An Inland City with the First
Submarine Base on the Pacific Coast
Mark J. Denger
The U.S. Navy purchased its first submarine
from John P. Holland on 11 April, 1900, which was commissioned
as the USS HOLLAND (SS-1), marking the beginning of the Submarine
Service. The USS HOLLAND was 54 feet long, displaced 74 tons,
and carried a crew of one officer, five enlisted men.
After the purchase of the HOLLAND in 1900, the Navy set out to
build its first class of submarines designated the "A"
Two submarine torpedo boats, A-3 (SS-4), originally laid down
as GRAMPUS (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 4), and A-5 (SS-6), originally
laid down as PIKE (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 6), in December
1900, at San Francisco, California, by Union Iron Works, a subcontractor
for the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company of New York, were
launched in 1902 and commissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard
in 1903, with Lt. Arthur MacArthur-the older brother of future
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur-in command.
Over the next three and a half years, GRAMPUS and PIKE operated
out of the San Francisco area, principally in training and experimental
work and subsequently assigned to the 1st Submarine Division,
Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, in 1910, and to the Pacific Fleet in
1911, operating locally off the California coast becoming
the first U.S. submarines stationed on the West Coast.
By the end of 1910 the U.S. Navy had only 20 submarines. Among
the submarines built during this period were the HOLLAND, 7 A-class,
3 B-class, 5 C-class, 3 D-class, and 2 E-class submarines. However,
under construction were 4 submarines of the F-class, 4 of the
G-class, and 9 submarines of the H-class. Of this number the
F and H-class submarines would play a role in the establishment
of the Navy's first Submarine Base on the West Coast San
Each class of submarine marked a distinct improvement in the
quality and performance of the previous class of submarine.
The early submarines of the "A", "B", "C",
"D", and "G" classes utilized gasoline engines.
The first diesel engines were installed in the 2 submarines of
the E-class. With the exception of the "G" class submarine,
all the submarines which followed were also powered by diesel
Like A-class submarines, GRAMPUS and PIKE, the submarines CARP
(SS-20), later renamed F-1, and BARRACUDA (SS-22), later renamed
F-2, were built by Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California,
for the newly formed Electric Boat Company, as were the submarines
SEAWOLF (SS-28), later designated H-1, and NAUTILUS (SS-29),
later designated H-2, each being commissioned at the Mare Island
Navy Yard. The submarines PICKEREL (SS-22), later renamed F-3,
and SKATE (SS-23), designated F-4, were built by the Seattle
Construction & Drydock Co., Seattle, Washington, as was the
GARFISH (SS-30), later designated H-3.
Interestingly enough, six submarines of
the H-class, H-4, H-5, H-6, H-7 and H-8, were all built by the
Electric Boat Company for the Imperial Russian Government. Their
shipment was held up pending the outcome of the Russian Revolution,
and the boats were stored in knockdown condition at Vancouver,
B.C. All six were purchased by the Navy on 20 May 1918 and assembled
at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. Each of
these submarines would find their home at the Submarine Base
in San Pedro, California.
Submarine bases and tenders being unknown
to the pioneers of those early submarines, operated along the
Pacific coast from port to port.
Early submarine technology being as crude as the boats themselves.
These early submarines could only submerge for a very brief time
to strike at an enemy then scurry away hiding beneath the
waves. These small boats could not carry much fuel, food, nor
weaponry so they operated from a shore station, with the
crew berthed, messed and working from the land facilities available.
As submarines moved from shore stationed to shore station "station
ships" often found themselves "hosting" the crews
of these submarines. This relationship progressed to the point
that these host ships were being referred to as a "Mother
The role of mother ship providing repairs, refueling, and
resupply services all of the logistics needed to operate
submarines where they were most needed would soon be filled
by submarine tenders a the tender's crew.
These support ships were soon classified as "Auxiliary Submarine"
also known as "AS" or "Submarine Tenders".
Among the submarine tenders first stationed in San Pedro where
the CHEYENNE (Monitor No. 10 a.k.a.
WYOMING) and ALERT (AS-4).
Submarine bases and tenders came into being by chance; like submarine
bases, their facilities developed slowly. Monitors, such as the
WYOMING, were among the first vessels
to be used extensively as submarine tenders after it was discovered
that they were ideally suited for submarines to pull alongside
of and mooring to. This was because of their low freeboard. Becoming
obsolete for other Fleet purposes, these Monitors spent their
last days in active service assisting submarine divisions. Although
inadequately equipped for this type of duty, these early submarine
tenders proved most useful for berthing and messing of the submarine
It was realized very soon the advantage of having the submarines
supplies, spare parts, service, berthing, etc., available "on
site" and as portable as the submarines themselves
were. The early role of the submarine tender serving out
of advanced bases all allowed the submarines to operate into
far regions where they were needed.
