SS-163 V-1 Barracuda
The first three V-boats were funded in fiscal year 1919, laid down at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in October and November 1921, and commissioned somewhat less than a year apart between 1924 and 1926. Significantly, V-1, V-2, and V-3 were the only members of the class designed to satisfy the Navy's original "fleet-boat" requirement for high surface speed.
In the demobilization that followed World War I, the Navy made drastic cuts in their planned program for submarine construction. Faced with the realization that there was not enough business to support two private submarine yards and fearful of the potential monopoly power of the stronger Electric Boat Company, the Navy in 1921 decided to develop the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as an in-house center of excellence for submarine design and construction. That year, they assigned Portsmouth the first of the V-class submarines (V-1, later USS Barracuda, SS-163).
These were large and powerfully-engined submarines, displacing 2,119 tons surfaced and 2,506 tons submerged on a length of 342 feet. The propulsion plant was divided between two separate engine rooms - forward and aft of the control room - with two 2,250-horsepower main-propulsion diesels aft, and two independent 1,000-horsepower diesel generators forward. The latter were primarily for charging batteries, but to reach maximum surface speed, they could augment the mechanically-coupled main-propulsion engines by driving the 1,200-horsepower electric motors in parallel. The three boats were partially double-hulled and fitted forward with buoyancy tanks inside a bulbous bow for better surface sea-keeping. They were armed with six torpedo tubes - four forward and two aft - plus a 5-inch/51-caliber deck gun.
Unfortunately, the operational performance of the first three V-boats was only mediocre. Designed for 21 knots on the surface, they only made 18.7, and also failed to make their submerged design speed of 9 knots. As built, they were somewhat too heavy forward, which made them poor sea boats, even after replacing the original deck guns with smaller 3-inch/50-caliber models to save weight. Moreover, both the main propulsion diesel engines and their original electric motors were notoriously unreliable, and full-power availability was rare.
Renamed Barracuda, Bass, and Bonita in 1931, they were decommissioned in 1937, and only the imminence of World War Two provided a reprieve, in preparation for which they were recommissioned in September 1940. Just before Pearl Harbor, the three boats were transferred to Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone, and each made a number of defensive war patrols - without seeing any action - off the approaches to the Panama Canal.
All three boats were overhauled in Philadelphia between late 1942 and early 1943 and converted to cargo submarines by removing both torpedo tubes and main engines, thereby leaving them solely dependent on their diesel generators for propulsion. Because this rendered the boats severely under-powered, they apparently never served operationally in their cargo-carrying role but instead were relegated to training duties at New London until just before the end of the war in 1945. After decommissioning, Barracuda and Bonita were scrapped, and Bass was scuttled as a sonar target near Block Island.
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