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USS Argonaut (SM-1)

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USS Argonaut (SM-1)

USS Argonaut underway.
United States
Name: USS Argonaut
Builder: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine[1]
Laid down: 1 May 1925[1]
Launched: 10 November 1927[1]
Commissioned: 2 April 1928[1]
Fate: Sunk by Japanese destroyers off Rabaul on 10 January 1943[2]
General characteristics
Class & type: V-4 (Argonaut)-class composite direct-drive diesel and diesel-electric submarine[2]
  • Surfaced: 2,710 long tons (2,750 t)[3] (standard); 3,046 long tons (3,095 t) (full load)[4]
  • Submerged: 4,161 long tons (4,228 t)[4]
Length: 358 ft (109 m) (waterline),[5] 381 ft (116 m)[4] (overall)
Beam: 33 ft 9.5 in (10.300 m)[4]
Draft: 16 ft .25 in (4.8832 m)[4]
  • As Built: 2 × BuEng (MAN-designed) direct-drive main diesel engines, 1,400 hp (1,000 kW) each.[4][6]
  • 1 × BuEng MAN auxiliary diesel-electric diesel generator, 300 kW (400 hp)[4][6][7]
  • Re-Engined 1942: 4 x General Motors Winton main diesel engines, 1,200 hp (890 kW) each,[8]
  • 1 × GM Winton 300 kW (400 hp) and 1 x GM Winton 150 kW (200 hp) auxiliary diesel generators,[8]
  • 2 × 120-cell Exide ULS37 batteries,[7]
  • 2 × Ridgway electric motors, 1,100 hp (820 kW) each,[2][4]
  • 2 × shafts
  • Surfaced: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h) (design);[4] 13.6 kn (15.7 mph; 25.2 km/h) (trials)[2]
  • Submerged: 8 kn (9.2 mph; 15 km/h) (design);[4] 7.43 kn (8.55 mph; 13.76 km/h) (trials)[4]
Range: 8,000 nmi (9,200 mi; 15,000 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h);[4] 18,000 nmi (21,000 mi; 33,000 km) @ 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h) with fuel in main ballast tanks[4]
Endurance: 10 hours @ 5 kn (5.8 mph; 9.3 km/h)[4]
Test depth: 300 ft (91 m)[4]
Capacity: 173,875 US gal (658,190 L) diesel fuel[9]
Notes: Two Battle stars

USS Argonaut (V-4/SF-7/SM-1/A-1/APS-1/SS-166 (never formally held this classification)) was a submarine of the United States Navy, the first ship to carry the name. Argonaut was laid down as V-4 on 1 May 1925 at Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched on 10 November 1927, sponsored by Mrs. Philip Mason Sears, the daughter of Rear Admiral William D. MacDougall, and commissioned on 2 April 1928, Lieutenant Commander W.M. Quigley in command.


  • Design 1
  • Inter-War Period 2
  • World War II 3
    • Sinking 3.1
  • Awards 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7
  • See also 8


V-4 was the first of the second generation of V-boats commissioned in the late 1920s, which remain the largest non-nuclear submarines ever built by the United States. V-4 was the behemoth of its class. These submarines were exempt by special agreement from the armament and tonnage limitations of the Washington Treaty. Her configuration, and that of the following V-5 and V-6, resulted from an evolving strategic concept that increasingly emphasized the possibility of a naval war with Japan in the far western Pacific. This factor, and the implications of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, suggested the need for long-range submarine "cruisers", or "strategic scouts", as well as long-range minelayers, for which long endurance, not high speed, was most important. The design was possibly influenced by the German "U-cruisers" of the Type U-139 and Type U-151 U-boat classes, although V-4, V-5, and V-6 were all larger than these. V-4 and her near-sisters V-5 (Narwhal) and V-6 (Nautilus) were initially designed with larger and more powerful MAN-designed diesel engines than the Busch-Sulzer engines that propelled earlier V-boats, which were failures. Unfortunately, the specially built engines failed to produce their design power, and some developed dangerous crankcase explosions. V-4 was ultimately completed with smaller MAN diesels of 1,400 hp (1,000 kW), compared with 2,350 hp (1,750 kW) for V-5 and V-6. The smaller diesels were required to allow sufficient space for mine storage.

The engine specifications as built were two BuEng-manufactured, MAN-designed direct-drive 6-cylinder 4-cycle main diesel engines, 1,400 hp (1,000 kW) each.[4][6] A BuEng MAN 6-cylinder 4-cycle auxiliary diesel engine of 450 hp (340 kW), driving a Ridgway[7] 300 kW (400 hp)[7] electrical generator,[4][6] was provided for charging batteries or for additional diesel-electric propulsion power.

A more successful propulsion improvement in V-4 was the replacement of earlier submarines' pairs of 60-cell batteries with a pair of 120-cell batteries, thus doubling the available voltage to the electric motors when submerged. This battery configuration would be standard until the GUPPY program following World War II. V-4 and her sisters were slow in diving and, when submerged, were unwieldy and slower than designed. They also presented an excellent target for surface ship sonar and had a large turning radius.

