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SS-167 V-5 Narwhal

The Narwhal (SS-167) class scout cruiser was an early 1920s design concept for a large, long range submarine with large deck guns. Cruising range was 18,000 miles at 8 knots. Submerged performance was not good as was maneuverability. V-5 and V-6 emerged as too large and unwieldy for fully successful operation - they were slow to dive, hard to maneuver, and easy to detect.

In their overall appearance and dimensions, USS V-5 (later Narwhal, SS-167) and USS V-6 (later Nautilus, SS-168) were similar to Argonaut and constituted "submarine cruiser" counterparts at least partially inspired by German success with long-range submarine commerce raiders in World War One. Endurance, sea-keeping, increased torpedo capacity, and large deck guns were emphasized at the cost of high speed; and originally, a small scouting seaplane was to be carried in a water-tight hangar abaft the conning tower.

Originally named V-5 and V-6 and designated SC-1 and SC-2, these two boats were authorized in FY1926 and laid down V-5 at Portsmouth and V-6 at the Mare Island (California) Navy Yard in 1927. Commissioning in 1930, they were renamed Narwhal (SS-167) and Nautilus (SS-168) in 1931.

The two double-hulled boats displaced 2,730 tons on the surface and 3,900 underwater on a length of 370 feet. Powered by two ten-cylinder, two-cycle, 2,350-horsepower MAN4 diesel engines, they also had a pair of smaller 450-horsepower diesel generators for charging batteries or augmenting the main propulsion engines on the surface. On trials, the two boats achieved nearly 17-1/2 knots surfaced and 8 knots submerged, and their claimed (surface) endurance was 18,000 miles at 10 knots. Their fuel load was 732 tons. In addition to the customary torpedo tubes - four forward and two aft with over 30 reloads - they (and Argonaut) carried two 6-inch/53-caliber deck guns, the largest ever mounted on U.S. submarines.

Narwhal and Nautilus served usefully in the 1930s, and just before World War Two, Nautilus was modified to carry 20,000 gallons of aviation gasoline for refueling seaplanes at sea. Early in the war, each was re-fitted with four General Motors 1,600-horsepower diesels and four additional external torpedo tubes, and despite their age and inherent design flaws, they went on to compile enviable war records.

During World War II they were initially assigned patrol duties but as more capable Gato (SS-212) class submarines joined the fleet they were relegated to tasks such as resupplying guerilla forces and landing commandos. In 1942 they were fitted with four external torpedo tubes; two forward and two aft.

Narwhal completed 15 successful war patrols and Nautilus 14, and between them, they are credited with sinking 13 enemy ships for a total of 35,000 tons. Somewhat more serendipitously, their large size made them useful for carrying both troops and cargo on covert missions. Thus, Nautilus joined with Argonaut in transporting Carlson's Raiders to Makin, and then with Narwhal, landed a strong detachment of U.S. Army Scouts on Attu in the Aleutians preparatory to the main landing that regained that island from the Japanese in May 1943. For the final two years of the war, the two boats were devoted almost exclusively to clandestine insertion and retrieval operations behind enemy lines, particularly in preparation for the U.S. campaign to retake the Philippines.

With the end of the war in sight, Narwhal and Nautilus were withdrawn from service in April and June 1945, respectively, and sold for breaking up soon thereafter. Narwhal's two 6-inch guns are retained as a memorial at the Naval Submarine Base New London.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:41:41 ZULU