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USS S-37 (SS-142)
USS S-37 (SS-142).jpg
USS S-37
Name: USS S-37
Builder: Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California.
Laid down: 12 December 1918
Launched: 20 June 1919
Commissioned: 16 July 1923
Decommissioned: 6 February 1945
Struck: 23 February 1945
Fate: Broke tow and sank en route to be used a bombing target 20 February 1945
General characteristics
Class & type: S-class submarine
Displacement: 854 long tons (868 t) surfaced
1,062 long tons (1,079 t) submerged
Length: 211 ft (64 m) w/l
219 ft 3 in (66.83 m) o/a
Beam: 20 ft 9 in (6.32 m)
Draft: 16 ft (4.9 m)[1]
Propulsion: NLSE diesels, 1,200 hp (890 kW);[2]
General Electric motors, 1,500 hp (1,100 kW);[2]
120 cell Exide battery;[2]
2 shafts
Speed: 14.5 knots (16.7 mph; 26.9 km/h) surfaced
11 kn (13 mph; 20 km/h) submerged
Range: 168 tons oil fuel[2]
Complement: 42 officers and men
Armament: • 1 × 4 in (102 mm)/50 caliber deck gun
• 4 × 21 in (533 mm) forward torpedo tubes
• 12 torpedoes
Service record
Part of: United States Asiatic Fleet
Victories: Natsushio
Awards: 5 Battle stars

USS S-37 (SS-142) was an S-class submarine of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down on 12 December 1918 by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, California. She was launched on 20 June 1919 sponsored by Miss Mildred Bulger, and commissioned on 16 July 1923 with Lieutenant Paul R. Glutting in command.

Operational service


After fitting out at Mare Island, S-37 departed San Francisco Bay at the end of July and joined Submarine Division (SubDiv) 17 at San Pedro, California, on 1 August. During that month, September, and into October, she conducted exercises and tests off the southern California coast.

On the afternoon of 10 October, while recharging her batteries in the harbor at San Pedro, California, S-37 was rocked by an explosion in the after battery compartment. Two men were killed as dense black smoke and gas fumes filled the flame and arc-lit room. Extensive material damage added to the difficulty of rescue operations, but three men were extracted from the compartment, one of whom died of his injuries before medical help arrived. Two of the rescuers were seriously injured. One of the enlisted men killed in the explosion was Virgil L. Dean of Huntington, West Virginia.

Once it was determined no one remained alive in the compartment, the compartment was sealed to cut off the supply of oxygen to the fire. However, by 0500 the next morning, so much pressure had increased in the compartment it forced the main hatch open. The compartment was re-sealed for another five hours, but when it was opened at 1030, the fire reflashed. The crew shut the hatch again for another hour. At 1130, the compartment was successfully ventilated and cooled enough to allow the crew to enter safely. Temporary repairs completed on 25 October, and S-37 headed to Mare Island for permanent repairs. On 19 December, she returned to duty at San Pedro, California.


With the new year, 1924, S-37 moved south and, with her division, participated in Fleet Problems II, III, and IV which involved problems of fleet movements, conducted en route to the Gulf of Panama; Caribbean defenses and transit facilities of the Panama Canal; and movement from a main base to an advanced base, conducted in the Caribbean Sea. After completing Problem IV, her division remained in the Caribbean until early April when it retransited the Panama Canal to return to the Pacific. Toward the end of the month, she returned to San Pedro, California, and, on 28 April, she continued to Mare Island. There the boats of her division, having been transferred to the Asiatic Fleet, prepared to cross the Pacific.

