Hawaii and particularly Pearl Harbor have played a key role in the 20th Century by providing a home and base for U.S. submarines which continues to this day.
Earlier, in 1874, King Kalakaua had given the United States exclusive rights for a coaling station at Pearl Harbor and on November 9, 1887, Pearl Harbor was formally ceded to the United States. Queen Liliuokalani is alleged to have said, “This is a mistake.”
The first Navy ships of any kind to be assigned to Hawaii were four submarines, the F-1, F-2, F-3 and F-4. They arrived in 1914 with the mission of coastal defense. They were based at the foot of Richards Street at what was known as Flat Iron Pier. As a Class of submarines, they had an unfortunate history. On march 25, 1915, the F-4 foundered off Honolulu in 305 feet of water and all hands, 21 men, were lost — the greatest U.S. Navy disaster since the sinking of the MAINE in 1899.
The Navy was determined to bring F-4 to the surface and establish the cause of her loss. She was finally surfaced on August 29, 1915, five months after sinking, and was docked in Honolulu. Investigators found that battery acid from leaky cells had worked its way into the lead lined covering of the hull in the battery compartment and eaten away the hull, which collapsed when she dove. There was no opportunity to save the boat or any of her crew.
The three remaining F-Class boats were relieved in November, 1915, by four K-Class submarines and a tender, the ALERT. (Two years later the F-1 collided with the F-3 and sank off the California Coast.) These K-Class boats were the first naval vessels expected to be permanently assigned to Pearl Harbor as their home base. Their temporary base was established at Kuahua Island in Pearl Harbor — no longer an island. (From dredging and land fill, the island was connected to the shoreline early in 1942 and became an integral part of the land on which the Naval Supply Center was built.)
When the U.S. entered World War I, the decision was made to reassign the K-Class boats to the Atlantic. On October 31, 1917, they departed Pearl Harbor for their new home at Key West, Florida.
As we know, Germany had imposed no limitations on employment of her submarines in World War I, (or in World War ll). Submarines to them were far from the pure coastal defense vehicles we originally planned them to be. The German U-Boats cut the life line to Great Britain and her allies by sinking merchant ships without warning, to prevent supplies of all kinds getting to, particularly the British Isles. The submarine had profoundly altered the conduct of war at sea.
Our national morality at the time of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare campaign was such that we deplored this indiscriminate sinking of merchant ships without warning and without providing safety for the crews. President Wilson made our position known to the Kaiser on several occasions without success.
Finally, on February 4, 1917, Germany ordered and announced all-out attacks by U-Boats on merchant ships, i.e. unrestricted submarine warfare. As a result of this action, President Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany and three weeks later ordered the arming of our merchant ships. On February 26, 1917, at the peak of the U-Boat campaign, the President asked Congress to declare war on Germany.
In preparation for the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 following World War I, the Navy had circulated a position paper for President Wilson which proposed that “all submarines in the world should be destroyed and their possession by any power forbidden. They serve no useful purpose in peacetime. They are inferior to surface craft in time of war, except in their ability to treacherously attack merchant ships. Civilization demands that war be placed on a higher plain and confined to combatant ships. So long as the submarine exists it will be used in the stress of war to attack neutral trade.”
Great Britain came to Paris with a similar proposal. Neither the position of the United States nor that of the British was seriously considered by the other allies. Their proposals were actually lost in the prolonged hassle over what to do with captured German ships — destroy them or distribute them among the allies.
Hawaii moreover was without submarines until June 25, 1919, when, to quote the Honolulu Star Bulletin, ‘The first unit of the new naval defense of these islands, consisting of the mother ship, BEAVER, and six submarines of R-Type, will make Hawaii this afternoon and will be berthed near the drydock at Pearl Harbor. The six boats form the advance guard of boats of the type to come here for permanent duty.”
When the crew went ashore all they found were two finger piers that had been constructed at Quarry Point, the site of what was to become the permanent SubBase. Shortly after bedding down in tents, the enlisted forces of the boats began clearing away cactus, rocks and kiawi for temporary buildings. Living conditions were sparse to say the least. In August, 1919, a building constructed from World War I wooden huts removed from a U.S. base in Queenstown, Ireland, was reassembled as the first structure at the base.
On October 20, 1919, Navy Secretary Daniels, after a visit to Pearl Harbor in the battleship NEW YORK, recommended to the President and Congress that a first class naval base capable of taking care of the entire U.S. Aeet in time of war be developed immediately at Pearl Harbor. Among his recommendations was included an appropriation of over one million dollars for a complete submarine base.
