The history of Submarine Tenders - Part Two

Submarine Tender Deployments


Part One – "The Submarine’s Secret Weapon” (the Undersea Warfare article) is an introduction to tender history - and is presented as an overview and brief summary to introduce the reader to the subject in general terms, and without overwhelming one with details.

Part Two – “Deployments” continues the study of that history in much more detail. The first four chapters cover regional deployments - The later chapters cover more specific deployents- that is deployments that were assigned to some specific port or facility. The exceptions (there are always exceptions) are the two World Wars - and the 1980s and 1990s when the "scope of deployment" were again regional rather than fixed.

Part Three - "The Tenders" looks at each individual ship that served (primary assigned duty) as a Submarine Tender. As with all of TenderTale - the ship's histories are being collected as more and more of Navy's history becomes available. We hope to some day have access to the ship's logs for all these ships - so that a complete of each can be added. When the details of each ship and their deployments are combined - we hope that a complete and accurate history of the deployments of the Silent Service during it's first 100 years can then be ascertained and preserved - and understood so that we can learn from what we did right - and what not to repeat in the future.

When examining the history of tender deployments – they can be grouped into several “eras”: 1- the early years - spanning from (1903 - 1917); 2- the World War years ( 1918 - 1919); 3- the "between the wars" years (1920-1941); 4- World War II (1942 - 1945); 5- the cold war years (1946 - 1986) and 6- contemporary times. The "state of affairs" during these times defined where the forces were needed – how and where they were deployed.  Our objective is to look at how these factors came together in response to world events - and in some cases - how they influenced world events.

Chapter 12 (World War II) in this "version" is presented much as the others - in pictures and narative. However - there is a video presentation in the works that will not only illustrate the various deployments of the Pacific Submarine fleet as portrayed by the deployments of the Tender Fleet – but to also note the specific actions these deployments were either in response to or in support of -- actions by Japanese and United States forces. "Seeing" the various moves of the tenders in during this period is like watching a chess game.

Submarines: the new "toy"
That may sound flippant, but it really isn't. When Holland delivered the first submarines to the Navy - some senior officers considered them nothing more than a novelty at best - a toy at worst. Many took a "wait and see" attitude - unconvinced that the submarine could be useful for anything more than limited shore defense. Early submarines were not truly "sea worthy" - barely up to open ocean sailing - and participating in a serious conflict was considered out of the question.  

An example of how little regard was given these early boats comes from the book Mare Island:

"The toll of men who fell to their death in dry docks or from moored ships is far greater, and only exceeded by that taken in the waterfront section of Vallejo, where for many years still more pleasure-seeking sailors and workmen had their quests suddenly and violently ended.
There were other and more official ways of reaching the obituary column, and for many years after the turn of the century spectators were convinced that Mare Island had a couple of good ones in the Grampus and the Pike. These were two of the Navy's first fleet of six submarines, built by the Union Iron Works and delivered to the Navy yard in 1904. The strange craft were only sixty feet long, with an eleven-foot beam, and when moored and lying awash along the sea wall, they resembled nothing so much as two overgrown pigs in a puddle.
Mare Island's early submarines were a far cry from the underwater ocean raider described by Jules Verne. The "divers" did most of their cruising in the shallow reaches of San Pablo Bay, and underwater trips were usually only a couple of hours long. A 160-horsepower gasoline engine powered the craft on the surface; a 70-horsepower electric motor drove it when submerged. There were no diving planes to control underwater movements of these early craft; reaching the proper stage of buoyancy for a dive was a tricky operation, and if a crew member should decide to walk forward, the shift in weight might well plunge the sub to the bottom.
The sudden appearance of even such small leviathans of the deep as these, breaking the surface in front of some day-dreaming ferryboat skipper, was enough to make a man give up everything stronger than coffee. At least once, one of the submerged craft ran into a fisherman's nets and towed net, boat, fisherman and all several miles up the channel before surfacing. By that time the frantic fisherman was on his knees in the bottom of the boat, and had probably renounced a good deal more than coffee. Possibly as a result of this, or a similar and judiciously unreported case, the Grampus and the Pike took to flying a red signal flag when they went out on a run. As the shoal water in the San Pablo Bay permitted no deep dives, the red flag still flew in the breeze even when the subs were underwater, and probably frightened the daylights out of even more people than the subs themselves.
The early submariners themselves cast off more than the mooring lines when they left the dock; each trip offered a one-way possibility not overlooked by the Navy Department. Every crew member was required to keep a will safely filed ashore, and to sign written papers releasing the Navy from all responsibility before making either a surface or submerged run."

