The "R" class boats were designed by Simon Lake with a larger conning tower to serve as the commanding officer's battle station and house the periscope equipment and incorporated the new 21-inch torpedo tube which was re-evaluated in 1915 but had been a long standing demand of submarine crews. These would fire the Mk10 torpedo which could travel 5,000 yards at 30 knots (later 3,600 yards at 36 knots) with a 500-lb warhead. On 29 August 1916 Congress approved 58 coastal submarines (SS-78 to 135) which would ultimately comprise 27 "R" boats and 30 "S" boats, and a "Neff" boat (SS-108) which never was constructed.
R-1 thru 20 were built at Union Iron Works and at Fore River Shipbuilding. R-21 thru 27 (which would form a separate class) were built at Lake Torpedo Boat Company. The "R" boats were laid down April 1917 to November 1918 and commissioned July 1918 to December 1919.
Early submarine classes such as E, H, K, L, M, N, O, and R, known as "pig boats" or "boats" because of their unusual hull shape and foul living conditions, ranged in displacement from 287 to 510 tons. The fastest "boats" achieved top surface speeds of 14 knots under diesel power. During World War I, US submarines were divided into two groups according to mission. Boats of the N and O classes, as well as some of the E type, patrolled American coasts and harbors in a defensive role. Some K, L, O, and E class boats conducted offensive, open-sea operations from the Azores and Bantry Bay in Ireland. They supported the Allied effort to maintain open sea lanes along the European coast and in the approaches to the British Isles.
In May 1931, the Navy decommissioned eleven R-1 (SS-78) class boats with two following in 1932 and another in 1934. R-8 was expended as a target in aerial bombing test off Cape Henry, VA in August 1936. Thirteen reserve boats were recommissioned April 1940 to March 1941 in the pre World War II US naval buildup. The "R" boats were stationed at New London CT and Key West FL as training submarines during World War II and were decommissioned in 1945 then sold for scrap.
R-3 was transferred to the Royal Navy under lend lease in November 1941 with R-19 and R-20 following in March 1942 - all were to serve as training submarines. R-19 was lost, shortly after her transfer to Britain, in June 1942 when rammed by HMCS Georgian in the Western Atlantic. R-12 was lost 12 June 1943 off Key West FL with the loss of 42 men including several Brazilian observers.
Simon Lake's R-6 (S-83) submarine served as a test platform for the first U.S. experimental snorkel in 1945.
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