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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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S-48

 

(SS-159: dp. 993 (surf.), 1,230 (subm.); l. 240'; b. 21'10"; dr. 13'6" (mean); s. 14.5 k. (surf.), 11 k. (subm.) ; cpl. 38; a. 1 4", 5 21" tt.; cl. S-48)

 

S-48 (SS-159) was laid down on 22 October 1920 by the Lake Torpedo Boat Co., Bridgeport, Conn.; and launched on 26 February 1921; sponsored by Mrs. James O. Germaine. The following December, builders trials were conducted. On the 7th, during a dive off Penfield Reef, a manhole plate in one of the aft ballast tanks was left unsecured; and S-48 sank in 60 feet of water. The crew, contractor's personnel, and naval observers brought the bow to the surface and escaped through a torpedo tube to a tug which took them to New York. On 20 December, the submarine was raised and taken back to the builder's yard where repairs were begun. The work was completed ten months later; and, on 14 October 1922, S-48 was accepted by the Navy and commissioned, Lt. S. E. Bray in command.

 

Following commissioning at Bridgeport, S-48 fitted out at the New York Navy Yard; visited Peekskill, N.Y., for Navy Day; returned to Bridgeport; and, at the end of October, arrived at her homeport, New London. Two weeks later, she was towed to Portsmouth, N.H., for further yard work; and, in late January 1923, she returned to New London to commence operations with her division, Submarine Division 4 (SubDiv 4). Through May, she operated in the New London area; then, in early June, she moved south for sound exercises and a visit to Washington, D. C. At mid-month, she returned to southern New England; and, in August, she proceeded back to Portsmouth for the installation of new crankshafts and a general ship and machinery overhaul period.

 

In mid-January 1924, S-48 departed Portsmouth for New London, whence she continued south, to the Caribbean, for winter maneuvers. By mid-March, however, she was back at Portsmouth for another five months of yard work. In early August, she resumed operations in the New London area; and, in November, after being transferred to SubDiv 2, she visited Annapolis. In December, she returned to Connecticut; and, toward the end of January 1925, she headed back to Portsmouth.

 

On the night of the 29th, S-48 arrived off the New Hampshire coast. At about 1830, the wind picked up and a heavy snowstorm developed. Visibility was reduced to zero. Soon after 1934, the S-boat grounded on rocks off Jaffrey Point; pulled herself off; then grounded again in Little Harbor. Messages requesting assistance were dispatched. By midnight, the storm had worsened; seas were coming "clean [sic] over the S-48" and she was rolling-15° to port, 60° to starboard. Violent rolling lasted for only a little over thirty minutes, but a heavy list developed. By 0330 on the 30th, the battery compartment was taking in water. Chlorine gas was forming. The storm continued; but help arrived at 0500, and Coastguardsmen manning lifeboats rescued the crew. After receiving treatment for exposure and gas at Ft. Stark, crew members were transferred to the Navy Base at Kittery.

 

On 1 February, salvage operations were begun. A week later, the S-boat was freed and towed to the navy yard for repairs. However, funds were lacking; and, on 7 July 1925, S-48 was decommissioned. On 25 June 1926, repairs and alterations were authorized; and, on 3 February 1927, the work began. But, again, a shortage of funds stopped the project. In 1928, the repair and modernization was carried out. In hopes of improving habitability and increasing her range, her hull was extended 25'6"; her displacement was increased to 1,165 tons; and her engines were replaced by German M.A.N. types. On 1 December, the work was finally completed. On the 8th, S-48 was recommissioned.

 

Assigned to SubDiv 12, she departed Portsmouth on 11 January 1929 and headed south. After operations off southern Florida, she returned to New London in March and, in April, commenced a series of test exercises. A casualty to the main motor, however, forced postponement of the exercises, and S-48 returned to Portsmouth. On 5 June, she resumed the exercises.

 

On 1 June, S-48 had been reassigned to SubDiv 4, with which she operated through the end of 1929. Then assigned to SubDiv 3, later SubDiv 5, and then Squadron 3, she continued her operations off the New England coast, with an interruption for winter maneuvers to the south. She was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone in 1931. On 1 March, she arrived at Coco Solo, whence she operated for four years. In July 1933, she was assigned to the Rotating Reserve; and, in 1935, she was ordered inactivated. On 20 March, she departed Coco Solo. On 1 June, she arrived at Philadelphia; and, on 16 September 1935, she was decommissioned and berthed at League Island.

 

Four years later, World War II broke out in Europe. In 1940, S-48 was ordered activated. She was recommissioned on 10 December, but remained at Philadelphia until mid-March 1941. She then moved up to her homeport of New London. As a unit of SubRon 1, she provided services to submarine and antisubmarine warfare training commands at New London and Portland, Maine, until after the end of European hostilities. Overhaul and repair periods during that time were frequent; and, in the summer of 1945, the World War I-design submarine was finally designated for disposal. On 21 August, she departed New London for the last time. On the 29th, she was decommissioned at Philadelphia; on 17 September 1945, her name was struck from the Navy list; and, on 22 January 1946, her hulk was sold to the North American Smelting Co., Philadelphia, for scrapping.

 

 

S-48 (SS-159) in 1922, with "clearing lines" running fore and aft. These heavy wires, extending most of the way toward bow and stern, were intended to act as bumpers and protect the conning tower from serious damage if the submarine should surface too close to another ship—something that happened from time to time in those early days of submarining. The first ship of her class, S48 and her sisters were the largest of the "S-boats."