As submarines began to be assigned to various ports - the tender
could just go right along. Thus, setting up a new advanced submarine
base could be accomplished in about five minutes after dropping
anchor. These early ships converted for into submarine tenders
would soon give way to the newer tenders BEAVER (AS-5), CAMDEN
(AS-6) RAINBOW (AS-7) and CANOPUS (AS-9) which soon took up port
in San Pedro, California. They too, would serving all over the
world allowing the United States to project it's submarines
into far regions where they were needed.
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American Submarine Operations.
By 1906, with most of the fleet in the
Atlantic, the Navy's General Board (later to become the Secretary
of the Navy) recognized submarines as the principle way to defend
the west coast of the United States if attacked. Thus, submarines
were charged with coastal and harbor defense during their first
The Secretary of the Navy adopted the position that submarines
would be utilized to defend the vital fleet ports at Subic Bay,
Philippines and ordered submarines to be positioned there. In
the spring of 1908 the Navy responded by sending the early A-class
and B-class submarines to the Western Pacific. These submarines
were picked up by colliers and transported to the Philippine
Islands, there to be launched overboard and thus becoming the
first undersea craft to serve in Manila Bay.
Ten years later, these A-class submarines were dismantled and
relieved by two divisions of the newer S-class submarines. The
latter arrived on station at Cavite on December 1, 1931.
Likewise, the submarines of the C-class were sent to Panama to
be the first submarines assigned to that area but not until
It would not be until the end of 1913 before a Submarine Base
would be established on the West Coast its location, San
The submarines of the F-class and H-class were the earliest submarines
to be assigned to San Pedro. The four submarines of the F-class
were soon reassigned, replaced by the H-class submarines, after
which the F-class went on to Honolulu to become the first submarines
to be stationed out there.
Early Years of San Pedro.
The first time the United States developed
a naval base at San Pedro, California, was during the Mexican
War. On August 6, 1846, Commodore Robert F. Stockton in the frigate
Congress put ashore the vessel's Marines under First Lieutenant
Jacob Zeilin. They seized San Pedro, and on August 11, a mixed
body of sailors and Marines marched from there to capture Los
In 1846, Los Angeles was still very much a Mexican pueblo. By
the end of the Mexican-American War, its outward appearance seemed
untouched. The city's first dramatic transformation occurred
in 1851 when the new state legislature authorized the formation
of new cities and counties in California. The City of Los Angeles
came into being with a mayor and council that year. Along with
the City, there emerged the County of Los Angeles. Entrepreneur
Phineas Banning built a small wharf and warehouse in San Pedro
in 1851, and when a gale destroyed them in 1858 he founded the
village of New San Pedro (later Wilmington) to land goods for
Los Angeles. Troops were quartered in the new town during the
Civil War, and in 1868 a railroad was laid between Wilmington
and Los Angeles. The Southern Pacific Railroad, in 1869, purchased
the small railroad and extended it from Wilmington to San Pedro.
Prior to the 1890s San Pedro was not much
of a place the port of San Pedro was a clutch of shacks
and adobe buildings on the shores of a harbor that was little
better than an open roadstead, exposed to contrary winds and
extremely shallow. Yet this desolate looking place would eventually
end up as Los Angeles Harbor, the largest manmade port in the
The "city-makers," chief among them General Harrison
Gray Otis of the Los Angeles Times, were not entranced with the
notion of having the city's commerce flow from the sea into the
hands of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad preferred
Santa Monica over San Pedro as the sight for the city's port
and bought up the waterfront land at Santa Monica, built a 4,200-foot
pier there, linked it to the railroad, and immediately began
to put pressure on Congress for federal money to improve the
harbor the Railroad had invented. Naturally, a prolonged fight
between the city and the Southern Pacific Railroad ensued. But
in 1891, two Board of Army Engineers' reports declared the port
of San Pedro to be preferable over Santa Monica for federal harbor
improvements. Seven years later, the long drawn out fight with
the Railroad was about to come to an end.
The area surrounding San Pedro Bay was made a military reservation
in 1888 and was dedicated to the defense of the expanding harbor.
On April 26, 1899, the first barge load of rock from Catalina
for the breakwater that created the outer harbor was dumped into
the water the first exercise in the process that would make one
of the greatest shipping centers of the world.
Los Angeles, the town in the middle of an inland plain, annexed
the cities of San Pedro and Wilmington (New San Pedro) as part
of the city of Los Angeles in 1909, giving the inland city a
shoestring corridor to the sea which enabled it to challenge
the great natural harbors at San Francisco and San Diego.
