Created: 6 Nov 2014

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US Submarine R-14

This article is taken from the September 18th 1939 edition of Life Magazine
kindly sent to me by Richard Manning, USA.


The next War,” said Marshal Foch after the War of 1914-18, “will begin Where the last one ended."

On Sept. 3, first day of the War, the British merchant liner Athenia was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean off the Irish coast, torpedoed, said the British Admiralty, by a German submarine. In the first week of the war, U-boats had reportedly sunk eight British merchant ships. The U-boats were taking up where they had left off in 1918.

It would be high military folly for the Germans not to exploit their submarines to raid commerce. The plain and unforgetable fact is that submarine warfare, by the Allies’ own'admission,came close to winning the last war for the Germans. The submarines which the Germans use for commerce raiding are mostly coastal and sea-going boats. Roughly comparable to them are U. S. submarines of the R-class.

With the Navy’s co-operation, LIFE’s photographer went aboard the R 14 to take the first full picture story ever made of a U. S. submarine in operation. Since one submarine is much like all others, these pictures illustrate the workings of almost all undersea craft.

Smallest type of U. S. submarine in service, the R 11; is 186 ft.long, displaces 530 tons, 113 ft. shorter and 900 tons lighter than the sunken Squalus, a medium-sized submarine. The R 14 makes 10 knots on surface, 6 knots underwater. Called a “coastal” submarine as against larger craft of the “fleet” type, the R 14 would function in wartime to patrol U. S. Waters against raiders. Unlike Germany, the U. S. Navy never uses its submarines as commerce raiders but calls on them for battle duty. They make excellent, unobtrusive naval scouts. They can harry an enemy fleet, cramp its maneuvers, force it to change tactics. In actual battle, they lie in wait while the surface warships push or lure the enemy fleet into range of their torpedoes.

Here the R 14 is laid bare for inspection. Atop its fishlike hull is a deck superstructure from which rises the barrel-like conning tower, topped by the bridge and periscope. When a submarine dives, as shown in the photographs at the right, its diving planes fore and aft tip forward while water is let into the ballast tanks. In the bow of the submarine are the torpedo tubes. Before firing, the grooved sections swing in, the outer doors of the torpedo tubes open. Then a jolt of compressed air starts the torpedo on its deadly track.
The submarine is a sturdy but complicated mechanism which is highly vulnerable to attack unless operated with deftness and precision. Its crew must be trained incessantly to perfect each detail of maneuver. An important maneuver is “battle surface,” Here the submarine is rushed to the surface in order to bring its deckarmaments into action against a plane or small surface craft which may drop destructive depth bombs. As soon as the conning tower has broken surface a sailor clambers up to the bridge. A machine gun is passed up to him. While he mounts and aims it, other men rush on deck, unlash the 3-in. gun and the gun crews are ready to begin firing.

A submarine is a very crowded vessel with no waste space. Aboard the R 11; a man cannot take two steps standing fully erect. He soon learns to duck valves, pipes, gadgets instinctively. Because life is so cramped, a submarine’s crew cannot stay long at sea. l\/Iodern underwater craft are capable of making voyages lasting as long as two months. But the energy and morale of the crew run low before the submarine’s capacity gives out. Able to get only little fresh air and exercise, the crew tends to lose the fine alertness necessary for top underwater efficiency.
Submarines usually restrict their cruises, send their men ashore as frequently as possible.

Despite this, the Submarine Service is a much sought after branch of the Navy. Navy men strive eagerly to enter the submarine training school. This is not only because submarine pay is higher and food better than in other branches of the Navy. Submarine duty requires a higher type of sailor with intensive training. The work is more interesting, the individual responsibility greater. Underwater service is not especially dangerous. Casualty rate on submarines is no higher than that on surface warships.
A submarine is built for one main purpose: to fire torpedoes. The other armament on underwater boats, deck guns, bombs, machine guns are used to attack Weaker ships and conserve expensive torpedoes. The R J4 carries eight torpedoes, has four torpedo tubes. Big submarines can carry 20 torpedoes, sometimes have ten tubes. One good hit with a torpedo can seriously wound the biggest dreadnaught.

The Navy calls torpedoes “fish.” They differ from other projectiles in being self-propelled. An initial impulse of compressed air shoots the torpedo from the tube but once out of the tube it is moved along by two propellers in its tail. A miniature steam turbine inside the “fish” turns the propellers. Torpedoes can travel as fast as 45 knots. During the last War, the whole submarine had to be aimed at the target in order to direct the torpedo. Today gyroscopic controls inside the “fish” make it possible to curve its path. A torpedo travels as deep as 50 ft. below the surface of the water.

Diesel engines run the submarine on the surface, are also used to charge the storage batteries which propel the boat under water. The R14 has two 6 cylinder diesels each of 440 HP each. Left: The Captain goes up from control troom to conning tower and then outside onto the bridge to direct battle surface firing.
The crew sleeps in the torpedo room, in bunks which hang out from overhead alongside the torpedo racks. There are 18 bunks here, 9 more aft. The crew numbers 30 men. The crews favourite pastime when off duty is sleeping and the men get very adept at falling asleep anywhere on the boat. They stand watches of 4 hours on, followed by eight off, drinking incessant coffee to ward off drowsiness induced by heavy, moist air and cramped quarters whilst under water. Smoking is often permitted, even when under water.

