USS CANOPUS (AS-9) - SHIP'S HISTORY
Researched by: Robert Loys Sminkey
Commander, United States Navy, Retired
USS Canopus (AS-9), named for a first magnitude star in the constellation of Argo, was launched in 1919 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey, as "Santa Leonora."
Congress authorized the United States Navy to acquire the vessel from the United States Shipping Board...and the Navy did so on 22 November 1921. Conversion to a submarine tender (AS) followed, and, on 24 January 1922, the ship was commissioned into the United States Navy at the Boston Navy Yard at Boston, Massachusetts, with Commander A. S. Wadsworth in command.
When commissioned, the submarine tender was 360 feet in length at the waterline, 373 feet 8 inches in length overall, had an extreme beam of 51 feet 6 inches, and had a mean draft of 16 feet 4 inches when at her standard displacement of 5,975 tons. Standard light displacement was 7,750 tons. The ship's normal tonnage...the full load displacement...was 8,000 tons. When in that condition, the ship had a mean draft of 21 feet 6 inches. Accommodations were provided for 32 officers and 282 enlisted men. Armament included two 5-inch/ 51 caliber and four 3-inch/50 caliber guns. The ship was steam powered. Steam was generated in fire-tube (Scotch-type) boilers, which powered a vertical quadruple expansion reciprocating engine, which was designed to develop 3,850 horsepower on a single propeller shaft, for a designed maximum speed of 13 knots.
Following commissioning, USS Canopus (AS-9) reported to Commander, Submarine Force, United States Atlantic Fleet.
The submarine tender remained at Boston until 9 November 1922, when she commenced a transit for further fitting out at Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone, and San Pedro in California ... her base as the submarine tender to the submarines of Submarine Division 9 until 17 July 1923.
Transiting to Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii, USS Canopus tended Submarine Division 17 of the Battle Force...with whom she sailed for permanent duty with the United States Asiatic Fleet in September of 1924.
Arriving in the Philippine Islands on 4 November 1924, USS Canopus began her regular schedule of services in Manila Bay...and each summer based with the fleet at Tsingtao in China, with occasional training cruises to various Chinese and Japanese ports, and to the British and French colonies.
Between 1927 and 1931, the submarine tender was flagship of Submarine Divisions, United States Asiatic Fleet, and, later, was attached to Submarine Division 10, and was flagship of Submarine Squadron 5.
In 1939, flying the flag of Commander, Submarines, United States Asiatic Fleet, USS Canopus was a unit of Submarine Squadron 5 and tended the units of Submarine Division 10. Those submarines were:
USS S-36 (SS-141),
USS S-37 (SS-142),
USS S-38 (SS-143),
USS S-39 (SS-144),
USS S-40 (SS-145), and
USS S-41 (SS-146).
By December of 1940, the Submarine Force of the Asiatic Fleet, with John Wilkes commanding from USS Canopus, consisted of six S-boats and eleven fleet-type submarines.
On 7 December 1941, USS Canopus, aging but able, lay at the Cavite Navy Yard near Manila...as submarine tender to Submarine Squadron 20. On that day, Japanese naval aircraft and midget submarines attacked civilian and military targets in and around Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii...thus plunging the United States into the Second World War as an active participant. In the anxious days that followed, the crew of USS Canopus worked day and night to repair ships damaged in the daily air raids that started soon after the Pearl Harbor attack...as the Japanese commenced their efforts to invade and capture the Philippine Islands. She also did her best to keep her brood of submarines at sea...to defend the Philippines.
With United States and Philippine ground forces falling back on Manila, USS Canopus transited to Mariveles Bay at the tip of the Bataan peninsula on Christmas Day of 1941.
On 29 December 1941 and 1 January 1942, USS Canopus received direct bomb hits, which resulted in substantial damage to the ship and injuries to thirteen of her men. Working at fevered pace, her men continued to care for other ships while keeping her own afloat and in operation. To prevent further Japanese attacks, smoke pots were placed around the ship and the appearance of an abandoned hulk was presented by day, while the ship hummed with activity by night.
Just before the New Year of 1942, the last of the submarines left USS Canopus, but her activity continued as she cared for small craft and equipment of the Army and Navy, sent her men into battle in the improvised naval battalion, which fought so gallantly on Bataan, and converted her own launches into miniature gunboats which attacked the Japanese moving south near the shore. But the overwhelming Japanese strength could not be held off forever.
Upon the surrender of Bataan on 9 April 1942, USS Canopus was ordered scuttled and sunk...to deny her use to the enemy. On 10 April 1942, USS Canopus (AS-9) was proudly backed off into deep water under her own power, and the brave veteran whom the Japanese could not sink ended a lifetime of service to the United States Navy when she was laid to rest by her own men off Mariveles Bay, Bataan. The skipper of USS Canopus when scuttled was Earl LeRoy Sackett.
On 8 May 1942, USS Canopus (AS-9) was stricken from the Navy List.
USS Canopus (AS-9) received one battle star for her services during the Second World War.