Base, San Pedro.
In the early days of the 20th century,
submarines were primarily charged with coastal and harbor defense.
Understandably, these early submarines played a role in San Pedro's
expanding harbor as well. It was during this early period of
Los Angeles' growth period that San Pedro became the site of
the first Submarine Base on the Pacific Coast.
The entrance to the Port of Los Angeles (inclusive of the Port
of Long Beach) is through two openings in the breakwater that
protect San Pedro Bay. The eastern opening (closest to the QUEEN
MARY) is called "Queen's Gate" (1967) and the western
opening, which is used primarily for access to the Port of Los
Angeles is called "Angles Gate."
There are a number of reasons why the ports of San Pedro (Los
Angeles Harbor) and Long Beach in San Pedro Bay, California,
was a suitable anchorage for the Pacific Fleet. Its 2.11 mile
breakwater on the Western San Pedro side of the bay created over
600 acres of anchorage space, much of which was over 40 feet
deep. Operational conditions were reported to be near perfect
with good weather prevailing 70 percent of the year.
The monitor Wyoming, renamed CHEYENNE and converted to a submarine
tender was the first tender to be assigned to San Pedro, operating
with the submarines of the 2d Submarine Division, Pacific Torpedo
Flotilla, in 1914, and was joined by the newly converted iron-hulled
screw steamer ALERT. The ALERT, which had been transferred back
to the Navy from the CALIFORNIA NAVAL MILITIA
in 1910, and reactivated in 1912 as a submarine tender and placed
in full commission that same year, was also assigned to San Pedro
to serve with the Pacific Torpedo Flotilla.
In the spring of 1914, when troubled conditions with Mexico threatened
American lives and property, CHEYENNE interrupted her submarine
tending duties twice, once in late April and once in mid-May,
to embark refugees at Ensenada and San Quentin, Mexico, transporting
them both times to San Diego. CHEYENNE resumed her submarine
tending operations in San Pedro, continuing those duties into
The Navy reestablished what was deemed to be a [temporary] submarine
base by renting from the Board of Harbor Commissioners the city's
Municipal Pier No. 1 and the tenders CHEYENNE and ALERT were
assigned to provide temporary quartering, messing and berthing
for the crews of the submarines to be assigned to duty there.
In executing their new duties, both ships made short voyages
along the California coast.
That same year, the earliest submarines to be assigned to the
Pacific Coast were HOLLAND F-class boats consisting of the submarines
F-1 [CARP] SS-20; F-2 [BARRACUDA] SS-21; F-3 [PICKEREL] SS-22;
and F-4 [SKATE] SS-23.
The first of these, the USS CARP (SS-20), was launched on September
6, 1911 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California, and
commissioned on June 19, 1912. The CARP [renamed F-1 on November
17, 1913] was assigned to the First Submarine Group, Pacific
Torpedo Flotilla, operating in the San Francisco area on trials
and tests through January 1913, when she was assigned to the
Flotilla's base at San Pedro. These F-class were sent on to Honolulu
to become the first submarines to be stationed there.
The H-class of submarines were the next boats to be stationed
at San Pedro. These were the SEAWOLF (SS-28) [renamed H-1]; NAUTILUS
(SS-29) [renamed H-2]; and GARFISH (SS-30) [renamed H-3]. These
submarines were stationed in San Pedro in late 1913. The three
H-class submarines operated along the West Coast of the United
States conducting tests and operations from lower California
to Washington State. While engaged in operations off the northern
coast of California, the H-3 ran aground near Eureka on the morning
of December 16, 1916. The H-3 returned to San Pedro in 1917 where
she served as the flagship of Submarine Division 7 participating
in exercises and operations along the West Coast until 1922.
Meanwhile, the entry of the United States into World War I necessitated
an increase of American naval strength in the Atlantic. On April
10, 1917, four days after the United States entered World War
I, CHEYENNE was ordered to proceed to Port Angeles, Washington,
the designated point of mobilization for the Pacific Fleet, in
the company of the submarines H-1 and H-2. CHEYENNE remained
in the area while the submarines H-1 and H-2 were transferred
to the Atlantic Fleet. They were reassigned to San Pedro in 1920.
During this westward transit, as the H-1 made her way up the
coast, the submarine ran aground on Santa Margarita Island, California.
In San Pedro, in March, 1917, acting under instruction from the
Navy Department, the Commander of Coast Torpedo Force in the
Pacific, Captain C. F. Preston, USN, was able to arrange with
the Board of Harbor Commissioners of Los Angeles for the continued
use by the Navy free of charge a part of the newly
built Freight Shed and the adjacent wharf on Municipal Pier No.
