SS-166 (SM-1; APS-1), U.S.S. Argonaut
Originally named V-4, Argonaut was commissioned in 1928. At the time, she was the largest submarine in the U.S. Navy, a distinction she retained until the advent of nuclear submarines in the 1950s. Designed as a minelayer, Argonaut was 385 feet long and displaced 2,710 tons (4,080 submerged), with 4-21" torpedo tubes, and two minelaying tubes aft. As originally configured, 60 mines were carried. She also carried a pair of 6"/53-calibre deck guns, one forward and one aft.
Argonaut was assigned to Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack, but was at sea near Midway on 7 December 1941. In company with U.S.S. Trout, Argonaut approached a suspected enemy force. Mindful of his boat's unsuitability as an attack submarine, Argonaut's captain, Lieutenant Commander Stephen Barchet, prudently elected to make a submerged sonar approach.
The "invasion force," which proved to be a pair of Japanese destroyers sent off on a hit and run mission to shell Midway, did not detect Argonaut—though it appeared at the time that they had—nor was the submarine able to set up an attack. While this was looked on as a missed opportunity, it was conceded that, in view of Argonaut's size, slow speed, lack of maneuverability, and relatively shallow test depth, Barchet acted correctly. (This was, of course, before anyone had become aware of the flaws in the Mark 14 torpedo, which at that time would have been far more likely to simply inform the enemy of Argonaut's presence, probably resulting in her loss, than do any damage to the enemy.)
Contrary to some published reports, Barchet was not relieved for "lack of aggression" at the end of Argonaut's first war patrol. His executive officer, William Post, was sent to a staff job at Pearl Harbor and Argonaut's dive officer, Richard O'Kane was temporarily moved up to XO. Barchet then took the boat back to Mare Island for a much-needed refit and modernization. At that point, having commanded Argonaut since 1939, he turned over the boat to Lieutenant Commander John Pierce and O'Kane left to join the pre-commissioning crew of U.S.S. Wahoo. Barchet went on to serve in a number of important posts both during and after the war.
Still designated as a mine-layer upon her return to Pearl Harbor, the decision was made to convert Argonaut into a transport submarine. Her mine handling gear was removed and her mine tubes were cut out and blanked off at the after bulkhead, with the remaining sections outside the pressure hull pierced to allow them to be free-flooding. The space formerly allocated for mines was now filled with bunks, heads, mess facilities, and washroom. About 120 Marines could be accommodated. She was redesignated APS-1 after this conversion.
Argonaut's conversion to a troop carrier was a concession to reality. It had already been recognized that giant submarines like Argonaut, and the similar "cruiser" submarines Nautilus and Narwhal, were impractical for normal operations. Their heavy gun armament, intended for commerce raiding, lacked the centralized fire control system it would have needed to be of any practical value against a warship. Transporting raiding parties and other special missions appeared to be the most practical use for these oversized boats. Also, in Argonaut's case, the development of mines that could be laid from ordinary torpedo tubes essentially ended the need for specialist mine-layer submarines.
In August 1942 Argonaut, under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Pierce, transported 121 members of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion to Makin Island, in the Gilberts chain. Nautilus, unlike Argonaut fitted with only temporary troop accomodations, carried another 90 Marines. Both submarines attacked shipping during the raid, then picked up the raiders after two days.
On 10 January 1943, Argonaut attacked a five-ship convoy, escorted by three destroyers. Pierce's torpedo damaged one of the escorts. The others, Isokaze and Maikaze, attacked at once with a heavy depth charging.
An Army Air Force bomber, returning from a raid with all bombs expended, reported seeing Argonaut's bow break surface after a depth charge attack. The Japanese destroyers opened fire with their guns, sinking Argonaut with the loss of all hands. She carried a crew of 105 at the time of her loss.
Argonaut Crew at Time of Loss
HISTORY FOR U.S.S. Argonaut|
|| First Captain:
||Mrs P. Mason Sears
||Stephen G. Barchet
||John R. Pierce
||John R. Pierce
U.S.S. Argonaut (SM-1 & SS-475): American Submarine War Patrol Report