The keel of USS S-33 (SS-138) was laid down on 14 June 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 Mrs. Thomas M. Searles and launched on 5 December 1918. The S-boat was commissioned on 18 April 1922 with Lieutenant George P. Lamont 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.
Commissioned as crankshaft modifications were ordered for her class, USS S-33 (SS-138) proceeded from her homeport of San Pedro in the State of California, to the United States Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut…where the submarine was decommissioned, on 15 June 1922, and turned over to the prime contractor, the Electric Boat Company, for the alterations. The S-boat was recommissioned on 21 December 1922, and assigned, temporarily, to Submarine Division (SubDiv) 11 for winter maneuvers. In January 1923, she moved south to the Caribbean. During February, she participated in Fleet Problem I, which tested the defenses of the Panama Canal. Then, in late March, the submarine rejoined the boats of her own submarine division, SubDiv 16, and headed back to San Pedro. During January of 1924, the S-boat returned to the Panama Canal Zone and the Caribbean for further fleet problems and exercises…and then operated primarily off southern California into 1926. The previous year, 1925, SubDiv 16 had been transferred to the United States Asiatic Fleet; and, during November of 1926, the S-boat moved west to join her sister submarines at Cavite, near Manila in the Philippine Islands. On 22 December 1926, USS S-33 arrived at that Luzon Island submarine base, and, for the next five years, operated as a unit of the Asiatic Fleet. During the fall and winter months, local exercises and annual overhauls kept her in the Philippines. Each spring she deployed to the China coast for division and fleet exercises out of her summer base at Tsingtao.
During 1932, SubDiv 16 was transferred to Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii; and, in May, USS S-33 (SS-138) transited to the Hawaiian Islands. The submarine operated in Hawaiian waters for five years. Then, ordered inactivated, she departed Pearl Harbor for the east coast of the United States, on 14 June 1937. Two months later, the S-boat arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On 1 December 1937, USS S-33 was decommissioned, and, until 1940, was berthed in the Back Channel of the Philadelphia Navy Yard…in the Reserve Basin at League Island.
The summer of 1940 saw increased United States involvement in Second World War activities…which had been raging in Europe since September of 1939. USS S-33 received activation orders; and, on 16 October 1940, the submarine was recommissioned. The S-boat conducted trials and exercises out of the Philadelphia Navy Yard into the spring of 1941. Then, in April, she moved north to the United States Naval Submarine Base at New London/Groton, Connecticut…the homeport of her submarine division, SubDiv 52.
USS S-33 then conducted exercises and patrols off the southern New England coast, and out of Bermuda. Toward the end of 1941, however, her operational area was extended, and she moved up to the Newfoundland, Canada, coast to test S-boat capabilities under high latitude conditions. She returned to New London/Groton after the entry of the United States into the Second World War as an active participant…following the Japanese attack on the Territory of Hawaii on 7 December 1941.
At the end of December 1941, USS S-33 proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for an overhaul. From that Navy yard, she moved south to the Panama Canal Zone, and, before the end of May 1942, had conducted two defensive patrols in the western approaches to the Panama Canal. During June of 1942, the submarine proceeded on to San Diego, California, and, toward the end of the month, moved north to the Aleutians.
USS S-33 arrived at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, in early July. On 7 July 1942, she departed on her first offensive war patrol. For the first week, she patrolled in the Adak area, then shifted to the Near Islands. There, off Agattu, fog prevailed from the 15th to the 29th. On the morning of the 30th, visibility increased to about four miles for a few hours, but, then, diminished again. Six days later, the S-boat encountered her first clear day, but fog and mist soon returned. On 7 August, the submarine was ordered back to Dutch Harbor.
On her second Aleutian patrol, 24 August to 26 September of 1942, USS S-33 served as a protective scout during the occupation of Adak. Then, on 2 September, she shifted west to hunt Japanese targets off Kiska. She sighted three enemy ships, but Japanese antisubmarine measures, both surface and air, prevented her from attacking the first two targets…and fog saved the third. Poor visibility, rough seas, and slow speed hindered hunting during her fifth war patrol, conducted in the Kiska area from 15 October to 11 November of 1942. Her sixth war patrol, conducted from 23 November to 9 December of 1942 in the Attu area, yielded no enemy contacts.
On 11 December 1942, USS S-33 departed Dutch Harbor for San Diego …where she provided services to the West Coast Sound School into February of 1943. Then, the submarine underwent an overhaul, in which she received a fathometer, new radio, radar, keel-mounted sound equipment, and a new distilling unit for making fresh water.
On 18 April 1943, USS S-33 returned to Dutch Harbor, whence she conducted three more war patrols. Her seventh and eighth war patrols were conducted in the Kurils, off Shimushu and Paramushiro, from 25 April to 22 May of 1943, and from 4 June to 2 July of 1943. Contacts on both patrols were few, and she was able to attack, successfully, only two; both large fishing sampans, which she left burning on 18 June. She conducted her last war patrol, photographic reconnaissance of Buldir and Kiska Islands, from 14 July to 9 August; then got underway to return to California.
USS S-33 arrived at San Diego at the end of August of 1943, then underwent overhaul, and, then, commenced operations with the West Coast Sound School, which were continued until 13 August of 1945. Two days later, the Japanese ceased fighting in most combat areas of the Pacific theater of operations. USS S-33 was ordered to San Francisco, California, for inactivation.
On 2 September 1945, the Japanese signed the instruments of surrender on board battleship USS Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay, Japan, for that occasion, and, by so doing, officially ended the Second World War.
USS S-33 (SS-138) was decommissioned on 23 October 1945, and struck from the Navy List on 1 November 1945. During the following year, her hulk was sold for scrapping to the Salco Iron and Metal Company of San Francisco, California.
USS S-33 (SS-138) earned one battle star for her service during the Second World War.