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INVESTIGATION OF SINKING OF THE SUBMARINE “S-4"
FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 1928
UNITED STATES SENATE,
Washington, D. C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to the call of the chairman, at 3 o'clock p. m., in the room of the committee, in the Capitol, Senator Tasker L. Oddie presiding.
Present, Senators Oddie (chairman), Steiwer, and Gerry.
The subcommittee had under consideration S. Res. 205, which is here printed in full, as follows:
Resolved, That the Committee on Naval Affairs or a duly authorized subcommittee thereof is hereby authorized and directed to make a full and complete investigation of the sinking of the submarine S-4 in collision on December 17, 1927, with the United States Coast Guard destroyer Paulding off the Massachusetts coast, and the rescue and salvage operations carried on by the United States Navy subsequent thereto, and to report thereon to the Senate as soon as practicable, giving the results of its investigation and with such recommendations as it deems advisable. For the purposes of this resolution such committee or subcommittee is authorized to hold hearings, to sit and act at such times and places, to employ such experts and clerical, stenographic, and other assistance, to require by subpoena or otherwise the attendance of such witnesses and the production of such books, papers, and documents, to administer such oaths, and to take such testimony and make such expenditures as it deems advisable. The cost of such stenographic service to report such hearings shall not be in excess of 25 cents per hundred words. The expenses of such committee or subcommittee, which shall not be in excess of $10,000, shall be paid from the contingent fund of the Senate.
STATEMENT OF COMMANDER J. H. HOOVER, UNITED STATES
Senator ODDIE. The committee will come to order. I requested the Secretary of the Navy to detail an officer who is familiar with the record of the proceedings in the naval court of inquiry on the S-4 disaster, and Commander J. H. Hoover was immediately detailed to the committee. The idea is to start the hearings with a report on the accident, the conditions surrounding it, and an account of the proceedings of the naval court. Commander Hoover, will you make a statement?
Commander HOOVER. On the afternoon of December 17, 1927, the submarine S-4 was conducting standardization runs on a mile course near Provincetown, maintained by the Navy. These runs were for the purpose of obtaining a curve of revolutions and speed for use in tactical and general work. All ships of the Navy are required to have these data.
Previous to December 17, a sister vessel, the S-8, had conducted such trials for several days under the same authority as that under which the S-4 was then operating.
Senator STEIWER. How long previous?
Commander HOOVER. She finished just the day before; and then this boat started in.
At the time of the accident, at 3.37 p. m., it appears that the S-4 had just completed a run in' a southwesterly direction, and would normally have been turning or proceeding to turn around, and either come back into port or make another run in a northeasterly direction.
Just before the accident the Coast Guard destroyer Paulding was proceeding from sea towards Provincetown at a speed of 18 knots, skirting the shore of the cape within probably less than a mile's distance from shore, and had gotten to a point about 200 feet from where the accident took place when the testimony shows that the officer on watch saw two periscopes close under his port bow. There was, of course, considerable excitement on the bridge of the Paulding, and the testimony is somewhat conflicting as to just what took place within the few seconds remaining before the collision. However, it is fairly positive that upon sighting the periscope close under his port bow, the officer on watch gave the order "Hard right,” which maneuver would have supposedly carried him clear if the submarine had been where he stated it was and a little further away. However, at 18 knots the Paulding makes about 600 yards a minute, and the collision took place a few seconds later. He struck the S-4 just forward of the conning tower, at an angle of about 30° from the center line. In other words, the vessels were within 30° of being head on to each other.
The captain rushed out of the chart house upon hearing the order "Hard right,” and gave the order "Full speed astern,” and it is stated that the ship had not, of course, lost much headway before the crash came.
The S-4 went down by the bow and hung in the water close by the Paulding for 10 or 15 seconds, with her stern showing, and then disappeared.
Large quantities of bubbles and oil, etc., came to the surface. A boat was put over at once and a buoy dropped on the spot, radio messages were sent out which were received in Boston and by the Coast Guard headquarters within a very few minutes.
