S-4 salvage

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Salvage and the voyage to Boston

This photo was taken at approximately 3:30 pm on March 17, 1928, shortly after the salvage force successfully raised the S-4 from the bottom of Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown, MA. The six salvage pontoons that are supporting the S-4's wreck can be seen, and in the middle is the sub's conning tower fairwater. The ship on the left is the submarine rescue vessel USS Falcon (AM-28), the lead salvage ship of the force. She is connected to the S-4 and the pontoons via towing chains and air hoses. Compressed air had to be continuously pumped to the pontoons in order to keep them fully buoyant. The Falcon trailed the S-4 all the way back to Boston.

The salvage operation went remarkably well, all things considered. The Navy had learned a lot about open ocean salvage during the S-51 operation two years prior. Those lessons greatly sped the S-4 operation, and she was off the bottom in a little over three months, as opposed to the 9½ months for the S-51.

Please see the Jim Christley article at this link for the story of the S-4.

U.S. Navy photo.

The S-4 under tow to the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, MA. on the morning of March 18, 1928. They are in Boston's Inner Harbor at this point, with Haymarket and the North End in view in the background. The fleet tugs USS Wandank (AT-26) and Sagamore (AT-20) are in the lead. The two smaller tugs are not identified.

U.S. Navy photo.

The top of S-4's conning tower fairwater as she hung from the pontoons, March 18, 1928. Visible are the bridge, the periscope shears, a pipe frame lookout stand at the top of the shears, and both periscopes. A national ensign has been raised on a makeshift flagstaff braced to the shears. This photo was taken in Boston's Inner Harbor, just off the Navy Yard in Charlestown.

U.S. Navy photo.

The Move into Drydock

In this photo, S-4 has been placed on the blocks inside the drydock at the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, MA. The date is March 18, 1928. The boat has been rolled upright and braced to the dock sidewall by divers. The pumping of the dock has not yet begun. One of the pontoons can be seen on the far right.

U.S. Navy photo.

A long view of the S-4 and her pontoons in drydock at Charlestown. This photo was taken from a crane at the caisson end of the drydock. All of the pontoons used are in view, and they are still in their towing positions. At this point, divers are in the water from the various small boats milling about the dock. They are checking to make sure that the S-4 is resting squarely on the blocks and that none of them shifted while the boat was being rolled to an even keel. Once these inspections are complete, the pumping of the dock will resume. The dock workers have installed two long braces to either side of the conning tower fairwater. These will ensure that the boat does not roll as the water is pumped out.

U.S. Navy photo.

On the S-4 a workman is beginning the process of pumping out the submarine. On the raft in the background a diver is emerging from the water after inspecting the placement of the keel on the keel blocks. His helmet rests at the feet of the man with his hands in his pockets. A manual hand-cranked pump for delivering air to the diver is at the other end of the raft with the men to turn it clustered around it.

U.S. Navy photo.

The actual pumping of the dock did not begin until the morning of March 19, 1928. By this point the boat is firmly on the blocks and the dock is being pumped down. The deck gun has been turned to port to allow better access to the damaged deck. Workmen are rigging pumping hoses to dewater the battery compartment directly below, as this was the only compartment that was unable to be dewatered due to the damage it received from the Paulding. The deck damage seen here was caused by the Paulding as it slid along the upper part of the hull during the collision.

Of historical note in this photo is the cover that is in place over the breech end of the 4"/50 caliber gun. This cover is not seen in most photos. It was found that the breech mechanism was hardier than originally thought and that the cover was not necessary. It was deleted from most of the submarine guns that used it.

Image provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis.

A photo taken slightly later than the one above, March 18, 1928. More water has been pumped out of the dock, and diving barges are still milling about, with divers continuously checking the keel blocks to ensure they stay in place.

U.S. Navy photo

Enough water has been pumped out of the dock to reveal the collision damage for the first time. March 19, 1928.

