Diving into history: general characteristics, operational triumphs, and the vessels of the F-Class Submarines

With F-1 and F-2 produced by Union Iron Works and F-3 and F-4 by The Moran Company, the F-class submarines, which were designed by Electric Boat in 1909, demonstrated a distributed production method. They played an important role in Pacific marine operations, with a top speed of 13.5 knots surfaced, but tragically, the F-4 was lost in 1915.

In 1909, Electric Boat collaborated on the design of a class of four submarines known as the F-class, which were intended for the US Navy. The F-1 and F-2 submarines were produced by Union Iron Works in San Francisco, while the F-3 and F-4 submarines were built by The Moran Company in Seattle, Washington. This deliberate dispersion of building sites demonstrated a decentralised approach to submarine production, maximising effectiveness and utilising local shipbuilding skills. 

General Characteristics:

Standing at 330 long tonnes when surfaced and 400 long tonnes when submerged, the US F-class submarine was distinguished by its small size and sturdy construction. Measuring 142 feet 9 inches long, 15 feet 5 inches wide, and 12 feet 2 inches deep, the submarine had a sleek and balanced design.

Operating through its two shafts, the F-class submarine was propelled by a combination of two NELSECO diesel engines producing 780 horsepower and two Electro Dynamic electric motors producing 620 horsepower. Its adaptability on land and underwater was further enhanced by including two 60-cell batteries in the propulsion system.

When the submarine surfaced, it reached a top speed of 13.5 knots, proving its quickness and manoeuvrability. When submerged, it could reach 11.5 knots. Its operational range was impressive; it could travel 2,300 nautical miles at 11 knots when surfaced and 100 nautical miles at 5 knots when submerged.

The F-class submarine could carry a crew of 22 people and had a test depth capacity of 200 feet. The submarine was armed with four 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes at the bow, each of which could hold four torpedoes. This setup gave the F-class submarine a strong offensive capability, which enhanced its performance in a range of naval missions.

Operational History:

Throughout their operational careers, the F-1, F-2, F-3, and F-4 American F-class submarines were only ever deployed to the Pacific Fleet. In San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, the San Pedro Submarine Base served as their principal operational base. As a result of their excellent location, they were able to contribute significantly to Pacific marine operations in the early 20th century.

On March 25, 1915, tragically, F-4’s career came to an abrupt end off the coast of Hawaii. A leak of battery acid caused the hull to corrode, ultimately leading to the submarine’s death. The difficulties and dangers of using outdated submarine technology were brought to light by this occurrence, which closed a dark chapter in the history of the F-class submarines.

The successes and difficulties encountered by early submarine technology are reflected in the service history of the US F-class submarines. During their active years, these vessels—which were largely headquartered in San Pedro and also briefly stationed in Hawaii—contributed to the changing marine environment in the Pacific.

Vessels in Class:

The early 20th-century American naval force included the F-1, F-2, F-3, and F-4 classes of submarines. F-1, initially designated Carp, was launched on September 6, 1911, having been put down on August 23, 1909, and renamed on November 17, 1911. F-1 was put into service on June 19, 1912, but sadly, it was sunk on December 17, 1917, off the coast of San Diego, when it collided with F-3.

On November 17, 1911, F-2, originally known as Barracuda, underwent a name change as well. It was demolished on August 23, 1909, and put into service on March 19, 1912, with a commission date of June 25, 1912. F-2 was reclassified as SS-21 on July 17, 1920, and it was used until it was decommissioned on March 16, 1922, when it was sold.

F-3, named Pickerel at first, had a comparable path. Having been laid down on August 17, 1909, it was launched on January 6, 1912, and put into service on August 5, 1912. On July 17, 1920, F-3 was reclassified as SS-22. It was sold after being decommissioned on March 15, 1922, much like F-2.

F-4, originally known as Skate, met a different end. It was demolished on August 21, 1909, and it was put into service on January 6, 1912, with a commission date of May 3, 1913. Unfortunately, on March 25, 1915, the F-4 met its demise due to a battery acid leak off the coast of Hawaii. Every F-class submarine left a record of both triumphs as well as tragic events that helped shape the early stages of undersea warfare.