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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

S-37

 

(SS-142: dp. 854 (surf.), 1,062 (subm.); l. 219'3"; b. 20'8"; dr. 15'11" (mean); s. 14.5 k. (surf.), 11 k. (subm.); cpl. 42; a. 1 4", 4 21" tt.; cl. S-1)

 

S-37 (SS-142) was laid down on 12 December 1918 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco; launched on 20 June 1919; sponsored by Miss Mildred Bulger; and commissioned on 16 July 1923, Lt. Paul R. Glutting in command.

 

After fitting out at Mare Island, S-37 departed San Francisco Bay at the end of July and joined Submarine Division (SubDiv) 17 at San Pedro on 1 August. During that month, September, and into October, she conducted exercises and tests off the southern California coast. Then, as she was recharging in San Pedro harbor on the afternoon of 10 October, her training schedule was interrupted by an explosion in the after battery compartment. Dense black smoke and gas fumes filled the flame and arc-lit room. Extensive material damage added to the difficulty of rescue operations in the gas-filled room. Three men were brought out. Two bodies were left behind. One of the rescued died before medical help arrived. Two of the rescuers were seriously injured.

 

The room was sealed. At 0500 on the 11th, pressure, which had built up in the room, forced open the main hatch. The room was resealed. At 1030, the compartment was opened; but fire broke out again. The room was resealed for another hour. At 1130, the area was ventilated; clearing and repair work was started. On the 25th, temporary repairs were completed and S-37 started back to Mare Island, where the work was finished. On 19 December, the S-boat returned to San Pedro.

 

With the new year, 1924, S-37 moved south and, with her division, participated in Fleet Problems II, III, and IV which involved problems of fleet movements, conducted en route to the Gulf of Panama; Caribbean defenses and transit facilities of the Panama Canal; and movement from a main base to an advanced base, conducted in the Caribbean. After completing Problem IV, her division remained in the Caribbean until early April when it retransited the Panama Canal to return to the Pacific. Toward the end of the month, she returned to San Pedro; and, on the 28th, she continued on to Mare Island. There the boats of her division, having been transferred to the Asiatic Fleet, prepared to cross the Pacific.

 

On 17 September, SubDiv 17, accompanied by Canopus, departed San Francisco. On the 26th, the ships arrived at Pearl Harbor; and, on 4 November, they reached Manila Bay. They operated out of Cavite for 16 years. During most of that time, the S-boats worked as a division, spending the fall and winter months in the Philippines and deploying to the China coast for spring and summer exercises. During the late thirties, however, hostilities increased in Asia; and the fleet's S-boat schedule was altered to include more individual exercises and cruises. The submarines ranged throughout the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies, and they made shorter deployments to the China coast. In 1940, the latter ended, and the boats intensified their exercises and patrols in the Philippines and participated in joint Army-Navy war games.

In 1941, S-37 remained in the Philippines: in the Luzon area into the spring; in the Visayans and Sulu Archipelago into the summer; and back in the Luzon area during the fall. On 8 December, she was in Manila Bay.

 

With receipt of the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, S-37 prepared for her first war patrol. On the night of 9 December, she cleared the Corregidor outer minefield; moved into the Verde Island Passage; and took up station at Puerta Galera, Mindoro, where she remained on lookout duty until the 17th. She then returned to Manila; replenished and refueled; and, on the 19th, headed back toward the Mindoro coast. On the 20th, she assumed patrol duties in Calavite Passage. On the 21st, she shifted to the Verde Island Passage. On the 27th, she reconnoitered Batangas Bay to investigate the detonation of fuel oil tanks and found only Filipino and American forces destroying the supplies before they could be captured by the Japanese. On the 28th, while the noise of the exploding tanks continued, S-37 investigated reports of Japanese landings in Balayan Bay, then proceeded toward Looc Bay to verify or disprove a similar rumor. Finding both bays empty, she began to make her way south. On the 30th, she was off Panay; and, on 1 January 1942, she suffered a fire in the starboard main motor panel. Repairs were made that night; and, on the 2d and 3d, she patrolled off the entrance to Basilan Strait. There she sighted a Japanese submarine but was unable to close the range.

