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INVESTIGATION OF SINKING OF THE SUBMARINE "S-4"

THURSDAY, MAY 24, 1928

UNITED STATES SENATE,

SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE ON NAVAL AFFAIRS,

Washington, D. C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to the call of the chairman, at 10.30 o'clock a. m., in the room of the committee in the Capitol, Senator Tasker L. Óddie presiding.

Present: Senator Oddie (chairman).

Senator ODDIE. The meeting will come to order. Senator Gerry is engaged in a conference committee on the revenue bill and will not be able to be here until later. Senator Steiwer also is busy on official work.

The committee has decided that it will be advantageous to have the advice of the members of the Naval Consulting Board in conducting this investigation, and we appreciate the efforts that you gentlemen have made in coming before us. Will you give your full name and occupation and position on the board, Mr. Sprague; and then we will ask you to make your statement this afternoon when Senator Gerry can be here.

STATEMENT OF FRANK J. SPRAGUE, OF NEW YORK CITY

Mr. SPRAGUE. I am a member of the United States Naval Consulting Board, which was organized by Secretary Daniels, who was good enough to adopt certain suggestions which I made at the time.

This board is composed of about a score of men who were selected, two each as a rule, from various engineering societies of the country, and they therefore represent those societies, comprising a total membership of perhaps 60,000; not 60,000 individuals, but 60,000 memberships, some of which of course are duplicates.

I am an ex-naval officer, having graduated from Annapolis in 1878, just 50 years ago, and while at Annapolis two of my special studies were those relating to electricity and naval architecture.

I was a representative of the Navy at the Crystal Palace electric exhibition in 1882, and made the first report on modern electrical matters for the Navy.

I resigned in 1883, and since that time have been engaged in electrical development in pretty nearly all electrical fields; but I think it is unnecessary to go into any particulars with regard to these. I have had, however, a pretty wide experience in scientific development, and the development of apparatus for various purposes.

I have been the president of several of the technical societies, and for that reason, perhaps, was one of the members originally selected. While on the board, besides participating in the general discussions, I was the head of the committees on electricity and ship building, the duties of the board being more or less divided.

The Naval Consulting Board was brought into quite intimate contact with naval officers during the war. It unfortunately was not as constructive as many of us would have liked to have had it, and that was partly because of the urgent necessities of war and the conduct of a great organization carrying on war preparations and the conduct of war; but a number of individual members were given pretty wide latitude for experimental development. I was one of those who were fortunate enough to have a good deal of privilege in that respect. Mr. Edison was, and Mr. Sperry and some others.

My contact with naval officers during that period was a very agreeable and instructive one, partly because of my early naval training, and partly because of a recognition on their part that those of us who had gone into civil life and still retained a love for the Navy were willing to lend whatever aid they could in any form, which brought us a little closer to them than some others, perhaps.

I have taken occasion at different times to go out with various fleets. I spent a month with Captain Rodman when he was in command of the New York during battle maneuvers, on the way to and at Guantanamo, Cuba, some years ago, and made a report to the Navy Department of certain observations noted during that experience.

Later, at the time of the bombing of the German ships off the Delaware Capes, I was a guest of Admiral Hilary Jones, and had the opportunity of getting the reaction of himself and the other officers to the then very fast coming developments in aviation.

Later it was my privilege to go out on the Memphis on her first cruise, by way of the Panama Canal and to the Hawaiian Islands, as a guest of its captain, and in company with Admiral Rodman after his return from command of the battleships in the English Channel. I would not put myself forward in any way as an expert on submarine construction, or salvaging of submarines in case of disaster. I took, as every other man in the Navy, and as, perhaps, every other man, woman, and child that was of thinking age in the United States, intense interest in the circumstances surrounding the loss of the S-4, following the disaster to the S-51 some two years before, and disasters to other submarines both abroad and in this country. I followed, so far as the newspaper comments permitted, their story of what occurred and what was done, both at the time of the accident and afterwards.