Designed primarily as a minelayer, and built at a cost of US$6,150,000,[10] V-4 was the first and only such specialized type ever built by the United States. She had four torpedo tubes forward and two minelaying tubes aft. At the time of construction, V-4 was the largest submarine ever built in the U.S., and was the largest in U.S. Navy service for 30 years.[10]

Her minelaying arrangements were "highly ingenious, but extremely complicated",[10] filling two aft compartments.[10] A compensating tube ran down the center of the two spaces, to make up for the lost weight as mines were laid, as well as to store eight additional mines.[10] The other mines were racked in three groups around this tube, two in the fore compartment, one aft,[10] with a hydraulically driven rotating cage between them.[10] Mines were moved by hydraulic worm shafts, the aft racks connecting directly to the launch tubes,[10] which had vertically sliding hydraulic doors[10] (rather than the usual hinged ones of torpedo tubes). Each launch tube was normally loaded with four mines,[10] and a water 'round mines (WRM) tube flooded to compensate as they were laid, then pumped into the compensating tube.[11] Eight mines could be laid in 10 minutes.[12]

Inter-War Period

Following commissioning, V-4 served with Submarine Division 12 based at Newport, Rhode Island.

She proved perennially underpowered, but engine replacement was postponed by war,[10] and her MAN diesels were a constant source of trouble.[13]

In January–February 1929, V-4 underwent a series of trials off Provincetown, Massachusetts. On a trial dive during this period, she submerged to a depth of 318 ft (97 m). This mark was the greatest depth an American submarine had reached up to that time. On 26 February 1929, V-4 was assigned to Submarine Division 20 (SubDiv 20), and arrived at San Diego, California on 23 March. From there, she participated in battle exercises and made cruises along the West Coast.

In 1931, the V-4 was heavily featured in "Seas Beneath", an American action film directed by John Ford. The V-4 was repainted to appear as a WWI German submarine, the fictional 'U-172'.

V-4 was renamed Argonaut on 19 February 1931, and redesignated SM-1 (submarine, minelayer) on 1 July. On 30 June 1932, she arrived at Pearl Harbor, where she was assigned to SubDiv 7. She carried out minelaying operations, patrol duty, and other routine work. In October 1934 and again in May 1939, Argonaut took part in joint Army-Navy exercises in the Hawaiian operating area. Argonaut became the flagship of Submarine Squadron 4 (SubRon 4, commanded by Captain Freeland A. Daubin) in mid-1939 (although a known postmark dated 12/12/38 on an Argonaut cover [U.S. Submarine Argonaut A-1] reads between the killer bars: FLAGSHIP SQUADRON-4 HAWAII). The submarine returned to the West Coast in April 1941 to participate in fleet tactical exercises.

Lieutenant Richard O'Kane (who was promoted to rear admiral upon his retirement from the Navy), who would receive the Medal of Honor as the most successful United States submarine officer of World War II, began qualification in submarines aboard Argonaut in 1938 and remained aboard until the 1942 overhaul at Mare Island.[14]

World War II

On 28 November 1941 — Argonaut, commanded by Stephen G. Barchet — left Pearl Harbor and was on patrol near Midway Island when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After sunset on 7 December, Argonaut surfaced and heard naval gunfire around Midway. It was assumed the Japanese were landing a large invasion force. Argonaut then submerged to make a sonar approach to the "invasion force." While designed as a minelayer and not an attack submarine, Argonaut made the first wartime approach on enemy naval forces.

The "invasion force" turned out to be two Japanese destroyers whose mission was shore bombardment on Midway. The ships may have detected Argonaut, and one passed close by the submarine. They completed the bombardment then retired before Argonaut could make a second approach.

One week later, Argonaut made contact with three or four Japanese destroyers. Barchet wisely decided not to attack. On 22 January 1942, she returned to Pearl Harbor and, after a brief stop, proceeded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for major overhaul. While there, her diesels were replaced with General Motors Winton 12-258Ss totaling 4,800 hp (3,600 kW)[12] with hydraulic drive through reduction gears,[8] and her minelaying gear was removed to prepare for conversion to a troop transport submarine.[10] The auxiliary diesel generator was replaced by a 300 kW (400 hp) GM Winton 8-268A and a 150 kW (200 hp) GM Winton 4-268A.[8] She was also fitted with a Torpedo Data Computer[12] (lack of which likely inhibited her ability to score with torpedoes), new electronics,[12] and two external stern torpedo tubes on the after casing, along with two stern deck stowage tubes. It appears she was not fitted with bow external torpedo tubes, as were Narwhal and Nautilus, as photos taken after the refit do not show them.[12][15][16] On return to Pearl Harbor, the conversion to a troop transport submarine was "hastily" finished.[12]

A Marine Raider, injured during the Makin operation, is lifted through a hatch on USS Argonaut (SM-1) to be taken ashore at Pearl Harbor, 26 August 1942.

