Section II

2-1. The evolution of submarine design in this country has been unlike that of other naval vessels in that the early development was carried forward by private citizens, rather than by the Navy Department. Although the Holland, completed by the Holland Torpedo Boat Company in 1898, was commissioned as our first submarine in April 1900, and numerous submarines were purchased from private concerns and added to the fleet in subsequent years, it was not until 1914 that the construction of a submarine was undertaken by the government. This was the L-8, built at the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, N.H., to the design of the Lake Torpedo Boat Company. It was not until late in 1916 that a complete preliminary design was prepared by the Navy Department for a submarine, the S-3. Commencing with the same vessel, the Navy Yard, Portsmouth was entrusted for the first time with the development of the detailed working plans as well as the construction. From 1919 until 1931 all submarines ordered were built to plans prepared by Portsmouth. Thereafter, the Electric Boat Company has prepared the working plans for all submarines built by it, while the Navy Yard, Portsmouth has prepared working plans for practically all submarines built in government yards.

2-2. The fact that two design agencies have been engaged in the development of submarines has led, it is believed, to more rapid progress than would have been accomplished by either of these agencies alone. Although each of the design agencies is allowed considerable freedom in the development of the details of a design, control is maintained in the Navy Department by virtue of the fact that the preliminary designs are prepared in the Navy Department, the contract plans are prepared in the Department or by an agency of the Department, and all working plans are subject to its approval. Thus, the best features developed by either agency may be incorporated into the designs prepared by the other.

2-3. By the year 1902, practicable solutions for the basic problems of submarine design had been achieved, at least in principle: i.e., electric motor drive with storage battery power for submerged propulsion; internal combustion engines for surface propulsion; the self-propelled torpedo as a means of inflicting damage on the enemy; a crude periscope for taking surface observations while submerged; and a satisfactory means of obtaining submerged control through the use of hydroplanes and variable ballast tanks. Subsequent development has been in the direction of refinement of design of the submarine as a whole and of its component parts, improvement in military characteristics and changes in design to keep pace with changed conditions of employment, rather than in the direction of changes in basic principles. One major innovation was the change to double-hull construction to improve seaworthiness through increased reserve buoyancy. The M-1, completed in 1918, was the first submarine of this type.


2-4. Commencing with the Barracuda Class of 1924, and continuing through the end of World War II, all submarines built by the U.S. Navy, with the exception of the 800-ton type submarines Mackerel (SS-204) and Marlin (SS-205) completed in 1941, were of the fleet type, designed for high surface speeds and capable of operating for extended periods at sea and covering great distances. The submarine war effort of the United States was dependent almost entirely upon these fleet type submarines and for this reason only the damage experiences of fleet type submarines have been included in this report.

2-5. It is pertinent to mention that only negligible war experience was gained by our submarine service during World War I.1 The evolution of the fleet type submarine during the years of peace preceding World War II was the result of hypothesis and experience obtained through simulated exercises rather than actual war service conditions. The operating characteristics of the fleet type submarine proved adequate to carry the war to the enemy throughout the entire Pacific area, although great distance were involved.

2-6. U.S. submarine operations in the Atlantic during World War II were on a minor scale. Throughout the entire war, only four enemy vessels were sunk by our submarines in the Atlantic, two of the four being German submarines, and but five other enemy vessels were damaged.2 Only one U.S. submarine was damaged in the Atlantic through enemy action.3 In the Pacific, however, where the major portion of our submarine effort was exerted, the U.S. submarine service established an impressive record almost from the first day of our entry into the war. Unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan was ordered by the Chief of Naval Operations on 7 December 1941. With the exception of a few special missions and support operations during the Battle of Midway and the initial phases of the Solomons Campaign, submarines were employed during the first two years of the war as free agents in a campaign of attrition against enemy combatant vessels and merchant shipping. With the inauguration of the Gilbert Islands campaign in November 1943, a gradually increasing percentage of the submarine effort was diverted to the support of fleet operations, although normal offensive patrolling continued to the end of the war. The statistics of the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee credit U.S. submarines with the sinking of 54.6 percent of all Japanese naval and merchant vessel tonnage sunk during World War II by U.S. forces of all categories. The total of sinkings