1, in the outer harbor; it being understood that the facilities
to be furnished were for the use and benefit of the Submarine
Force during the war.
By the end of May, 1917, the submarine tender CHEYENNE was ordered
back to San Pedro from the Puget Sound Navy Yard for the purpose
of establishing a permanent Submarine Base ashore, and that vessel
reached San Pedro early in June and moored at the north end of
the East Channel to Municipal Pier No. 1.
Actual work for the establishment of the Submarine Base was begun
on June 10, 1917, and contracts were awarded for bulkheads in
the shed space for the gas and fresh water plumbing, together
with flushing and drainage systems.
While this contract work was in progress, an enlisted force detailed
from the CHEYENNE was stationed in emergency quarters installed
at the north end of the Pier's Freight Shed. Upon the completion
of the construction contracts, all material and appliances in
use at the emergency quarters were moved to the Base site proper
for other uses.
Coincidently with preparation of the site for quartering, messing
and berthing, a Base Complement together with crews of submarines
assigned to duty here, arrangments were completed for storing
and handling necessary supplies and materials. From this time
forward, under pressure of war conditions, activities at the
Base necessitated the immediate creation of additional facilities
to take care of the enlarged scope and augmented character of
duty and work to be performed.
In October 1917, a Submarine School for enlisted men was established
and a thousand men, of which the Submarine Base had 525 officers
and men were now present. During this same time frame a Naval
Reserve Training Station was established in San Pedro and Base's
first three F-class submarines (F-1, F-2 and F-3) were reassigned
to San Pedro and arrived at the Base for duty as training vessels
for the instruction afloat of the school contingents being qualified
as submarine men.
It took World War I to prove the worth
of submarines. Prior to that time, submarines played only a small
role in the plans of fleet commanders, serving primarily only
as coastal defense units. For the most part, fleet commanders
ridiculed the idea that the submarine had a place in naval strategy
and tactics. They believed that the submarine was only a plaything,
something for the younger officers to sharpen their teeth on,
but otherwise diverting time and money from other more useful
and dependable branches of the service.
This view was to suddenly change when the German submarine force
proved the importance of undersea warfare. The news that the
German submarine U-9 had attacked and sunk three British armored
cruisers in the North Sea caused the entire world to sit up and
take notice. Submarines were immediately given more thoughtful
Germany entered World War I with but 28 submarines. By its end,
she had employed 369. This meant that she built one submarine
every fourth day. During the four years of that war, German submarines
accounted for 13,000,000 tons of Allied naval and merchant shipping,
including 349 British naval warships.
The United States Navy, with its 300 warships, was the world's
third largest by 1914. These warships were used to protect merchant
and troopships across the Atlantic. Some warships were also sent
to the Mediterranean but most remained on the Atlantic seaboard
of the United States. The US Navy's most serious wartime losses
were the cruiser SAN DIEGO sunk by mines from a U-boat off New
York, and two destroyers lost on anti-submarine work in European
During that war, twenty American submarines crossed the Atlantic
for duty in European waters. However, except for the experience
gained, and the successful consummation of transversing the Atlantic
with the smallest submarines ever to cross that ocean, American
submarines accomplished very little in the area of sinking enemy
shipping in World War I. The principal reason for this was the
fact that there was no one to fight. Few enemy surface vessels
were sent out beyond Skagerrak. The one attempt that was made
resulted in the withdraw of the German Fleet at the Battle of
Jutland. Still, German submarines were the only craft permitted
to roam the Atlantic in any great numbers.
During World War I, the leading class of submarine was the L
class; 167 feet long, displacing 548 tons, carrying two officers
and 26 enlisted men. In all 20 American submarines reached the
A number of U.S. submarines contributed to the war effort performing
and carrying out a variety of special operations for which 58
submarine officers and 3 enlisted men would be awarded the Navy
Cross for meritorious action beyond the call of duty involving
great risk. Also awarded were 5 Distinguished Service Medals
and 14 Letters of Commendation.
During World War I, the Submarine Base in San Pedro became was
a vital location for submarines transiting to the war zone. The
base was used primarily as a Supply Station in November, 1917,
by the submarines K-3 (SS-34), K-4 (SS-35), K-7 (SS-38) and K-8
(SS-39), who were being convoyed by the tender ALERT to the Azores.
In December 1918, the submarines N-1 (SS-53), N-2 (SS-54), and
N-3 (SS-55), convoyed by the SAVANNAH, also utilized the Submarine
Base while enroute to the Atlantic via the Panama Canal. They
were followed in by the submarines L-6 (SS-45) and L-7 (SS-46)
convoyed by the tender RAINBOW in April and May, 1918.