I noted, of course, the flood of criticism-and quite natural criticism and the anxious suggestions which flooded the country, and I noted also some of the conclusions arrived at by the board of inquiry which investigated the conditions surrounding the sinking.

The Navy Department, of course, at once ordered, as it is required to do, a board of inquiry to ascertain the facts; and then, if I remember rightly, Congress took up very actively the question of an independent investigation, either directly under its own auspices the auspices of the Senate as against the suggestion of an independent investigation by a board to be appointed either by the Secretary of the Navy or by the President on the suggestion of the Secretary of the Navy.

I felt at the time, inasmuch as a board of inquiry was under way, that undue haste in the appointment of some independent body was not likely to be constructive, and I took the liberty of wiring Secretary Wilbur, and suggested that it might be well, simply as a pre

caution, and for such aid as a board might give him, to call on it, also stating that I would like to come to Washington; to which he replied that if I had any suggestions about the appointment of a board he would be very glad to hear them.

Later, in talking to him on the telephone, I said I had no suggestions as to appointments, but I did wish to make some suggestions as to procedure, and the thought I had in mind was that he and theythe Naval Consulting Board-get together a group of 18 or 20 men, and discuss the situation. I thought that by attrition of minds they might make some suggestions of a constructive character. Nothing came of this suggestion, and I did not see the Secretary. I found Ï was unable to get to Washington, so I contented myself with telegraphing him pretty fully. Since that time I have taken no constructive steps of any character, aside from the fact that day before yesterday I was communicated with by Secretary Robins of the Consulting Board and asked if I could come down here and appear before the Senate committee. I felt a little reluctant, because unless I had something really constructive to add, over and above that which has already been presented to the committee or to the Navy Department, I thought I could not add very much of value. However, he said that the committee wished to talk to some members of the Naval Consulting Board, if they could be here, and I said that I would be very glad to be here and answer any questions that I could; premising, however, as I said, that I am not an expert on naval construction, as no man can be who is not actively engaged in the work.

Senator ODDIE. Now that we have the preliminaries in the record, we will recess until 2.30. Senator Gerry would like to be with me when we consult you.

(Thereupon, at 11 o'clock a. m., the subcommittee took a recess until 2.30 o'clock p. m.)

AFTERNOON SESSION

The subcommittee reconvened, pursuant to the taking of the recess, at 2.30 o'clock p. m., Senator Tasker L. Oddie (chairman) presiding.

STATEMENT OF FRANK J. SPRAGUE, OF NEW YORK CITY— Resumed

Senator ODDIE. Mr. Sprague, we have a very limited time at our disposal for this work, and we would like to have you make a statement in as condensed form as possible, giving your views as to the various phases of the accident to the S-4, your opinion as to whether the Navy has used all the diligence possible, or whether it has been guilty of negligence in any way, and your opinion as to the various safety devices in use on submarines, or which might be used. is quite a large contract, but it gives you a very wide latitude. You understand our purpose, to get material in the record that will be helpful and constructive.

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Mr. SPRAGUE. I think that is a pretty large question you put up me, Senator.

Senator ODDIE. You may not feel like touching all the points I have suggested, but on any of those points that you would like to discuss we will be glad to hear from you.

Mr. SPRAGUE. I do not think that anyone, in my position at least, is warranted in any general statement as to whether the circumstances attending the sinking of the S-4 indicated lack of suitable precaution in the submarine itself, or failure in the matter of duty, either on the part of the crew or the methods of salvage which were undertaken by the Navy Department afterwards.

Perhaps I might address myself to just one point, very briefly, especially as that has been quite to the forefront in investigations already made in regard to the responsibilities for the collision, whether resting upon officers of the S-4, or upon the officers of the Paulding, or because of conditions under which these tests were being undertaken.