From that time until the present, the Submarine Base has continued to expand and modernize to meet the demands of more new, more sophisticated and capable submarines. The Base was a vital element in support of the many boats which came to Pearl Harbor for support during World War II. How thankful we should be that in the 1920’s and particularly the depression years of the 1930’s responsible officials in Washington, including the Congress, had the foresight to build such a base. In the intervening years since World War II, this facility has kept pace with the advanced technology introduced into our modern submarine forces. I have in mind such items as nuclear power, the multitude of electronics and computer equipment, satellite communications transmitting and receiving equipment, stronger, heavier and more high-yield metals for hull construction which permit greater operating depths, quieter operations, special “smart” weapons like the Mark 48 wire-guided and target-seeking torpedoes, Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles configured for anti-ship or shore bombardment — just to name a few.
When President Harding came into office in 1921, he was determined to achieve a limitation in armaments. He called for an international conference, known as the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments, to be held in Washington, D.C., in 1921-1922. During this conference, abolishing the submarine was again one of the major problems. Great Britain once more proposed submarines be abolished. This time she was all alone. The French saw these crafts as a possible solution to their nation’s continuing quest for an inexpensive counter to Britain’s overwhelming power at sea. The Japanese and the Italians saw a strategic need for the submarine. Naval opinion in the United States had changed — we had no intention of giving up our submarines.
At the convening time of the conference, all participants, except Great Britain, had plans to strengthen their submarine forces. The conference agreements were thus limited to halting the armaments race in capital ships. Some restrictions, however, on submarine attacks on merchant ships were agreed to.
There is one more pertinent observation concerning the Washington Conference. Japan, who had seized the Micronesian Islands as part of her bounty for joining the aUies in the war, proposed that the United States “agree not to increase the fortification of naval bases at Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii.” I wonder what she had in mind as early as 1922. This was the first of at least three exact proposals made by the Japanese at Washington in 1922, at London again in 1930 and on December 7, 1941. Admiral Nomura made the same proposal to Secretary of State Hull about 1300 hours, Washington time, when attacks on all three places had already commenced or were about to.
It is interesting to recall a related protest to the United States when the Hawaiian Detachment of the U.S. Fleet was formed in early 1940. Several cruisers, destroyers and support ships were permanently assigned to Hawaii. On May 27, 1940, the Japanese Consul General in Hawaii had the gal] to object to the formation of this Detachment and to homeporting those ships in Hawaii.
From the end of World War I to the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a period of changing philosophy and further development of our undersea craft. The coastal defense mission was abandoned because of the number of boats required to defend our long mainland coastlines and those of our possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Still thinking of our national morality concerning the sinking of merchant ships, the U.S. built in the ten-year period, 1920-30, big long range submarines which mounted fairly large caliber guns, 4, 5 and 6-inchers, for commerce raiding – having always in mind our obligation from the Washington Conference to provide safety for crews of merchant ships. In addition, these boats carried a large number of torpedoes (36) to attack enemy battleships, cruisers and aircraft carriers. We built five of these big boats, up to 4,000 tons. I served my first four years of submarine duty in the NAUTILUS based at Pearl Harbor — the last of these large craft. In July, 1941, I was transferred to the DOPLHIN, also based at Pearl Harbor, as Executive Officer. The DOLPHIN was much smaller, about half the size of the NAUTILUS. It had been built in the 1932 era and was designed as the first stage in building smaller but more capable boats. From 1930 to 1935, new construction submarines were completed at a slightly increased rate of five per year following carefully calculated improvements.
Although the Navy is criticized in history for being caught unaware on that infamous Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, I can only tell you that in submarines we were already making defensive war patrols. For example, DOLPHIN departed Pearl Harbor in early July, 1941, under secret orders, not to be opened until we were out of sight of land. The orders directed us to go to Midway Island and conduct a submerged patrol to the south but in close proximity to the island and remain absolutely undetected. Another submarine, the NARWHAL, would be patrolling to the north. Neither boat was to have any contact with Midway. We got our first taste of being submerged all day every day for 30 days in a row as was so common after World War II began.
We returned to Pearl Harbor in early September for rest, recreation and replenishment On the patrol we neither saw nor heard — I’m speaking of sonar — anything of a suspicious nature, having in mind all of the time the proximity of the Micronesian atolls.
In early October, we sailed again on a similar mission to Wake Island– DOLPHIN to the south, NARWHAL to the north. On one particular day during the patrol, we were alerted to be especially careful not to be sighted. It seems that Admiral Nomura, a Japanese emissary, was enroute to Washington via PANAM to deliver the Japanese final response to negotiations which had been going on for some time between our two countries. We were close enough as his plane landed for refueling to see it with all curtains closed.