At the outset of the war, the Navy attempted to keep those F-class
submarines in a war status. But after the Falkland Island fight
when it was fair to conclude that there was no longer great
risk from German sea raiders in the Pacific, these submarines
were ordered to remove their torpedoes, together with all non-essential
stores, and the vessels were thereafter ordered to operate as
schooling submarines out of San Pedro.
The Submarine Base's commanding officer, Captain C. F. Preston,
USN, was relieved in November 1917 by Commander H. C. Poundstone,
USN, who was ordered to assume additional duty as Commander,
Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, which additional duties said
officer continued to exercise until June 24, 1918.
In April 1918, ALERT resumed her duties as a Pacific Fleet Torpedo
Flotilla submarine tender based at San Pedro. That assignment
occupied her for the remaining four years of her naval career.
The submarine H-3 was reassigned to the Submarine Base, San Pedro,
in August 1918, followed by the submarines H-4 through H-9 in
November. These later H-class submarines were launched and commissioned
in 1918, stationed at San Pedro, and were later joined by their
sister submarines H-2 and H-3, remaining there until January,
In the meantime, on June 24, 1918, (by Navy Department's orders
dated June 12, 1918) the Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet was ordered
virtually abolished pending further instructions. Commander Poundstone
was relieved as Commanding Officer of the Submarine Base, San
Pedro, and was ordered to perform such duties under the jurisdiction
of Commander, Division Two, Pacific Fleet, as the Senior Officer
Present Afloat, in the Pacific.
In the meantime, the submarines O-14 (SS-75), O-15 (SS-76) and
O-16 (SS-77), built by the California Ship Building Company in
Long Beach, were taken over during April and May, 1918, to the
Submarine Base, and prepared for towing to the Mare Island Navy
Yard, there to be completed by the Government. When readied,
the O-15 departed with the tender UNALGA, followed by the O-16
and O-14 which were accompanied to the Mare Island Navy Yard
by the Tug TILLAMOOK.
Between the months of August and November, 1918, several submarines
of the R-class [consisting of R-15 (SS-91), R-16 (SS-92), R-17
(SS-93), R-18 (SS-94), R-19 (SS-95) and R-20 (SS-96)], built
at Union Iron Works, in San Francisco, and the submarine O-2
(SS-63), began operating out of the San Pedro Submarine Base
for trial, testing and training work on local ranges, prior to
The submarines O-14, O-15, and O-16, previously mentioned, similarly
returned to San Pedro from the Mare Island Yard to prepare for
service in the War Zone as well.
As made available after completion of work up at this Base, these
R-class boats (except R-19 and R-20) and O-class submarines were
sent forward to Panama, the last batch in the company of the
tender BEAVER. The tender BEAVER, with the R-class boats mentioned,
was later returned to the Pacific Station as Submarine Division
Fourteen, which, under re-organization became the mobile division
of the Pacific Fleet, which repeatedly used the San Pedro Submarine
Base for supply and torpedo training after January 1919.
Following the Armistice, the submarines L-5 (SS-44); L-6 (SS-45);
L-7 (SS-46) and L-8 (SS-48) arrived in San Pedro in early 1919,
joining the Submarine Flotilla there and remaining there until
When tensions arose in the Far East between the United States
and Japan, the Navy Department created Submarine Divisions Six
and Seven, Pacific.
During this same time period, the Wilson Administration transferred
200 warships to the Pacific. This powerful fleet included America's
newest battleships. Admiral Hugh Rodman, commander of the fleet,
brought his dreadnought through the Panama Canal in record time
in the "war scare" atmosphere of 1919.
The Port of San Diego was considered too shallow to handle the
largest ships and so, on August 9, 1919, the fleet steamed north
to what would become the new battleship anchorage, the Ports
of San Pedro (Los Angeles Harbor) and Long Beach in San Pedro
From 1919 to 1940 several ships of the Pacific Battle Fleet were
home based in San Pedro. Among these were the Battleships WYOMING
(BB-32), USS ARKANSAS (BB-33), NEW YORK (BB-34), TEXAS (BB-35),
NEVADA (BB-36), OKLAHOMA (BB-37), PENNSYLVANIA (BB-38), ARIZONA
(BB-39), NEW MEXICO (BB-40), MISSISSIPPI (BB-41), IDAHO (BB-42),
TENNESSEE (BB-43), CALIFORNIA (BB-44), COLORADO (BB-45), MARYLAND
(BB-46) and WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48); Aircraft Carriers SARATOGA
and LEXINGTON; Repair Ships ARGONNE, MEDUSA and VESTAL; and Hospital
Ships MERCY and RELIEF.
