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Design, Construction, and Naming Notes

In 1911, the strategic and tactical concept of how a submarine was to operate in the USN began to evolve. Spurred on by foreign developments and by the rapidly improving technology, the USN developed the idea of a submarine capable of operating directly with the main fleet battle line of battleships and cruisers. The idea was for submarines to range out in front of the advancing fleet, scout on and report the enemy's position and course, then conduct whittling down attacks designed to weaken the enemy before the battleship's big guns could be brought to bear. Since the battle line had been designed with a nominal speed of 20 knots, the fleet submarine concept would require a surfaced speed of at least that. The submarine's range would also have to be considerable, in order to be able to stay with the fleet on long cruises. This dictated a large and powerful boat with a heavy armament, and given the state-of-the-art in the 1910s this was a difficult mix of qualities to achieve.

The USN's first attempt at building a fleet boat was the T-class of 1916 and 1917. Electric Boat got the contract for three boats, and they would be built at their sub-contractor Fore River Shipbuilding in Quincy, MA. EB took the double hull form of the previous USS M-1 (Submarine No. 47) and scaled it up. It was felt that only a double hull boat would have the fuel bunkerage capacity to achieve the desired range. It was well understood that no diesel engine in existence was powerful enough to push the boat at the surface speeds the fleet boat requirement called for, so EB made the fateful decision to put two engines on each shaft, with the engines connected in tandem via a clutch at the crankshaft. While a seemingly good idea at first, the tandem arrangement proved to be a complete failure. The boats were only able to make their designed speeds for short periods of time, and the engines were utterly unreliable.

The FY-16 boat, when laid down, was called Schley, in honor of the Spanish-American War Commodore Winfield Scott Schley. Realizing that this name was way out of the norm for submarines, less than a year later, before being launched, her name was changed to AA-1. The unusual double letter in the name was supposedly to differentiate it as a fleet submarine, separate from the harbor and coastal defense boats. After only nine months in commission, the name was changed to T-1. The two sister boats authorized in FY-17 were originally named AA-2 and AA-3, and were renamed T-2 and T-3 on September 22, 1920, the same day as AA-1/T-1. All three boats were given designations in the SF series, and although they survived long enough to have their designations changed with the other submarines, none of the three were ever redesignated in the SS series.

These boats were nearly complete failures, and were roundly disliked by their crews and the Navy for reasons spelled out in the article at this link. T-1 only served three years, T-2 was pulled from service after only 1½ years. T-3 was laid up in reserve for a while, then was pulled out and recommissioned to serve as a test bed for a new BuEng/MAN engine. When the test program was complete T-3 was promptly discarded.

The fleet submarine concept was a good one for the USN, but it would require another 10 years of technological development and refinement to become a reality.

Schley/AA-1/T-1 (SF-1)

Photo provided by Rick Larson MMCM(SS)
Photo provided by Rick Larson MMCM(SS)
AA-1 shortly after her launch from the Fore River Shipbuilding Company (a contractor to Electric Boat), July 25, 1918.

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AA-2/T-2 (SF-2)

U.S. Navy photo
U.S. Navy photo
AA-2 in the Weymouth Fore River just after her launch on September 6, 1919. She would be renamed T-2 just over one year later, before she was commissioned.

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AA-3/T-3 (SF-3)

Photo provided by MMCM(SS) Rick Larson, USN (Ret.)
Photo provided by MMCM(SS) Rick Larson, USN (Ret.)
T-3 running trials, late fall, 1920. Note that the bridge fairwater has not yet been installed, a common practice at the Bethlehem Quincy yard at the time.

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