Argonaut returned to action in the South Pacific in August. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz assigned Argonaut and Nautilus to transport and land Marine Raiders on Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands for the Makin Raid. This move was designed to relieve pressure on American forces that had just landed on Guadalcanal. On 8 August, the two submarines embarked 120[12] troops of Companies A and B, 2nd Raider Battalion, and got underway for Makin. Conditions during the transit were unpleasant, and most of the marines became seasick. The convoy arrived off Makin on 16 August, and at 03:30 the next day the Marines began landing. Their rubber rafts were swamped by the sea and most of the outboard motors drowned. The Japanese—either forewarned or extraordinarily alert—were ready for the Americans' arrival. Snipers were hidden in the trees, and the landing beaches were in front of the Japanese forces instead of behind them as planned. However, by midnight of 18 August, the Japanese garrison of about 85 men was wiped out; radio stations, fuel, and other supplies and installations were destroyed, and all but 30 of the troops had been recovered.


Argonaut arrived back in Pearl Harbor on 26 August. Her hull classification symbol was changed from SM-1 to APS-1 (transport submarine) on 22 September. She was never formally designated SS-166, but that hull number was reserved for her and a photo shows she occasionally displayed it.[2][17] Her base of operations was transferred to Brisbane, Queensland, later in the year. In December, she departed Brisbane under Lieutenant Commander John R. Pierce to patrol the hazardous area between New Britain and Bougainville Island, south of Bismarck Archipelago. On 2 January 1943, Argonaut sank the Japanese gunboat Ebon Maru in the Bismarck Sea.[18] On 10 January, Argonaut spotted a convoy of five freighters and their escorting destroyersMaikaze, Isokaze, and Hamakaze—returning to Rabaul from Lae. By chance, an army aircraft—which was out of bombs—was flying overhead and witnessed Argonaut′s attack. A crewman on board the plane saw one destroyer hit by a torpedo, and the destroyers promptly counterattacking. Argonaut′s bow suddenly broke the water at an unusual angle. It was apparent that a depth charge had severely damaged the submarine. The destroyers continued circling Argonaut, pumping shells into her; she slipped below the waves and was never heard from again.[12] One hundred and two officers and men went down with her, the worst loss of life for an American submarine in wartime.[19] Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 26 February.

Japanese reports made available at the end of the war recorded a depth charge attack followed by gunfire, at which time they "destroyed the top of the sub".

On the basis of the report given by the Army flier who witnessed the attack in which Argonaut perished, she was credited with damaging a Japanese destroyer on her last patrol. (Postwar, the JANAC accounting gave her none.) Since none of the histories of the three escorting destroyers report damage on 10 January 1943, the destroyer "hit" may have been a premature explosion.


See also

  • HMS M3- British minelaying submarine of same period.


  1. ^ a b c d Friedman, Norman (1995). U.S. Submarines Through 1945: An Illustrated Design History.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants.  
  3. ^ Alden, John D., Commander, USN (retired). The Fleet Submarine in the U.S. Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979), p.211.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  5. ^ Lenon, H. T. American Submarines (New York: Doubleday, 1973), p.31.
  6. ^ a b c d U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 259
  7. ^ a b c d Alden, p.211.
  8. ^ a b c d Friedman, p. 176
  9. ^ Alden, p.28; Lenton, p.31, says 696 tons.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Alden, p.28.
  11. ^ Alden, p.28-9.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Alden, p.29.
  13. ^ Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975).
  14. ^ O'Kane, Richard H. WAHOO The Patrols of America's Most Famous WWII Submarine (1987) Presidio Press ISBN 0-89141-301-4 pp.1-3
  15. ^ USS Argonaut page
  16. ^ USS Argonaut (SM-1) WW2 photos
  17. ^ V-4 page
  18. ^
  19. ^ "On Eternal Patrol - USS Argonaut (APS-1), (SS-166)". On Eternal Patrol. Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
  • Schlesman, Bruce and Roberts, Stephen S., "Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants" (Greenwood Press, 1991), ISBN 0-313-26202-0
  • Lenton, H. T. American Submarines (Navies of the Second World War) (Doubleday, 1973), ISBN 0-38504-761-4
  • Silverstone, Paul H., U.S. Warships of World War II (Ian Allan, 1965), ISBN 0-87021-773-9
  • Campbell, John Naval Weapons of World War Two (Naval Institute Press, 1985), ISBN 0-87021-459-4
  • , Fall 2003, Issue 20Undersea WarfareWhitman, Edward C. "The Navy's Variegated V-Class: Out of One, Many?"
  • Gardiner, Robert and Chesneau, Roger, Conway's all the world's fighting ships 1922-1946, Conway Maritime Press, 1980. ISBN 0-83170-303-2.
  • Friedman, Norman "US Submarines through 1945: An Illustrated Design History", Naval Institute Press, Annapolis:1995, ISBN 1-55750-263-3.
  • USS Argonaut (SM-1) photo page
  • V-4 page
  • DiGiulian, Tony 6"/53 caliber gun

External links

  • ArgonautOn Eternal Patrol: USS

See also

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