At various times since the establishment of the Submarine Base
in San Pedro, many of the destroyers built on the West Coast
called upon the Base for supplies or were based there as well
during their sea trials. Among these were the WARD, CALDWELL,
ROBINON, SCHLEY, MUGFORD, BOGGS, LUDLOW, and KILTY.
The Submarine Base also served as a point of call, supply or
repair facility for the BRUTUS, NANSHAN, IROQUOIS, BAY, OCEAN,
CHALLENGE, VICKSBURG, OREGON, YORKTOWN, MINNEAPOLIS, IRIS, FARRAGUT,
BROADBILL, and numerous Shipping Board vessels assigned to and
commissioned for naval uses or otherwise employed in the Public
Service. A number of Submarine-Chasers were attached at various
times as well.
Six submarines of the new R-class were ordered to the Pacific,
arriving at their new base, San Pedro, California, in June 1921.
These submarines included R-1 (SS-78); R-2 (SS-79); R-3 (SS-80);
R-4 (SS-81); R-5 (SS-82); R-6 (SS-83) and R-10 (SS-87), which
operated out of San Pedro for the next two years. They were joined
by the last class of submarines to be homeported in San Pedro
those of the S-class.
The S-class submarines reflected the Navy Department's prevailing
warfare thinking of the time. The submersible or submarine was
no longer thought of as purely a weapon for coastal defense.
The Navy now viewed the submarine as being a type of destroyer
or torpedo boat that could operate with the battle fleet. On
paper, these characteristics, adopted during World War I, brought
the Navy one step closer to the "fleet submarine,"
developed during World War II. Consequently, the S-class submarine
in 1916, could do 15-knots on the surface.
The first of the S-class submarines to be stationed in San Pedro
included the S-30 (SS-135); S-32 (SS-137); S-33 (SS-138); S-37
(SS-142) and S-38 (SS-143), being stationed there from 1922 to
1925. These submarines were built by the Bethlehem Ship Building
Corporation, San Francisco, California, for the Electric Boat
From 1925 to 1926, the submarine S-4 (SS-109) also briefly operated
out of San Pedro.
Still, with the exception of a Submarine Base and its pier which
were leased from the city of Los Angeles' Harbor Department,
the 1,400 men stationed there, and the Reserve Training Center,
other shore facilities in the San Pedro area were non-existent.
By 1922, the Submarine Base's facilities were soon being shared
with destroyers. The base would eventually give way to the destroyers,
with the last mention of the Submarine Base at San Pedro being
made in official Navy Orders was in 1929, when the base had already
become specialized in servicing of auxiliary ships.
U.S. Submarines in World War II.
When, as a result of the outbreak of hostilities
in Europe which launched World War II, the President declaring
a state of limited national emergency, on September 8, 1939,
there were only fifty-five submarines in active commission in
the United States Navy.
Among this number were six submarines of the R-class: R-2, R-4,
R-10, R-11, R-13, and R-14, twenty-six submarines of the S-class:
S-18, S-20, S-21, S-22, S-23, S-24, S-25, S-26, S-27, S-28, S-29,
S-30, S-34, S-35, S-36, S-37, S-38, S-39, S-40, S-41, S-42, S-43,
S-44, S-45, S-46 and S-47, as well as the newer improved ARGONAUT,
NAUTILUS, NARWHAL, DOLPHIN, CACHALOT, CUTTLEFISH, PORPOISE, PIKE,
SHARK, TARPON, PERCH, PICKEREL, PERMIT, PLUNGER, POLLACK, POMPANO,
SALMON, SEAL, SKIPJACK, SNAPPER, STINGRAY, STURGEON, and SARGO.
Attending surface craft were the RICHMOND Flagship; LITCHFIELD
Tactical Flagship; HOLLAND, CANOPUS, BEAVER, SEAGULL, and
KEOSANQUA Submarine Tenders; WIDGEON, FALCON, MALLARD,
ORTOLAN, and PIDGEON Submarine Rescue Vessels; and SEMMES
This force was considered adequate for peacetime needs, but with
the possibility that war would transverse the waters to America,
it became imperative that steps be taken toward the expansion
of the U.S. Fleet.
In all, nine O-class boats were re-commissioned to serve as training
submarines (O-1 through O-10, except for O-5, which had been
sunk after a collision in 1923.) Like the O-class boats and their
various sister class submarines, many were returned to service
in order to provide training platforms for a submarine force
that was certain to grow by leaps and bounds.
