Design, Construction, and Naming Notes
Highly desirous of developing a submarine that was capable of operating with the fleet, Congress authorized nine more fleet submarines in 1916. Hull numbers 163-171 were set aside for them. Finally approved for construction in 1918 and 1919, these nine boats would become the V-class. The design of these boats rapidly changed as the USN was able to carefully inspect and evaluate surrendered German U-boats at the end of the war. Deeply impressed with the German state-of-the-art, the V-class morphed into a series of different designs, intended to test out the fleet submarine concept, along with new ideas such as minelaying and long range commerce raiding. In the end, the nine V-class boats were built to five distinctly different designs, with the first eight built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard and Mare Island, and the last (Cuttlefish) by Electric Boat. Ultimately, none of these boats was completely successful, being either too radical, too large, or too small. An underdeveloped diesel engine industrial base in the U.S. provided engines that lacked sufficient power and reliability, and thus the boats could not operate directly with the fleet. Their true value, though, laid in the fact that the Navy was able to experiment with them during peacetime and find what worked and what didn't. The lessons learned provided the Navy with the experience needed to produce the war winning later fleet boats in time for WWII.
These boats were being built and commissioned during a time that the Navy changed its naming convention for submarines. They were authorized for construction under the names V-1 through V-9. Submarines V-1 through V-6 actually made it into commission with these names, but the Navy changed the naming convention on February 19, 1931 and thus V-7 through V-9 never carried these names during their commissioned life. The earlier boats were renamed, along with getting new designations in the SS series. They also received the short lived "class identifiers" (i.e. B3, N2, C1, etc.) on the side of the fairwater and superstructure, which were done away with in 1939 in favor of hull numbers. Please see this article for a complete explanation of this confusing issue.
V-1/Barracuda, V-2/Bass, and V-3/Bonita (Fleet Submarines)
V-2, V-1 & V-3 moored starboard side to the USS Argonne (AS-10), most likely San Diego, CA circa 1927. The unique shape of the bow was designed with the hope that it would provide better surface sea keeping. It did not work as hoped and these boats proved to be quite wet in heavy seas. Many think the design is reminiscent of a shark with an anchor in its mouth. It was unique in the USN. All three boats have their forward radio mast raised. This mast would penetrate the pressure hull when retracted, being housed between the forward torpedo tubes.
V-4/Argonaut (Minelaying Submarine)
V-4 (SM-1) about ready to launch, approximately November 6, 1927, Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery ME.
V-5/Narwhal and V-6/Nautilus (Cruiser Submarines)
V-5 on her launch day at Portsmouth Navy Yard, December 17, 1929. These were big cruiser submarines intended to fulfill both a commerce raiding and fleet support role.
Dolphin (Fleet Submarine)
The Dolphin just beginning her slide down the ways at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on March 8, 1932.
Cachalot and Cuttlefish (Fleet Submarines)
Cuttlefish underway, approximately 1935-1938. This shows her in her original, as-built configuration, but with the all black paint scheme initiated force wide in 1935. The bulwark around the after end of the conning tower fairwater would eventually be raised, then during the war it would be cut away entirely.
Nautilus & Argonaut Makin Island Raid, August 1942
This is a collection of 15 photos that were taken on Nautilus (SS-168) and Argonaut (SM-1) during the raid on Makin Island in August, 1942. A force of 211 Marines under the command of LtCol Evans Carlson landed from the two submarines, causing widespread damage and damaging two small ships in the lagoon. The story of the raid is one Submarine Force ingenuity, and of Marine tenacity and courage, but its ultimate legacy is mixed.
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