SS-182 S-1 Salmon
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.
While Rear Admirals Harry Yarnell and Samuel Robinson, successive interwar chiefs of the Bureau of Engineering, worked to remedy the technical flaws with solutions from European and American engineering practice, the community of submarine officers struggled with a problem even more fundamental than propulsion. How should the Navy use submarines? What was their proper strategic role? During the interwar period influential officers like Captains Thomas Hart and Yates Stirling Jr., Admirals Henry Wiley and Frank Schofield, and the innovative Commander Thomas Withers debated these issues with the German paradigm in mind. Unfortunately, this model did not offer easy direction. While the German commercial warfare strategy and independent patrol tactics had great effect on the war effort of the Entente and its allies, incidents like the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania painted this style of warfare with a dark brush, suggesting immorality when submersibles operated without restriction.
Only a subtle formula could help American submariners address questions of identity and mission in such a political environment. Since the state of design and propulsion technology would not permit American industry to build a submarine durable and fast enough to keep pace with the battlefleet, operating with surface ships on a regular basis seemed unlikely. This forced submarine strategists like Withers to look more closely at independent patrols and a model that approximated the World War I German experience. In isolationist postwar America, however, this option brought with it the ethical burden of unrestricted U-boat warfare and civilian casualties, something a Navy diminished by the Washington Treaties did not care to assume. Thus, American submarine strategy could not include unrestricted submarine warfare, which might turn neutral commercial vessels and innocent civilians into victims.
American officers realized that war in all of its brutality, not peacetime politics or worthy ethical concerns, would determine the future challenges faced by the submarine force. In spite of official policy, the boats under construction in the 1930s reflected assertive, offensive strategic thinking as the country came to terms with the Depression under Franklin Roosevelt and the Bureaus of Construction and Repair and Engineering resolved the submarine engineering and propulsion dilemmas.
By 1934, a design of approximately 1,475 tons assumed primary place within the submarine community as the best size and configuration to satisfy the Navy's desire for reliability, range, and habitability. In March of 1936, the General Board's final recommendations to the Secretary for the 1937 construction program gave 1,450 tons as the "minimum compatible with a proper balance of the required military characteristics to meet the intended employment of the submarine."
The new Salmon-Sargo designs were intended for long-range independent patrols, with requisite food, fuel, and weapons capacity. In addition, the fleet exercises and war game scenarios during the late 1930s permitted these vessels to attack warships, convoy escort ships, and even certain convoys identified as critical to enemy logistical support. By 1940, the submarine force had answered its fundamental strategic questions and had the vessels to carry out the consequent roles and missions. Thus, when Admiral Thomas Hart proclaimed unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan on 8 December 1941, it came as no surprise. The submarine force knew what to do.
Six Salmon (SS-182) class submarines were ordered in the FY1936 building program. Electric Boat built SS-182 to 184; Portsmouth Navy Yard built SS-185 and 186; Mare Island Navy Yard built SS-187. All were laid down in 1936 and commissioned 1937-38. These bore the pennant numbers S-1 thru S-6.
The pressure hull consisted of 11/16-in mild steel. Test depth was 250-feet. There were seven waterproof compartments in addition to the conning tower. They were equipped with four engine rooms generating 5,500hp on the surface, diesel-electric reduction gear, one auxiliary generator, four electric motors generating 2660 hp when submerged driven by two 126-cell batteries. Submerged endurance was 48 hours at 2 knots. Cruising range was 10,000 miles on the surface at 10 knots with 96,025 gallons of diesel fuel. Patrol duration was 75 days.
The entire class survived World War II and were decommissioned 1945-46. Skipjack (SS-184) was sunk as a target in the Bikini atoll atomic tests, raised, and towed to Mare Island, then sunk again as a target in rocket tests off California in August 1948. Seal (SS-183) was used as a Naval Reserve training boat until scrapped in 1956.
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