Deployments - The Early Years

The Panama Canal Zone

approaches and sea lanes

After the French efforts to build the Panama Canal failed - the United States bought the French equipment and interests in the canal - and made tremendous investments in the project - and was the largest single project undertaken by the United States to that time. This investment was made on the basis of potential economic and defense benefits for the country . Having a passage through Panama that reduced the transit time between Pacific and Alantic ports by as much as 20 days could make the United States more competitive in world trade; as well as providing a much faster response to any world event in which the United States wished to respond with Naval forces.

As the work on the canal neared completion - and the investment grew considerably - eventually to some 352 million dollars - an investment the United States needed to protect from any posible hostile action. At this time - Submarines were considered primarily a coastal defense force - not useful for much else - so like the forces sent to the Asiatic Station to "show the flag" - in 1913 five C Boats (Octopus, Stingray, Tarpon, Bonita, and Snapper) were deployed to Coco Solo - of course with tenders.
As we are all aware - DANFS contains error and omissions. With regard to this deployment by so many ships - DANFS is nearly silent - in fact is silent in several respects.

-from the DANFS entry for SNAPPER C-5:
"On that date [7 December 1913] C-5 and her sisters of the redesignated First Division, escorted by four surface ships, sailed for Cristobal, C.Z. Five days later the ships completed the 700 mile passage, at that time the longest cruise made by United States submarines under their own power."
In the DANFS entry for C-1 - the Deployment reads:
"[after 12 December 1913] She served in Panamanian waters in training, and later, on patrol during World War I, until 4 August 1919..."
C-2's entry isn't much better:
"In December she reported at Cristobal, C.Z., and began an operating schedule of torpedo practice, exploration of anchorages, and harbor defense duty at ports of the Canal Zone."
C-3's and C-4's entries are similar. Worse two of the ships known to be part of the four surface ships accompanying the C boats have no mention at all - we have to rely on other sources such as this one:

-from the Panama American, August 15, 1939:
"In December, 1913, the monitor Tallahassee, the oldsloop of War Severn in tow of the tug Potomac, and five submarines, the C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4 and C-5 stood into Limon Bay and tied up at the Cristobal piers. This force, under the command of Lt. W. L. Friedell, U.S.N., constituted the first naval defense of the yet unopened Panama Canal."
That also leaves a question: what was that fourth ship? We know Potomac wasn't yet a submarine tender (that didn't happen until a couple years later) and there is no mention of this "transit" in her DANFS entry at all; Tallahassee was indeed in service as a submarine tender - however her DANFS entry is also silent on this period - so no help there either. Severn's entry does at least acknowledge arriving "in the Zone" on December 12 - but no details - including how she got there (under tow from Potomac). An extensive serach of DANFS (and other sources) turns up only two ships as even being in the region - USS Ozark - though DANFS indicates she is on special duty around Mexico by early 1914; and USS Castine - though DANFS indicates she is around Norfolk. As noted - neither Potomac nor Tallahassee's DANFS's entries have any mention of accompanying First Division to the Canal Zone - so an ommision from either Ozark's nor Castine's entries are conclusive. What is noted in C-5's entry (but not Castine's) is that Castine was one of the ships that towed the C boats to Guantanamo Bay earlier in the year (May; the other ship was USS MARS which was decommissioned in July).

So until we can get the deck logs from one of the ships invloved (and hopefully they - as in modern log keeping list all of the ships "in company, anchorage, etc.") the identity of that fouth ship will remain a mystery.

1916 Map (with later revisions) of the coastal defenses of Cristobal and Coco Solo
CHARLESTON served as tender at Cristobal, C.Z., from 7 May 1916, until the outbreak of W.W. I in 1917.
For the next 5 years - submarines patrolled in and around the Canal Zone operating from the tenders Ozark, Severn, Tallahassee and Charleston - until the Submarine Base at Coco Solo became operational in 1918. Even with the base - Tenders played a significant continuing role in Canal Zone defense - as this photo from 1923 shows:
The tenders are (from left to right): Savannah (AS-8), Bushnell (AS-2), Beaver (AS-5) and Camden (AS-6). Submarines are mostly "R" type boats, among them R-23 (SS-100) and R-25 (SS-102), both in the nest alongside Savannah's port quarter. The larger submarine alongside Savannah's bow may be S-1 (SS-105), with her large seaplane hangar.

In addition to the Canal Zone proper - submarines patrolled the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico - operating from Tenders stationed at Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores (Bushnell and Tonopah), Bermuda and the Virgin Islands (Tallahassee, Alert, Hannibal and Tonopah) and Gauntanamo, Cuba (Rainbow).
Panorama Photo of Holland with Submarines of Submarine Division 19. In the center group are (from outboard): S-46 (SS-157); S-47 (SS-158); S-44 (SS-155); and an unidentifed boat. Outboard submarine in the group astern is S-45 (SS-156).
These early days wouldn't be the last the Canal Zone would see of the Tenders - W.W. II again brought the need to better protect the Canal - but this time the stronger threat seemed to come from the West - rather than East as it had in W.W. I.

As important to shipping as the Canal itself - access to the canal was made an equal priority - with defensive assets cruising around the sea lanes to and from the Canal. The Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cuba, even the Azores were regular hosts to tenders and their fleets of submarines.

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