credited to U.S. submarines includes 201 Japanese naval vessels with a combined tonnage (standard displacement) of 540,192 tons, 1,113 merchant vessels above 500 gross tons with a combined tonnage (gross) of 4,779,902 tons, 60.4 percent of all Japanese merchant tonnage sunk by U.S. forces.4,5 The following numbers of and types of combatant Japanese naval vessels were sunk by U.S. submarines: 1 battleship, 4 large aircraft carriers, 4 escort aircraft carriers, 3 heavy cruisers, 8 light cruisers, 38 destroyers, 23 submarines and 100 escort, patrol or mine vessels. In addition to the 1,314 naval and merchant vessels credited as sunk, approximately 1,000 Japanese vessels in all categories, with an estimated combined tonnage of over 5,000,000 tons, were damaged by U.S. submarines.6 It has been estimated that approximately 275,000 Japanese were killed as a direct result of Allied submarine operations.7

2-7. On 7 December 1941, there were 46 fleet type, 2 800-ton type, 37 S type, 18 R type and 7 O type submarines in commission in the U.S.Navy. Of these, 39 fleet type and 12 S-type were in the Pacific. On 15 August 1945, the day the war ended, there were 200 fleet type, 15 S type, 10 R type and 5 O-type submarines in commission. Of these, 169 fleet type and 13 S type submarines were in the Pacific. A total of 202 fleet type submarines were completed and commissioned during the war.8

2-8. In all theatres during World War II, 269 U.S. submarines conducted a grand total of 1,682 war patrols against the enemy. 251 submarines made patrols in the Pacific, of which 229 were fleet type boats and 22 were S type boats. Of the total of 1,682 war patrols, 948


were conducted under the command of ComSubPac, 622 under the command of ComSubSoWesPac and 112 under the command of ComSubLant.

A survey of war patrol reports and other information available to the Bureau indicates that there were 110 separate instances, excluding losses, in which our fleet type submarines sustained damage from attack by either enemy or friendly forces where the damage received can be considered as more than negligible, or where the circumstances of the attack or the nature of the damage has been considered of sufficient interest to warrant mention. Brief accounts of each of the selected actions have been included an Appendix I of this report. The 110 cases of damage can be classified by cause as follows:

Cause   No. of Cases
Depth charge     58  
Bomb     25  
Depth charge and bomb     8  
Aircraft strafing or small caliber gunfire     6  
Medium caliber gunfire     4  
Collision     4  
Mass detonation of target ship     2  
Mine     1  
Kamikaze aircraft     1  
Own torpedo        1  

Of these 110 cases, about 15 can be classified as resulting in severe damage, about 50 as resulting in moderate damage, and the remaining 45 as resulting in only minor damage.

2-10.In 49 of the above 110 cases, the submarines were forced to terminate their patrols as a result of the war damage received. In many of these instances, the damage which caused the termination of a patrol was restricted to but one vital system or equipment and the sum of all other damage was only minor or even non-existent. For example, in Trout's (SS-202) acton of 3 October 1942, only the periscopes were damaged, but this casualty alone forced the ship to return to base for repairs. It is difficult in many of the cases where war damage force termination of patrols to assign any one or two specific items of damage as being responsible. When damage was widespread, even though each item may in itself have been fairly minor or capable of being repaired by ship's force, the cumulative effect of the total was often sufficient to force the boat to return to base for repairs. A review of the 49 war patrols which were terminated due to war damage indicates that the\ following classification by cause can be made:

General severe damage   15
Widespread minor damage   4
Periscope damage (by explosion)   5
Periscope damage (by collision)   4


Medium caliber gunfire damage   4
Leakage rendering depth control difficult   3
Reduction gear damage   3
Conning tower door damage   1
Bow damage (collision)   1
Strafing attack   1
Derangement of stern planes   1
Conning tower plating failure   1
Control cubicle derangement   1
Oil leakage from external tanks   1
Contamination of hydraulic system with salt water   1
Damage to torpedo tube fittings   1
Damage to torpedoes   1
Small caliber gunfire (40mm)      1

