Prior to the S-class, the U.S. Navy had no design capabilities for submarines and had relied mostly on the Electric Boat Company and the Lake Torpedo Boat Company for the design and construction of its undersea warships. Fearing a monopoly by Electric Boat, and having grown impatient with EB's less than desirable quality control and Simon Lake's financial and political drama, the Navy's Bureau of Construction & Repair and Bureau of Engineering (C&R and BuEng) took the plunge into submarine design with this class, and these boats listed here were the result. They were designed in house at the Portsmouth Navy Yard and built on that yard's ways along the Piscataqua River between Maine and New Hampshire. They were full double hulled boats (as opposed to the single hull design by EB), with all of the ballast tanks located outside the pressure hull in the space between the two hulls. They were significantly longer than the EB design, but had all the same armament and performance characteristics.
Being C&R's freshman effort in submarine design, Portsmouth found that the learning curve was quite steep, and these boats ended up being slow divers with sluggish underwater performance. S-4 and S-5 were lost in accidents, and the remainder were decommissioned in 1936-1937 and scrapped. However, C&R learned a lot from these boats, and they became confident enough that all future submarines were designed by C&R, no matter who built them.
S-3 underway, date and location unknown, but probably mid 1920's. The slit in the forward superstructure is for the retracted port bow diving plane. Directly above this on the deck are the three Y-tube sonar hydrophone "rats". The heavy wire running from the jackstaff on the bow, up to the periscope shears, and down to the flagstaff on the stern is a mine clearance cable. There is a thinner cable also attached to the jackstaff, running up to the fully raised radio mast and down to the aft flagstaff. This is a radio aerial wire for long range communications.
S-4 mooring up to another submarine in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, circa May 15, 1921. She was reported to be making active operations at Pearl Harbor on that date being referenced in the logbook of the USS Celtic (AF-2). The Celtic reported passing the S-4 exiting Pearl Harbor as the Celtic was entering the harbor on that date.
Several auxiliary mine warfare vessels can be seen in the background. One is most likely the USS Lapwing (AM-1), engaged in mine sweeping operations in Hawaiian waters from January 1921 until she decommissioned April 11, 1922. The other is most likely the USS Oriole (AM-7), who was also decommissioned in 1922 on May 3rd.
The S-4 sailed with SubDiv 12 and SubDiv 18 from Portsmouth, NH for Cavite in the Philippines on November 18, 1920 and arrived, via the Panama Canal, at Pearl Harbor on April 15, 1921. They departed Pearl Harbor on November 3, 1921 for Cavite, arriving December 1, 1921.
This is an extremely rare photograph of S-5, and PigBoats.COM is pleased to present it here. This shows S-5 alongside a very busy fitting out pier at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, late April or early May 1920. She has already been commissioned, and is going through a post-commissioning and trials refit. There are three other S-boats in the picture, with S-8 (SS-113) on the far left. To the right of her is the surrendered German submarine U-111, which was going through tests and evaluations by the Navy. Once the tests were finished, the U-111 was sunk as a target in 1921. The other two S-boats can't be identified, but based on the date they are likely S-6 (SS-111) and S-7 (SS-112). All three of the other S-boats had yet to be commissioned and had considerable work yet to be accomplished by the yard.
A fine photograph of the S-6 maneuvering up to moor, location is unknown, but the date is likely the mid to late 1920's. Line handlers are topside, many with heaving lines coiled and ready to throw. The heavy wire stretched from bow to the periscope shears and back down to the stern is a combination mine clearance wire and radio aerial. Long range communications in this period required a very long antenna wire. The crew has also rigged a pipe frame and canvas awning over the bridge to help protect the watchstanders there. It would be disassembled and taken below before diving. Note the Omaha-class light cruiser in the background.
A nice starboard side shot of S-7 underway. The location is unknown, but the background looks a lot like the Delaware River near Philadelphia. The date is the mid 1920's. She has her torpedo loading skid raised on the forward deck, along with the torpedo retriever derrick, indicating that she may be returning from a torpedo firing exercise.
S-8 and a sister boat alongside at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, ME. shortly after her completion, fall of 1920. When you compare S-8 to the earlier Government design boats, you will notice one important difference. The Government design S-boats were notorious for being slow divers. In an attempt to alleviate this problem, the Bureau of Construction & Repair engineers moved the bow planes for S-8 and S-9 down below the water line, attaching them directly to the outer hull. They stayed permanently rigged out. With the bow planes already underwater they could take an immediate bite into the water and push the bow under faster. It was a successful modification and eight of the next 12 Government design boats had this modification. The absence of the bow plane slit in the superstructure near the anchor is very apparent in this photo. Compare to the photos above.
S-9 underway in Hampton Roads, Virginia near Norfolk during the Presidential Review, June 4, 1927. The Government design S-boats were handsome submarines, with a distinctive look that is the epitome of 1920's submarine design.