The Navy Department's plans for submarine reflected the prevailing surface warfare thinking, which perceived the submersible as a type of destroyer or torpedo boat that should operate with the battle fleet. Thus the first foray into submarine design by the Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Steam Engineering produced the faster 15-knot, 800-ton, S-class submarine in 1916 with the assistance of Electric Boat Company and Lake Torpedo Boat Company.
The United States Navy commissioned 48 S-Class submarines between 1920 and 1922. The first of the S-boats, S-1 was launched on 26 September 1918 at the Fore River Shipbuilding Company, which was acting as subcontractor for Electric Boat, but not commissioned until 5 June 1920.
The German U-boats of the 1914-1918 conflict gave American officers and designers reason for pause. Physically durable, powered by very reliable diesels, technically blessed with very long sea legs, they provided the paradigm for American interwar development. At the same time, the 1916-vintage American S-class proved a virtual clinic for basic design mistakes, burdened with difficult metallurgical problems and very unreliable diesels.
Another consideration in the early 1920s was the use of a submarine to forward deploy aircraft. Submarine S-1 was the first U.S. submarine fitted out and extensively tested with a small scout plane. The Navy experimented with seaplanes on submarines with a prototype hangar installation on USS S-1 (SS-105) during the mid-1920s. However, the resulting increase in scouting capability was significantly offset by several additional dangers to the host submarine, and the initiative was dropped.
The S-class boats were used as the test platforms for a range of sonar designs tested in the 1920s and 1930s. Higher frequencies and small, trainable transducers allowed for narrow beam width and exclusion of natural sea noises and other interference.
These boats saw service in World War II in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Smaller and slower than many of the submarines produced for war service, these boast were used in reconnaisance and supply roles. The 'S' Class ("Sugarboats" - or sometimes "Pigboats"...!) were rather poor old ladies by the WWII, and certainly not the popular conception of a typical US fleet submarine. They were small, inhospitable, uncomfortable and definitely out-dated vessels. But they did sterling work in that interim period from 1941 through 1943/4.
The majority of the boast that survived war service were scrapped in 1946.
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