The keel of USS S-32 (SS-137) was laid down on 12 April 1918 by the Union Iron Works Division of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation…a subcontractor of the Electric Boat Company of New York City, New York…at San Francisco, California. The submarine was christened by Miss Margaret Tynan and launched on 11 January 1919. The S-boat was commissioned on 15 June 1922 with Lieutenant Edward E. Hazlett, Junior, 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 Electro Dynamic Company at Bayonne, New Jersey…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.
Soon after commissioning, USS S-32 (SS-137), assigned to Submarine Division (SubDiv) 17, and homeported at San Pedro, California, was ordered to the United States Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut. The submarine was decommissioned, there, on 25 September 1922, and, after engineering alterations by the prime contractor, the Electric Boat Company, and the engineering subcontractor, the New London Ship and Engine Company, she was recommissioned on 21 February 1923. Temporary duty with SubDiv 11 then took her south to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal Zone for winter exercises with the Fleet, after which the submarine rejoined the S-boats of her division, now designated SubDiv 16, and returned to San Pedro, California.
During the summer of 1923, USS S-32 participated in cold weather exercises in the Aleutians. In the fall, she resumed local operations off southern California, and, that winter, she returned to the Panama Canal Zone. During April of 1924, the S-boat moved back to San Pedro, from where she operated into 1925. Early that year, however, her division was transferred to the United States Asiatic Fleet, and its submarines shifted to the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, California, to prepare for the trans-Pacific Ocean crossing.
On 15 April 1925, USS S-32 departed San Francisco for the Philippine Islands. The submarine arrived at Cavite in mid-summer, and, through the winter of 1926, conducted local exercises in the Luzon areas. That spring, the S-boat deployed to the China coast, conducting exercises both en route to and from her summer base, the former German base at Tsingtao. Overhaul followed her September return to the Philippines…and completed her annual employment schedule, which the submarine maintained for the next six years.
In 1932, SubDiv 16 was ordered back to the eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. USS S-32 departed Manila Bay on 2 May, and, at the end of the month, arrived at Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii…her homeport for the next five years.
During June of 1937, USS S-32 transited to the east coast of the United States. In August, she reported for inactivation at the Philadelphia Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
On 7 December 1937, USS S-32 was decommissioned; then berthed in the Back Channel of the Philadelphia Navy Yard…in the reserve basin at League Island.
Within two years, however, World War II was raging in Europe. Hostilities soon extended across the Atlantic; and, during the summer of 1940, USS S-32 commenced activation activities.
Recommissioned on 18 September 1940, and assigned to SubDiv 52, USS S-32 conducted trials out of the U. S. Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut, through November, and, in December, proceeded to the Panama Canal Zone, from where she operated until April of 1941. The S-boat then returned to New London/Groton, but, toward the end of April, moved south again, to Bermuda. Through May, she patrolled and conducted training exercises out of the Saint George’s base acquired in the destroyers for bases agreement with Great Britain. In late June, she resumed exercises out of New London/Groton. During September, the submarine moved down to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for an overhaul.
On 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked targets in the Territory of Hawaii…thus plunging the United States into the Second World War as an active participant.
During December of 1941, USS S-32 completed her overhaul at Philadelphia and transited back to her Connecticut submarine base.
The year 1942 found USS S-32 in receipt of orders to report for duty in the Panama Canal Zone. The submarine arrived at the Submarine Base at Coco Solo in February. During the spring, the S-boat conducted two defensive patrols in the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal, and, in June, she proceeded to San Diego en route to the Aleutians.
In early July of 1942, USS S-32 arrived at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska; and, on the 7th, she departed that submarine base on her first offensive war patrol. She patrolled the fog-covered waters of Rat Island and Oglala passes into August; then shifted to an area north of Attu, returning to Dutch Harbor on 10 August 1942.
Twelve days later, USS S-32 departed on her fourth war patrol. Moving westward, she hunted in the Japanese traffic lanes between Kiska and Attu during the first week of the patrol. On the 28th, leaks developed in the After Trim Tank, but were compensated for by placing nine tons of water in the Forward Trim Tank. Although this meant that space was left to accommodate water for only one torpedo reload, depth control was regained, and, with fuel suction shifted forward, reload capability slowly improved. On 29 August, she was off Amchitka to check for enemy shipping in sheltered areas on that island’s north coast; then, on the 31st, she headed east to cover the Allied occupation of Adak. On 14 September, the S-boat returned to the junction of Rat Island and Oglala Passes, where she continued her patrol for another six days. On the 20th, she headed for Dutch Harbor.
Arriving on the 23rd, USS S-32 departed again on 8 October 1942. During a trim dive, a fuel discrepancy, caused by the presence of water in the line during fueling at Dutch Harbor, was discovered. On the 12th, the S-boat ran out of reserve fuel in Number Three Main Ballast Tank. The discrepancy was approximately 9,000 gallons, but USS S-32 continued west, into the Kurils.
On the 17th, USS S-32 arrived off Paramushiro, and, that evening, she took up station off the southeast coast of the island to patrol the entrances to Musashi Wan and Onekotan Strait. On the morning of the 18th, the submarine sighted two ships at anchor in Musashi Wan; and, after a periscope check disclosed no other ships in the area, she began working her way to an attack position west or southwest of the targets. Moving slowly, with short and infrequent periscope exposures, through the calm and poorly charted bay, she went up for a final check at 1023. While looking, she struck an uncharted sand bar. The S-boat, her torpedo tubes ready for firing, angled up ten degrees. Her depth gauge showed 32 feet. During the next few seconds, the submarine slid over the bar, apparently showing periscope shears, bow, and, possibly, the whole bridge structure; then, over the bar, she took a down angle at high speed. At 1025, she fired. Two torpedoes, set at six feet, were sent against each of the targets. On firing the fourth and final “tin fish,” she changed course and maneuvered at high speed toward the open sea. Two explosions were heard as she cleared the immediate area. At 1045, the S-boat came to periscope depth to observe the damage.
