S-1 Class, U.S. Submarines

Photograph of S-1 class submarine

Navy History and Heritage Command #41988


Tonnage 930 tons standard displacement surfaced
1094 tons displacement submerged
Dimensions 219'3" by 20'6" by 15'1"
66.83m by 6.25m by 4.60m
Maximum speed       13 knots surfaced
9 knots submerged
Maximum dive
200 feet
61 meters
Complement 50
Armament 4 21" torpedo tubes (12 torpedoes)
1 4"/50 gun
2-shaft diesel (2000 bhp) or electric (1200 hp)
Bunkerage 64 tons diesel oil
Range 3420 nautical miles 6300 km) at 6.5 knots surfaced (normal)
8950 nautical miles (16,580 km) at 9.5 knots with fuel in main ballast tanks
100 nautical miles (190 km) at 5 knots submerged
Cargo 10 tons

Prior to 1914, the U.S. Navy purchased submarines the way it purchased aircraft: Specifications were issued, then complete designs were purchased from manufacturers. However, the Navy was unhappy with this arrangement, believing that this gave companies like Electric Boat too strong an incentive to use their own patented devices aboard boats, rather than the latest innovations. Submariners also felt that this gave Electric Boat, which dominated early submarine construction, too much influence over the role of submarines, with Electric Boat favoring the small coastal defense submarine. Electric Boat did not hesitate to lobby Congress directly for purchase of its designs, in which it was aided by the fragmented responsibility for warship design within the Navy.

This began to change when Commander Emory Land, a construction officer who would later head the Maritime Commission, was sent to sea with Atlantic submarines during the First World War. The Navy wished to acquire its own independent submarine design expertise, and Land came to share the submarine force's skepticism of the coastal submarine and their enthusiasm for an 800-ton design similar to that of the German U-boats. In many respects these would resemble small fleet submarines, a concept the Navy had been investigating since 1911. The fleet boat was conceived as a fast, long-ranged boat, capable of keeping up with battleships, that could take part in a fleet action.The Navy still lacked the experience with submarines to understand the tradeoffs involved, particularly in surface speed versus submerged speed: The spindle-form needed to optimize submerged speed was very different from the ship-form required for good surface speed. Electric Boat nonetheless proposed a plausible design in 1913, which eventually became the T class of 1919. These were unsuccessful, with numerous defects in their machinery and relatively weak hulls. Designed before the lessons of wartime experience could be absorbed, the Ts were already obsolete when completed.

The S-1s, completed in 1920-1924, were the realization of the 800-ton concept. Three boats were originally authorized, to be designed independently by Electric Boat, Lake, and the Portsmouth Naval Yard. The General Board deliberately left the required characteristics as vague as possible to encourage design innovation, and as a result the design details varied considerably within the class.However, all featured larger torpedoes (21" or 53.3cm) and roomier conning towers than previous submarine designs. Putting anything close to fleet boat performance on an 800-ton displacement proved too great a challenge, and the General Board specified a reliable surface speed of just 14 knots. S-1 was completed by Electric Boat while S-2 and S-3 were the first Navy submarines completed in Navy shipyards. S-2 proved to be badly flawed and Electric Boat refused to build to the ambitious Navy design, so the wartime order of 60 S-boats most closely resembled Electric Boat's design. However, those listed separately as the S-42 class incorporated significant design improvements.

With their inadequate speed and range, the boats were not particularly successful in their envisioned role. However, a number of the Electric Boat units, which were considered the best of the class, were still in service when war broke out in the Pacific,and they found themselves deployed in a local patrol role. They were badly obsolete, lacking air conditioning for tropical duty, adequate heating for the Arctic, and modern fire control. Ironically, because they could not fire the defective torpedoes being built by the U.S. at the start of the war (since these submarines lacked an automatic target computer), they had a measure of success with older, simpler, and therefore more reliable torpedoes.

Units in the Pacific:


North Island


North Island


North Island

Grounded 17 June 1942 near Kiska at and scuttled


North Island

Lost 4 July 1944 off Oahu from unknown causes


North Island


North Island

S-36 off Lingayen Gulf Grounded 20 January 1942 off Makassar and scuttled
S-37 Cavite
S-38 Mariveles
S-39 off southern Luzon Grounded 14 August 1942 off Rossel Island and scuttled
S-40       Cavite
S-41 Cavite
S-31 Arrived 1942-5-21
S-32 Arrived 1942-6
S-33 Arrived 1942-6
S-30 Arrived 1942-7-15      



Friedman 1995

Worth (2001)

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