I can not very well speak for those who are gone, except from my experience with naval officers extending now over a good many years, and by hearsay from one of my sons, a young naval constructor who at that time was on duty at Quincy and afterwards talked with a number of the officers concerned in the rescue; and the conclusion that I have drawn, and in which I hope I am justified, is this, that so far as the officers of the S-4 are concerned they were not at fault. Likewise, so far as the officers who had charge of the salvaging, both the line officers and the volunteer men under them, officers, enlisted men, and warrant men, I can not but think that in most cases they did all that they knew how to do with what facilities were at their command.

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Back of that, whether or not there is dereliction, or was dereliction, in any bureau of the Navy Department, in view of recommendations founded upon the reports of previous submarine accidents or investigations made as regards submarine operations abroad, whether any dereliction was there I am not prepared to say. remember that the S-51-I think that was the number of the submarine—was sunk about two years ago in 130 feet of water, and was afterwards salvaged. I think an elaborate report was made with regard to those salyage operations, and sundry recommendations were made to the Navy Department, both as to provisions which should be incorporated in future submarine construction, and likewise which should attend the provision of salvage material and the conduct of salvage operations.

I have not noticed in the current press much reference to that report, but I think it would be rather interesting for your committee to see to what extent those recommendations were followed out, or what heed was given to them. I do not think that the S-4 was as fully equipped as it might have been with safety devices, but when I say that I realize the fact that a submarine is an exceedingly complicated piece of mechanism, operating under conditions that no other naval craft operates under. You can not add weight to a submarine, or any "gadget," if I may use that expression, without likewise increasing the weight of the submarine perhaps three times as much for every 100 pounds you add for such a device, and that is because of the flotation conditions under which the submarine operates. The submarine is designed as an engine of war, and to a certain extent even the safety of the personnel is subordinated to

that condition, just precisely as on a battleship there did not use to be, and I think there is not to-day, provision, even under peace conditions, to save its entire crew by its boats; while in time of war the boats are considered absolutely negligible, and in case of disaster the whole crew goes down with the ship.

It is my understanding that the S-4 was running a test over a predetermined course, one that had been used many times before, and I must assume that the Navy took the necessary precautions to let that fact be generally known, and that course must have been indicated. As to the facts, I do not know.

If so, I would assume, naturally, that any craft like a Coast Guard vessel would be familiar with those indications, and likewise familiar with the fact that the submarine was being tested on such a course, and that it would take every possible precaution to avoid collision with a rising submarine. That some mariner on a sailing ship, or some coastwise steamer, might possibly not know it, is quite conceivable; but it was not one of those craft that was involved.

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Now, when I think of the conditions under which it is possible an accident might occur, it might not necessarily be when the submarine was running her tests, but it might be when she was cruising anywhere, away from her particular base. Salvage apparatus might be readily provided, of course, to be at hand on her test course. could not be very well provided so as to be available at a point anywhere on the coast, certainly not without duplication of equipment, and the question has arisen in my mind, sometimes, whether salvage operations would not be better carried on, except in emergencies when nothing else can be done, by those who make it their business to salvage craft all the while, rather than by naval officers themselves, who are called upon to do it intermittently, and in connection with a vast number of other duties. The naval officer is looked upon as a sort of superman; supposed to be an expert in everything to an extent, I think, not duplicated by any other citizen of this country.

A short time ago I was glancing over the April number of the proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, and my attention was called to some professional notes, to which I take the liberty of referring, covering pages 321 to 326. It is a review, from the February Mechanical Engineering, of a number of proposed submarine safety and salvage devices. It seems to me to be a very fair statement covering perhaps a dozen proposals which have been made in this connection, condemning some and approving others. There were two to which, in my mind, I think particular attention may called. One is a provision for lifting a submarine provided you have given the apparatus for lifting it, and the other, to get air into a submarine from external sources in case it is on the bottom and can be reached by divers.

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When a submarine sinks, there are two problems immediately before those who are seeking to rescue the men, assuming that the rescue can not be done from within the submarine by any particular attachment.

The first is, is there life existent?

Second, how can the submarine be raised, provided time permits and the apparatus is available?

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