With World War II looming on the horizon, the U.S. Navy began
a massive construction program. By April, 1941, twelve submarines
of the new TAMBOR-class were already nearing completion, and
73 GATO-class boats were already on order.
By the time the U.S. Navy entered World War II in December, 1941,
with several older submarines now re-commissioned, we entered
it with 111 submarines Still these were mostly of the older
"R" and "S" classes, short range vessels
developed during and after World War I.
World War II Submarines Previously Based
in San Pedro.
Several of these submarines had once been
stationed at the Submarine Base, San Pedro. Among these were
the submarine NARWHAL or V-5 and the Navy's third NAUTILUS. Of
these two, NAUTILUS, originally named V-6 (designated SF-9, re-designated
SC-2, 11 February 1925), was laid down on 10 May 1927 by the
Navy Yard, Mare Island, Vallejo, California; launched on 15 March
1930; commissioned 1 July 1930; renamed NAUTILUS 19 February
1931, and designated SS-168 on 1 July 1931. Both of these modern
submarines operated out of San Pedro, as did many of the older
R and S-class submarines, laid down during World War I, who also
went on to serve during World War II.
Among those R-class submarines to see service in World War II
that were once stationed in San Pedro were the R-1 (SS-78); R-2
(SS-79); R-3 (SS-80); R-4 (SS-81); R-5 (SS-82); R-6 (SS-83) and
R-10 (SS-87), which were joined by the last class of submarines
to be home ported in San Pedro those of the S-class which
included the S-30 (SS-135); S-32 (SS-137); S-33 (SS-138); S-37
(SS-142) and S-38 (SS-143).
Of the aforementioned S-class submarines, the S-30 (SS-135) was
awarded two battle stars for her World War II service; the S-32
(SS-136) earned five battle stars during World War II; the S-33
(SS-137) earned one battle star; S-37 (SS-142) earned five battle
stars; and S-38 (SS-143) earned three battle stars during World
Yet it was the submarine NARWHAL (SS-167), which received 15
battle stars for her World War II service, and NAUTILUS (SS-168),
the Mare Island built submarine, who went on to earn a Presidential
Unit Citation for her aggressive war patrols in enemy controlled
waters, as well as 14 battle stars for her service during World
War II, for which the City and Port of Los Angeles-San Pedro
can take pride.
Role of the Submarine in World War II.
Immediately following the attack on Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December, 1941, with the main portion of
the Pacific Fleet now in ruins, President Roosevelt appointed
Admiral Earnest J. King Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet
with Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Admiral Thomas C. Hart
was in command of the Asiatic Fleet, and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz,
making a secret flight from Washington to Pearl Harbor, and on
the morning of December 31, 1941, on the deck of the submarine
USS GRAYLING (SS-209), hoisted his four-star flag on the mast
of that submarine thereby assuming command of the U.S. Pacific
Nimitz, like admirals King and Hart were
veterans of our undersea service. Thus, of the four top-ranking
admirals of the Navy, three were prominent submarine officers.
There is a sort of grim symbolism in the fact that Admiral Nimitz
took command of the Pacific Fleet aboard a submarine. Though
the new Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) was
an old submariner, the choice was not just a matter of sentiment.
The hard fact was that at this time the suitable surface combatant
ships were on the bottom of the ocean floor or en route to the
West Coast for repairs.
When Admiral Nimitz assumed command of
the Pacific Fleet, submarines were already at sea arranging for
the Imperial Navy's epitaph "death from below."
Interestingly enough, it was as a young Lieutenant in 1912, that
Nimitz had forecast the submarine's future: "The steady
development of the torpedo together with the gradual improvement
in the size, motive power and speed of submarine craft of the
near future will result in a most dangerous offensive weapon,
and one which will have a large part in deciding fleet actions."
Commanding some five thousand ships and two million men --amounting
to more military power than had been wielded by all the commanders
in all previous wars, Nimitz was later to comment that: "It
was to the Submarine Force, that I looked to carry the load until
our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so
sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy."
And so the Submarine Force took the war to the enemy's very doorstep.
The U.S. Submarine Force during World War II, composed of about
50,000 men, including staffs and back-up personnel, represented
less than 2 percent of the U. S. Navy's total manpower. Of this
number, only 16,000 men actually made war patrols on submarines.
This small force by wars end, inflicted a staggering blow to
To the Submarine Force fell the major portion of the task of
intercepting Japanese naval forces, and stopping Japan's 6,000,000
tons of enemy merchant shipping. This little-publicized, unremitting
campaign of attrition by the "dolphin Navy" was to
sever Japan's logistics which in turn virtually starved Japan
By war's end, this small elite volunteer force sank 214 Japanese
Naval Vessels, about a third of all Japanese warships destroyed,
including a battleship, eight aircraft carriers, 15 cruisers,
42 destroyers and 23 enemy submarines. Add to this number 1,113
Japanese merchant ships (with an additional 65 probable), over
one-half of its merchant marine shipping. This highly successful
campaign would elevate the Submarine Service to an important
place in our Fleet.