Image provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis via Joe Williams.

Damage Assessment and Inspection

A good view of the hole in the starboard side of the S-4. The Paulding struck the S-4 at nearly head-on, and once the Paulding's forefoot broke off inside the submarine's hull, the ship slid up and over the hull and scraping it as it went past. It then struck the superstructure and ripped away a large portion of it before the S-4 sank below the ship.

mage provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis via Joe Williams.

Four additional views of the damage to S-4's starboard side. Photo #2 has been marked up with arrows to show the damage, and in photo #3 on the left a small portion of the broken lower forefoot of the USCGC Paulding (the ship that struck S-4) can still be seen.

In this photo, probably taken on March 19, 1928, the dry dock is finally almost pumped free of water. Yard and Navy personnel can be seen on and under the submarine. It is draped with a profusion of lines, hoses, and pontoon lifting chains.

The long sausage looking object on the hull below the waterline beneath the bow planes is a MV sonar, a replacement for the earlier Y-tube mounted on the main deck forward. It was a line array of 12 microphones and was electronically steered. A duplicate array was on the port side.

U.S. Navy photo.

Looking at the S-4 from the port side. Damage to the deck can be seen, as well as damage to the fairwater at the front of the conning tower where the ammunition passing scuttle is located. The fairwater damage was caused by the salvage process from the lifting chains and pontoons. This can be seen just above the letter "S" on the fairwater.

Image provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis via Joe Williams.

A closer look at the forward end of the conning tower fairwater and the damage it sustained during the salvage process. The three round portholes in the background let light into the watertight conning tower.

Image provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis via Joe Williams.

A series of four photos show Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur (wearing the fedora hat and long coat) at the Boston Navy Yard on March 20, 1928 to inspect the wreck of the S-4. In photo #1 he is talking to Captain Ernest J. King, who commanded the Salvage Force. On the far left is RADM Philip Andrews, Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, and on the right is Lieutenant Henry Hartley, a salvage expert. King would go on to five star Fleet Admiral rank and would serve President Franklin Roosevelt as Chief of Naval Operations during WWII.

U.S. Navy photos.

In conjunction with the Secretary of the Navy's visit, a family member, identified as a Miss Fennell, sister of Machinist's Mate 1st Class John Joseph Fennell, who lost his life when S-4 was sunk, watches as the submarine rests in dry dock at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, March 20, 1928. Other family members can be seen in this photo also. Note the arm bands.

U.S. Navy photos.

This photo was taken on March 21, 1928, several days after the ones above. The 4"/50 caliber deck gun has been removed to facilitate repairs to the boat. The collision damage to the deck and superstructure in the area of the hole, (to the left in this photo), is clearly seen. At the right side is a large electrical pump that is in use pumping water from the hull. The stanchions for the radio antennas atop the bridge are bent to port as is the periscope. The two massive poles bracing the submarine to the sides of the drydock are seen running to each side of the photo. Portable lighting has been set up to allow work into the night and provide a safe area for walking due to all the damage. The round wire mesh enclosure in the foreground is a covering for one of the main ballast tank vents.

Image provided courtesy of the Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College, Papers of John S. Baylis via Joe Williams.

In dry dock at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, circa March 21, 1928. The original caption reads: "In memory of the historic crew. A huge cross of roses, the gift of workers at the Boston Navy Yard, is tied to the periscope of the ill-fated submarine S-4, after the eight bodies were removed from the undersea craft which is now in drydock at the Boston Navy Yard." Two men are seen attaching the roses to the periscope. Note the depth marking stick placed just forward of the submarine's fairwater during salvage operations.

U.S. Navy photo.

A Mk 10 torpedo is removed from the S-4. The weapon was pushed by hand out of the torpedo tube, where a crane gingerly picked up the weapon and moved it to the pier. How many weapons the S-4 was carrying on her final voyage is not known.

U.S. Navy photo.

