Seal, a Simon Lake designed submarine was approved in the FY1908 program and laid down by Newport News Shipbuilding in February 1909. She was renamed G-1 in November 1911 and was commissioned October 1912. She was the first submarine with an even keel design and the first Lake designed submarine to join the US Navy.
Seal was the forerunner of the Lake designs that influenced United States Navy submarines into the atomic and hydrodynamic era. Holland and Lake were at odds in developing their submarine concepts. Lake experimented with boats that ascended vertically according to negative or positive buoyancy controlled by pumps and tanks. Lake was the only competitor of John Holland and is credited with the following design aspects of the modern submarine: escape trunk, conning tower, diving planes, control room, and the rotating, retractable periscope.
By 1907 a significant controversy had grown over Electric Boat's role as the Navy's single submarine builder, amid charges of cronyism, Navy Department collusion, and financial irregularities. In 1908, a congressional investigation was initiated - with intense lobbying on both sides - and when Simon Lake threatened legal action over the Navy's procurement procedures, the Secretary of the Navy relented and agreed to the purchase of a submarine from the Lake Torpedo Boat Company.
Built under a subcontract with Newport News Shipbuilding in fiscal year 1908, USS Seal (later G-1) was Lake's first U.S. Navy submarine - and after 19 predecessors, the first U.S. submarine not built by Holland and/or Electric Boat.
Seal was launched in February 1911 and commissioned in October of the following year. In design, she was very similar to the Kaimans that Lake had built for Russia, and at 516 tons and 161 feet long, she was essentially intended for harbor defense or coastal patrols. As built, Seal had Lake's customary wheels, amidships planes, and an airlock, as well as trainable (external) torpedo tubes mounted in the superstructure. Her twin screws were powered by four 300-horsepower gasoline engines (two in tandem on each shaft) and 375- horsepower electric motors. Although Seal was a notoriously slow diver, and her tandem engines caused recurring breakdowns until one of the two on each shaft was removed in 1916, she squeaked through her trials, and Lake was paid.
Likely because of continuing political pressure, the Navy ordered two more submarines from Lake in fiscal years 1909 and 1910. USS Tuna (later G-2, SS-27) and USS Turbot (later G-3, SS-31) were nearly identical to Seal, but to save costs, they lacked both wheels and airlocks. Tuna, launched in 1912, was the last boat built for Lake at Newport News Shipbuilding. Turbot was the first submarine laid down in Lake's own new yard in Bridgeport and had two diesel engines, vice the unorthodox propulsion of the earlier boats. However, in November 1913, before she could be completed, Lake was forced to put his shipyard into bankruptcy, and Turbot had to be turned over to the New York Navy Yard for completion. Even so, she was not fully operational until 1916, and like her two sisters, saw only five years or so of active service.
In March 1915 Seal set the US Navy submerged depth record at 256 feet. Her official test depth was 200 feet. From October 1915 until her decommissioning in 1920, G-1 served as a trainer and experimental submarine at New London CT.
G-1 Seal is anomalously numbered SS-19½ because by the time SS-19 D-3 Salmon and SS-20 F-1 Carp were assigned submarine numbers Seal had been decommissioned.
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