Submarine Warfare in WW1

USS Seal

USS Seal

USS Seal, the first U.S. submarine built by Simon Lake.  Mr. Lake was the only competitor of John Holland and is credited with the following design aspects of the modern submarine: escape trunk, conning tower, diving planes, control room, and the rotating, retractable periscope.  See: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-g/g1.htm

Built at Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.

  1. Length overall 161'
  2. Normal displacement: 400 Tons
  3. Submerged displacement: 546 Tons
  4. Designed depth 200'
  5. 6 18" Torpedo tubes
  6. Designed speed: surface 14, submerged 10
  7. Internal combustion engine, 1200 hp
  8. Fuel: 12,000 gallons

Robert Franklin Menefee, U.S. Navy, Decatur County, Indiana

“I did five-month service in Canada in Naval aviation and was shipped Charleston South Carolina, where I was placed in Division 8 Submarine Force, US Atlantic Fleet on the US Submarine 0-3.  We sailed from Charleston South Carolina to the Azores and from there to Savanna Georgia and from there to Cuba, were we stayed one-month.  We went from there north and I got released in New London, Connecticut, serving one year in the Navy.

Diagram of WW1 subs

Diagram of Austrian, Italian, American, German and French Submarines

Freedom’s Triumph, Courtesy of Indiana War Memorial Archives


Earl Dow Greer, Master Mechanic 2C, U.S. Navy, Vanderburg County, Indiana

Enlisted May 15, 1918 at Indianapolis, Indiana and on the following 21st, reported for duty at Great Lakes.  Entered as a Landsmen for radio, but owing to the wait, asked to be sent overseas.  Reached New York City on July 4 and the following September 1, arrived at New London, Connecticut submarine base along the East Coast.  “On September 26, I was ordered to go aboard the USSC 191, then sailing for Brest, France.  We arrived at Bermuda at the latter part of September and then sailed to Porto del Gotto, Azores.  After repairs, we sailed for Portugal and Lisbon.  We were ordered to go South and pick up 20 submarines of the German government, operating between Gibraltar in Genoa, Italy.  We arrived there just in time to finish the Gibraltar barrage.  Our division sunk three submarines.  Soon the armistice was signed and we sailed home, but didn't reach home until the latter part of May.


Marion Francis Howe, Seaman, 2nd Class Navy, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Entered service April 9,1917. Stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training School, Ill.  Assigned to the U. S. S. “ Michigan.” Transferred to an Oil Tanker and made one trip to England.  Transferred to the U. S. S. “President Lincoln,” and on his fourth trip the boat was sunk by a German submarine, May 30, 1918, two days out from France, was picked up by a destroyer and brought to New York.  After a 15-day furlough he was assigned to military police duty in New York in rounding up slackers.  Was later assigned to the transport “Corrello,” where he made trips between France and the United States.  Born at West Point, Ind., June 9, 1893, son of William and Phoebe Howe.  Home is Lafayette. Ind.


Frank Charles Hillman, AEF, Ripley County, Indiana

“Transport was attacked by submarines, second and third days out from Liverpool.  Both were sunk.  One transport sank because of damage after making port at Liverpool.

“One trip to the front with ammunition started out with twenty-one trucks.  Returned with three.  Five were damaged beyond repair.  This was at St. Mihiel in drive toward Metz.”


James Earl Buchanan, Private, Decatur County, Indiana

“On the night of October 13, 1918 at 11: PM, as we were entering the Irish Sea from the Atlantic, our ship was chased and torpedoed by a German submarine.  We got to land however, but our battleship was damaged. considerably.”


Forrest S. Rypolt, U.S. Army, Engineers, Decatur County, Indiana

“Was in submarine battle in Biscayne Bay in August 11, 1918.  One day before landing in Brest, France, official credit was given on destroying 4 German submarines on that day. The NS Ship Main, on which they were three Companies of the 44th Engineers, had several very narrow escapes, one torpedo from a submarine missing the Main about 40 feet.  This is said to be one, if not the most perfect submarine attack in war.”


