Submarine USS S-50 (SS-161)
By: Robert Loys Sminkey,
Commander, United States Navy, Retired
USS S-50 (SS-161) was laid down on 15 March 1920 by the Lake Torpedo Boat Company at Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mrs. William G. Esmond christened the submarine...which was launched on 18 June 1921. The S-boat was commissioned on 20 May 1922 with Lieutenant J. A. Crutchfield in command.
When commissioned, the S-48 Class submarine was 240' in length overall; had an extreme beam of 21'10"; had a normal surface displacement of 903 tons, and, when on the surface in that condition, had a mean draft of 13'6". The submarine displaced 1,230 tons when submerged. The designed compliment was 4 officers and 34 enlisted men. The S-boat was equipped with two periscopes. She had a double hull in the center portion of the boat; a single hull at each end of the ship. This S-boat could completely submerge in one minute to periscope depth. Maximum operating (test) depth was 200'. The submarine was armed with five 21-inch torpedo tubes (four in the bow and one in the stern). Fourteen torpedoes were carried. One 4-inch/50-caliber gun was mounted on the main deck...forward of the conning tower fairwater. Stowage was provided for 44,350 gallons of diesel oil...by utilizing some of the ballast tanks as fuel oil tanks. This gave the boat a maximum operating radius of 8,000 miles at ten knots when transiting on the surface. The normal fuel oil load was 23,411 gallons. Two 6-M-85 six-cylinder 900 brake horsepower (at 410 rotations per minute) diesel engines, that had a total output of 1,800 horsepower, that were made by the Busch-Sulzer Brothers Diesel Engine Company at Saint Louis, Missouri, could drive the boat at 14.4 knots when operating on the surface. Submerged propulsion electrical power was provided by the 120 cell main storage battery...which was manufactured by the Gould Storage Battery Company at Trenton ("Trenton makes, the world takes"), New Jersey, which powered two 750 B.H.P. electric motors, with a total output of 1,500 designed brake horsepower, that were manufactured by the Ridgway Dynamo and Electric Company at Ridgway, Pennsylvania...which turned propeller shafts...which turned propellers...which drove the submarine at 11 knots, for a short period of time, when submerged. This submarine was one of four "4th Group" S-boats constructed. The 4th Group S-boats were the largest of the fifty-one S-boats contracted to be built for the United States Navy. These S-boats had six water-tight compartments to enhance internal integrity.
Initially assigned to Experimental Submarine Division Zero, then to Submarine Division Four, USS S-50 (SS-161) was based at the United States Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut, on the Thames River, and, until mid-June of 1922, conducted trials in the Block Island Sound area. The submarine then visited Poughkeepsie, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut...and, during July of 1922, moved south to Washington, D.C. At the end of July, USS S-50 returned to Groton...whence she continued north for operations off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine. On 11 August 1922, she returned to the Groton submarine base...then proceeded west to Bridgeport, Connecticut ...and remained, there, in the builder's yard, until mid-October 1922.
Resuming active duty, the submarine operated in the New London areas into January of 1923...then proceeded to New York City. Repairs and alterations at the New York Navy Yard...the "Brooklyn" Navy Yard ...took her into August of 1923...when she resumed tests and exercises in the Block Island Sound and New London operating areas.
At the end of December of 1923, the S-boat proceeded to Staten Island, New York...whence, on 4 January 1924, she headed south to participate in Fleet Problem III, a test of Caribbean defenses and transit facilities of the Panama Canal. On completion of the Problem, the submarine put into Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone. Toward the end of January of 1924, USS S-50 moved into the Virgin Islands areas for further operations and exercises.
At about 0330 on 6 February 1924, a fire started in the after battery compartment. The room was sealed. At 0657, the room was ventilated. Four minutes later, the battery exploded, and the room was sealed for another four hours. Temporary repairs were soon started; and, later, in February, she began the trip back to New England. Towed initially to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she was taken to Groton, and, then, to the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine...for repairs and yard work. During September of 1924, USS S-50 departed the Portsmouth Navy Yard, under her own power; arrived at Groton on the 23rd; and reported to Commander, Submarine Division Two (ComSubDiv 2) for duty.
Three weeks later, USS S-50 shifted to New York, where, for the next ten months, the submarine was used in experimental engineering work.
During mid-July of 1925, USS S-50 returned to the submarine base at Groton, and, for the next two years, was primarily engaged in conducting experimental tests and performing exercises for the Submarine School at the submarine base at Groton. During that period, she regularly interrupted those duties for annual overhauls and individual, division, and fleet exercises; and, during July of 1926, was called on to assist in salvage operations for submarine USS S-51. Experimental work during the period took her to the Virginia Capes off Virginia Beach, Virginia...to participate in sound tests for the Naval Experiment Laboratory during November and December of 1926...and to southern Florida for engineering tests in January and February of 1927.
On her return from Florida during March of 1927, USS S-50 was ordered inactivated. At the end of March, the submarine proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...where she was decommissioned on 20 August 1927...and remained berthed in the Back Channel of the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a unit of the inactive fleet, there, until the 1930's.
USS S-50 (SS-161) was struck from the Navy List on 31 March 1931, and her hulk was scrapped the following fall.