With many senior Navy Officers already considring them nothing more than a novelty - the a result was - in blunt terms – treatment by many as the illegitimate children of the fleet – with outside support more often than not - being less than generous. The end result was that “deploying” the early submarines was haphazard and usually a logistical nightmare.

An example of what "disdain" the early boats suffered can be appreciated by the fact that once the Grampus and Pike were deemed "obsolete" - their "innards" were removed - and they were put into service as oil tanks.

"The first Deployments - East and West Coast - (1903 - 1909)"
As more boats were acquired by the Navy, deployments becoming more frequent and more distant – and at each new site they needed shore facilities from which to operate. With their status as such – they often wound up in hand-me-down quarters that were woefully inadequate to what was needed. The boats were ill-equipped to transport cargo, spares, supplies, even extra crewmen, so the Navy would assign a ship the duty of transporting the boats “things” to the new port. Most of the time the vessel assigned was chosen merely because it also happened to be going to that port anyway. Sometimes the ship so assigned would take it’s collateral mission good heartedly – sometimes not. When things weren’t to “cooperative”  – submarine duty that was already difficult under the best of conditions - became quite distasteful.

When the “group” would arrive at the new port -   the submarines would just tie up to the “transport ship” - as it had their “stuff” – including extra crew members and support staff.   The submarine crew also found many other benefits of hanging around the big ship– they could get fed, use tools and other resources available; and find a decent place to sleep (as mentioned in part one – the conditions aboard the early boats was nothing short of deplorable). It didn’t take long for such ships to be “adopted” as mother ship – or tender. The notion was so natural and powerful – it was officially adopted very early on. USS Hist received orders as submarine tender to the east coast submarines in 1903.

 While the use of a large ship as “tender” came about perhaps as much by practical happenstance as conscience intent  -- once the association was made – it didn’t take senior Navy officers and civilian planners long to recognize the tremendous flexibility in having such a unique force. Moving a squadron of submarines from port to port was no longer a problem – they and their tender would just sail where ordered, drop anchor – and get to the tasks as ordered.  Deployments were transformed from nightmares – to routine.

Again - from the book "Mare Island":
"...the Fleet grew in numbers and types of vessels. The subs Grampus and Pike were followed by the F-1, F-2, F-3, F-4, and then the H-1, H-2, H-3. By 1909 the subs had their first tender, the old tugboat Fortune. A few years later the tug Alert was converted for the same purpose."

The date recorded in the book "Mare Island" is 1909 - however - USS Fortune actually received her first orders as tender in 1903 (DANS entry on Fortune). The confusion on the date is likely due to the fact Fortune was in and out of commission several times during that period- as was the Navy's practice during those times.  

"Spheres of Influence- Asiatic Station and The Canal Zone - (1905 - 1917)"
The primary benefit of submarine tenders is their mobility: the fact that they can weigh anchor, sail to a new location, drop anchor and be back in the tending business in very short order. While the "invention" of the tender was almost as much by accident rather than by design - it didn't take the US Navy long to recognize that the tenders would allow their limited fleet of submarines to be quickly positioned where needed as world events and politics required.

