Hell Bound By Compass
This is the story of the sinking of S-5, with 37 souls aboard, and what happened after.
On September 1st, 1920, the brand new US Navy submarine S-5 which had just completed sea trials, was sailing from Boston Navy Yard to Baltimore on her first mission, a Navy recruitment tour that would have ended with a visit to Bermuda. The CO, Charles “Savvy” Cooke was running the boat through various trials, endurance, and high speed runs while surfaced, and was about to initiate a crash dive and submerged high speed run.
The Birth of S-5
S-5 before things got weird.
Internal layout of S-5 prior to the dive. The Tiller Room is usually unoccupied.
While surfaced, the S-5 powered the screws with it’s two diesel engines, and ran off electric motors powered by giant batteries while submerged. The diesel engines were kept running as long as possible before diving, and they required oxygen from the surface to work. An air induction system moved air through a duct in the ceiling connecting all the major compartments on the boat and this had a 16 inch opening on the top of the hull. The Main Induction Valve controlled this system and the vents were kept open until the last moment of a crash dive, only closed when the diesel engines were fully shut down. The responsibility for closing the valve was a critical one, and so belonged to the chief of the boat, who was the most experienced enlisted crew member.
Kingston Valves of sister ship S-4
Engine Room of S-4
Motor Room of S-4
In the case of S-5, this was Gunners Mate Percy Fox, and just as the dive began, he was momentarily distracted because the crewmen working the Kingston Valves were struggling to move them. The boat had developed a slight starboard list, which it had to be trimmed with lots of fiddly manipulation of the valves. The order “DIVE DIVE DIVE” was given at 1400hrs and S-5 began to submerge, when suddenly sea water began pouring into the boat through the air induction ducts.
Notice that there is water in the induction duct, where it emphatically should not be.
The situation only intensifies from here.
Battery Room of S-4, with crew bunks stowed. The battery is under the floor.
Crews Quarters of S-4. This compartment filled with deadly gas.
Tiller Room of S-4. There really is no room at all in this 'room' for anything but gears.
Note a tiny opening in the hull above the water line! All 37 members of the crew are confined to the Motor and Engine Rooms from now on.
What Alanthus came across.
The scene General Goethals encountered.
Chief Engineer Grace
The crew of S-5 aboard Alanthus after the rescue.
S-5 on the seafloor.
The piece of hull drilled from the tiller room was later recovered and is now displayed in the Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.