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USS Argonaut

Two submarines of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Argonaut, after a relative of the octopus -- sometimes called the paper nautilus -- which propels itself underwater by expelling a jet of water. The name Argonaut may also have been inspired by the submarine of that name built in 1897 by Simon Lake that was the first submarine to navigate extensively in the open sea. Of course, the name is ultimately derived from the band of heroes in Greek legend who sailed with Jason in the ship Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece.


The first USS Argonaut (SM-1, APS-1, SS-166) was laid down as V-4 on 1 May 1925, by the Portsmouth Navy Yard; 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.

V-4 was the first of the second generation of V-boats commissioned in the late 1920s. These submarines were exempt by special agreement from the armament and tonnage limitations of the Washington Treaties[?]. V-4 and her sister ships V-5 (later designated SS-167) and V-6 (later designated SS-168) were designed with larger and more powerful diesel engines than those which had propelled the earlier series of V-boats, which had proven to be failures. The specially-built engines failed to produce their design power and some developed dangerous crankshaft explosions. V-4 and her sister ships were slow in diving and, when submerged, were unwieldy and slower than designed. They also presented an excellent target to surface ship sonar and had a large turning radius.

V-4 was designed primarily as a minelayer. She was the first and only such experimental ship ever built. She had four torpedo tubes forward and two minelaying tubes aft. At the time of the construction, V-4 was the largest submarine ever built in the United States. Following commissioning, V-4 served with Submarine Division 12 based at Newport, Rhode Island.

In January and February 1929, V-4 underwent a series of trials off Provincetown, Massachusetts. On a trial dive during this period, she submerged to a depth of 318 feet. This mark was the greatest depth which and American submarine had reached up to that time. On 26 February 1929, V-4 was assigned to Division 20, Submarine Divisions, Battle Fleet, and arrived at San Diego, California, her new home port, on 23 March. From there, she participated in battle exercises and made cruises along the west coast.

V-4 was renamed Argonaut on 19 February 1931, and was redesignated SM-1 on 1 July of that year. On 30 June 1932, she arrived at Pearl Harbor, where she was assigned to Submarine Division 7. The vessel carried out minelaying operations, patrol duty, and other routine work. In October 1934 and again in May 1939, Argonaut took part in joint Army-Navy exercises in the Hawaiian operating area. Argonaut became the flagship of Submarine Squadron 4 in mid-1939. The submarine returned to the west coast in April 1941 to participate in fleet tactical exercises.

On 28 November 1941, Argonaut left Pearl Harbor and was on patrol duty near [Midway Island]] when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After sunset on 7 December, Argonaut surfaced and heard naval gunfire around Midway. It was assumed that the Japanese were landing a large invasion force. Argonaut then submerged to make a sonar approach to the "invasion force." While designed to be a minelayer and not an attack submarine, Argonaut made the first wartime approach on enemy naval forces.

The "invasion force" turned out to be two Japanese destroyers whose mission was shore bombardment on Midway. The ships may have detected Argonaut, and one passed close by the submarine. They completed the bombardment then retired before Argonaut could make a second approach.

One week later, Argonaut made contact with three or four Japanese destroyers. Her captain, Stephen Barchet, wisely decided not to attack. On 22 January 1942, she returned to Pearl Harbor and, after a brief stop there, proceeded to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for conversion to a troop transport submarine.

Argonaut returned to action in the South Pacific in August. Admiral Chester Nimitz assigned Argonaut and Nautilus (SS-168) to transport and land marine commandos on Makin[?] in the Gilbert Islands. This move was designed to relieve pressure on American forces that had just landed on Guadalcanal. On 8 August, the two submarines embarked troops of Companies A and B, 2d Raider Battalion, and got underway for Makin. Conditions during the transit were unpleasant, and most of the marines became seasick. The convoy arrived off Makin on 16 August; and, at 0330 the next day, the marines began landing. Their rubber rafts were swamped by the sea and most of the outboard motors drowned. The Japanese -- either forewarned or extraordinarily alert because of the activity on Guadalcanal -- gave the Americans a warm reception. Snipers were hidden in the trees, and the landing beaches were in front of the Japanese forces instead of behind them as planned. However, by midnight of 18 August, the Japanese garrison of about 85 men was wiped out; radio stations, fuel, and other supplies and installations were destroyed, and all but 30 of the troops had been recovered.

Argonaut arrived back in Pearl Harbor on 26 August. Her hull classification symbol was changed to APS-1 on 22 September, and her base of operations was transferred to Brisbane, Australia, later in the year. In December, the submarine departed Brisbane under the command of Lieutenant Commander J.R. Pierce to patrol in the hazardous area between New Britain and Bougainville, south of St. George's Channel[?]. On 10 January 1943, Argonaut spotted a convoy of five freighters and their escorts, Japanese destroyers Maikaze[?], Isokaze[?], and Hamakaze[?], returning to Rabaul from Lae. An Army aircraft, which was out of bombs, was by chance flying overhead and witnessed Argonaut's attack. A crewman on board the plane saw one destroyer hit by a torpedo, and the destroyers promptly counterattack. Argonauts bow suddenly broke the water at an unusual angle. It was apparent that a depth charge had severely damaged the submarine. The destroyers continued circling Argonaut and pumping shells into her. She slipped below the waves and was never heard from again. One hundred and five officers and men went down with the submarine. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 26 February 1943.

Japanese reports made available since the end of the war record a depth charge attack followed by artillery fire, at which time the "destroyed top of the sub floated."