At the turn of the last century – the far Pacific region contained many nations that were not particularly open – making it difficult to keep track of events and political change that might affect commerce or even safe passage. The United States had a great interest in keeping markets open, and in maintaining a continued presence. Man o’War ships were commonly used to project United States presence into such places – however – being large and heavily armored – their presence wasn’t always welcome.   The new under sea boats were something of a curiosity – and could open doors that would otherwise be closed. And when accompanied by a tender – it became practical to deploy boats to the far reaches of the world. 

 And so it was that the first oversea deployments of submarines were in the Western Pacific – based first in the Philippines (1905) – and on to some of the mainland Asiatic ports including China. Tenders allowed the early submarines to act as the eyes and ears of the United States in places difficult for other ships.

Towards the end of the 19th century - the French had started the Panama Canal project as strictly an investment in trade; and as such - found the costs in terms of both finance and human life to be too high - so they withdrew from the effort. At the turn of the century - the sucessful conduct of the Spanish American war had once and for all driven home to the United States in general - and the Navy in particular - the importance of a shorter sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. So it was that the United States invested more than 350 million dollars; conquered the malaria and yellow fever diseases that had crippled the French effort; and finished the Canal. Since this investment was - at the time - the largest made by the United States - as the Canal neared completion - thoughts turned to protecting both the Canal - and it's approaches - particularly on the Atlantic side. As noted before - many in the Navy felt the submarine to be little better than a coastal partrol asset - so here again was an opportunity to deploy the boats. In Devember 1913 the USS Tallahassee arrived at the not yet open Canal with five "C" class boats to begin providing protection.

Missed opportunity: World War One (1916 - 1919)
When World War One erupted - the prevailing opinion was still that submarines were not true first line assets. In fact - during the entire war there was only one significant deployment of U.S. submarines - that was Submarine Division Five - which was sent to Europe. USS BUSHNELL (AS 2) was the tender assigned to that deployment - and operated primarily out of Queenstown, Ireland arriving there 27 January 1918. Germany's many successes with their "Unterseeboot " or U-Boats proved that submarines were a credible force in war - inflicting much damage and serious blows to their enemy's morale. One lone boat - the U-151 between April and June 1918 sunk 27 ships right off of United States coastal waters. The war-time deployment overseas of Submarine Division Five also proved that United States Submarines could operate on a war footing in open sea - even crossing the Atlantic to do so. Fortunately - these factors combined to start changing the attitudes of both military planners and government officials so that serious efforts in developing a credible submarine force for the United States was begun even before World War One was over.

Between the Wars - the United States finally gets serious about it's Submarines (1919 - 1941)
As happens after most wars - the end of the "War to end all Wars" precipitated a general down-sizing of the military - to the point that some branches were not just down-sized - but neglected to the extent that their condition and readiness was extremely poor. By 1924 the United States Submarine Service was in such deplorable condition that in his report made 3 March 1924 after fleet exercises - ADM R. E. Coontz, CINCUS stated:
"...Finally, the submarines were a disgrace. They were too slow, badly ventilated, and leaked oil constantly. The latter problem was not only a fire hazard, it made detection of the undersea craft quite simple. Because of their low speed, it was only by accident that the scouting submarines were able to position themselves in proper relation to the fleet and then they could not maintain station except at lowest fleet speeds."
Fortunately, the NAVY took note - and began a program of rebuilding it's Submarine Fleet. As noted - WWI was the "War to end all Wars" - and with the war over - there wasn't a great urgency in these programs. With the "Great Depression" bringing the nation's economy to it's knees through the 30s - little progress was made beyond planning, etc. When hostilities again began consuming Europe - and it becoming increasingly clear the United States was going to be drawn into a war yet again - these programs were stepped up in urgency. This time - not only was the building of newer and better submarines a priority - those plans now included tenders to better deploy the new boats. As the drumbeats of war grew ever louder - they came from two directions - from Germany and Italy across the Atlantic - and from Japan across the Pacific. Navy planners realized that this was going to be a two-ocean war - and mobility would be key. Unlike World War One - they intended to be able to get the submarines to the war - whever it was.