Harold Hooker, Sergeant, Field Artillery, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Entered service in April, 1917, enlisted in Coast Artillery and sent to Jefferson Barracks, Mo.  Transferred to Camp Totten, N. Y., where on June 16, 1917, he was made Lance Corporal.  Transferred to the National Army and was sent to Camp Meade, Md., where he was given the rank of sergeant in Truck Co. No.3, 304th Ammunition Train. Was made a Sergeant of Ordnance on April 18, 1918, and was sent overseas in July, 1918.  Near the entrance of the Irish Sea, the troop ships were attacked by two submarines but without damage to the fleet.  One “sub” was destroyed by a depth bomb and the other escaped.  When the armistice was signed he was attending a school in France.  Born at Rochester, Ind., June 9, 1898, son of Brainard and Eva A. Hooker.  Graduate of West Lafayette high school.  Home is Dayton, Ind.

U-111 German U-boat

U-111 German U boat WW1

U-111 German U-Boat

One of four German U-Boats (Unterseeboat) turned over to the US arrives in New York, the U-111, showing one of two large guns on deck.  Germany had 10 diesel-powered submarines, 30 petrol-powered and 17 under construction at the start of WW1.  Great Britain had 55 and the French had 77.  The early submarines were fragile and could dive for only a few hours at a time but their torpedoes posed a serious threat.  The early WW1 subs had four torpedo tubes and carried mine laying equipment and required a crew of 20 to 40.  They could dive to a depth of 30-75 meters and travel at 18 knots at the surface and 8 knots when submerged.

National Archives Photo Courtesy of Indiana War Memorial Archives

German U-111 touring American waters after the war.

The U-111, a German Sub was launched September 5, 1917 as a UB coastal torpedo attack boat, under the command of Hans Beyersdorff. She completed three assignments, torpedoing the British steamer SS Boscastle near St. George's Channel on her first.  The Danish steamer SS Dronning Margrethe was brought down by deck guns on May 28, 1818 in the North Sea and a Norwegian sailing vessel, SS Rana transporting timber for English mines on June 22. Her third voyage was through heavy seas in the Irish Sea with no encounters of enemy vessels.

She was surrendered to the Allies after the Armistice and acquired by the US Navy to serve in a Victory Bond drive with five other U-boats under the condition they would be destroyed within one year.  She visited ports and received visitors along the coast of New England.  In 1921 she served as a target for gunnery and aerial bombardment tests and was sunk in deep water near Cape Charles, VA in July 1921. http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/u1/u-111.htm

The Germans had 140 U Boats with only 60 being at sea at any given time. The were credited with the destruction of more than 10,000,000 tons of Allied vessels between 1914 and 1918, sinking 192 boats and killing an estimated 5,400 people.  In 1915 the German U-boats sank 750,000 tons of British shipping, challenging the British sea supremacy.  The system of convoying, introduced in 1915, helped reduce the shipping losses.  Light steel nets were used on war ships to deflect incoming torpedoes but were found ineffective.  Ships began using depth charges, waterproof bombs configured to explode at a chosen depth.  The most effective U-boat measure utilized by the Allies was locating mine fields along busy sea routes.  For further information on German subs see: WIKIPEDIA, Battle of the Atlantic. For information on British submarines and the early Fessenden oscillator which allowed a ship to send Morse code in 1915, the gyro compass and torpedoes, see British Subs

Britain lost 54 submarines but had 137 in service with 78 more under construction when the war ended in 1918. The first Royal Navy submarine was developed by John P. Holland and launched in 1902. The French were considered the leaders in design and construction utilizing steam power.  The first US subs were attempted during the Civil War.  American inventor, David Bushnell began experiments on the first underwater ships.

German U-111 in New York after the war

Homer L. Ingram, K-1 Submarines, Clark County, Indiana

“Nothing could have been farther from his natural taste and proclivities then to enter upon the Naval career, but he entered the Academy without protest, and he made the best of his Naval training.  Lieutenant Homer L. Ingram was the second son of William T. and Anna L. Ingram and was graduated from the Jeffersonville High School, Culver Military Academy and the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  He displayed great aptitude for mechanical engineering, and after six months overseas training in submarine work at New London, he went overseas in late fall of 1917 attached to the K-1 submarine. 

He had a hard and strenuous time overseas.  In March 1918, he returned, much broken down in health, but after a rest of three months, he resumed his duties at Washington DC under rear Admiral William S. Benson, USN President of Emergency Fleet Corporation in which duty he was employed at the time of his death.  He was stricken with influenza which developed into double pneumonia and he died at the Naval Hospital, Washington DC September 27, 1919"


Indiana War Memorials