The keel of USS S-23 (SS-128) was laid down on 18 January 1919 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation…a subcontractor of the Electric Boat Company of New York City, New York…at Quincy, Massachusetts. The submarine was christened by Miss Barbara Sears and launched on 27 October 1920. The S-boat was commissioned on 30 October 1923 with Lieutenant Joseph Y. Dreisonstok in command.
When commissioned, the S-1 Class coastal and harbor defense submarine was 219’3″ in length overall; had an extreme beam of 20’8″; had a normal surface displacement of 854 tons, and, when in that condition, had a mean draft of 15’11”. Submerged displacement was 1,062 tons. The submarine was of riveted construction. The designed compliment was four officers and thirty-four enlisted men. The boat could operate safely to depths of 200 feet. The submarine was armed with four 21-inch torpedo tubes … installed in the bow. Twelve torpedoes were carried. One 4-inch/50-caliber deck gun was installed.
The full load of diesel oil carried was 41,921 gallons, which fueled two 600 designed brake horsepower Model 8-EB-15NR diesel engines manufactured by the New London Ship and Engine Company at Groton, Connecticut…which could drive the boat…via a diesel direct drive propulsion system…at 14.5 knots on the surface. Power for submerged propulsion was provided by a main storage battery, divided into two sixty-cell batteries, manufactured by the Electric Storage Battery Company (EXIDE) at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…which powered two 750 designed brake horsepower main propulsion motors manufactured by the by the Ridgway Dynamo and Electric Company at Ridgway, Pennsylvania … which turned propeller shafts … which turned propellers … which could drive the submarine at 11 knots for a short period of time when operating beneath the surface of the sea. Slower submerged speeds resulted in greater endurances before the batteries needed to be recharged by the engines and generators.
Initially assigned to Submarine Division 11, Control Force, USS S-23 (SS-128) was based at the United States Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut, through the 1920s. During that time, the submarine operated off the New England coast of the United States from late spring until early winter; then moved south for winter and spring exercises. From 1925 on, her annual deployments included participation in fleet problems; and those maneuvers occasionally took her from the Caribbean into the Pacific. With the new decade, however, the S-boat was transferred to the Pacific; and, on 5 January 1931, she departed her Connecticut submarine base for the Panama Canal, California, and the Territory of Hawaii. En route, she participated in Fleet Problem XII and, on 25 April, she arrived at her new homeport, Pearl Harbor, whence she operated, with Submarine Division 7, for the next ten years. In June of 1941, Submarine Division 7 became Submarine Division 41; and, on 1 September, USS S-23 departed the Hawaiian Islands for California. An overhaul and operations off the West Coast of the United States took her into December…when the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on the Territory of Hawaii on 7 December 1941.
The crew of the World War I-design submarine then prepared for service in the Aleutians. Radiant-type heaters were purchased in San Diego, California, to augment the heat provided by the galley range.
Heavier and more waterproof clothing, including ski masks, were added to the regular issue provided to submarine crews. The boat, itself, was fitted out for wartime service, and, during January of 1942, USS S-23 moved north to Dutch Harbor in Unalaska.
On the afternoon of 7 February 1942, USS S-23 departed Dutch Harbor on her first war patrol. Within hours, she encountered the heavy seas and poor visibility, which characterized the Aleutians. Waves broke over the bridge, battering those on duty there; and sent water cascading down the conning tower hatch. On the 10th, USS S-23 stopped to jettison torn sections of the superstructure, a procedure she was to repeat on her subsequent patrols; and, on the 13th, the heavy seas caused broken bones to some men on the bridge. For another three days, the submarine patrolled the great circle route from Japan, then headed home, arriving at Dutch Harbor on the 17th. From there, she was ordered back to San Diego for overhaul and brief services to the ping jockeys at the sound school located there.
On her arrival, requests were made for improved electrical, heating, and communications gear and installation of a fathometer, radar, and keel-mounted sonar. The latter requests were to be repeated after each of her next three patrols, but became available only after her fourth patrol.
On 20 May 1942, USS S-23 again transited to the Aleutians. Proceeding, via Port Angeles, she arrived in Alaskan waters on the 29th and was directed to patrol to the west of Unalaska to hinder an anticipated Japanese attack. On 2 June, however, 20-foot waves broke over the bridge and seriously injured two men. The boat headed for Dutch Harbor to transfer the men for medical treatment. Arriving the same day, she was still in the harbor the following morning when Japanese carrier planes attacked the base.