 

On the 4th, she took up patrol duty off Japanese-held Jolo Island. The next day, she developed leaks in the air supply piping to the starboard main motor panel. Makeshift repairs decreased the air leaks, and S-37 remained in the Sulu District on the 6th. On the 7th, she continued south, toward Port Darwin. But, the following day, new orders arrived, and she set a course for Soerabaja, the Dutch naval base on the northeast coast of Java.

 

On the 11th, Japanese forces moved on Tarakan (Borneo) and Menado (Celebes). S-37, then off Stroomenkaap at the western end of the Celebes northern peninsula, was ordered to make for the Borneo coast. She arrived on the 12th and, for the next three days, remained in the Tarakan area, searching for enemy transports and cargomen, while at the same time eluding hunting enemy destroyers. On the 15th, she was ordered to leave the area; and, on the 23d, unable to transmit identification messages, she approached Madoera Strait and surfaced for recognition by Dutch patrol vessels. At 2118, she arrived in Soerabaja Roads.

 

By the end of the month, Japanese forces in Borneo had moved south into Balikpapan while those forces located in the Celebes moved into Kendari. On 2 February, S-37 departed Soerabaja and headed back to Makassar Strait. By the 5th, she was off Cape William. The next day, she shifted southward to patrol the southern approaches to Makassar City; and, on the evening of the 8th, she sighted a destroyer, which was thought to be an advance guard unit for enemy forces en route to that city.

 

At 1800, the destroyer, allowed to pass unmolested, disappeared to the northwest. Thirteen minutes later, the mast and upper works of three destroyers in column were sighted: distance 5 miles, estimated speed-15 knots.

 

A half-hour's wait brought no transports or cargo-men into view, and S-37 went after the destroyer formation. Moving on the surface, she closed the destroyers, all four in column, distance 8,000 yards. All torpedoes were readied; and, at 1946, she commenced her approach. A minute later, she sighted another, closer, formation of four destroyers, distance 4,000 yards, plus the dim outlines of three large ships resembling transports, distance three miles, on a northerly course.

 

At 1951, S-37 changed course to go after the transports. By 2010, however, the destroyers to the submarine's starboard had increased speed to maintain cover for the transports as the formation turned and crossed ahead of the submarine at 4,000 yards. By 2030, S-37, unable to gain an unimpaired shot at the transports, shifted to attack the destroyers. Between 2036 and 2040, she fired one torpedo at each destroyer. Thirty seconds after firing the third torpedo, she observed a hit between the stacks of the third destroyer, and, as black smoke rose, the destroyer buckled in the middle and the mid-ship portion rose approximately 20 feet above the bow and stern. Natsushio was going down.

 

The fourth destroyer, however, sighted S-37 as the fourth torpedo was fired and turned to starboard. At 2041, S-37 dived and rigged for depth charging. By 2043, the three remaining destroyers were overhead, pinging. S-37 ran silent. Between 2050 and 2215, the searching destroyers dropped depth charges at 10-15 minute intervals. S-37 reached 267 feet as she evaded permanent damage. By 2230, the destroyers had moved out of the area. S-37, reloaded, resumed her hunting.

 

S-37 remained in the area for another eight days during which she sighted several Japanese ships. Her lack of speed precluded several attacks and, on the 11th, faulty mechanisms in her torpedoes caused the "fish" to sink before reaching their target. On the 17th, she passed the Paternosters; and, on the 18th, she arrived off Lombok Strait. On the 19th, she patrolled in Lombok and Badoeng Straits; and, on the morning of the 20th, she received orders to return to Soerabaja. At 0500, she submerged and began making her way along the Bali coast. At 0615, she sighted three enemy destroyers through her periscope on a northerly course three miles off. Astern of the submarine, an obvious oil slick extended some 2,000 yards in a glassy sea. She remained undetected. Temporary repairs were soon reducing the oil slick. At 0700, when another destroyer patrol was sighted, the slick remained obvious but went unnoticed. By 0830, S-37 was avoiding sudden changes in depth which would aggravate the leak. The slick was minimized; but, at 0915, a destroyer was heard on the starboard beam. Depth charges were dropped, and their explosions were followed by detonating aerial bombs. S-37 went to 150 feet.

 

The depth charging and bombing continued until noon, when heavy antiaircraft fire was heard. The destroyer was distracted; but, at 1245, she apparently resumed her search for the submarine. After dropping three more depth charges, the enemy warship continued to ping until after 1400. At 1415, S-37 went to periscope depth. The destroyer was 3,000 yards off, but the seas had become choppy. No oil slick was visible.

