Submarine USS S-18 (SS-123)
By: Robert Loys Sminkey,
Commander, United States Navy, Retired
The keel of USS S-18 (SS-123) was laid down on 15 August 1918 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation ... a subcontractor of the Electric Boat Company ... at Quincy, Massachusetts. The submarine was christened by Miss Virginia Bell Johnson and launched on 29 April 1920. The S-boat was commissioned on 3 April 1924 with Lieutenant Elliot M. Senn in command.
When commissioned, the S-1 Class coastal and harbor defense submarine was 219'3" in length overall; had an extreme beam of 20'8"; had a normal surface displacement of 854 tons, and, when in that condition, had a mean draft of 15'11". Submerged displacement was 1,062 tons. The submarine was of riveted construction. The designed compliment was four officers and thirty-four enlisted men. The boat could operate safely to depths of 200 feet. The submarine was armed with four 21-inch torpedo tubes ... installed in the bow. Twelve torpedoes were carried. One 4-inch/50 caliber deck gun was installed. The full load of diesel oil carried was 41,921 gallons, which fueled two 600 designed brake horsepower Model 8-EB-15NR diesel engines manufactured by the New London Ship and Engine Company at Groton, Connecticut ... which could drive the boat ... via a diesel direct drive propulsion system... at 14.5 knots on the surface. Power for submerged propulsion was provided by a main storage battery, divided into two sixty-cell batteries, manufactured by the Electric Storage Battery Company (EXIDE) at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ... which powered two 750 designed brake horsepower main propulsion motors manufactured by the by the Ridgway Dynamo and Electric Company at Ridgway, Pennsylvania ... which turned propeller shafts ... which turned propellers ... which could drive the submarine at 11 knots for a short period of time when operating beneath the surface of the sea. Slower submerged speeds resulted in greater endurances before the batteries needed to be recharged by the engines and generators.
From 1924 through 129, USS S-18 (SS-123) operated out of the United States Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut ... primarily off the New England coast, but, with annual deployments to the Caribbean for winter maneuvers and fleet problems.
Transferred to the Pacific fleet in 1930, USS S-18 departed New London/Groton on 24 May 1930; operated off the California coast into the fall; and, arrived at her new home port, Pearl Harbor, in the Territory of Hawaii, on 7 December 1930.
For the next eleven years, USS S-18 remained based at Pearl Harbor.
In September of 1941, USS S-18 returned to the west coast of the United States; and, three months later, after the United States had entered World War II as an active participant, the submarine was ordered to the Aleutians.
A unit of Submarine Division 41, USS S-18 moved north in midJanuary of 1942. Into March, she conducted defensive patrols out of the new and still incomplete submarine base at Dutch Harbor. In midMarch, the S-boat got underway for San Diego, California; underwent repairs, there, until mid-May; then returned to the Aleutians.
En route, on the 29th, the S-boat received orders to patrol the southern approaches to Umnak Pass in anticipation of a Japanese attack. On 2 June, the submarine took up her station. The next day, the Japanese sent carrier planes against Dutch Harbor and landed troops on Kiska and Attu. The war in the Aleutians had begun.
Orders for submerged daylight operations in combat areas compelled the World-War-I-design submarines of the North Pacific Force to increase their submerged time to 19 hours a day. Surfaced recharging time was cut to the brief 5 hours of the northern summer night. Hampered by fog, rain, and poor radio reception; and lacking radar, fathometer, and deciphering equipment, USS S-18 remained on patrol through the 10th. The next day, the submarine returned to Dutch Harbor. On the 13th, the S-boat was underway, again, to patrol west and north of Attu, then north of Kiska. The weather, as on earlier patrols, was consistently bad. Habitability in the S-1 Class boat was poor. Material defects and design limitations in speed and maneuverability continued to plague USS S-18.
On the 29th, USS S-18 sighted a Japanese submarine but was unable to close for a torpedo attack. The same day, she returned to Dutch Harbor; and, as at the conclusion of previous patrols, her commanding officer requested up-to-date sound and radar equipment.
From 15 July to 2 August, the S-boat conducted another patrol in the Kiska area; and, on completion of the patrol, USS S-18 was ordered to San Diego, California.
In October, USS S-18 returned to the Aleutians, and, on the 22nd, the submarine cleared Dutch Harbor for her next patrol, again in the Kiska area. On 9 November, however, the S-boat was recalled and ordered to prepare for a longer, more distant patrol. On the 12th, the submarine put to sea; but, on the 15th, a crack in the starboard main engine housing forced her back to Dutch Harbor.
USS S-18 arrived on the 20th, and her repairs were completed by the end of the month. On the 30th, USS S-18 resumed her patrol, moved west, and operated off Kiska, Kiskinato, Agattu, and Attu. On 22 December, after 16 days in her patrol area, the submarine lost her starboard stern plane; and depth control became erratic. On the 28th, the S-boat returned to Dutch Harbor.
Repairs and refit took USS S-18 into the new year ... 1943; and, on 7 January, the submarine got underway... again. During that 28 day patrol, her last, she reconnoitered Attu and the Semichi Islands. On 4 February, the S-boat was ordered back to San Diego ... for overhaul and assignment to training duty.
For the remainder of World War II (which officially ended on 2 September 1945), USS S-18 remained in the San Diego area, providing training services for the West Coast Sound School. In late September of 1945, the submarine moved north to San Francisco, California, where the submarine was decommissioned on 29 October 1945. On 13 November 1945, her name was struck from the Navy List; and, a year later, her hulk was sold for scrapping to the Salco Iron and Metals company of San Francisco, California.
USS S-18 (SS-123) earned one battle star for her service during the Second World War.