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USS S-5 (SS-110)
Name: USS S-5
Ordered: 4 March 1917
Builder: Portsmouth Navy Yard
Laid down: 4 December 1917
Launched: 10 November 1919
Commissioned: 6 March 1920
Struck: 1921
Fate: Sunk during crash dive, 1 September 1920
General characteristics
Class & type: S-class submarine
Displacement: 876 long tons (890 t) surfaced
1,092 long tons (1,110 t) submerged
Length: 231 ft (70 m)
Beam: 21 ft 10 in (6.65 m)
Draft: 13 ft 1 in (3.99 m)
Installed power: 1,000 hp (750 kW) (diesel engines)
600 hp (450 kW) (electric motors)
Propulsion: 2 × four-cycle NELSECO-type diesel engines
2 × electric motors
2 × 60-cell EXIDE batteries
2 × shafts
Speed: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h) surfaced
11 kn (13 mph; 20 km/h) submerged
Test depth: 200 ft (61 m)
Capacity: 36,950 US gal (139,900 l) diesel fuel
Complement: 4 officers and 34 men
Armament: 1 × 4 in (100 mm) deck gun
4 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes (12 torpedoes)

USS S-5 (SS-110) was a "Government-type" S-class submarine of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down on 4 December 1917 by the Portsmouth Navy Yard of Kittery, Maine. She was launched on 10 November 1919 sponsored by Mrs. Glenn S. Burrell, and commissioned on 6 March 1920 with Lieutenant Commander Charles M. "Savvy" Cooke, Jr.,[1] in command.

Following builder's trials, outfitting, and crew training, S-5 departed Boston Navy Yard on 30 August 1920 to undergo full-power trials 55 mi (89 km) off the Delaware Capes. At 13:00 on 1 September, she commenced a dive for a submerged test run. Water unexpectedly entered the submarine through the main air induction system, pouring into the control room, engine room, torpedo room, and the motor room.[2]

Normal procedure was to leave the main air induction valve open until the engines had a chance to come to a full stop, this operation being so timed as to occur just prior to complete submergence. In the case of S-5, however,the Chief of the Boat, Gunner's Mate Percy Fox, the man responsible for operating this valve, was momentarily distracted. Noticing the mistake, he grabbed the valve lever and jerked hard, causing the valve to jam open.[2]

After considerable difficulty, the system valves in the other compartments were closed, but all efforts to secure the torpedo room valve met with failure. The abandoned torpedo room flooded, making the boat bow heavy. An additional 80 long tons (81 t) of water in the motor room bilges caused her to settle on the bottom.

It was now impossible to eject water from the torpedo room. An attempt was then made to pump out the motor room, but a gasket blew out and there were no means for repair. Lying 194 ft (59 m) on the bottom, the crew had little hope of being found, much less being rescued.

Their situation now called for original thinking. They reasoned that sufficient buoyancy in the after section could tilt the sub on her nose and extend the stern above the surface. The tilt would cause the water in the motor room to drain forward and increase buoyancy further. However, there was great risk involved because this would allow salt water into the battery room, which would generate deadly chlorine gas. They hoped to have enough time, after the water had entered, to close the watertight door before the gas could reach a dangerous level.

After making preparations, air was applied to the after ballast and fuel tanks, blowing them dry. The stern began to rise and then shot to the surface. Men, floor plates, bilge water, and other loose objects fell through the length of the submarine. One man nearly drowned in the battery room, but was fished out and the compartment door was sealed against the gas.

By tapping on the hull, it was determined that the stern extended about 17 ft (5.2 m) above the water. With inadequate tools, they took turns trying to cut a hole in the thick hull. After 36 hours, they had only succeeded in making a hole 3 in (76 mm) in diameter.

A seaman on watch aboard the wooden steamship Alanthus spotted what he thought was a buoy. Knowing that no buoy should be so far out to sea, Alanthus's captain turned his vessel around to investigate. Approaching the submarine's stern rising above the ocean, the captain hailed S-5 in maritime fashion. That conversation became legend:

"What ship?"
"What nationality?"
"Where bound?"
"Hell by compass."

Alanthus could not help with the cutting, but was able to rig a pump to provide air, provide fresh water for drinking, and rig cables under S-5's stern to hold it above the surface. Alanthus had no radio, but about 18:00, was able to contact the passing Pan-American liner General Goethals by signal flags.

Goethals had a radio and contacted the Navy, and immediately began enlarging the hole. By 01:45, it was big enough to squirm through. At 03:00, Captain Cooke left his command. The second submarine lost from the United States Navy had resulted in no deaths or serious injuries.

Later that morning, the battleship Ohio secured a towline to the stern of S-5 and proceeded to tow her to more shallow water. The towline, however, parted and the loosed sub bobbed, then plunged to the bottom. A long but ultimately unsuccessful attempt was made to raise S-5 and she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1921.

The portion of S-5's hull plating that was removed by Goethals to permit her crew to escape from the sunken submarine is on exhibit in the Navy Memorial Museum in the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC.


  1. Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975), p.1017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Submarine Casualties Booklet". U.S. Naval Submarine School. 1966. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 

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

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