 

S-37 cleared Lombok Strait at 1500 and, 25 hours later, moored at the Soerabaja Navy Yard. Repair work was begun immediately, but the Japanese were moving on Java; and, on the 26th, S-37 was ordered out. Equipment and parts in the navy yard shops were recalled, and stores from the limited supplies at the base were taken on; and, after the return of two air compressor coolers, she got underway on the port engine as the ship's force completed reassembly of the starboard engine. Electrical steering failures, breakdowns in the coolers, and a change of orders delayed her departure; but, on the afternoon of the 27th, she moved out and headed north to patrol between Bawean Island and the western channel into Soerabaja Roads.

 

That night the Battle of the Java Sea raged over the horizon; and, early on the morning of the 28th, the S-boat closed a Japanese formation of two cruisers and three destroyers retiring victoriously from the scene. A fight for depth control, however, precluded an attack. At mid-day, she sighted a 50-foot open boat from DeRuyter carrying Allied survivors; and, although unable to accommodate all of those in the boat, she approached to take on casualties. Finding no casualties, she took on American sailors; transferred provisions; dispatched enciphered messages on the boat's location to ABDA headquarters; and resumed her patrol. That afternoon, she again attempted to attack an enemy formation, but was sighted and underwent a combined depth charging and aerial bombing.

 

For the next week, S-37 remained in the area. Depth charge and aerial attacks were frequent, each one aggravating the condition of worn parts and equipment and resulting in mechanical and electrical failures and in leaks through disintegrating manhole and hatch gaskets. On 6 March, she headed for western Australia. Her major leak, through the engine room hatch, had been slowed to one gallon every 20 minutes.

 

S-37 left a misleading oil slick toward Lombok Strait, then moved farther east before turning south. By 11 March, she was clear of the East Indies; and, on the 19th, she arrived at Fremantle.

 

In April, she continued on to Brisbane where she joined Task Force 42 and, after an extensive overhaul, departed for her fifth war patrol. Clearing Moreton Bay on 22 June, she was in the Bismarcks by the end of the month; and, after patrolling in St. George Channel, she moved toward New Hanover. On 7 July, she shifted back to the New Britain coast to patrol in the Lambert Point area. There, on the afternoon of the eighth, she sighted a Japanese merchantman escorted by a submarine chaser. Closing the target, she fired three torpedoes at 1405. Three explosions followed, sinking the 2,776-ton Tenzan Maru. S-37 went to 110 feet and ran silent on a northerly course as the submarine chaser dropped depth charges where the submarine had been.

 

On the 9th, S-37 patrolled between Dyaul and New Hanover. On the 10th, she moved into the New Hano-ver-Massau traffic lanes; and, on the 11th, she closed the New Ireland coast and continued south. For the next two days, she operated in the Rabaul area, then headed for Cape St. George and Australia. From the 14th, when a fire in the starboard main motor was quickly extinguished, she was plagued by mechanical and electrical failures. But, on the 20th, she sighted Cape Moreton Light; and, on the 21st, she moored alongside Griffin (AS-13) in Brisbane harbor.

 

Between 17 August and 13 September, S-37 conducted her sixth war patrol, a defensive patrol in the Savo Island area in support of the Guadalcanal campaign. On 2 September, she scored her only hit of the patrol when she damaged the last destroyer in a column of four which was steaming to the north of Savo. Four days later, she moved into the Russells, whence she departed the Solomons and headed back to Brisbane. On 19 October, she cleared the latter harbor for the last time; and, four days later, she arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia. After refueling, she served on picket line station in defense of that base. On 5 November, after a fire in her port main motor added to problems of tank trouble, fuel shortage, and mechanical failures, she headed for Pearl Harbor.

 

From Pearl Harbor, S-37 continued on to San Diego where she underwent an extensive overhaul during the winter of 1943. She remained at San Diego for the remainder of her career, employed as an antisubmarine warfare training ship through 1944. Decommissioned on 6 February 1945, S-37 was stripped, and her hulk was sunk as a target for aerial bombing off the southern California coast the following spring.

 

S-37 earned five battle stars during World War II.