One of the targets was afire amidships and had settled somewhat; she was anchored in shallow water and might have been resting on the bottom. The second target was obscured by the first. USS S-32 went to 80 feet and proceeded out of the bay. At 1205 she resumed her patrol east out of Onekotan Strait. That evening, she turned toward the Aleutians; and, on 27 October 1942, arrived at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska.
From Dutch Harbor, USS S-32 returned to San Diego. Overhaul followed her 11 November 1942 arrival; and, from 21 to 25 December, she tested newly installed equipment: a fathometer, radar, and keel-mounted sound gear.
From 28 December 1942 to 26 January 1943, USS S-32 provided services to the West Coast Sound School; and, on 6 February, the S-boat headed north toward Dutch Harbor.
USS S-32 departed the submarine base at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, on her sixth war patrol on 25 February 1943. En route to her assigned station off Attu, the submarine encountered very rough seas, strong winds, rain, mist, and fog. On the 26th, rolling was measured as much as 65 degrees to starboard.
Progress west was slow; but, on 1 March, USS S-32 set a course toward Holtz Bay to check for enemy shipping. The next day, heavy mist and fog hindered her reconnaisance of Stellar Cove; and she turned to the coastal shipping lanes to intercept enemy traffic between Cape Wrangell and Holtz Bay. The entrances to the latter, to Chichagof Harbor, and to Sarana Bay, however, were her primary hunting grounds. On the night of 9 March 1943, off Holtz Bay, the S-boat attacked and damaged an enemy destroyer, then underwent a brief depth charging. Leaks caused by the depth charging were minimized, and USS S-32 continued her patrol.
Four nights later, on the 13th, seventeen miles north of Holtz Bay, she attacked an enemy submarine which was lying to on the surface with her engines smoking. At 2059, the S-boat fired two torpedoes at ten-second intervals at the enemy. At 2100, she went deep; and, as she passed 50 feet, one torpedo exploded. At 2120, USS S-32 came to periscope depth, but the fog had closed in. The target was no longer visible.
On the afternoon of the 15th, a second submarine was sighted. The weather, for the first time, was “perfect for a periscope approach.” At 1727, USS S-32 fired a three-torpedo spread; estimated range 2,500 yards; track angle favorable. About two and a half minutes later, a muffled explosion was heard in the torpedo room. No explosion was heard by the control party. The S-boat went to periscope depth. Smoke was pouring skyward from the enemy’s conning tower. A photograph was taken of the scene as the damaged target headed for the nearest beach. At 1736, however, the enemy disappeared from view. Sound reported that the enemy’s screws had stopped.
USS S-32 departed the Attu area early on the morning of the 17th. On the 20th, the submarine moored at Dutch Harbor; and, nine days later, she again sailed west. En route to Attu, cold weather caused icing on the superstructure, but the seas remained fairly calm and the sun was occasionally visible. On 3 April 1943, however, as she approached Attu, more normal Aleutian weather closed in. From then to 16 April, snow and rain storms were almost continuous; seas were rough; winds were strong; and periods of sunlight were limited. At 0157, on the 10th of April, while patrolling on a north-south line out of Holtz Bay, USS S-32 picked up a target on radar, some 7,000 yards away. Ten minutes later, a second smaller ship was detected ahead of the first target. Five minutes after the appearance of the second ship on the radar screen, the first ship was sighted, range about 2,000 yards. USS S-32 fired four torpedoes. Two very loud explosions were heard and were followed by distant rumblings. At 0219, at a range of just over 3,500 yards, all traces of the ships disappeared from the radar screen.
On 16 April 1943, USS S-32 set a course for Dutch Harbor. On the 20th of April, she arrived and commenced refit.
On 4 May 1943, USS S-32 again sailed west. En route to the Kurils, the submarine patrolled across possible Japanese reinforcement routes to Kiska and Attu, but almost zero visibility during the passage hindered hunting. On 12 May, the S-boat entered her assigned area off Paramushiro. The next day, she obtained her first fix, off Onekotan, and commenced patrolling across the approaches to Onekotan Strait and Musashi Wan. Visibility remained poor; seas were rough. Her radar, which had gone out of commission on 11 May, functioned improperly throughout her short time on station. On 15 May, the port main motor armature developed a zero resistance to ground. Repeated repair attempts failed, and the motor was secured. USS S-32 turned back toward Unalaska and moored at Dutch Harbor on 23 May 1943.
On the 27th of May 1943, USS S-32 departed the Aleutians for the last time; and, on 6 June, she arrived at San Diego, where she provided training services for the remainder of the Second World War …which officially ended on 2 September 1945 with the signing of the instruments of surrender by the Japanese on board battleship USS Missouri…which was anchored in Tokyo Bay, Japan, for that occasion.
Then designated for inactivation, USS S-32 (SS-137) arrived at San Francisco on 13 September 1945 and was decommissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, California, on 19 October 1945.
Submarine S-32 was struck from the Navy List on 1 November 1945, and her hulk was sold for scrapping to the Learner Company of Oakland, California, during May of 1946.
USS S-32 (SS-137) earned five battle stars for her services during the Second World War.