2-11. Fifty-two U.S. submarines were lost from all causes during the period 7 December 1941 to 15 August 1945.9 A summary of these losses, with pertinent information where available, is presented in Appendix II. Of the total of fifty-two losses, at least nine were due to causes other than direct enemy action: four stranded on reefs during war patrols and were abandoned; two were lost due to operational or matériel casualties while on training exercises; one was lost by collision with a U.S. surface vessel while proceeding to her patrol area; and two were sunk by the malfunctioning of their own torpedoes. In addition, one was destroyed by Japanese bomb attack while under overhaul at Navy Yard, Cavite, P.I. The remaining forty-two submarines were lost at sea either through enemy action or for reasons unknown. The circumstances regarding the loss of six of these forty-two submarines are known from survivors' reports: two were scuttled after damage received by depth charge attack; one was scuttled after damage received by bomb attack; two were destroyed by mine explosions while running surfaced; and one was sunk by direct hits from medium caliber gunfire. The fate of the other thirty-six submarines is not definitely known. Assessment of the various sources of information enumerated in Appendix II of this report results in the following estimate: twenty-one submarines, probably or possibly sunk by depth charge and/or bomb attack; five probably or possibly sunk by mines; two possibly sunk by gunfire; one probably sunk by gunfire after being forced to the surface by depth charge attack; one probably destroyed, while surfaced, by Japanese torpedo attack; and six submarines whose loss remains in the unknown category.


2-12. Eleven cases of submarine loss or damage have been taken up in detail in this report and are grouped as follows: four cases of depth charge damage, including one loss; two cases of bomb damage, including one loss; one loss by torpedo damage; one case of damage by mine; one case of damage by medium caliber gunfire; one case of damage by collision and small caliber gunfire; and one case of damage by grounding while submerged. The cases have been selected to include not only the most serious instances of damage sustained by our submarines during World War II, but also to illustrate the effect of underwater detonations at various points along the length of a submarine. The text of each case includes a narrative describing the action, the damage and its effect on the submarine, the damage control measures taken, the habitability aboard the submarine after damage, a discussion of the ordnance material which inflicted the damage, and such conclusions as may be drawn regarding matériel behavior.

2-13. Most of the information on the individual ship actions has been obtained from the respective Commanding Officers' patrol reports, the reports of war damage submitted by the Commanding Officers following the form of the Bureau's letter C-FS/L11-1(374); C-EN28/A2-11 of 17 April 1942 which was distributed to all vessels in the U.S. Navy, the supplementary war damage reports submitted by the various repair activities or Naval Shipyards, and survivors' reports in those cases where loss of the vessel occurred.

2-14. It is realized that the preparation of detailed reports during wartime often may be onerous to the individual concerned, especially when the press of other duties is extreme. However, it si through such reports that the forces afloat and field activities can keep the Department fully aware of significant developments and the need for design changes or matériel improvements. It is emphasized that reports of damage and loss have served as a basis for improvements in both design and equipment.


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1. So far as can be determined, the first vessel credited as destroyed by submarine action in the history of the U.S. Navy was the Japanese cargo ship Atsutasan Maru (8,662 gross tons), sunk in World War II by Swordfish (SS-193) on 16 December 1941, lat. 18°06'N., long. 109°44'E. (credited by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, NavExos Publication P-468).

2. Submarine Operational History, World War II, prepared by Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (Preliminary issue).

3. Blackfish (SS-221), damaged by German depth charge attack in the Bay of Biscay on 19 February 1943. See brief of damage in Appendix I.

4. Japanese Naval and Merchant Losses During World War II by All Causes, NavExos Publication P-468 of 3 February 1947, prepared by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee. The figures of this committee are very conservative as compared with the official statistics of the various force commands.

5. ONI Statistical Section (Op-32F-44) data credits German submarines with the destruction of 2,321 naval and merchant vessels of the United Nations, for a grand total of 12,866,711 tons, during the period from September 1939 to the German surrender in May 1945.

6. Submarine Operational History, World War II, prepared by Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (Preliminary Issue).

7. Figure given by Japanese to the Administrator, U.S. Naval Shipping Control Authority for Japanese Merchant Marine. (Submarine Force Pacific Fleet Bulletin, Volume III, Number 1 of February 1946.)

8. During the period from September 1939 to their surrender in May 1945, the Germans built a total of 1,100 submarines, divided into the following categories: 912 attack type submarines which became operational; 119 Type XXI attack submarines which were delivered by the final assembly yards, but none of which became operational due to hydraulic system defects; 10 experimental submarines; and 509 submarines designed for special service such as minelayers, cargo carriers and submarine tenders. NavTechMisEu Technical Report No. 312-45 of August 1945 entitled "German Submarine Design, 1935-1945."

9. Enemy submarines destroyed from all causes in World War II totaled 996, including 781 German, 85 Italian and 130 Japanese. (Statistics compiled by the British Admiralty and United States Navy Department Assessment Committees. Intelligence received from enemy sources after the termination of the war was considered in this evaluation.)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation