Salmon/Sargo Class

From PigBoats.COM

Design and Construction Notes

This class of 16 submarines were longer, heavier, and faster developments of the preceding Porpoise class. They also carried two additional torpedo tubes in the aft torpedo room, for a total of eight.

The first six boats were authorized in Fiscal Year 1936 appropriations (the Salmon group), with construction of three going to EB, two to Portsmouth, and one to Mare Island. Six more boats of the class were authorized in FY-37 (the Sargo group) with the same spread of construction yards. Four more boats were authorized in FY-38 (the Seadragon group). They were split evenly between EB and Portsmouth. All 16 boats had the same performance specifications and armament, and were very similar in external appearance. They will all be considered to be one class here on PigBoats.COM. The Government owned Navy yards, with labor and procedural issues now in the past, had fully adopted welding as the primary joinery method. All 16 boats of this class, Electric Boat and Government design, were of fully welded construction, as were all subsequent submarines.

The Navy had encountered some problems with the all-electric drive on the Porpoise class. Serious issues with flashover on the main motors while under load, and the loss of 360 horsepower in transmission through the electrical system temporarily soured the Navy on all-electric drive. Accordingly, the first 12 boats of the Salmon/Sargo class had a new "composite" drive arrangement where two engines were connected to the propeller shafts and two drove only generators. While successful, the composite drive arrangement was cramped, complicated, and difficult to maintain. The four Seadragons reverted to all-electric drive, the issues that the force had experienced with the Porpoises having been largely corrected by that time.

In an effort to increase torpedo loadout, all of the Salmon/Sargo class submarines had four non firing torpedo stowage tubes inside the superstructure, stacked two-a-piece vertically on each side of the conning tower. To access the tubes, deck hatches were removed, the sub's two liberty launches were pulled out and placed in the water, and the weapons were extracted from the stowage tubes one at a time. They were winched up to the main deck and then lowered down into the torpedo room in the standard manner. The total evolution under good conditions would take a minimum of two hours. In peacetime this was acceptable, in war it was a tremendous liability so the tubes were removed during wartime overhauls.

Due to a defect in the main induction valve operating system, Squalus (SS-192) sank while on trials near the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. The after part of the boat flooded during a test dive and 26 men lost their lives. The remaining 33 men were rescued in the very first operational use of the McCann Rescue Chamber. Squalus was salvaged, returned to Portsmouth, and repaired. Renamed Sailfish but retaining her original hull number, she went on to serve the Navy well, earning a fine war record in WWII.

These boats received extensive modifications and modernizations during the war. Their fairwaters were cut down to lessen the overall silhouette, and they received additional or upgraded gun armament, radar, and other improvements. During an overhaul in 1942 Stingray received two additional external forward firing torpedo tubes in the superstructure just below the main deck forward of the bow planes. This was a belated attempt at increasing firepower, but the experiment was not successful and the tubes were removed in a later overhaul.

These boats were in the thick of the fight against the Japanese from the very first day of the war. Four of them (marked by an asterisk) and their brave crews were lost in action and are considered to be "on eternal patrol".

Note... many early photos of these boats will show them with large "S" identifiers painted on their bows and fairwaters. These were used to identify the boats visually while on the surface. The identifiers were NOT their names or designations. The use of these identifiers was common on the fleet boats, but faded out in favor of hull numbers in 1938 because their use became confusing.

While generally very similar in external appearance, there were a lot of variations in these boats over the years, especially once WWII started. For a thorough explanation of these changes, please take a few minutes to read the Visual Guide article at this link.

Salmon (SS-182)

USN photo NH 19-N-19930, from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
USN photo NH 19-N-19930, from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
Salmon on her launch day, June 12, 1937 at the Electric Boat Co., Groton CT. At the very tip of the bow is a ring style towing fairlead, or "bullnose" above the level of the deck. The Sargo and Seadragon groups had this bullnose faired into the tip of the bow, providing a visual clue in identifying the boats. The officer standing on the viewing platform is unknown, but it may have been the Salmon's first commanding officer, LT Marvin M. Stephens. In a few hours this platform and every available level surface would be covered with people. Ship launchings were a popular event in the 1930's, as it was a visual demonstration that the nation was bouncing back from the depths of the Great Depression.