On 17 September, SubDiv 17, accompanied by submarine tender Canopus departed San Francisco. On 26 September, the ships arrived at Pearl Harbor; and, on 4 November, they reached Manila Bay. They operated out of Cavite for 16 years. During most of that time, the S-boats worked as a division, spending the fall and winter months in the Philippines and deploying to the China coast for spring and summer exercises. During the late thirties, however, hostilities increased in Asia, and the fleet's S-boat schedule was altered to include more individual exercises and cruises. The submarines ranged throughout the Philippines and Netherlands East Indies, and they made shorter deployments to the China coast. In 1940, the latter ended, and the boats intensified their exercises and patrols in the Philippines and participated in joint Army-Navy war games.

World War II


In 1941, S-37 remained in the Philippines: in the Luzon area into the spring, in the Visayan Islands and Sulu Archipelago into the summer, and back in the Luzon area during the fall. On 8 December, she was in Manila Bay.

With receipt of the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, S-37 (commanded by James C. Dempsey) prepared for her first war patrol. On the night of 9 December, she cleared the Corregidor outer minefield; moved into the Verde Island Passage; and took station at Puerta Galera, Mindoro where she remained on lookout duty until 17 December. She then returned to Manila, replenished and refueled and, on 19 December, headed back toward the Mindoro coast. On 20 December, she assumed patrol duties in Calavite Passage. On 21 December, she shifted to the Verde Island Passage. On 27 December, she reconnoitered Batangas Bay to investigate the detonation of fuel oil tanks and found only Filipino and American forces destroying the supplies before they could be captured by the Japanese. On 28 December, while the noise of the exploding tanks continued, S-37 investigated reports of Japanese landings in Balayan Bay, then proceeded toward Looc Bay to verify or disprove a similar rumor. Finding both bays empty, she began to make her way south. On 30 December, she was off Panay; and, on 1 January 1942, she suffered a fire in the starboard main motor panel. Repairs were made that night; and, on 2 January and 3 January she patrolled off the entrance to Basilan Strait. There, she sighted a Japanese submarine, but was unable to close the range.

January 1942

On 4 January, she took up patrol duty off Japanese-held Jolo Island. The next day, she developed leaks in the air supply piping to the starboard main motor panel. Makeshift repairs decreased the air leaks, and S-37 remained in the Sulu district on 6 January. On 7 January, she continued south, toward Port Darwin. On 8 January, new orders arrived, and she set a course for Soerabaja, the Dutch naval base on the northeast coast of Java.

On 11 January, Japanese forces moved on Tarakan (Borneo) and Menado (Celebes). S-37, then off Stroomenkaap at the western end of Celebes' northern peninsula, was ordered to make for the Borneo coast. She arrived on 12 January and, for the next three days, remained in the Tarakan area, searching for enemy transports and cargomen, while at the same time eluding enemy destroyers. On 15 January, she was ordered to leave the area; and, on 23 January, unable to transmit identification messages, she approached Madoera Strait and surfaced for recognition by Dutch patrol vessels. At 2118, she arrived in Soerabaja Roads.

February 1942

By the end of the month, Japanese forces in Borneo had moved south into Balikpapan while those forces located in the Celebes moved into Kendari. On 2 February, S-37 departed Soerabaja and headed back to Makassar Strait. By 5 February, she was off Cape William. The next day, she shifted southward to patrol the southern approaches to Makassar City, and, on the evening of 8 February, she sighted a destroyer, which was thought to be an advance guard unit for enemy forces en route to that city.

At 1800, the destroyer, allowed to pass unmolested, disappeared to the northwest. Thirteen minutes later, the mast and upper works of three destroyers in column were sighted: distance five miles (9250 m) , estimated speed 15 kn (28 km/h). A half-hour's wait brought no transports or cargomen into view, and S-37 went after the destroyer formation. Moving on the surface, she closed the four destroyers in column, distance 8,000 yards (7,300 m). All torpedoes were readied and, at 1946, she commenced her approach. A minute later, she sighted another, closer formation of four destroyers, distance 4,000 yards (3,700 m), plus the dim outlines of three large ships resembling transports, distance three miles (5500 m) , on a northerly course. (It would turn out there were fifteen transports in convoy.)[3]

