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USS S-48 (SS-159)
USS S-48 (SS-159)
Name: USS S-48
Builder: Lake Torpedo Boat Company
Laid down: 22 October 1920
Launched: 26 February 1921
Commissioned: 14 October 1922
Decommissioned: 29 August 1945
Struck: 17 September 1945
Fate: Sold for scrapping, 22 January 1946
General characteristics
Class & type: S-class submarine
Displacement: 993 long tons (1,009 t) surfaced
1,230 long tons (1,250 t) submerged
Length: 240 ft (73 m)
Beam: 21 ft 10 in (6.65 m)
Draft: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)
Speed: 14.5 knots (16.7 mph; 26.9 km/h) surfaced
11 knots (13 mph; 20 km/h) submerged
Complement: 38 officers and men
Armament: • 1 × 4 in (102 mm) deck gun
• 5 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
Service record
Operations: World War II

USS S-48, stern resting on the bottom after sinking near Bridgeport Ct

USS S-48 (SS-159) was the first submarine in the fourth group of S-class submarines of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down on 22 October 1920 by the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She was launched on 26 February 1921 sponsored by Mrs. James O. Germaine.

On 7 December, the uncommissioned submarine conducted a dive off Penfield Reef in Long Island Sound as part of builder's trials. A manhole plate in one of the aft ballast tanks was left unsecured, several aft compartments flooded, and S-48 sank in 80 feet of water.[1] The crew, contractor's personnel, and naval observers brought the bow to the surface and escaped through a torpedo tube to a tug which took them to New York City.[1]

On 20 December, the submarine was raised and taken back to the builder's yard where repairs were begun. The work was completed ten months later; and, on 14 October 1922, S-48 was accepted by the Navy and commissioned at Bridgeport with Lieutenant S. E. Bray in command.

Service history

1st commission, 1922-25

Following commissioning, S-48 fitted out at the New York Navy Yard; visited Peekskill, New York, for Navy Day; returned to Bridgeport, and, at the end of October, arrived at her home port, New London, Connecticut. Two weeks later, she was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for further yard work; and, in late January 1923, she returned to New London to commence operations with her division, Submarine Division 4 (SubDiv 4). Through May, she operated in the New London area; then, in early June, she moved south for sound exercises and a visit to Washington, DC. At mid-month, she returned to southern New England; and, in August, she proceeded back to Portsmouth for the installation of new crankshafts and a general ship and machinery overhaul period.

In mid-January 1924, S-48 departed Portsmouth for New London, whence she continued south, to the Caribbean Sea, for winter maneuvers. By mid-March, however, she was back at Portsmouth for another five months of yard work. In early August, she resumed operations in the New London area, and, in November, after being transferred to SubDiv 2, she visited Annapolis, Maryland. In December, she returned to Connecticut, and, toward the end of January 1925, she headed back to Portsmouth.

On the night of 29 January, S-48 arrived off the New Hampshire coast. At about 18:30, the wind picked up and a heavy snowstorm developed. Visibility was reduced to zero. Soon after 19:34, the S-boat grounded on rocks off Jeffrey Point; pulled herself off; then grounded again in Little Harbor. Messages requesting assistance were dispatched. By midnight, the storm had worsened, seas were coming "clean [sic] over the S-48" and she was rolling — 15 degrees to port, 60 degrees to starboard. Violent rolling lasted for only a little over thirty minutes but a heavy list developed. By 03:30 on 30 January, the battery compartment was taking in water. Chlorine gas was forming. The storm continued; but help arrived at 05:00, and Coast Guardsmen manning lifeboats rescued the crew. After receiving treatment for exposure and gas at Fort Stark, crew members were transferred to the Navy Base at Kittery, Maine.

On 1 February, salvage operations were begun. A week later, the S-boat was freed and towed to the navy yard for repairs. However, the damage was severe and the funds were lacking; and, on 7 July 1925, S-48 was decommissioned. Nearly a year later, though, on 25 June 1926, repairs and alterations were authorized, and, on 3 February 1927, the work began. But, again, a shortage of funds stopped the project. In 1928, the repair and modernization was carried out. In hopes of improving habitability and increasing her range, her hull was extended 25½ feet; her displacement was increased to 1165 tons, and her engines were replaced by German M.A.N. types. On 1 December, the work was finally completed. On 8 December, almost four years after her accident, S-48 was recommissioned.

2nd commission, 1929-35

Assigned to SubDiv 12, she departed Portsmouth on 11 January 1929 and headed south. After operations off southern Florida on the Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies (February–March 1932), she returned to New London in March and, in April, commenced a series of test exercises. A casualty to the main motor, however, forced postponement of the exercises, and S-48 returned to Portsmouth. On 5 June, she resumed the exercises.

On 1 June, S-48 had been reassigned to SubDiv 4, with which she operated through the end of 1929. Then assigned to SubDiv 3, later SubDiv 5, and then Squadron 3, she continued her operations off the New England coast, with an interruption for winter maneuvers to the south. During this time, Lieutenant Hyman G. Rickover was assigned to her. She was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone in 1931. On 1 March, she arrived at Coco Solo whence she operated for four years. In July 1933, she was assigned to the Rotating Reserve; and, in 1935 she was ordered inactivated. On 20 March, she departed Coco Solo. On 1 June, she arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and, on 16 September 1935, she was decommissioned and berthed at League Island.

3rd commission, 1940-45

Four years later, World War II broke out in Europe. In 1940, S-48 was ordered activated. She was recommissioned on 10 December, but remained at Philadelphia until mid-March 1941. She then moved up to her homeport of New London. As a unit of SubRon 1, she provided services to submarine and antisubmarine warfare training commands at New London and Portland, Maine, until after the end of European hostilities. Overhaul and repair periods during that time were frequent; and, in the summer of 1945, the World War I-design submarine was finally designated for disposal. On 21 August, she departed New London for the last time. On 29 August, she was decommissioned at Philadelphia; on 17 September 1945, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register, and, on 22 January 1946 her hulk was sold to the North American Smelting Company in Philadelphia, for scrapping.

The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932

S-48 was assigned at the request of the Hydrographer of the Navy by the Secretary of the Navy to assist with the second U.S. expedition to obtain gravity measurements at sea during using a gravimeter, or gravity meter, designed by Dr. Felix Vening Meinesz. The submarine was accompanied and assisted by the USS Chewink (AM-39) in a route from Guantanamo, Cuba to Key West, Florida and return to Guantanamo through the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos region from 5 February through 25 March 1932. The description of operations and results of the expedition were published by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office in The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932.[2] The first gravity measurements at sea had been made in 1926 from a submarine of the Royal Navy. The first U.S. gravity measurements at sea had been made from the USS S-21 assisted by Eagle Boat 35 and Eagle Boat 58.[3]


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

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Submarine Casualties Booklet". U.S. Naval Submarine School. 1966. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  2.!210409!0 | The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932
  3. Pinsel, Mark I. (1982). 150 Years Of Service On The Seas - A Pictorial History of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office from 1830 to 1980. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office. pp. 233.  Chapter 4-Gravity at Sea

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