See more Salmon photos

Seal (SS-183)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Seal proceeding up the Thames River on her delivery run from her builders at Electric Boat Company. She is enroute to Submarine Base New London in April, 1937. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy can be seen on the hill on the far side of the river.

See more Seal photos

Skipjack (SS-184)

Photo 19-N-19055 courtesy of NARA.
Photo 19-N-19055 courtesy of NARA.
A May 14, 1938 photo of the Skipjack at rest off Provincetown, MA. Skipjack began an extended sea trial on August 4, 1938 that took her down the U.S. east coast and Caribbean down to Panama. This photo was colorized by Ric Hedman.

See more Skipjack photos

Snapper (SS-185)

Photo NH 99096 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 99096 courtesy of NHHC.
This 1938 photo of a brand new Snapper shows her at anchor somewhere in the Atlantic. This picture is a good representation of the inherent flaw of the class identifiers still in use at this time. "S4" was the name of submarine SS-109, a member of the S-class, that was lost in a tragic collision in 1927. The Salmon class boats that were carrying the "S" class identifiers were being confused with the earlier S-class submarines, so this prompted the Navy to shift to simply using the hull number in early 1939. This became a force wide standard that has remained to the modern day.

See more Snapper photos

Stingray (SS-186)

Photo NH 98984 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo NH 98984 courtesy of NHHC.
Stingray is shown here in 1939-1940 while she was operating with Submarine Squadron 6 out of San Diego, CA. The maneuvering watch topside team in milling about preparing her to moor to her tender at the 32nd Street base. They have already rigged awnings above the bridge and cigarette deck, indicating that this photo was likely taken during the summer.

See more Stingray photos

Sturgeon (SS-187)

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Sturgeon, under the command of LT A.D. Barnes, at anchor in Acapulco, Mexico, late October, 1938. She was on a shakedown cruise that lasted until December 12, 1938.

In this photo she is still wearing her class identifier letter/number (S6) on her bow and fairwater. This somewhat confusing system of identifying the boat at a distance was discontinued in early 1939. After that all boats prominently displayed their hull number instead.

These boats had a folding accommodation ladder that retracted into the superstructure, similar to what the V-boats had. They were located on either side (just aft) of the fairwater. The starboard side ladder can be seen rigged out here. These ladders greatly aided in getting the crew into liberty launches so that they could go ashore. This is the first time that we have ever seen a boat other than the V's with this ladder rigged out. We actually didn't realize that the Porpoise and Salmon/Sargo classes even had them until we saw this photo. Photos of the ladders rigged out are very rare. The ladders would only have been used when the boat was anchored out and would not have been used alongside the pier or the tender. Opportunities to anchor out would have been limited as it was always preferable to pull alongside a pier. The fact that we see these ladders rigged out on the V-boats can be attributed to the fact that in the 20's and early 30's those boats made more "show the flag" visits to unprepared ports and thus used their liberty launches more.

You can see her anchor chain running out of the anchor housing just aft of the 10 limber holes in the bow just above the waterline. Also, hanging from the starboard yardarm on the radio mast is a black ball that is the international signal for a vessel that is at anchor. Anchoring out accounts for the lifting boom attached to the fore deck mast that would have lifted the ship's boat from its storage under the deck and place it into the water. This boat would have then utilized the accommodation ladder that is talked about above. The ladder would have also been used by any officials and dignitaries from the city that were visiting the submarine. This boom was also utilized for loading torpedoes.

A yacht with a yawl rig is sailing in the back off Sturgeon's bow. A Mexican flag is flying from the head of her mizzen mast. The presence of the bumkin (boomkin) on the vessel stern, for handling that masts boom sheets, lends strongly to this being a yawl rig.