A boat was launched from the Coast Guard life-saving station close by, and these Coast Guard men stayed by the spot where the submarine had sunk all night, and in fact, until well along the next forenoon.
Senator ODDIE. What had the weather been up to this time?
Commander HOOVER. The weather was clear, but with a moderate breeze blowing and making some whitecaps.
Senator ODDIE. How would that affect the visibility of the periscopes?
Commander HOOVER. They should have been visible, because later, tests were carried out under the same conditions, and they were seen very readily.
Senator ODDIE. How high were those periscopes showing, according to the testimony?
Commander HOOVER. I do not believe the testimony is very clear, but probably three or four feet.
Senator STEIWER. How large are they in diameter?
Commander HOOVER. They are about 5 inches in diameter, and taper off to 272 inches at the top.
Senator STEIWER. How far apart were they along the deck of the ship?
Commander HOOVER. They are about 3 or 4 feet apart.
Senator ODDIE. The testimony showed one of the periscopes was jammed; that it was not up at full height. Was that the case?
Commander HOOVER. They were both in a housed, or partly housed, condition when the submarine was found; but it was thought that they were probably being housed by the personnel inside the submarine at the time of the accident or just afterwards.
Senator GERRY. What would be the reason for housing them?
Commander HOOVER. If, as one theory advanced, the submarine commander had changed his mind and decided to dive instead of come up, he would have pulled down his periscopes to avoid collision as the destroyer went over him.
Senator ODDIE. Is the evidence clear that he had started to dive?
Commander HOOVER. No; the evidence is not clear as to anything that the submarine did, because there are no witnesses.
Senator ODDIE. Nothing was found on board the submarine with regard to the diving planes?
Commander HOOVER. The diving planes—there are some forward and some aft-were in a rising position, which would normally tend to bring the submarine to the surface.
Senator GERRY. Would not that be conclusive evidence?
Senator GERRY. When the planes were in that position, would not that prove that the submarine was trying to come up?
Commander HOOVER. It is evident that the submarine was trying to come up, because she did come up. She came up just at the time of the collision, to where her deck was nearly out of water. That is plain for the fact that the bow of the Paulding was cut off sharp at a certain height, where the rest of the bow went over his deck; knowing the draft of the Paulding we can figure that very closely.
His bow was curled right around and shoved back just like this piece of paper as I tear it. A piece of the Paulding's stem was left in the hole made in the S-4.
Senator STEIWER. Is there anything known from your observation as to the speed of the submarine; or, if that is not known, what would be the speed generally used in making those turns?
Commander HOOVER. The best thought on this situation ascribes the submarine to have been moving at a speed of about 6 knots. This is deduced from the procedure that was followed with a similar vessel the day before by the same officer in charge of the trials, Lieutenant Commander Calloway who had been sent from the Navy Department to conduct the trials. Senator STEIWER. With the same crew?
Commander HOOVER. No. Each boat had its own crew; but this one officer conducted both tests. However, we have no way of knowing at what speed he was actually going at the time of the collision, because he had finished the run and may have had his motors stopped. Senator STEIWER. Was he proceeding under general orders as to the nature of the test?
Commander HOOVER. Yes. The orders were from the Navy Department and were specific.
Senator STEIWER. And were there special orders in addition that had been prescribed for these particular tests at this particular location?
Commander Hoover. The orders under which the S-4 was operating are included as an exhibit in the record of the court of inquiry,
Senator ODDIE. Who issued that order?
Senator ODDIE. May I suggest that we let Commander Hoover proceed with his story at this time and look it up later?
Senator GERRY. I think it should be inserted in the record. It will make the record very useful.
Senator STEIWER. I should say we could tell better later.
Commander HOOVER. It is Exhibit No. 9; and I think the exhibits are in that big box I sent you.
Senator ODDIE. It must be. I would suggest that you make a memorandum of the things that are wanted and then we can determine later whether they will go in the record or not.
