United States L-class submarine

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For other ships of the same name, see British L-class submarine.
USS L-1 running trials
USS L-1 (SS-40) lead ship of her class during running trials.
Class overview
Name: L-class submarine
Builders: Electric Boat (Gp 1 design),
Fore River Shipbuilding Company, Quincy, Massachusetts (L-1 to L-4, L-9 to L-11)
Lake Torpedo Boat Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut (Gp 2 design) (L-5)
California Shipbuilding Co., Long Beach, California (L-6 & L-7)
Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine (L-8)
Operators:  United States Navy
Preceded by: K-class submarine
Succeeded by: USS M-1 (SS-47)
Built: 1914–1917
In commission: 1916–1923
Completed: 11
Retired: 11
Preserved: 0
General characteristics
Type: Submarine
Displacement: Group 1:
450 long tons (457 t) surfaced
548 long tons (557 t) submerged
Group 2:
456 long tons (463 t) surfaced
524 long tons (532 t) submerged
Length: Group 1: 167 ft 5 in (51.03 m)
Group 2: 165 ft (50 m)
Beam: Group 1: 17 ft 5 in (5.31 m)
Group 2: 14 ft 9 in (4.50 m)
Draft: Group 1: 13 ft 7 in (4.14 m)
Group 2: 13 ft 3 in (4.04 m)
Installed power: Group 1:
1,300 hp (970 kW) (diesel engines),
800 hp (600 kW) (electric motors)
Group 2:
1,200 hp (890 kW) (diesel engines),
800 hp (600 kW) (electric motors)[1]
Propulsion: Diesel-electric
Group 1:
2 × NELSECO Diesel engines,
2 x Electro Dynamic electric motors,
2 x 60-cell batteries,
2 x shafts
Group 2:
2 × Busch-Sulzer Diesel engines,
2 x Diehl electric motors,
2 x 60-cell batteries,
2 x shafts
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) surfaced
10.5 knots (19.4 km/h; 12.1 mph) submerged
Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km) at 7 kn (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) (surfaced)
150 nmi (280 km) at 5 kn (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) (submerged)
Test depth: 200 ft (61 m)
Complement: 28 officers and men
Armament: • 4 × 18 inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes, 8 torpedoes
• 1 × 3"/23 caliber retractable deck gun

The United States L class submarines were a class of 11 submarines built 1914–1917, and were the United States Navy's first attempt at designing and building ocean-going submarines. At the time there was a significant gap in long-range submarine design compared with other major navies. The Group 2 L-boats designed by Lake Torpedo Boat Company (L-5 through L-8) were built to slightly different specifications from the other Group 1 L-boats (which were designed by Electric Boat) and are sometimes considered a separate L-5 class.


After service in the Atlantic Flotilla by the Group 1 boats, most required extensive refits at Philadelphia after the USA's entry into the First World War, which reflected the US Navy's then-limited experience in submarine ocean operations. In November 1917, the class was sent to Bantry Bay and the Azores for convoy escort and anti-U-boat patrols. While forward deployed, US L-class submarines displayed "AL" pennant numbers to avoid confusion with British L-class submarines. US submarines did not sink any U-boats in World War I. The class was generally under-powered, but they enjoyed good endurance for patrols in the North Atlantic and in British waters. After the war, the L class were involved in trials of new torpedoes and hydrophone equipment on both the east and west coasts before decommissioning in 1922 and 1923. At least L-3, L-9, and L-11 were re-engined with Busch-Sulzer diesels removed from Lake-built N-boats in 1921.[2] Three Group 1 boats were scrapped in 1922, the four Group 2 Lake boats were scrapped in 1925, and the remainder were scrapped in 1933 under the London Naval Treaty limiting naval armament.


As in previous US designs, the sail was kept small for reduced drag when submerged. For extended surface runs, the sail was augmented with a temporary piping-and-canvas structure (see photo). Apparently the "crash dive" concept had not yet been thought of, as this would take considerable time to deploy and dismantle. This remained standard through the N-class, commissioned 1917–1918. Experience in World War I showed that this was inadequate in the North Atlantic weather, and earlier submarines serving overseas in that war (E-class through L-class) had their bridge structures augmented with a "chariot" shield on the front of the bridge. Starting with the N-class, built with lessons learned from overseas experience, US submarines had bridges more suited to surfaced operations in rough weather. Also, in the L-class the rotating cap over the torpedo tubes was replaced by shutters that remained standard through the 1950s.[3]

This was the first US submarine class equipped with a deck gun, in this case a 3 inch/23 caliber (76 mm) partially retractable design. L-9 was the first boat built with the gun; L-1 through L-8 had theirs added some time after completion. The gun was retracted vertically, with a round shield that fit in a well in the superstructure that projected into the pressure hull. Most of the barrel protruded from the deck, resembling a stanchion.[4][5]

Ships in class[edit]

The 11 submarines of the L-class were:

Group 1 (Electric Boat design)

Ship name and Hull no. Builder Laid Down Launched Commissioned Decommissioned Fate
USS L-1 (SS-40) Fore River Shipbuilding 13 April 1914 20 January 1915 11 April 1916 7 April 1922 Scrapped 1922
USS L-2 (SS-41) Fore River Shipbuilding 19 March 1914 11 February 1915 29 September 1916 4 May 1923 Scrapped 1933
USS L-3 (SS-42) Fore River Shipbuilding 18 April 1914 15 March 1915 22 April 1916 11 June 1923 Scrapped 1933
USS L-4 (SS-43) Fore River Shipbuilding 23 March 1914 3 April 1915 4 May 1916 14 April 1922 Scrapped 1922
USS L-9 (SS-49) Fore River Shipbuilding 2 November 1914 27 October 1915 4 August 1916 4 May 1923 Scrapped 1933
USS L-10 (SS-50) Fore River Shipbuilding 17 February 1915 16 March 1916 2 August 1916 5 May 1922 Scrapped 1922
USS L-11 (SS-51) Fore River Shipbuilding 17 February 1915 16 May 1916 15 August 1916 28 November 1923 Scrapped 1933

Group 2 (Lake Torpedo Boat Company design)

Ship name and Hull no. Builder Laid Down Launched Commissioned Decommissioned Fate
USS L-5 (SS-44) Lake Torpedo Boat Co 14 May 1914 1 May 1916 17 February 1918 5 December 1922 Scrapped 1925
USS L-6 (SS-45) California Shpbldg, Long Beach, CA 27 May 1914 31 August 1916 7 December 1917 25 November 1922 Scrapped 1925
USS L-7 (SS-46) California Shpbldg, Long Beach, CA 2 June 1914 28 September 1916 7 December 1917 15 November 1922 Scrapped 1925
USS L-8 (SS-48) Portsmouth Navy Yard 24 February 1915 23 April 1917 30 August 1917 15 November 1922 Scrapped 1925


See also[edit]

Media related to L class submarines of the United States at Wikimedia Commons List of submarine classes of the United States Navy