Above left: Into the torpedo hatch goes the 'fish' which is 21 inches in diameter, weighing 2000 lbs. This 'fish' was water instead of explosive in its nose. Torpedoes cost about $8000 each. Hence the Navy loads them with water for target practice, retrieving them after they have been fired.

Above right: Down into the torpedo room the greased 'fish' is eased on skids, then carried by chains to itsp lace in the rack. Loading torpedoes is not only hard, and ticklish, work, it also stratches and dirties the torpedo room, making necessary a lot of repainting and polishing.
Above: The torpedo room of the R14 is about 30 ft. long, 10 ft. wide. Snugly stowed in their racks along the sides are four torpedoes. Four more are kept in the torpedo tubes, whose round doors are shown in center above. The gauges on each door indicate outside water pressure. The four big wheels open and shut the tubes’ outer doors. Torpedoes are fired by the captain from the control room. He releases a charge of compressed air into the tube, ejecting the torpedo. As it slides out, a catch in the tube trips a trigger on the torpedo, starting the torpedo’s turbine and propellers. The ladder in center above leads up to the forward hatch and the deck. The round ball is a float sent up on the end of a line to guide men to the surface when they make a “lung” escape. Dials overhead indicate depth. This is the room where the crew has its bunks.
History (copied from )

R-14 (SS-91) was an R-class coastal and harbor defense submarine of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down by the Fore River Shipbuilding Company, in Quincy, Massachusetts on 6 November 1918. She was launched on 10 October 1919 sponsored by Ms. Florence L. Gardner and commissioned on 24 December 1919, with Lieutenant Vincent A. Clarke, Jr., in command.

After shakedown off the New England coast, R-14 moved to New London, Connecticut, where she prepared for transfer to the Pacific Fleet. In May, she headed south. Given hull classification symbol "SS-91" in July, she transited the Panama Canal in the same month and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 6 September. There, for the next nine years, she assisted in the development of submarine and anti-submarine warfare tactics, and participated in search and rescue operations.
Above left: Officers eat in the cramped officers quarters which, like all the rest of the submarine, bristle with valves, vents, gadgets and pipes. This photo was taken during a dive. The Filipino steward, who also mans a station, is turning a valve to vent air from the ballast tanks.

Above right: The Captain sleeps in the officers quarters, sharing one of the two bunks with another officer. Always ready for uty, the Captain has a telephone, depth gauge and compass at his bedside.
Under acting command of Lieutenant Alexander Dean Douglas – ran out of usable fuel and lost radio communications in May 1921 while on a surface search mission for the seagoing tug Conestoga about 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) southeast of the island of Hawaii. Since the submarine's electric motors did not have enough battery power to propel her to Hawaii, the ship's engineering officer Roy Trent Gallemore came up with a novel solution to their problem. Lieutenant Gallemore decided they could try to sail the boat to the port of Hilo, Hawaii. He therefore ordered a foresail made of eight hammocks hung from a top boom made of pipe bunk frames lashed firmly together, all tied to the vertical kingpost of the torpedo loading crane forward of the submarine's superstructure. Seeing that this gave R-14 a speed of about 1 kn (1.2 mph; 1.9 km/h), as well as rudder control, he ordered a mainsail made of six blankets, hung from the sturdy radio mast (top sail in photo). This added .5 kn (0.58 mph; 0.93 km/h) to the speed. He then ordered a mizzen made of eight blankets hung from another top boom made of bunk frames, all tied to the vertically placed boom of the torpedo loading crane. This sail added another .5 kn (0.58 mph; 0.93 km/h). Around 12:30 pm on 12 May, Gallemore was able to begin charging the boat's batteries. After 64 hours under sail at slightly varying speeds, R-14 entered Hilo Harbor under battery propulsion on the morning of 15 May 1921. Douglas received a letter of commendation for the crew's innovative actions from his Submarine Division Commander, CDR Chester W. Nimitz, USN.

On 12 December 1930, R-14 cleared Pearl Harbor for the last time and headed back to the Atlantic. Proceeding via San Diego, and the Panama Canal, she returned to New London on 9 February 1931, and through the end of the decade conducted training exercises for the Submarine School. In the spring of 1941, she moved down the coast to Key West, Florida, her homeport as of 1 June. In the fall, she returned to New London for overhaul and on 22 November resumed operations out of Key West. Into April 1945, she conducted training exercises for the Sound School and patrolled the Yucatan Channel and the Florida Straits. On 25 April, she headed north and in early May arrived at Philadelphia.

R-14 was decommissioned on 7 May, struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 19 May, and sold on 28 September to Rossoff Brothers of New York City. She was later resold to the Northern Metals Company of Philadelphia, and scrapped in 1946.





It is believed that asbestos in US warships has contributed to many cases of cancer over the years, particularly in WW2 veterans.

I have been asked to provide these links for anybody who feels that they are in need of information or advice.

mesothelioma  - another useful site (American) is here:  Mesothelioma & Asbestos Cancer Resource  

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