See more Sturgeon photos

Sargo (SS-188)

Photo 19-N-19830 courtesy NARA via
Photo 19-N-19830 courtesy NARA via
Sargo on sea trials in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, MA., November 1, 1938. The Salmon/Sargo class boats were the last fleet submarine class that had the superstructure run all the way to the tip of the stern. In all subsequent classes it ended short of the stern.

See more Sargo photos

Saury (SS-189)

Photo courtesy of the Submarine Force Library & Museum.
Photo courtesy of the Submarine Force Library & Museum.
Saury afloat for the first time in the Thames River, CT. August 20, 1938. She has just slid down the ways at the Electric Boat yard in Groton. A small tug has already made up to her and is in the process of moving her to the fitting out pier. Once at the fitting out pier she has 7½ months of work left until commissioning.

See more Saury photos

Spearfish (SS-190)

USN photo 5343-44 courtesy of Darryl Baker via
USN photo 5343-44 courtesy of Darryl Baker via
Spearfish is seen here in the mouth of the Napa River after a thorough overhaul and modernization at the Mare Island Navy Yard, August 21, 1944. In this configuration she is broadly similar to a Gato-class Mod 4. The fore and aft sections of her conning tower fairwater have been cut away, a 20mm gun has been placed on both of the new guns decks, her bridge has been lowered to expose the framework that supports the periscope shears, and a 4"/50 caliber Mk 9 gun has been installed aft of the fairwater. The two humps on the aft deck are for new water cooled mufflers, installed to cut down on smoking and sparks from her engines. SJ surface search radar has been installed on the starboard side of the periscope shears, and SD air search radar on a thin mast aft of the periscopes. She would receive no further major modifications before the end of the war.

See more Spearfish photos

Sculpin (SS-191)*

Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman. NOT a U.S. Navy photo.
Photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman. NOT a U.S. Navy photo.
Sculpin on the surface of the Atlantic off the Isle of Shoals, New Hampshire during the Squalus salvage operation, June 22, 1939. It was Sculpin that first found her stricken sister boat, and she became a part of the salvage force, being utilized for high pressure air service and as a practice boat for divers. Sculpin and Squalus would remain tied together by fate for the remainder of their lives.

See more Sculpin photos

Squalus (SS-192)

Photo 19-N-109858 courtesy of the NARA.
Photo 19-N-109858 courtesy of the NARA.
Squalus sitting alongiside the fitting out pier at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, ME., October 5, 1938. This is about three weeks after her launch, and the yard workers at Portsmouth still have a lot of work to do including installing the periscopes, shears, and masts. Squalus was the last submarine launched with the old class identifiers painted on the fairwater and bridge. USS S-11 (SS-116) was still on the Navy list, in reserve in Philadelphia. Squalus' identifier was causing confusion with the other boat. The Navy finally came to its senses on this idea and dropped the class identifiers a few months after this photo was taken, replacing all previous naming and identification schemes with the hull number.

The scaffolding hanging from the main deck above the anchor was a work platform around the swing-out mine cable cutters. There was one cutter on each side of the boat, and they retracted into the superstructure, hidden behind curved doors. Pictures of the cutters rigged out are extremely rare, even something like this is rarely seen.

See more Squalus photos

Sailfish (SS-192)

U.S. Navy photo via
U.S. Navy photo via
Squalus sank on trials on May 23. 1939 with the tragic loss of 26 men. She was raised, returned to Portsmouth, rebuilt, and on May 15, 1940 she was recommissioned at the USS Sailfish. She is shown here at the pier in Portsmouth with her crew lining the decks as LCDR Morton C. Mumma reads his orders assuming command of the "new" boat. She retained her original hull number. There was still work to be finished, but she would soon join the fleet. During WWII she gained a solid reputation as a fighting boat.