However, U.S. submarines performed a plethora of other critical
jobs as well. They carried supplies to beleaguered Corregidor,
supplied and reinforced the guerrillas in the Philippines, evacuated
key military personnel, and performed many valuable reconnaissance
missions. But submarines contributed to the war effort in another
arena the "Submarine Lifeguard League."
The Submarine Lifeguard League was started in 1943 and continued
to the close of the war. Submarines on War Patrol were specifically
assigned to areas for given periods of time, to support Army
and Navy Air Operations in the Pacific Theater. The endeavors
of eighty-six (86) submarines and their crews, under great risk
to their boats, and to the safety of their officers and crews,
managed an astounding rescue of 504 downed Aviators. While the
number of Aviators rescued by each submarine varies from boat
to boat, there were 31 Aviators whose luck boat was the USS TIGRONE
(SS-419), another 22 Aviators were rescued by the USS TANG (SS-306),
and for 21 Aviators it was the USS RAY (SS-271). The most prominent
of those being, when the USS FINBACK (SS-230) rescued then, Lt.(j.g.)
George W. Bush, who would later become our 41st President.
These 504 Aviators survived to fight again because of Submarine
Lifeguard Duty an enterprise which started as a little
extra duty to assist the air forces of the Army and Navy and
developed into one of the major tasks assigned to U.S. submarines.
But seldom, if ever in history, has so small a naval force accomplished
so much. American submarines were to be second to no other service
branch in their contributions to victory.
But these accomplishments came with a heavy price.
Fifty-two (52) out of 288 American submarines were lost. Of the
52 submarine losses, two were lost in the Atlantic, the remaining
48 were lost as the direct or indirect result of action during
combat operations. Of these, thirty-seven submarines went down
with all hands.
Among these losses were the R-12, a coastal submarine built in
World War I; six early S-class submarines, the S-26, S-27, S-28,
S-36, S-39 and S-44, built after World War I; and 45 submarines
of the more modern fleet-type the ALBACORE, AMBERJACK,
ARGONAUT, BARBEL, BONEFISH, BULLHEAD, CAPELIN, CISCO, CORVINA,
DARTER, DORADO, ESCOLAR, FLIER, GOLET, GRAYBACK, GRAYLING, GRAMPUS,
GRENADIER, GROWLER, GRUNION, GUDGEON, HARDER, HERRING, KETE,
LAGARTO, PERCH, POMPANO, PICKEREL, RUNNER, ROBALO, SCAMP, SCORPION,
SCULPIN, SEALION, SEAWOLF, SHARK, SHARK II, SNOOK, SWORDFISH,
TANG, TRIGGER, TRITON, TROUT, TULLIBEE, and WAHOO.
Over 3,500 men went down with these submarines their epitaph
written in the words "OVERDUE AND PRESUMED LOST."
The U.S. Submarine Force suffered the highest percentage of lives
sacrificed in all branches of the United States military service.
Of the 16,000 men who served on these submarines, one out of
every four men in the submarine service were lost. Yet, their
courage in the face of danger remains unchallenged.
In speaking of those valiant submariners, Vice Admiral C. A.
Lockwood, Jr., Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet,
(January 1943 - January 1946), in a speech given in Cleveland,
on Navy Day 1945, adds this final note: "As to the 374 officers
and 3,131 men of the Submarine Force who gave their lives in
the winning of this war, I can assure you that they went down
fighting and that their brothers who survived them took a grim
toll of our savage enemy to avenge their deaths."
Despite these losses, when the "Cease Fire" order was
sent on August 15, a ring of submarines already surrounded Japan.
Within two weeks, the submarines ARCHERFISH, CAVALLA, GATO, HADDO,
HAKE, MUSKALLUNGE, PILOTFISH, RAZORBACK, RUNNER II, SEGUNDO,
SEACAT, and TIGRONE were found inside Tokyo Bay along side the
submarine tender PROTEUS to witness the Nimitz's historic signing
of the surrender instrument aboard the battleship MISSOURI. The
exploits of our World War II Submarine Force are a source of
legend, pride, and legacy.
To seven of these submariners went our nation's highest military
award for "gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
life above and beyond the call of duty," the Medal of Honor;
After the war, when Admiral Nimitz relinquished command, this
time with any ship to chose from in the fleet, he took down his
flag aboard the submarine MENHADEN. "It was to the Submarine
Force," stated Nimitz, "that I looked to carry the
load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons
we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the
everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they
never failed us in our days of great peril."
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