On the basis of the report given by the Army flier who witnessed the attack in which Argonaut perished, the ship was credited with having damaged one Japanese destroyer on her last patrol.

Argonaut won two battle stars for her World War II service.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 2170 tons surfaced, 4080 tons submerged
  • Length: 381 feet
  • Beam: 33'10"
  • Draft: 15'4"
  • Propulsion:
    • diesel engines, 3175 h.p. surfaced
    • electric motors, 2400 h.p. submerged
  • Speed: 15 knots surfaced, 8 knots submerged
  • Test Depth: 300 feet
  • Armament: 2 6"/53, 4 bow torpedo tubes, 2 stern minelaying tubes, 60 mines
  • Complement: eight officers, 80 enlisted men


The second USS Argonaut (SS-475) was a Tench-class submarine[?]. Her keel was laid at Portsmouth Navy Yard on 28 June, [[1944]. She was launched 1 October 1944 sponsored by Mrs. Allan R. McCann and commissioned 15 January 1945, with Lieutenant Commander John S. Schmidt in command.

Argonaut held shakedown in the Portsmouth area and in Narragansett Bay[?] and returned briefly to Portsmouth on 27 March for post-shakedown availability. She then sailed on 14 April for Key West, Florida, where she conducted special tests for lighter-than-air craft and training operations with the Fleet Sound School. Argonaut departed the Florida coast on 13 May to transit the Panama Canal en route Hawaii. Reaching Pearl Harbor on 11 June, the submarine spent two weeks in repairs and training exercises before beginning her first war patrol on 28 June.

She made a fuel stop at Saipan on 10 July and then proceeded to the Formosa Strait[?] and the East China and Yellow Seas to search for enemy shipping. On 16 July, Argonaut spotted a downed aviator, picked him up, and later transferred him to Quillback (SS-424)[?]. Her only contact with Japanese vessels during the patrol came on 12 August, when Argonaut sank a 25-ton junk with fire from her 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns. Since she terminated her patrol at Guam on 21 August, six days after Japan capitulated, this was her only combat action during World War II.

Argonaut departed Guam on 1 September and proceeded, via Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal, to Tompkinsville, New York. She arrived in New York on 4 October but continued on to Kittery, Maine[?], for an overhaul. Early in 1946, Argonaut was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and was based at Panama. While en route to Panama, Argonaut collided with Honolulu (CL-48)[?] off the eastern coast between New York and Philadelphia during a heavy fog. Both ships sustained minor damage and Argonaut continued on to Panama. Later in 1946, Argonaut became a unit of SubRon2 based at New London, Connecticut.

In July 1952, the submarine underwent a major conversion at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, during which she received a snorkel system and a streamlined conning tower. These changes gave the submarine greater underwater endurance. Argonaut operated from New London until July 1955, when she was reassigned to SubRon6 at Norfolk, Virginia.

On 15 October 1962, Argonaut performed duties in conjunction with the naval quarantine of Cuba. She then had a routine overhaul at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The yard work was completed on 13 May 1963, and the submarine sailed to the New London area for refresher training. After further training in the Virginia Capes area, she got underway on 19 August for the Mediterranean and service with the Sixth Fleet. Her ports of call during the deployment included Gibraltar, Suda Bay, Crete[?]; Rhodes, Greece[?]; Izmir, Turkey[?]; Toulon[?] and Marseilles, France[?]; and San Remo[?] and Naples, Italy. The submarine returned to home port on 15 December.

Argonaut continued her routine of operations along the east coast with periodic deployments to the Mediterranean through 1 December 1965. On that day, she commenced overhaul at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Argonaut left the shipyard on 10 June 1966, for sea trials and, on 20 January headed for New London for refresher training. She then provided services to the submarine school at New London through the remainder of 1966.

The submarine moved to Norfolk early in 1967 but left the Virginia Capes area on 9 January, bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico. Argonaut took part in Operation "Springboard" through the rest of January and most of February before leaving the Caribbean on 23 February to return to Norfolk, arriving there five days later. During the next two months, Argonaut prepared for a North Atlantic and Mediterranean cruise. She sailed on 26 May and made her first port call at Trondheim, Norway[?]. The submarine also visited Cuxhaven, Germany[?]; Leith, Scotland[?]; Rota, Spain[?]; Naples, Italy; and Valletta, Malta, before returning to her home port on 20 September. She remained in the local operating area through the duration of the year.

The submarine traveled to New London on 6 February 1968, entered drydock there on 9 February, and remained in it through the 26th. Argonaut left the keelblocks on 27 February and returned to Norfolk. She made a patrol in the Jacksonville, Florida operating area in mid-March and put in at Port Everglades, Florida[?], on 22 March. Three days later the submarine got underway for her home port. Upon her arrival in Norfolk on 29 March, she assumed a schedule of local operations. This was interrupted by another cruise to Port Everglades in October. She returned that month to Norfolk and began preparations for deactivation. Argonaut was decommissioned on 2 December, and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register that same day. She was sold to Canada and commissioned 2 December 1968, in the Royal Canadian Navy[?] as Rainbow (SS-75)[?] and decommissioned 31 December 1974.

Argonaut won one battle star for her World War II service.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 1870 tons surfaced, 2416 tons submerged
  • Length: 311'8"
  • Beam: 27'4"
  • Draft: 16'5"
  • Speed: 20.25 knots surfaced, 8.75 knots submerged
  • Test Depth: 400 feet
  • Armament: one 5"/25 deck gun, six bow and four stern 21-inch torpedo tubes
  • Complement: six officers, 60 enlisted men



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