USS Argonaut (SM-1)

USS Argonaut underway.
United States
Name:USS Argonaut
Builder:Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine[1]
Laid down:1 May 1925[1]
Launched:10 November 1927[1]
Commissioned:2 April 1928[1]
Fate:Sunk by Japanese destroyers off Rabaul on 10 January 1943[2]
General characteristics
Class and type:V-4 (Argonaut)-class composite direct-drive diesel and diesel-electric submarine[2]
  • Surfaced: 2,710 long tons (2,750 t)[3] (standard); 3,046 long tons (3,095 t) (full load)[4]
  • Submerged: 4,161 long tons (4,228 t)[4]
Length:358 ft (109 m) (waterline),[5] 381 ft (116 m)[4] (overall)
Beam:33 ft 9.5 in (10.300 m)[4]
Draft:16 ft .25 in (4.8832 m)[4]
  • Surfaced: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h) (design);[4] 13.6 kn (15.7 mph; 25.2 km/h) (trials)[2]
  • Submerged: 8 kn (9.2 mph; 15 km/h) (design);[4] 7.43 kn (8.55 mph; 13.76 km/h) (trials)[4]
Range:8,000 nmi (9,200 mi; 15,000 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h);[4] 18,000 nmi (21,000 mi; 33,000 km) @ 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h) with fuel in main ballast tanks[4]
Endurance:10 hours @ 5 kn (5.8 mph; 9.3 km/h)[4]
Test depth:300 ft (91 m)[4]
Capacity:173,875 US gal (658,190 L) diesel fuel[9]
Notes:Two Battle stars

USS Argonaut (V-4/SF-7/SM-1/A-1/APS-1/SS-166 (never formally held this classification)) was a submarine of the United States Navy, the first boat to carry the name. Argonaut was laid down as V-4 on 1 May 1925 at Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched on 10 November 1927, sponsored by Mrs. Philip Mason Sears, the daughter of Rear Admiral William D. MacDougall, and commissioned on 2 April 1928, Lieutenant Commander W.M. Quigley in command. Although never officially designated as "SS-166", at some point she displayed this number on her conning tower.[11]


V-4 was the first of the second generation of V-boats commissioned in the late 1920s, which remain the largest non-nuclear submarines ever built by the United States. V-4 was the behemoth of its class. These submarines were exempt by special agreement from the armament and tonnage limitations of the Washington Treaty. Her configuration, and that of the following V-5 and V-6, resulted from an evolving strategic concept that increasingly emphasized the possibility of a naval war with Japan in the far western Pacific. This factor, and the implications of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, suggested the need for long-range submarine "cruisers", or "strategic scouts", as well as long-range minelayers, for which long endurance, not high speed, was most important. The design was possibly influenced by the German "U-cruisers" of the Type U-139 and Type U-151 U-boat classes, although V-4, V-5, and V-6 were all larger than these. V-4 and her near-sisters V-5 (Narwhal) and V-6 (Nautilus) were initially designed with larger and more powerful MAN-designed diesel engines than the Busch-Sulzer engines that propelled earlier V-boats, which were failures. The specially built engines failed to produce their design power, and some developed dangerous crankcase explosions. V-4 was ultimately completed with smaller MAN diesels of 1,400 hp (1,000 kW), compared with 2,350 hp (1,750 kW) for V-5 and V-6. The smaller diesels were required to allow sufficient space for mine storage.

The engine specifications as built were two BuEng-manufactured, MAN-designed direct-drive 6-cylinder 4-cycle main diesel engines, 1,400 hp (1,000 kW) each.[4][6] A BuEng MAN 6-cylinder 4-cycle auxiliary diesel engine of 450 hp (340 kW), driving a Ridgway[7] 300 kW (400 hp)[7] electrical generator,[4][6] was provided for charging batteries or for additional diesel-electric propulsion power.

A more successful propulsion improvement in V-4 was the replacement of earlier submarines' pairs of 60-cell batteries with a pair of 120-cell batteries, thus doubling the available voltage to the electric motors when submerged. This battery configuration would be standard until the GUPPY program following World War II. V-4 and her sisters were slow in diving and, when submerged, were unwieldy and slower than designed. They also presented an excellent target for surface ship sonar and had a large turning radius.

Designed primarily as a minelayer, and built at a cost of US$6,150,000,[10] V-4 was the first and only such specialized type ever built by the United States. She had four torpedo tubes forward and two minelaying tubes aft. At the time of construction, V-4 was the largest submarine ever built in the U.S., and was the largest in U.S. Navy service for 30 years.[10]

Her minelaying arrangements were "highly ingenious, but extremely complicated",[10] filling two aft compartments.[10] A compensating tube ran down the center of the two spaces, to make up for the lost weight as mines were laid, as well as to store eight additional mines.[10] The other mines were racked in three groups around this tube, two in the fore compartment, one aft,[10] with a hydraulically driven rotating cage between them.[10] Mines were moved by hydraulic worm shafts, the aft racks connecting directly to the launch tubes,[10] which had vertically sliding hydraulic doors[10] (rather than the usual hinged ones of torpedo tubes). Each launch tube was normally loaded with four mines,[10] and a water 'round mines (WRM) tube flooded to compensate as they were laid, then pumped into the compensating tube.[12] Eight mines could be laid in 10 minutes.[13]