Senator STEIWER. Do not let me interrupt; just go ahead with your story and we can get this later.
Commander HOOVER. As I said before, the Paulding sent out radio messages to the authorities which were received within a very few minutes. The Coast Guard headquarters sent for all their vessels in the vicinity, which vessels arrived within a few hours, or during the early part of the evening.
The commandant of the navy yard at Boston communicated by telephone with the Navy Department, the Portsmouth Navy Yard where the tender or mother ship of the S-4 was, and the New London submarine base where Admiral Brumby was then situated on the Camden; and within an hour I should say, things were in pretty good shape toward sending everything that we had in the Navy or could make use of, to the scene of the accident.
Senator ODDIE. I asked Admiral Hughes, Chief of Naval Operation, to make a chronological statement of the actions of the Navy Department showing just the time the various actions relating to this disaster were taken.
Commander HOOVER. I have that here.
Senator ODDIE. I think it would be proper to have that in the record at this place.
Commander HOOVER. All right. Does the stenographer, then, want to take this and copy it?
Senator ODDIE. Would you like to have him read it now? Senator STEIWER. It seems quite long. I would like to read it but I imagine it can be put in the record.
Senator GERRY. I would suggest that you put it in the record.
Senator STEIWER. I suggest that the stenographer copy it in the record and we can all read it later.
Senator ODDIE. Yes; I think it is better. That can be put in the record.
Senator GERRY. Is Commander Hoover going to refer to any special passages in it now?
Commander HOOVER. I could if I wanted to get the exact time for things, which I may want to show. I know a lot of them myself.
Senator ODDIE. I think it might be well to comment on the particular time that this happened. It was Saturday afternoon, was it not, when some of the men had gone away for the week end?
Commander HOOVER. Yes; I can tell you about that.
Senator ODDIE. If you will comment on it; I think that is very important in showing the promptness shown.
Commander HOOVER. The accident happened at a very unfortunate time in regard to the obtaining of personnel and ships, etc., because being Saturday afternoon it is a Navy custom that the men, as a rule, go on shore liberty; and, as we know, the navy yards usually stop work at half-past 4.
Admiral Brumby left New London within two hours' time. He, of course, had to send for the crew that was needed to run the Falcon, send for the various officers, and get up steam.
Senator ODDIE. State what ship the Falcon is.
Commander HOOVER. The Falcon is the submarine rescue vessel. Senator GERRY. How far is New London from that point on Cape Cod where the accident ocurred?
Commander HOOVER. I do not know exactly, but he left at 6 o'clock in the evening and got in the next morning about 7. He made about 12 knots. It was an all-night run at 12 knots-probably about 125 miles.
At the Portsmouth Navy Yard the Bushnell, submarine tender, was immediately manned by the commander of the submarine division, of which the S-4 was a unit, and the expert naval constructors and technical help of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, and proceeded at once to Provincetown, where she arrived at about 1.15 in the morning.
By this time the wind had come up considerably; it was blowing about force 6; and, although the Coast Guard boat was still there and had buoyed the bubbles, nothing could be done until daylight. In fact, the exact location of the wreck was not known because there was no line actually made fast to it at that time.
The Bushnell got in touch with the Paulding and the Coast Guard people on the beach to find out what had taken place, and just about what conditions would have to be met, and waited, knowing that the Falcon was en route with Admiral Brumby, to get in touch with him and make plans for rescue.
Admiral Brumby arrived on the Falcon about 7 o'clock in the morning, and an hour or two later, by means of dragging, the wreck, or what they thought was the wreck, was caught by a grapnel. Preparations had already been made and divers were sent down as soon as possible. The first diver reported over his telephone that he was on the submarine and that there were signs of life in the forward part of her.
Senator ODDIE. How deep was the submarine below the surface? Commander HOOVER. She was in 102 feet of water.
Senator STEIWER. What is the over-all length of the S-4? Commander HOOVER. Two hundred and thirty-one feet. Senator GERRY. And about 25 feet beam? Or would it be a little less?