tendency to suddenly self-retract when it was fired, posing a substantial safety threat to its own crew.

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O-5 (SS-66)

Photo NH 44551 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 44551 courtesy of NHHC.
O-5 at rest in the calm waters of Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown, MA., April 14, 1918. This was during her builder's trials period and she had not yet been commissioned into the USN. A visual characteristic of the EB design for the O-class was the large, rounded towing fairlead at the very tip of the bow, easily seen in this photo.

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O-6 (SS-67)

Photo NH 103176 courtesy NHHC.
Photo NH 103176 courtesy NHHC.
O-6 photographed from an airplane, mid, 1920's. The location is not known, but the O-boats were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone during this period, so this is likely taken somewhere near Coco Solo, Panama on the Atlantic side. An awning has been rigged over the bridge to shield the watchstanders from the oppressive equatorial sun. Two sailors on the forward deck are waving to the photographer.

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O-7 (SS-68)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
O-7 seen underway in an unknown location. This is possibly her final builder's trials in 1918 as some of the men standing on deck appear to be civilians. The location is possibly on the measured mile in Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown, MA.

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O-8 (SS-69)

O-8 underway, 1919. The location is not confirmed, but is suspected to be the Hudson River at the northern end of New York City during the Victory Fleet celebrations commemorating the end of WWI. Unusually, the submarine's bow planes are rigged out, which would normally be done only at the start or immediately after a dive. Of note in the background is a three masted sailing ship with a horizontal white stripe. This ship is likely the USS Constitution, the famous frigate of the War of 1812.

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O-9 (SS-70)

U.S. Navy photo.
U.S. Navy photo.
O-9 entering port, likely at Submarine Base Coco Solo, Panama, 1924-1928. A large number of her crew are on deck, one of them is in whites and he is probably the duty topside watch. The stern of another O-boat is visible in the foreground. Only the top of the superstructure skeg and the top of the rudder can be seen.

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O-10 (SS-71)

Photo NH 44548 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 44548 courtesy of NHHC.
O-10 and sister boat O-4 at the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, MA., September 28, 1922. O-10 was operating out of New London at the time and was likely in Boston for a periodic refit. Note that O-4 has her gun raised and O-10 has it retracted. The large, four-funneled ship in the far right background is the Army transport USAT Mount Vernon.

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O-11 (SS-72)

Photo NH 44549 courtesy NHHC.
Photo NH 44549 courtesy NHHC.
O-11 under construction at the Lake Torpedo Boat Company yard in Bridgeport, CT., July 8, 1918. The Lake design for the O-boats, although having the same armament and very similar operational characteristics, were vastly different internally and externally from their EB design brethren. One of the major external differences was that the bow planes retracted into a slit in the superstructure, as opposed to folding up alongside in the EB design. A lot of work remains to be done and equipment installed on O-11, and she is riding high in the water. One of her torpedo tubes is visible at the bow. At the right is another boat under construction. It can't be confirmed which boat it is, as Lake was building both O and R-class submarines at the same time.

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O-12 (SS-73)

Photo NH 44559 courtesy of NHHC, a print is in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo NH 44559 courtesy of NHHC, a print is in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
O-12 headed out on her initial builder's trials from the Lake company yard in Bridgeport, CT., August 21, 1918. There are 38 men topside, a normal crew would have been 29. The extras are Lake company personnel onboard to test systems. The exact location and name of the bridge in the background is not known, and it is likely that it no longer exists. But it is interesting to note that the bridge is damaged in the right of the picture and likely unusable.

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O-13 (SS-74)

Photo NH 44561 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 44561 courtesy of NHHC.
O-13 underway with an unusually large number of sailors on deck. There are at least 73 sailors topside, nearly three times the normal complement. Why there are so may onboard is unknown. The Naval History & Heritage Command suggests that this is a "liberty party", meaning that these are extra sailors from other boats that O-13 is transporting to a pier so that they may go on off-duty liberty. Doing this would have been highly unusual, as it was standard practice to use small launches for this task. This was obviously a short-term evolution, as there simply would not have been enough room below decks for all of these sailors. The last man on the left and the second man on the right are wearing working uniforms and are probably line handlers. Thelocation is unknown but we suspect it to be somewhere near Panama. The date could be 1920-1923.

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O-14 (SS-75)

Photo NH 44562 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 44562 courtesy of NHHC.
O-14 is shown here in San Pablo Bay near the Mare Island Navy Yard, late 1918 or early 1919. O-14 was one of three submarines that the Lake Torpedo Boat Company sub-contracted out to the California Shipbuilding Company of Long Beach, CA. CALSHIP's performance was poor and the boats were overdue. All three subs had to be towed up the coast to Mare Island for completion. Note the ship in the background. It has the derricks of a collier, but the single funnel engine aft configuration does not match any collier in service with the USN. The ID of this ship is a mystery for now.

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O-15 (SS-76)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
O-15 seen in what is likely Panamanian waters off Coco Solo around the early 1920's. She had a short active service life. She was commissioned on August 25, 1918 and was decommissioned on June 11, 1924 and scrapped in 1930. The Lake built submarines of the O and R-classes had many problems and when the limitations of the London Naval Treaty were enacted the boats were quickly discarded.

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O-16 (SS-77)

U.S. Navy photo RM-7-P4349 courtesy of Darryl Baker.
U.S. Navy photo RM-7-P4349 courtesy of Darryl Baker.
O-16 underway just off the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, CA. on September 3, 1918. This was just one month after her commissioning and she was likely headed out for a shakedown cruise.

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General O-class Photos

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
A busy waterfront at Submarine Base Coco Solo, Panama, 1923. In the far background is submarine chaser SC-285. Next closest to the camera is the R-26 (SS-104), Then O-3, O-7, O-9, O-5, and an unknown O-boat. It is remarkable that two of the boats in this picture, O-9 and O-5, would be later lost in tragic accidents.

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