In late November, we were relieved at Wake by another pair of submarines and returned to Pearl Harbor arriving on Friday, December 5th. The DOLPHIN was scheduled for a much needed overhaul so we immediately began preparing to enter the Navy Yard. When the attack came that Sunday morning, we were of course involved immediately in trying to shoot down enemy airplanes. We fired at those which came close but still too far away for our .30 caliber machine guns, service rifles and .45 caliber pistols. When the attacks finally subsided, we began putting the boat back together again– undoing our Navy Yard preparations. It was recognized that we would soon be going on patrol again.
I should note at this point that within hours of the attack, President Roosevelt sent a message directing us to “conduct unrestricted submarine warfare against the Japanese.” Our national morality on this matter suddenly evaporated into thin air with this treacherous attack by the Japanese.
On Christmas eve, after dark, we departed for a patrol area in the Marshall Islands. We were to reconnoiter four atolls – Jaluit, Wotje, Arno and Kwajalein — and report back to headquarters what we observed including defenses and in particular any shipping present in the lagoons. We saw some ships at Jaluit but none underway at sea that we could attack.
As a result of our reports and those of three other submarines with the same mission as ours at other atolls, Admiral Nimitz sent Admiral Halsey and his aircraft carriers to attack those sites where shipping had been seen.
In late February, 1942, upon return from the patrol in the Marshall Islands, I was detached form the DOLPHIN and sent to New London, Connecticut, as Executive Officer of the new submarine AMBERJACK. What a thrill to move from the poor decrepit broken down DOLPHIN to a brand new boat, which had the new reliable high speed diesel engines, electric drive installation, air conditioning, electric distillers, plenty of battery water and fresh water for evel)body (a Godsend, no more 42 days without a bath), radars (more than a Godsend, a miracle), ice cream freezers (what a dream and space for the mix!). We had it made! This was the standard design Aeet Boat we had heard so much about! Moreover, we had seen the submarine mission change from being a scout for our battleships, cruisers, aircraft and troop transports and with a theoretical mission to attack only large enemy combatant ships to a mission calling for the sinking of any and all Japanese ships, combatants of all kinds, and merchant ships of any size or type (except hospital ships) wherever found. In addition, we stood ready on lifeguard stations to rescue any downed U.S. and allied aviators from air strikes against Japanese ships, bases and facilities all over the Western Pacific.
Normally, we operated as lone wolves in a given area where surface ships could not go; our presence usually becoming known when we attacked a ship or convoy. We did, however, in 1944, begin operating in “wolf packs” of 2 or 3 submarines, the senior skipper of the 3 being designated as the wolf pack Commander. The idea of wolf packs originated with the Germans, but by 1944 we were introducing new submarines into the force at a rate of 5 per month and could afford to concentrate our resources in the forward areas. As Nimitz moved into the Central Pacific (Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa) and MacArthur into the Philippines and Okinawa, our submarine operating areas, heretofore inaccessible to surface ships, became within reach of our aircraft and allied warships.
In many respects, the war against shipping for our submarines pretty well ended about January, 1945. Relatively few ships remained to carry oil, food and other needed cargo to Japan from the South Pacific. Ships which tried to move anywhere were in great jeopardy and few, if any, got through as the record shows.
It’s no wonder the Japanese said after the war that they thought the East and South China Seas’ shipping lanes were paved with American submarine periscopes.
As our forces moved closer and closer to Japan and ships to attack became scarce, submarines gladly took on the mission of patrolling on lifeguard stations near the scene of an air strike to recover any downed aviators. All in all we picked up 511 flyers. We had actually been doing lifeguard duty at any time the opportunity permitted from the very beginning of the war. One day, in July, 1944, my college roommate picked up 22 naval aviators who had been shot down during the strikes on the Japanese bastion at Truk. My boat recovered 12 Army aviators whose B-29 had been badly damaged in an air strike over Japan. The flyers knew where a lifeguard submarine was located and when in trouble tried to head for that spot to bail out.
While quoting some statistics, I should add that Japan lost over 10 million tons of shipping during the war, 51 percent sunk by submarines alone. She lost 201 combatant ships, 29 percent to submarine attacks. Immediately following the end of the war, there was of course a massive standdown of all military forces. Most of our newer submarines were put in mothballs. All of the older ones were scrapped. We began modernizing the newer ones which remained in the active force, installing snorkels, high capacity batteries and streamlined hulls. Some of these were based at Pearl Harbor from then until today.
In 1946, a national decision was made, however, to manufacture a nuclear power plant and install it in a new submarine. The name selected was USS NAUTILUS, since we were in effect nearly creating the mythical submarine of Jules Verne’s science fiction novel.
Admiral Bernard D. Clarey, USN(Ret.)