Moored to the pier behind her is the Tambor-class submarine Triton (SS-201). She had been launched six weeks prior.

See more Sailfish photos

Swordfish (SS-193)*

An original Associated Press photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
An original Associated Press photo in the private collection of Ric Hedman.
The Swordfish in Vallejo, CA. on August 24, 1939, one month and two days after her commissioning. The building at the center left has a sign on the roof that says: "Standard Oil Company of California" and "VALLEJO" painted on the roof. The submarine was under the command of LT Chester C. Smith at the time of this photo. Smith would later gain a solid reputation as an aggressive and skilled ship hunter during WWII.

Note that Swordfish does not have the class identifiers on the hull, only the hull number. She was the first boat launched under the new ID scheme.

See more Swordfish photos

Seadragon (SS-194)

Photo 19-N-20952 via NARA and
Photo 19-N-20952 via NARA and
The Seadragon at rest in Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown, MA., August 28, 1939. She was on her builder's trials prior to commissioning and had just run the measured mile to test her propulsion systems. The stepped appearance of her periscope shears shows that these boats still had one pericope with an eye piece in the control room and one higher up in the conning tower. Later boats (Gato-class) would have both periscope eyepieces in the conning tower and the stepped appearance would go away.

See more Seadragon photos

Sealion (SS-195)*

U.S. Navy photo.
U.S. Navy photo.
Sealion seen from the starboard quarter while conducting sea trials and measured mile runs surfaced and submerged off Provincetown, Massachusetts. Here she is cruising past the camera boat for a series of publicity photos. On the far left at the stern the propeller guards stick out from the end of the superstructure. These guards served two purposes, first they kept mine cables from snagging on the propellers and diving planes, and secondly, they prevented a tug pushing from the stern from impacting those relatively delicate mechanisms.

See more Sealion photos

Searaven (SS-196)

Photo 19-N-21877 courtesy of NHHC.
Photo 19-N-21877 courtesy of NHHC.
USS Searaven running at full speed in a choppy Atlantic off Portsmouth, NH on May 13, 1940. The sea state has rolled her slightly to port, revealing a rare sight. On her forward deck are two Mk 14 Mod 0 exercise torpedoes. They have been recently fired in tests and have been recovered. Most likely they were not struck back below because the sea conditions were too rough. They were lashed to the deck and would be moved below once they returned to port. The object sticking up between the two torpedoes is the mount for a Browning M2 .50 caliber water-cooled machine gun. The gun itself was not waterproof so it was dismounted and taken below before diving.

See more Searaven photos

Seawolf (SS-197)*

USN photo courtesy of Robert Mitchell, whose grandfather J.W. Saint was lost aboard Seawolf during WWII>
USN photo courtesy of Robert Mitchell, whose grandfather J.W. Saint was lost aboard Seawolf during WWII>
The Seawolf running at a good clip in San Pablo Bay north of Richmond, CA., March 7, 1943 after a mid-war overhaul at Mare Island. Her General Motors Winton 16-248 engines have not yet fully warmed up and she is smoking quite a bit under load. Seawolf is sporting modifications that are typical of the mid-war effort to ensure the boats were in fighting trim. Her fairwater has been cut down fore and aft with new anti-aircraft gun emplacements in those locations, radars have been added, and the 3"/50 caliber Mk 17 deck gun has been moved forward. She would receive one more external change before her loss, the bridge would be lowered, exposing the periscope support frames, aka the "covered wagon ribs".

See more Seawolf photos

General Salmon/Sargo-class and Group Photos

A nest of Salmon/Sargo-class submarines with two friends in San Diego in 1940. They are moored to the tender USS Holland (AS-3). From left to right: Salmon (SS-182), Seal (SS-183), Pickerel (SS-177), Plunger (SS-179), Snapper (SS-185), and Permit (SS-178).

In the background is Naval Air Station North Island, the birthplace of Naval Aviation. Moored to the pier is the legendary aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6).

See more General Salmon/Sargo-class photos

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