At 1951, S-37 changed course to go after the transports. By 2010, however, the destroyers to had increased speed to maintain cover for the transports as the formation turned and crossed ahead of the submarine at 4000 yards. By 2030, S-37, unable to gain an unimpaired shot at the transports, in an act of rare courage, shifted to attack the destroyers. Between 2036 and 2040, she closed to point blank range, 800 yards (730 m), and launched one torpedo at each destroyer. Thirty seconds after firing the third torpedo, she observed a hit between the stacks of the third and, as black smoke rose, it buckled in the middle and formed a vee approximately 20 ft (6.1 m) above the bow and stern. Natsushio (2,000 tons)[4] was doomed. (She was, however, the only ship lost from this force, and the only confirmed ship S-37 sank.)[5]

The fourth destroyer, however, sighted S-37 as the fourth torpedo was fired and turned to starboard. At 2041, S-37 dived and rigged for depth charging. By 2043, the three remaining destroyers were overhead, pinging. S-37 ran silent. Between 2050 and 2215, the searching destroyers dropped depth charges at 10-15 minute intervals. S-37 reached 267 feet (81 m) as she evaded. By 2230, the destroyers had moved out of the area. S-37 reloaded and resumed the hunt.

S-37 remained in the area for another eight days during which she sighted several Japanese ships. Her lack of speed precluded several attacks and, on 11 February, faulty mechanisms in her (comparatively) ancient Mark X torpedoes caused the "fish" to sink before reaching their target. On 17 February, she passed the Paternoster Islands; and, on 18 February, she arrived off Lombok Strait. On 19 February, she patrolled in Lombok and Badoeng Straits; and, on the morning of 20 February, she received orders to return to Soerabaja. At 0500, she submerged and began making her way along the Bali coast. At 0615, she sighted three enemy destroyers through her periscope on a northerly course, three miles (5500 m)off. Astern of the submarine, an obvious oil slick (the result of her going aground in the Lombok Strait)[6] extended some 2,000 yards (2,000 m) in a glassy sea, but she remained undetected. Temporary repairs were soon reducing the oil slick. At 0700, when another destroyer patrol was sighted, the slick remained obvious but unnoticed. By 0830, S-37 was avoiding sudden changes in depth which would aggravate the leak. The slick was minimized; but, at 0915, a destroyer was heard on the starboard beam. Depth charges were dropped, and their explosions were followed by detonating aerial bombs. S-37 went to 150 feet (46 metres).

The depth charging and bombing continued until noon, when heavy anti-aircraft fire was heard. The destroyer was distracted; but, at 1245, she apparently resumed her search for the submarine. After dropping three more depth charges, the enemy warship continued to ping until after 1400. At 1415, S-37 went to periscope depth. The destroyer was 3,000 yards (2,700 m) off, but the seas had become choppy. No oil slick was visible.

S-37 cleared Lombok Strait at 1500 and, 25 hours later, moored at the Soerabaja Navy Yard. Repairs began immediately, but the Japanese were moving on Java. So, too, was the sub command situation; S-37 lost her skipper to USS Spearfish, replaced by James R. Reynolds,[7] and on 26 February, S-37 was ordered out. Equipment and parts in the navy yard shops were recalled, stores from the limited supplies at the base were taken on and, after the return of two air compressor coolers, she got underway on the port main engine, as the ship's force completed reassembly of the starboard. Electrical steering failures, breakdowns in the coolers, and a change of orders delayed her departure; but, on the afternoon of 27 February, she moved out and headed north to patrol between Bawean Island and the western channel into Soerabaja Roads.