World War Two- finally - Submarines prove their worth - with tenders as accomplices:
When the United States suffered the loss of the bulk of it's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 - that left three carriers and only a handful of submarines between Japan and the West Coast of the United States. Fortunately - the U.S. Navy had been impressed enough by Germany's use of it's fleet submarines early in W.W. II - and by Admiral Coontz "wake-up call" in 1924 - that building of both boats and tenders were well underway. Not willing to risk it's carriers - the US held them back in a defensive posture until much of the fleet could be rebuilt - which left the Pacific Submarine Fleet as the only offensive weapon Nimitz had against Japan. At the start of the war there were 8 tenders - USS OTUS (AS 20), USS HOLLAND (AS 3), USS CANOPUS (AS 9) plus the "drafted" USS PIGEON in the Phillipeans; USS PELIAS (AS 14) and USS SEAGULL (AM 30) were at Pearl Harbor - five of the eight tenders were in the Pacific. Of these USS OTUS and USS PELIAS were merchantmen which had just been converted to submarine tenders. In the Atlantic were USS BEAVER (AS 5) at New London; USS GRIFFIN (AS 13) operating between Newfoundland and Newport, RI; and USS ANTAEUS (AS 21) at St. Thomas, VI. Both GRIFFIN and ANTAEUS were also recently converted merchantmen. Soon to join the war effort were the newly built USS FULTON (AS 11) - which was on sea trials - and yet to join the fleet; and USS SPERRY (AS 12) which was still on the ways but would be launched on December 17, 1941 just 10 days after Pearl Harbor. Nimitz moved HOLLAND to Borneo; but lost CANOPUS at the Phillipeans (along with "drafted" PIGEON). Nimitz conlosidated his submarine fleet out of Australia and Pearl Harbor augmenting those bases with newer tenders as they were built / converted.

Submarines were now among the most “deployable” force in the Pacific, and as a result the Pacific Submarine Fleet – which represented 1.6% of the total United States Naval Forces, Pacific – was responsible for 55% of the tonnage of Japanese ships sunk during World War II. Part one has a detailed report of a typical refit cycle of a World War II submarine.

By the hieght of the war - the U.S. had 18 tenders - 17 "on station" in the Pacific (May - September, 1945). As the Japanese started retreating back to Japan - Nimitz was able to "chase" them with his submarines - "hopscotching" the tenders from island to island across the Pacific as they went. This very fast mobility allowed a new submarine base to be established in hours rather than days or weeks - ensuring that the submarines were close enough to the enemy to inflict maximum damage - and protect other allied assets.

The Cold War Years (1946 - 1986)-
Permanance - Keeping the peace "over there"

