SC 110-Foot Submarine Chaser
SC class Submarine Chasers were reclassified as Control Submarine Chasers, SCC, in August 1945, and then reclassified back to SC class Submarine Chasers in October 1955.
As soon as it became evident that the United States was to be drawn into the war, the Bureau of Construction and Repair began making an inventory of privately owned yachts and other pleasure boats which might be used in the war zone as anti-submarine craft. The investigation showed a surprisingly small number of these boats fit for such service. The principal objection to them, from the Navy's standpoint, was their unseaworthiness. For the most part they were fair-weather boats. The Navy, therefore, in cooperation with a number of yacht builders, undertook to design a 110-foot, 75-ton powerboat which would be seaworthy and adapted to rapid construction.
It was to be driven by gasoline engines and, in order not to conflict with the merchant and naval shipbuilding programs, to be built of wood. The result of the design and the subsequent construction was the American submarine chaser, a conspicuous part of our naval forces at sea during the war days.
The early idea had been that a submarine chaser should be very fast above all else, but as the submarine developed and enlarged its field of operation, necessitating a real sea-going type of chaser, extreme speed was no longer considered worth the price in comfort and seaworthiness that must be paid for its attainment. Another idea dear to the hearts of the newspaper writers was that the boats should be very shoal of draft so as to be immune from torpedo attack. And less importance was placed on armament for it was popularly supposed that any old sort of a shooting iron would do to pop the periscope of a defenseless U-boat.
The remarkable speeds attained by our hydroplanes and our express cruisers in smooth water, not to mention the pseudo-scientific Sunday supplement, were responsible for the popular belief that boats for hunting submarines should be able to clip off at least thirty or forty knots. Therefore when it was announced that the new Chasers would do sixteen or seventeen at the outside, the public was disappointed. But the Bureau of Construction and Repair had confidence in the design and went ahead with preparations to have the boats built.
All this development was a prewar activity. In fact, almost the complete submarine-chaser program was inaugurated before the actual declaration of war. On March 19, 1917, the New York Navy Yard was ordered to build sixty of these boats, and the New Orleans Naval Station four. Two days later, contracts were placed with private firms for forty-one chasers, and the contracts placed before April l called for the delivery of 355 boats. Later on ninety-two more were ordered (fifty of these for the French Government, which received fifty of the first boats and was thoroughly convinced of their usefulness), so that the total war orders were for 447 boats, of which all but six were subsequently delivered to the Navy.
The submarine chasers were known by the designation S.C., followed by the numerals by which the individual boats were identified. They could cruise at nearly seventeen knots an hour and could be worked up to eighteen knots when the occasion demanded. Each carried depth charges and a Y-gun projector, two machine guns, and one of the 3-inch, 23-caliber boat guns specially designed by the Navy for this service. The crew of the submarine chaser consisted of two officers and twenty-four enlisted men.
The gun with which the majority of the Chasers were equipped was in many respects like that used on the British M. L.'s. It is a short-caliber 3-inch Poole gun with long recoil and with somewhat less range than the regular Navy gun of the same bore, and is adaptable to high-angle fire for anti-air-craft work. Several types of shells were carried including shrapnel for close range and air-craft work, high-explosive for attacking a submarine on the surface and the newly-developed non-ricochet type with the flat nose which was used when attacking a submerged submarine at a distance. And then there was a dummy shell loaded with sand, which was used only in target practice.
Besides the deck gun two machine guns of the Lewis or Colt type were carried on the wings of the bridge and there were rifles for the men and automatic pistols for the officers.
But the depth bomb was by far the most formidable weapon carried by the Chasers. The Mark II depth bomb weighs in the neighborhood of 300 pounds and is arranged that it may be set to explode at any required depth merely by the adjustment of a dial on the outside. The terrible havoc wrought by the detonation of 250 pounds of T.N.T. fifty feet or so beneath the surface of the sea, really must be seen - and felt and heard - to be appreciated.
The submarine chasers were built by the two navy yards mentioned and by a large number of yacht and small-boat builders on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and on the Great Lakes. The New York Navy Yard completed and delivered its first boat in fifty days, and subsequent construction was even more rapid. In appearance these vessels, with their white flush decks, their miniature bridges, and their mahogany and brass fittings, were such as to make a sportsman's eyes glitter. The submarine chasers proved to be surprisingly seaworthy. One flotilla of them came unscathed through a gale that badly battered the larger naval vessels escorting them. They were also highly effective in the work for which they were built - hunting submarines.
When out after submarines the Chasers worked in units of three which was the least number that could obtain an accurate fix from sound bearings obtained through the hydrophones. Two vessels, working under ideal conditions, might obtain a fairly accurate fix from cross bearings but with a third a check was obtained on the other two. If either of the wing boats was not in contact with the sub, the third vessel supplied the necessary second bearing. Three vessels were fully as mobile as two and with one acting as guide, it was simple for the others to maintain their positions. bearing on the submarine.
Probably the greatest advantage of the Chaser over the destroyer and other larger vessels in anti-submarine work was the ability to stop all machinery instantly, in order to listen with the hydrophones which was necessary at intervals of about ten minutes whenever in motion, whether actually on the trail of a sub or not ; a thing obviously impossible on a destroyer with her elaborate auxiliary pumping machinery. By means of the air starting and reversing feature of the Standard engine, starting, stopping and maneuvering could be carried on ad infinitum. The phenomenal speed obtained by the Chasers in maneuvering was made possible by the wireless telephone which made other similar methods of intercommunication obsolete.
The chasers were 110 feet long, 20 feet in beam and their displacement was 60 tons. They were manned, for the most part, by college boys. The US had 170 of them in foreign waters. They were based on Plymouth, Queenstown, Brest, Gibraltar and the Island of Corfu. Under Captain C. P. Nelson they rendered peculiarly effective service on the famous "Otranto barrage," the 40 mile impediment at the base of the Adriatic. "These little boats, the Austrians (after their surrender) now informed us, were responsible for a mutiny in the Austrian submarine force, said Rear Admiral Sims. Two weeks after their arrival in July, 1918, it was impossible to compel an Austrian crew to take a vessel through Otranto straits and from that time until the ending of the war not a single Austrian submarine ventured upon such a voyage. All the submarines that essayed the experiment after this Austrian mutiny were German. And the German crews, the Austrian officers said, did not enjoy the experience any more than their own.
There was practically no case in which a submarine crossed the barrage without being bombed in consequence; the morale of the German crews steadily went to pieces until, in the last month of the war, their officers were obliged to force them into submarines at the point of a pistol. The records showed, the Austrian high officers said, that the Germans had lost six submarines on the Otranto barrage in the last three months of the war.
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