That night, the Battle of the Java Sea raged over the horizon, and, early on the morning of 28 February, the S-boat closed a Japanese formation of two cruisers and three destroyers retiring victoriously from the scene. A fight for depth control, however, precluded an attack. At mid-day, she sighted a 50-foot (15-metre) open boat from Dutch light cruiser De Ruyter, carrying sixty[8] Allied survivors; although unable to accommodate all of them, she approached to take on casualties. Finding none, S-37 took on the two[8] American sailors among them, transferred provisions, dispatched enciphered messages on the boat's location to ABDA headquarters, and resumed her patrol. That afternoon, she again attempted to attack an enemy formation, but was sighted and underwent a combined depth charging and aerial bombing.

March 1942

For the next week, S-37 remained in the area. Depth charge and aerial attacks were frequent, each one aggravating the condition of worn parts and equipment and resulting in mechanical and electrical failures and in leaks through disintegrating manhole and hatch gaskets. On 6 March, she headed for western Australia. Her major leak, through the engine room hatch, had been slowed to one gallon every 20 minutes. S-37 left a misleading oil slick toward Lombok Strait, then moved farther east before turning south. By 11 March, she was clear of the East Indies; and, on 19 March, she arrived at Fremantle.

April–June 1942

In April, she continued on to Brisbane where she joined Task Force 42 and, after a desperately needed six week overhaul,[9] departed for her fifth war patrol. Clearing Moreton Bay on 22 June, she was in the Bismarck Islands by the end of the month, and, after patrolling in St. George Channel, she moved toward New Hanover. On 7 July, she shifted back to the New Britain coast to patrol in the Lambert Point area. There, on the afternoon of 8 July, she sighted a Japanese merchantman escorted by a submarine chaser. Closing, she fired three torpedoes at 1405. Three explosions followed, sinking the 2776-ton Tenzan Maru. S-37 went to 110 feet (34 m) and ran silent on a northerly course as the submarine chaser dropped depth charges where the submarine had been.

July–November 1942

On 9 July, S-37 patrolled between Dyaul and New Hanover. On 10 July, she moved into the New Hanover-Massau traffic lanes; and, on 11 July, she closed the New Ireland coast and continued south. For the next two days, she operated in the Rabaul area, then headed for Cape St. George and Australia. From 14 July, when a fire in the starboard main motor was quickly extinguished, she was plagued by mechanical and electrical failures. On 20 July, she sighted Cape Moreton Light; and, on 21 July, she moored alongside submarine tender USS Griffin in Brisbane harbor.

Between 17 August and 13 September, S-37 conducted her sixth war patrol, a defensive patrol in the Savo Island area in support of the Guadalcanal campaign. On 2 September, she scored her only hit of the patrol when she damaged the last destroyer in a column of four which was steaming to the north of Savo. Four days later, she moved into the Russell Islands, whence she departed the Solomon Islands and headed back to Brisbane. On 19 October, she cleared the latter harbor for the last time, and, four days later, she arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia. After refueling, she served on picket line station in defense of that base. On 5 November, after a fire in her port main motor added to problems of tank trouble, fuel shortage, and mechanical failures, she headed for Pearl Harbor.


From Pearl Harbor, S-37 continued on to San Diego, California, where she underwent an extensive overhaul during the winter of 1943. She remained at San Diego for the remainder of her career, employed as an antisubmarine warfare training ship through 1944. Decommissioned on 6 February 1945, S-37 was stripped, and her hulk was sunk as a target for aerial bombing off Imperial Beach, San Diego, on 20 February 1945. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register three days later.

S-37 earned five battle stars during World War II.


  1. Lenton, H.T. American Submarines (Doubleday, 1973), p.19.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lenton, p.19.
  3. Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory (Lippincott, 1975), p.177.
  4. Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th century Weapons and Warfare (London: Phoebus, 1978), Volume 14, p.1542, "Kagero".
  5. Blair, pp.178, 902-3, 905, 912-3, & 920.
  6. Blair, p.178.
  7. Blair, p.184.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Blair, p.187.
  9. Blair, p.297.


  • Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.
  • Lenton, H.T. American Submarines. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973.

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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