Between and after the World Wars - the United States continued to use it's submarines in forward deployments as before. However - with the War over - the United States also radically reduced both it's submarine and tender fleets - leaving only six tenders in commission (plus PROTEUS out of commssion but in service at New London). After the Korean Conflict, however - with the threats of the Cold War with the Soviet Union - the United States started a development program that would forever change submarines, as well as the balance of power in the world. The Soviets had embarassed the United States in the "Space Race" - worse - they had established a clear superiority in weapons delivery systems with their awesome rockets. The United States had nothing to deter this new threat - so President Eisenhower challenged the United States military branches to do so. The Army had nothing to offer; the Air Forces B36 bomber was a bust. However - Hyman Rickover had been working on a nuclear propulsion system for submarines - which could make them for the first time - truly an under-sea boat. The USS Nautalus was the first U.S. Navy SSN - Submarine - Nuclear powered. Another Navy officer - the new Chief of Naval operations Arleigh Burke - thought that these boats - fast, undetectable, able to stay hid underwater for extremely long periods of time - would make ideal platforms for a weapons system that could counter the Soviet threat. The Polaris Missile Submarine is the product of that vision. A new class of boat was designed - designated SSBN Submarine Balistic Missile Nuclear powered. The early Polaris Missiles had a range of only 1000 miles or so - so the boats had to operate relatively close to their target. As usual - to keep transit time and other logistics to a minimum - a new class of submarine tender was needed. All was set - Congress appropriated funds - boats and tender designs were drawn up and construction began - with the first boats due to be operational by the mid 60's. The Soviets had plans of their own. They launched one of their mighty rockets - and put a "thing" in orbit that went right over everyone's head. You could look up and see it go by - you could hear it beep on your radio. Near panic gripped the country as it sunk in that the "thing" could just as easily be a nuclear bomb - as a benign "beeping" satelite. "The" timetable that had been put in place - was now considered way to slow. Something had to be done. Now. The Navy hit upon the idea of taking some submarines that were well along in construction, cutting them in half - and adding the needed components to make them into SSBNs. That would have the U.S. deterrent in place much sooner. USS Scorpion - SSN 598 was converted to USS GEORGE WASHINGTON SSBN-598. Of course - a tender would be needed that much sooner as well. - so USS PROTEUS was also cut in half, missile tubes and other spaces added to accomodate the new mission. Both were completed in 1960. The first upkeep of an SSBN was by PROTEUS at New London after GEORGE WASHINGTON's successful shakedown and test lauching of missiles at the Cape Canaveral test range. GEORGE WASHINGTON then set out on the first ever nuclear deterrent patrol. PROTEUS proceeded on to establish the U.S.'s first advanced Polaris deployment site - Site One - Holy Lock, Scottland. After two years, and 38 refits - PROTEUS was relieved by USS HUNLEY (AS 31). The conversion of GEORGE WASHINGTON and PROTEUS had put the deterrent in place two years sooner than it would have been otherwise. PROTEUS went on to establish SITE TWO - Rota, Spain, and finally - SITE THREE, Apra Harbor Guam roughly 20 years after PROTEUS had tended submarines there during W.W. II.

Permanance - protecting "home"
Another hard lesson the United States Navy learned was that letting their assets turn into rust buckets makes it extremely hard to respond to new threats. After having built the most powerful submarine navy in the world duing World War II - the Navy mothballed most of it's fleet - and did little to upgrade during the years immediately following the war. When the Korean "Police Action" broke out - the Navy found themselves out classed in many areas. In fairness - so did both the Army and Air Force - but our concern here is with the Navy. As noted above - some of those "wakeup calls" got through - and people like Hyman Rickover developed the next generation submarine. While the SSBN proved to be an outstanding deterrent - we (fortunately) realized it wouldn't take the Soviets long develop their own. What we needed was a deterrent to their deterrent (yes I know, arms race 101). The answer was the hunter-killer submarine - the Fast Attack SSN. And like the SSBN - there were new technologies to be dealt with. However - since there wasn't the urgency with these tenders that there was with the SSBN tenders - it was decided that the FULTON class tender could be upgraded to handle most of the SSB refits - and perhaps a few new super tenders could be built to replace these in time. This would save the U.S. taxpayer a lot of money. During FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) overhauls in the early 1960s these needed changes were incorporated. All of the FULTON class tenders received at least a FRAM or a FRAM II level overhaul except PROTEUS - as her conversion in 1959/1960 provided all the benefits of FRAM II and more. With these improvements in place - Submarine Tenders AS 27 - AS 30 were converted and built as ADs (Destroyer Tenders). Also with Orion receiving an advanced FRAM II conversion - she was able to supply much support for SSBNs - (short of missile exchanges) - so the plans for a fifth SSBN tender (AS 36) were scrapped. A new design of SSN Fast Attack tenders were built between 1970 and 1981 - the USS L Y SPEAR (AS-36) class (which includes the USS DIXON (AS 37)) and the USS EMORY S. LAND (AS 39) Class which includes the USS FRANK CABLE (AS 40) and USS KcKee (AS 41).

USS BUSHNELL was severely damaged by a fire in 1970 and was decommissioned. USS NEREUS (AS 17) was decomissioned in 1971. So during the 1970s there were four FULTON class FRAM/FRAMII fast attack tenders; five SSBN tenders; and two modern L Y SPEAR class tenders.

