USS S-31 (SS-136)
|Builder:||Union Iron Works|
|Laid down:||13 April 1918|
|Launched:||28 December 1918|
|Commissioned:||11 May 1922|
|Decommissioned:||19 October 1945|
|Stricken:||1 November 1945|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap|
|Class and type:||S-class submarine|
|Length:||219 ft 3 in (66.83 m)|
|Beam:||20 ft 8 in (6.30 m)|
|Draft:||15 ft 11 in (4.85 m)|
|Complement:||42 officers and men|
|Operations:||World War II|
|Victories:||1 battle star|
Construction and commissioning
Her keel was laid down on 13 April 1918 by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, California. She was launched on 28 December 1918 sponsored by Mrs. George A. Walker, and commissioned on 11 May 1922 with Lieutenant William A. Heard in command.
Commissioned as improved engines were being developed for her class, S-31 was ordered to New London, Connecticut, toward the end of the summer for alterations to her main propulsion machinery by the prime contractor, the Electric Boat Company. Decommissioned at New London on 4 October 1922, she remained in the company's yards through the winter and was recommissioned on 8 March 1923. In April, she moved south; conducted exercises in the Caribbean Sea; then transited the Panama Canal to return to California. She remained on the West Coast through 1924, conducting exercises off the California coast with her division, Submarine Division (SubDiv) 16. She ranged into the Aleutian Islands for exercises during June and July 1923 and into the Panama Canal area and the Caribbean for fleet problems during the winter of 1924.
In 1925, SubDiv 16 was transferred to the Asiatic Fleet, and S-31 departed San Francisco in April, headed for the Philippine Islands. On 12 July, she arrived at Cavite, Luzon. For the next seven years, she conducted patrols and exercises in the Philippines during the fall and winter months and deployed to the China coast for spring and summer operations. The latter operations were primarily concerned with individual, division, and fleet training exercises.
In September 1930, S-31, then engaged in a full power run between Tsingtao and Chinwangtao, surfaced amidst wreckage in heavy seas in the Gulf of Chihli and sighted a Chinese junk which had been hit by a steamer. The vessel's cargo of lumber had torn loose, endangering the submarine and hindering efforts to rescue the junk's seven survivors. S-31 made an approach from the windward side, and as the wind pushed her past the stern of the wreck, five men were taken off. Lines were thrown to the two remaining survivors, and they were hauled on board the submarine as the loose wreckage was propelled toward her hull. The submarine then cleared the area and proceeded to Chinwangtao to rejoin her division in exercises.
Return to Pearl Harbor, a star turn, and inactivation
In February 1933, S-31 took the fictional role of USS AL-14 for the submarine movie Hell Below. In that role, she was credited with sinking a German destroyer (played by USS Moody (DD-277)), though the destroyer was actually sunk by carefully placed demolition charges.
S-31 was based at Pearl Harbor with her division until 1937. Then designated for inactivation, she cleared Pearl Harbor on 14 June, arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 27 August; and, on 7 December, she was decommissioned and berthed at League Island. Within two years, however, World War II broke out in Europe, and preparations were begun to reactivate the ships then in reserve.
S-31 was recommissioned at Philadelphia on 18 September 1940. Assigned to SubDiv 52, she operated out of New London, Connecticut, into December, then moved south to the Panama Canal Zone. With the end of the spring of 1941, she returned to her New London base for submarine and antisubmarine warfare training exercises along the New England coast. In November, she returned to Philadelphia; underwent overhaul, and, in January 1942, rejoined her division at New London.
The entry of the United States into World War II had brought new orders for her division, and, in February, she headed back to the Panama Canal. She arrived at Coco Solo from Bermuda at mid-month; conducted two defensive patrols in the approaches to the canal, 10 March to 31 March and 14 April to 13 May; then, toward the end of May, headed north to San Diego, California, to prepare for duty in the Aleutian Islands.
First four war patrols
By the end of June, S-31 was en route to Alaska; and, on 7 July, she departed the submarine base at Dutch Harbor for her first patrol on the edge of the northern Pacific. Moving west from Unalaska, she reconnoitered the Adak area, then shifted north to her patrol area in the Bering Sea just north of the Aleutian chain. On 19 July, she was ordered further west; and, on 30 July, she took station to the east of Kiska to intercept enemy ships moving toward an Allied force scheduled to bombard that enemy-held island. The bombardment took place on 7 August. The following evening, S-31 cleared for Dutch Harbor. On 10 August, 60 nautical miles (111 km) out of Dutch Harbor, a Mark X emergency identification flare exploded, causing fatal chest injuries to the commanding officer, LCDR Thomas F. Williamson, and underscoring the needs for pharmacist's mates on S-boats and for better communications between Dutch Harbor and ships operating in the northern Pacific. Use of the Mark X flare had been ordered discontinued on 13 July.