After the first raid, USS S-23 cleared the harbor and, within hours, arrived in her assigned patrol area, where she remained until the 11th. The submarine was then ordered back to Dutch Harbor; replenished; and sent to patrol southeast of Attu, which the Japanese had occupied, along with Kiska, a few days earlier.
For the next 19 days, USS S-23 hunted for Japanese logistic- and war-ships en route to Attu and reconnoitered that island’s bays and harbors. Several attempts were made to close targets, but fog, slow speed, and poor maneuverability precluded attacks in all but one case.
On the 17th, the S-boat fired on a tanker, but did not score. On 2 July, the submarine headed back to Unalaska, and arrived at Dutch Harbor early on the morning of 4 July 1942.
During her third war patrol, 15 July to 18 August, USS S-23 again patrolled primarily in the Attu area. On 6 August, however, she was diverted closer to Kiska to support the bombardment of the island; and, on 9 August, the submarine returned to her patrol area, where her previous experiences in closing enemy targets were repeated.
Eight days after her return to Dutch Harbor, USS S-23 again headed west; and, on 28 August, she arrived in her assigned area to serve as a protective scout during the occupation of Adak. During most of her time on station, the weather was overcast, but it proved to be the most favorable she had experienced in eight months of Alaskan operations. On 16 September, she was recalled from patrol to meet her 20 September scheduled date of departure for San Diego for upkeep and sound school duty.
On 7 December 1942, USS S-23 returned to Unalaska; and, on the 17th, she got underway for her fifth war patrol. By the 22nd, the submarine was off western Attu; and, on the 23rd, she received orders to take up station off Paramushiro. On the 24th, the S-boat headed for the Kurils. Two days later, 200 miles from her destination, her stern plane operating gear outside the hull broke. Since submerging and depth control became difficult, she turned back for Dutch Harbor. Moving east, her mechanical difficulties increased; her stern planes damaged her propellers; her fouled rudder resulted in a damaged gear train. Nature added severe snow and ice storms after 3 January 1943. But, on the 6th, USS S-23 made it into Dutch Harbor.
Using equipment and parts from USS S-35 (SS-140), USS S-23 was repaired at Dutch Harbor and at Kodiak; and, on 28 January 1943, she departed her Unalaska base for another patrol in the Attu area. The submarine spent 21 days on station, two of which, 6 and 7 February were spent repairing the port main motor control panel. She scored on no enemy ships and returned to Dutch Harbor on 26 February.
Refitted, the submarine got underway for her last war patrol on 8 March 1943. Moving west, she arrived off the Kamchatka Peninsula on the 14th, and encountered floe ice 2 1/2 to 3 feet thick. Her progress down the coast in search of the Japanese fishing fleet slowed; and, initially limited to moving during daylight hours, she rounded Cape Kronotski on the afternoon of the 16th, and Cape Lopatka on the morning of the 19th. She then set a course back to the Aleutians, which would take her across Japanese Kuril-Aleutians supply lanes. On the 26th, the S-boat took up patrol duty in the Attu area; and, on the 31st, she turned her bow toward Dutch Harbor.
During April of 1943, USS S-23 returned to San Diego. During the summer, the S-boat underwent an extensive overhaul; and, in the fall, she began providing training services to the sound school, which she continued to do through the end of World War II hostilities…which officially occurred on 2 September 1945, when the Japanese signed the instruments of surrender on board battleship USS Missouri…which was anchored in Tokyo Bay, Japan, for that occasion.
On 11 September 1945, USS S-23 commenced a transit to San Francisco, California. There, the S-boat was decommissioned on 2 November 1945. Fourteen days later, the submarine’s name was struck from the Navy List. Subsequently, Submarine S-23 (SS-128) was sold for scrapping and was delivered to the purchaser, Salco Iron and Metal Company of San Francisco, California, on 15 November 1946.
USS S-23 (SS-128) was awarded one battle star for her service during World War II.
Sponsor: Miss Barbara Sears
First Captain: Lt Joseph Y. Dreisonstok
Stricken/Lost: Scrapped 1946