S-48 through S-51

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Design and Construction Notes

These four boats made up the 2nd contract awarded to the Lake Torpedo Boat Company of Bridgeport, CT. to build submarines to the Navy's Bureau of Construction & Repair design (the modified Government design). The rush to incorporate a stern torpedo tube into the design of the S-10 through S-13 group resulted in a less than desirable arrangement aft, where the single aft torpedo tube simply let into the large motor room that already existed in the Government design. Stowage for two reload torpedoes furthered the space and arrangement problems in the motor room that were encountered by that group.

Accordingly, C&R made a major change to the S-48 group by lengthening them nine feet so that a separate watertight aft torpedo room could be incorporated. This also caused a significant redesign of the rudder and stern plane arrangement, a look that presaged the arrangement on the later fleet submarines. Instead of the finely tapering stern that wrapped around the stern tube in the S-10 group, on the S-48 group the "chisel" stern of the S-3 group returned, with the torpedo tube jutting through the middle of the chisel. When seen in drydock, this gave the S-48 group a distinctive stern look. These boats were also powered by a larger 2-cycle version of the Busch-Sulzer diesel engine and had the below water non-retractable bow planes. Displacement increased from the nominal 800 tons surfaced to 903 tons.

Although visually they were the epitome of the 1920's USN submarine design aesthetic, in the end they were not well liked by the Navy. The boats were slow divers with ponderous underwater maneuverability and questionable reliability. S-51 was lost in a tragic accident in 1925 and was subsequently salvaged and scrapped. S-49 and S-50 were decommissioned in 1927 and after suffering battery fires and to keep the Navy in compliance with the London Naval Treaty. S-49 clung to life after being sold to a civilian firm as a tourist exhibit and S-50 was scrapped in 1930. Only S-48 continued to serve. After a grounding in 1925 she was taken in hand to be modified in a scheme to fully modernize the Government S-boats. Her modifications were not repeated on any other Government design S-boat after the costs ballooned to unsustainable levels. However, they were generally successful and S-48 alone of this group served all the way through the end of WWII.

S-48 (SS-159)

Photo #19-N-8274 courtesy of NARA.
Photo #19-N-8274 courtesy of NARA.
S-48 seen in October, 1922 shortly after her commissioning. The location is unknown but it may be near Bridgeport, CT. where she was built, or possibly near the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

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S-49 (SS-160)

Photo #80-G-1025021 courtesy of NARA.
Photo #80-G-1025021 courtesy of NARA.
S-49 running builder's trials, April, 1921. The location is presumed to be in Long Island Sound. It looks as if she is running at nearly full speed, given the smoke from the engines aft and the sizeable wake as she cuts through the water.

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S-50 (SS-161)

U.S. Navy photo NH 108473 courtesy of the NHHC.
U.S. Navy photo NH 108473 courtesy of the NHHC.
A closeup of the S-50 from the port bow during operations with the S-51 in 1924. Location is not known for sure, but we are speculating that it is somewhere in the Caribbean or near the Panama Canal.

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S-51 (SS-162)

U.S. Navy photo NH 108473 courtesy of the NHHC.
U.S. Navy photo NH 108473 courtesy of the NHHC.
The other half of the photo above, showing S-51 operating somewhere in the Caribbean in the company of her sister S-50 in 1924.

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