From PigBoats.COM

Design and Construction Notes

Illustration by Jim Christley, exclusive to PigBoats.COM. MAY NOT be used without permission.
Illustration by Jim Christley, exclusive to PigBoats.COM. MAY NOT be used without permission.
The 27 R-class submarines were built to two distinctly different designs at three shipyards. Both designs had similar operational and military characteristics, but had vastly different internal arrangements, equipment installations, and external appearances. The two designs were developed by the Electric Boat Company (EB) of New York City (later Groton, CT.) and the Lake Torpedo Boat Company of Bridgeport, CT. R-1 through R-14 were of the EB design and were built at Bethlehem Quincy near Boston (formerly Fore River Shipbuilding Company). R-15 through R-20 were of the EB design and built at Bethlehem San Francisco (formerly Union Iron Works). R-21 through R-27 were built by Lake at his Bridgeport yard.

The illustration at left is by artist and historian Jim Christley, done exclusively for PigBoats.COM. It shows the general, as built configuration of the EB design for the R-class. The Lake design for this class differed extensively (see below).

While these boats were serving in Hawaii in the 1920's, some of them carried an unusual visual identification scheme. A large geometric shape was painted in white on the sides of the conning tower fairwater. This shape could be seen a long distances, making the boat easy to identify for fleet exercises. The following are the boats that carried the shape scheme and what the shape was:

•R-11: = (two horizontal stripes)
•R-12: X
•R-13: ★
•R-14: ♦
•R-15: ■
•R-16: ●
•R-17: ▲
•R-19: +
•R-20: ǀǀǀ (three vertical stripes)

The use of the shape scheme was limited to the Hawaii area and was abandoned in favor of the boat's name even before they returned to the states.

The legal provisions of the WWI era construction programs forced the Navy to accept all of the warships that had been contracted for construction during that time. After the war ended, the Navy found itself with more ships than it felt it needed for peacetime operations so scores of ships and submarines were laid up in reserve. The Lake design R-boats were all sent to Philadelphia for inactivation after only about five years of service. They were destined to be scrapped in the early 1930's to keep the USN in compliance with the London Naval Treaty. That same treaty forced the USN to lay up many of the EB design R-boats in 1930-1931. However, the EB design boats were retained, and most were reactivated for service as WWII kicked off in Europe. Several of these boats served in WWII as stateside training submarines. None made war patrols in the Pacific, although a few made anti U-boat patrols in the Caribbean. USS R-12 (SS-89) was lost on June 12, 1943 off Key West due to hull failure. There were just five survivors. The rest of the crew are "on eternal patrol".

The class is broken down by groups below.

R-1 through R-14 (EB design built at Bethlehem Quincy)

U.S. Navy photo.
U.S. Navy photo.
R-class submarines of Submarine Division 9, circa December 1919, moored to the submarine tender USS Camden (AS-6) at the 79th Street Boat Basin in Manhattan's west side. At the top of the photo is S-3 (SS-107) and S-4 (SS-109). The boats were in port for a visit while enroute to the Gulf of Mexico for big fleet maneuvers. Later, in April 1921, SubDiv 9 was transferred to San Pedro and arrived there on June 30, 1921. We know this photo was taken on the 1919 trip since the R-9 did not transfer to the Pacific until 1924 and she is seen in these photos. Note that only R-10 and R-3 have guns installed. The R-boats would later receive 3"/50 caliber Mk 6 weapons while the S-boats would receive 4"/50 caliber Mk 9's.

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R-15 through R-20 (EB design built at Bethlehem San Francisco)

National Archives photo.
National Archives photo.
In this photo are all six of the R-class submarines assigned for construction to Bethlehem San Francisco. The photo was taken on 03 March 1918 and shows the boats after launching but before completion and commissioning. The three boats in the foreground are (L to R) the R-16, 17, and 18. In the background (order unknown) are the R-15, 19, and 20. When the construction contracts for the boats were written the yard was known as Union Iron Works. By the time of this photo the yard had been acquired by Bethlehem Steel and was properly known as Bethlehem San Francisco (BSF).

BSF launched their boats with much of the superstructure and the conning tower fairwater yet to be installed, and with a false bow that was later replaced with the permanent one prior to completion. This is in marked contrast to the Bethlehem Quincy (BQ) yard near Boston (previously known as Fore River Shipbuilding) that built their group of R-boats with most of the superstructure complete and the conning tower fairwater in place. The cylindrical ribbed tower in the center of each boat is the pressure proof conning tower itself, used as a periscope station for making submerged attacks. Later in the construction phase a sheet steel fairwater would be built around the conning tower to provide a smooth flow of water around the tower, to provide a bridge for the Officer of the Deck and lookouts while surfaced, and to provide supports for the periscopes.

The docks on both sides of the submarines are stacked with huge amounts of materials for ship construction. BSF was also building destroyers and civilian merchant ships at this time and much of this material may be for those ships, as some of it is too large for submarines. What looks like huge sheets of cork insulation are stacked near the center of the photograph. This was applied to the interior of the pressure hull to help control the temperature of the interior of the boat. It was also to prevent condensation from dripping all over the crew and equipment causing discomfort and electrical shorts and grounds. There are also piping unions, elbows, and junctions stacked around seemingly by the hundreds.

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R-21 through R-27 (Lake design built at Lake Torpedo Boat Company)

Drawing by Jim Christley courtesy of Navsource.org
Drawing by Jim Christley courtesy of Navsource.org
An excellent line drawing by artist/historian Jim Christley of the Lake design for the R-class. Simon Lake finally abandoned the concept of zero angle diving with midships diving planes in this class, at the Navy's insistence. The flat horizontal stern and the ventrally mounted rudder, stern planes, and propeller shafts are quite apparent.

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General R-class group photos.

U.S. Navy photo.
U.S. Navy photo.
The R-class submarines of Submarine Division 9, circa December 1919, moored to the submarine tender USS Camden (AS-6) at the 79th Street Boat Basin with Manhattan's west side skyline visible in the background.

See more R-class group photos

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