(Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 10: displacement 145 tons (surface), 173 tons (submerged); length 82 feet 5 inches; beam 12 feet 6 inches; draft 10 feet 7 inches; speed 9 knots (surface), 8 knots (submerged); complement 10; armament 2 18-inch torpedo tubes; class Viper)
Viper (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 10)--the leader of an early class of American submarine--was laid down on 5 September 1905 at Quincy, Mass., by the Fore River Shipbuilding Co. as a subcontractor for the Electric Boat Co., the successor to the J. P. Holland Torpedo Boat Co.; launched on 30 March 1907, sponsored by Mrs. Lawrence Y. Spear, the wife of the president of the Electric Boat Co.; and commissioned at the Torpedo Station, Newport, on 18 October 1907, Lt. Donald Cameron Bingham in command.
Assigned to the 2d Submarine Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, Viper operated along the eastern seaboard of the United States on training evolutions and experimental exercises until decommissioned at the Charleston Navy Yard on 30 November 1909. Recommissioned on 15 April 1910, she served with the Atlantic Torpedo Fleet until reassigned to the Reserve Torpedo Group at the Charleston Navy Yard on 9 May 1911. The submarine was renamed B-1 on 17 November 1911.
Towed to Hampton Roads, Va., in April 1914, B-1 was overhauled by the Norfolk Navy Yard and then was loaded on board Hector (Collier No. 7) for transportation to the Far East. After reaching the Philippine Islands at Subic Bay on the island of Luzon on 24 March 1915, the submarine was launched sidewise from Hector's deck into Canacao Bay on 15 April 1915 and joined the 1st Asiatic Submarine Division. Up to that time, the division had consisted solely of somewhat older, smaller and slower A-boats, so the division commander, Lt. (jg.) Thomas Baxter took command of B-1 as his flagship. Since these early submarines possessed no galleys or berthing accommodations, their officers and men ate and slept in the old monitor Monadnock which usually rode at anchor off Sangley Point when not towing targets for the submarines or recovering their torpedoes with her boats.
World War I had broken out in Europe during the previous summer, so B-1 and her division mates carried out patrols to assure that no belligerent warships violated the neutrality of Philippine territorial waters. In addition to such duty, she also joined them in diving tests and torpedo-firing exercises during which they helped to develop the techniques and tactics of submarine warfare.
These operations--even before the United States entered the war--entailed considerable peril. Tremendous pressure could crush B-1's hull like an eggshell if she should dive too deep while operating submerged. Hydrogen gas from her electric batteries or gasoline fumes from her internal-combustion engines could turn a submarine into a giant bomb awaiting a spark. Moreover, the fumes were poisonous and, by intoxicating those who inhale them, could deprive both crew and commander of the sound judgement needed for safe operations. This happened to B-1 in the autumn of 1916 during an attempt to make a submerged, five-hour run in Manila Bay. Lt. (jg.) Charles A. Lockwood--who had recently relieved Lt. (jg.) Miles P. Refo in command of the submarine and who would direct the deadly effective American submarine campaign against Japan during World War II--and his crew were deeply affected by gasoline fumes (caused by a leaking fuel line) and were saved from disaster only by B-1's surfacing ahead of schedule.
America's entry into the war in April 1917 had little effect upon B-1's routine. While she never was involved in combat her operations in the Philippines, by adding to the Navy experience in submerged navigation, helped to develop the submarine force into the highly effective weapon that contributed so greatly to American victory in World War II.
Following the armistice, B-1--by then a member of the 2d Submarine Division--continued operations in Philippine waters until decommissioned at Cavite on 1 December 1921. She was subsequently destroyed as a target during destroyer gunnery practice. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 16 January 1922.
14 June 2004