USS S-49 (SS-160)

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USS S-49 (SS-160)
United States
NameUSS S-49
BuilderLake Torpedo Boat Company
Laid down22 October 1920
Launched23 April 1921
Commissioned6 June 1922
Decommissioned2 August 1927
Stricken21 March 1931
FateSold on 25 May 1931, used as tourist attraction, then used as experimental equipment. Sunk in 1942.
General characteristics
Class and typeS-class submarine
  • 993 long tons (1,009 t) surfaced
  • 1,230 long tons (1,250 t) submerged
Length240 ft (73 m)
Beam21 ft 10 in (6.65 m)
Draft13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)
  • 14.6 knots (16.8 mph; 27.0 km/h) surfaced
  • 11 knots (13 mph; 20 km/h) submerged
Complement38 officers and men

USS S-49 (SS-160) was a fourth-group (S-48) S-class submarine 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 23 April 1921 sponsored by Mrs. Joseph E. Austin, and commissioned on 6 June 1922 with Lieutenant Ingram C. Sowell in command.

Service history[edit]

Commissioned at Bridgeport, S-49 remained there through July, and, in August, moved down to the Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, where she joined Submarine Division Zero, composed of units engaged in submarine research and development. Later reassigned to Division 4 and then to Division 2, she continued experimental work, including aerial visibility tests and torpedo development, and also participated in regularly scheduled exercises, primarily in the New London area, into 1926. At the end of January of that year, she proceeded to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for a regular overhaul. On 2 April, she returned to New London; but, eighteen days later, her operating schedule was again interrupted.

At about 07:50 on Tuesday, 20 April, S-49’s engines were started. Seven minutes later, just as a pilot cell cover was removed to test the specific gravity of the electrolyte, the forward battery exploded. The hydrogen gas explosion destroyed the cells in the forward half of the battery and forced up the battery deck. Ten men were injured. Two others were gassed during rescue operations. Four of the twelve died of their injuries.

The battery compartment was sealed and kept shut until mid-afternoon when the outboard battery vent was opened. During the night, the submarine took on a slight list to port and air pressure was used to keep ballast. At about 05:15 on 21 April, a second explosion occurred in the battery room when wash from vessels departing for torpedo practice rocked S-49. The compartment was resealed for another few hours, after which the work of clearing the wreckage was begun.

Following repairs, S-49 resumed operations off the New England coast, and in January 1927, moved south, with USS S-50, for exercises and tests off Key West, Florida, the Dry Tortugas, and in Tampa Bay. On 12 March, she returned to New London, whence she completed a run to Portsmouth and back before proceeding to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with S-50, for inactivation. Arriving on 31 March, she was decommissioned on 2 August and berthed with other reserve ships at League Island until struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 21 March 1931 in accordance with the London Naval Treaty. S-49 was sold to the Boston Iron and Metal Company of Baltimore, Maryland, on 25 May 1931.

Tourist attraction[edit]

In 1931, S-49 was purchased by "Captain" Francis J. Chrestensen and toured the east coast for several years as a floating exhibit and tourist attraction, for which he charged a 25 cent admission. In 1936, she was an exhibit at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1942, Chrestensen was the respondent in the Supreme Court case Valentine v. Chrestensen, in which he was accused of violating, in 1940, a New York City ordinance against distributing handbills for commercial purposes by distributing flyers advertising the S-49. The court ruled that distribution of handbills could only be for informational or protest purposes. Chrestensen reissued a handbill which deleted the admission charge and had a protest on the back against the City Dock Department for refusing to grant him dockage.

Chrestensen also published a booklet describing the S-49 and promoting the capabilities of submarines.


S-49 was apparently reacquired by the Navy about 1941, "as equipment," for use in experimental work at the Naval Mine Warfare Proving Ground, Solomons, Maryland.[citation needed] Shortly after being towed to Solomons from Baltimore (where the Navy had reacquired the submarine), the former S-49 foundered off Point Patience in the Patuxent River on 16 December 1942 and sank in 102 feet of water at latitude 38° 19' 53.2" north, longitude 76° 29' 17.2" west or, on a bearing of 318.5 degrees true, distant 525 yards, from the southern tip of Point Patience.[citation needed] The wreck is visited, on occasion, by Navy and recreational divers.