During her patrol, she had also encountered other problems common to all S-boats operating in the area: loose superstructure plates, the lack of a fathometer and radar, inadequate interior hull insulation, and poor operating weather.
Sporadic communication, which resulted in two attacks by American patrol planes, and inclement weather provided the greatest hazards to her fourth patrol, conducted between 26 August and 28 September in support of the occupation of Adak. For most of the period, she was buffeted by turbulent seas. Occasionally, she encountered only choppy conditions. On 30 August, chlorine gas was formed by water driven by a 40-knot (46 mph; 74 km/h) wind when it entered her forward battery compartment. The poisonous gas was soon detected and eliminated.
Fifth war patrol
On her fifth war patrol, 13 October to 8 November, S-31 moved into the Kuril Islands. She arrived on station on 20 October. Two days later, she was off Paramushiro and patrolled the traffic lanes in the northern Paramushiro-Shumushu area until 24 October. She then headed for Onekotan Strait. The next day, she hunted in the northeast approaches to that passage. On the morning of the 26th, she closed the Paramushiro coast; and, at 0825, she sighted a target in Otomae Wan and began her approach. At 0922, she launched two torpedoes; the target, the 2,864-ton cargoman KEIZAN MARU, sank in the anchorage. At 0923, S-31 went aground on a reef. She backed off and went ahead. Between 0928 and 0955, she grounded several more times at periscope depth. At 1000, she reached deep water and cleared the area unpursued. That night, she transited Onekotan Strait through "monstrous seas;" and, on 27 October, she commenced hunting along the west coast of Paramushiro. With November, however, her fuel supply became the critical factor; and, on 2 November, she turned for home.
S-31 arrived at Dutch Harbor on 8 November. Three days later, she sailed for San Diego where she provided training services for the West Coast Sound School from 27 November 1942 to 3 January 1943. Refit followed into February. Toward the end of that month, she moved west to Hawaii. There, her four-inch (102 mm) gun was replaced by a three-inch (76 mm) gun, and further training exercises were conducted. On 11 March, she continued west on her sixth war patrol.
Sixth and seventh war patrols
From 23 March to 29 March, S-31 reconnoitered Kwajalein Atoll and searched the sea lanes connecting that atoll with Truk and Wotje for enemy traffic. On 29 March, she set a course for New Caledonia; crossed the equator on 2 April; and arrived at Noumea on 9 April. After an eight-day refit, she provided services as a target for destroyer/antisubmarine warfare training exercises. From 5 July to 26 July, she interrupted her training schedule for her seventh war patrol which took her into the southern New Hebrides to transport and support a reconnaissance team landed on Aneityum and to hunt for an enemy submarine reported to be operating in the area. On her return to Nouméa, she resumed training exercises and continued them until 20 August.
While in Nouméa, the S-31 became the first American submarine to be equipped with a plan position indicator, or PPI. Originally intended for Admiral Halsey's flagship, the USS South Dakota, crewmen from the S-31 appropriated the plan position indicator for their own use. The plan position indicator proved remarkably useful during her eighth war patrol.
Eighth war patrol
On 22 August, S-31 departed for her last war patrol, conducted in the St. George Channel area to intercept enemy traffic between Rabaul and New Guinea. From her patrol area, she proceeded to Brisbane for overhaul and, in early December, returned to the New Caledonia-New Hebrides area. There, she resumed ASW training duties which were continued into July 1944, when she was ordered back to California.
As a result of her increased efficiency using the plan position indicator, the Navy had production of the plan position indicator expedited for distribution to the submarine fleet.
She arrived at San Diego in early August for overhaul which took her into November. She then provided submarine and sound training services for west coast training commands. In September 1945, the World War I-design submarine proceeded to San Francisco for inactivation. She was decommissioned on 19 October 1945; struck from the Navy Vessel Registry on 1 November 1945 and sold for scrap in May 1946. Her hulk was delivered to the purchaser, Salco Iron and Metal Company of San Francisco the following December and was scrapped in July 1947.
- Malone, Gene. "Fighting World War II In A World War I Submarine". Retrieved 2008-04-23.