S-31 (SS-136) was laid down on 13 April 1918 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif.; launched on 28 December 1918; sponsored by Mrs. George A. Walker; and commissioned on 11 May 1922, Lt. William A. Heard in command.
Commissioned as improved engines were being developed for her class, S-31 was ordered to New London, Conn., toward the end of the summer for alterations to her main propulsion machinery by the prime contractor, the Electric Boat Co. 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; 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 Aleutians for exercises during June and July of 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 Philippines. 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 (now Po Hai) 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.
On 2 May 1932, S-31 completed her tour with the Asiatic Fleet and departed Manila for Pearl Harbor, where, with her division, she was based until 1937. Then designated for inactivation, she cleared Pearl Harbor on 14 June; arrived at Philadelphia 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 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 to 31 March and 14 April to 13 May; then, toward the end of May, headed north to San Diego to prepare for duty in the Aleutians.
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 the 19th, she was ordered further west; and, on the 30th, 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 the 10th, 60 miles out of Dutch Harbor, a Mark X emergency identification flare exploded, causing serious chest injuries to the commanding officer 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; and poor 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 wind when it entered her forward battery compartment. The poisonous gas was soon detected and eliminated.
On her fifth war patrol, 13 October to 8 November, S-S1 moved into the Kurils. She arrived on station on 20 October. Two days later, she was off Paramushiro and patrolled the traffic lanes in the northern Paramu-shiro-Shumushu area until the 24th. 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 fired 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 the 27th, she commenced hunting along the west coast of Paramushiro. With November, however, her fuel supply became the critical factor; and, on the 2d, she turned for home.
S-S1 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 4-inch gun was replaced by a 3-inch gun, and further training exercises were conducted. On 11 March, she continued west on her sixth war patrol.
From 23 to 29 March, S-S1 reconnoitered Kwajalein Atoll and searched the sea lanes connecting that atoll with Truk and Wotje for enemy traffic. On the 29th, she set a course for New Caledonia; crossed the equator on 2 April; and arrived at Noumea on the 9th. After an eight-day refit, she provided services as a target for destroyer/antisubmarine warfare training exercises. From 5 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 reconnaisance team landed on Aneityum and to hunt for an enemy submarine reported to be operating in the area. On her return to Noumea, she resumed training exercises and continued them until 20 August.
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.
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 list on 1 November 1945; and sold for scrap in May 1946. Her hulk was delivered to the purchaser, Salco Iron and Metal Co., San Francisco, the following December and was scrapped in July 1947.
S-31 received one battle star for her World War II service.