Interior Photos of the Damage

Interior of the Battery Room, looking forward and to starboard, March 23, 1928. The irregular object running the length of the compartment, just above the lockers on the right (port) side, is the collapsed ventilator duct through which water entered the Control Room. The curtain to the C.O.'s bunk was drawn into this duct, which clogged the valve on the after side of the bulkhead, preventing it from closing. This allowed flooding of the control room, forcing the crew to abandon it aft to the engine room. The white object running at an angle down and to the left is the support for the center two rows of bunks.

S-4 flooded through a hole, made by Paulding's bow, in the forward starboard side of the Battery Room.

U.S. Navy photo.

In this closeup view of the starboard side of the battery room shows the pressure hull penetration caused by the Paulding's bow. A piece of her forefoot can be seen protruding into the interior. The crew made an attempt to stem the flooding by packing articles of clothing into the breach.

U.S. Navy photo.

This view from inside S-4's torpedo room after the boat had been placed in drydock. It was in this compartment that six men died a lingering death. This view looks aft at the door into the battery room, showing the door tightly dogged. The door itself was tight, but the glass deadlight window leaked, as is shown by the rubber sheet held in place by a pinch bar and wooden wedges, placed there by the trapped men. It was a classic work of naval damage control by desperate men.

The six men in this compartment were;

Lieutenant Graham N. Fitch
Torpedoman's Mate Russell A. Crabb
Seaman Joseph L. Stevens
Seaman George Pelnar
Torpedoman's Mate Roger L. Short
Torpedoman's Mate Frank Snizek

As the trapped men used the last of available oxygen in the sub's torpedo room, a diver placed his helmeted ear to the side of the vessel and received this Morse-coded message, “Is … there … any … hope?” Unfortunately, the ultimate answer was "no". All six men died.

As a result of these first sinkings the doors used in submarines were redesigned smaller and heavier and existing boats were retrofitted with these over time. New submarines were designed with the smaller doors.

U.S. Navy photo, copy in the collection of Ric Hedman.

The Aftermath

On the left is LT Henry Hartley, (holding his little dog), the commanding officer of the USS Falcon (AM-28), the principal salvage ship of the task force that raised the S-4. His expertise was instrumental in the successful salvage of the boat. On the right is Chief Gunner's Mate Thomas Eadie, one of the leading divers during the salvage effort. Eadie is a USN diving legend of unparalleled skill and bravery. He worked on many projects, including the salvage of the S-51 and the S-4. He was awarded two Navy Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his work.

The two men are proudly displaying the S-4's bell, recovered from the wreck by Eadie.

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.

A letter written by Torpedoman Roger Leslie Short when he realized that he may not survive the sinking of the S-4.

The letter says: In case of my death please send entire contents of box to my mother Mrs. (unreadable) Short 804 (unreadable) Spring St. Booneville, Missouri. By Roger L. Short U.S.N.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Seaman George Pelnar left this message on where to send his body when and if it was recovered. It says: My body to Pelnar 5609 S. 19th St., Omaha, Neb.

Seaman George Pelnar had only been aboard for 21 days at the time of sinking.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The Crew

There were 22 other crew that we don't have images for. If you have photos of these missing men please contact On Eternal Patrol or this web page with this information.

Other lost crew with no photo:

Clarence Ferdinand Bethke / Earl Welsh Boone / Elmer Lyfford Cash / Russell Archibald Crabb / William Dempsey / Robert William Diefenbach / John Joseph Fennell / Donald Fred Goering / Peder Haaland / Buster Harris / Arthur Frederick Hodges / Paul Richard Kempfer / J. H. Long / Fred Henry O'Shields / George Pelnar / Rudolf James Rose / Alfred Eugene Seaton / Carl Bernice Strange / Mariano Tedar / Carl Harold Thompson / Walter Ross Tolson / James Johnson White

Photos courtesy of the On Eternal Patrol website

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Ric Hedman & David Johnston
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