With the "rush" to get the SSBNs to sea over - the Navy turned their attention to protecting the homeland with their Fast Attack SSNs. As these new boats came on line - they were placed at ports where they could serve the country's best interests. With the range and endurance these new boats were capable of - the Navy did not need the level of sevice "everywhere" as was needed with the older boats. While not completely returning to the "presense" policy - the Navy was having to balance the ability to service boats with reduced budgets - and a world that was changing very fast. In the 1970s New London, Norfolk, Charleston, and Key West down the east coast of the United States - along with the advanced bases at Holy Loch and Rota covered the Atlantic's needs. San Diego (two tenders most of the time) and Guam covered the Pacific - though that proved "insufficient" - so by the 1980s the "Western Pacific deployments" were once again in place. Also as tensions over some bases flared and the ranges of the missiles increased dramatically - the Navy reduced the use of - then finally abandoning some of the SSBN sites - first Rota then Holy Loch, and finally Guam - though Guam has been retained as a Fast Attack base - bringing those support bases to home waters (first Charleston, SC, then Kings Bay, Georgia)

Deployments today-
Just two remaining tenders today cover vast areas. USS Frank cable homeported in Guam is tender to Submarine Squadron 15 - also homeported in Guam. Cable makes "WESTPAC" cruises occasionally - with port calls in the Phillipeans, Chin Hae and other ports of the former "Asiatic Station". Emory S. Land is homeported at La Madalenna, Italy - where she tends units units of the sixth fleet (including many surface ships). Recently - some of Land's crew completed a project of fabricating ballistic shields which were then installed on HumVees to upgrade their armour. As usual - no job is too unusual for a submarine tender.

With budgets severely constrained, the Navy has had to make some difficult – (and in some quarters – controversial) decisions. First –  the FBMs and overseas sites -- several factors: 1) the large reduction in the number of FBMs.
2) the speed and range of the newest classes of FBMs.
3) the difficulty in servicing the newest classes of FBM from a tender – as their physical size has become as large as the tenders themselves – making it impossible for the tender’s cranes to reach everywhere needed without “repositioning” the boat several times.
4) the political “friction” brewing over both Holy Loch and even more stridently – Rota.
The Navy made the decision to close all three overseas sites – and concentrate the FBM service to one west coast base (Bremmerton) and one east coast base (Kings Bay).

 The Navy soon realized that when it closed it’s FBM support at Guam – and with the Ship Repair Facility closed in a recent BRAC – there was no support for submarines in the Western Pacific – a huge distance from Pearl Harbor. It was decided to both return a tender to Guam- and formally deploy a submarine squadron from there. FRANK CABLE has taken up station at the old Polaris Point Site – the third time that tending has been established there (first time was WWII; second time was by PROTEUS in 1964). CABLE occasionally makes a WESTPAC cruise visiting many of the old Asiatic Station ports as were visited  by tenders nearly 100 years ago.

 In the Mediteranian – USS EMORY S. LAND is deployed at LaMadalenna, Italy – providing support to all kinds of ships – surface and submarine – as she is the only United States tender of any kind in the region.  In fact AS 39 and AS 40 are the ONLY tenders – of any kind – left in commission in the United States Navy.  

The Deployments - Details:

22 pages cover these deployments in more detail and with illustrations, etc. They are:

 1 The Early Years - The East Coast  2 The Early Years - The West Coast
 3 The Early Years - Asiatic Station  4 The Early Years - The Panama Canal Zone
 5 Norfolk, Va.  6 World War I
 7 Portmouth, NH  8 New London, CT
 9 San Pedro (Los Angeles), CA 10 Pearl Harbor, HI
11 San Diego, CA 12 Mare Island, CA
13 World War II 14 Agana, Guam
15 Key West, FL 16 Charleston, SC
17 Holy Loch, Scottland 18 Rota, Spain
19 LaMaddalena, Italy 20 Kings Bay, GA
21 1980s & 1990s 22 Escort and Other Duties

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