The USS S-42 (SS-153) launched on 30 April 1923. The S-boat was commissioned on 20 November 1924 with Lieutenant John H. Brown, Junior, in command.
The S-42 Class coastal submarine torpedo boat was 225 feet 3 inches in length overall; had an extreme beam of 20 feet 8 inches; had a normal surface displacement of 906 tons, and, when in that condition, had a mean draft of 16 feet. Submerged displacement was 1,126 tons. The hulls were riveted. The designed compliment was four officers and thirty-four enlisted men. The boat could operate safely to a depth 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 46,363 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.
Following shakedown off the New England coast, USS S-42 (SS-153) departed the United States Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut, in January of 1925 and moved south to Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone, whence the submarine operated, both in the Caribbean Sea and in the Pacific Ocean, until the spring of 1927. Then ordered to the Territory of Hawaii, the S-boat cleared the Gulf of Panama in May of 1927; was refitted in California; and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 22 July 1927. The following month, the submersible joined other fleet units in searching for missing Dole Flight competitors and, later in the year, returned to California. Overhaul followed; and, on 4 February 1928, she rejoined the Battle Force at San Diego, California, where she was based into 1930. In December of that year, USS S-42’s submarine division was transferred to Pearl Harbor. She then operated in Hawaiian waters and, during annual fleet problems, off the Panama Canal Zone and in the Caribbean Sea. From 1932 through 1935, however, the submarine torpedo boat rotated between those active duty operations with Submarine Division 11 and inactive periods with Reserve Submarine Division 14.
During March of 1936, USS S-42 was transferred back to the submarine base at Coco Solo, where she was homeported until ordered to Groton, Connecticut, during June of 1941. From the Connecticut submarine base, she shifted to the Philadelphia Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and, with other submarines of her division, now Submarine Division 53, she underwent modernization overhaul.
With more up-to-date equipment–which did not include air conditioning–and somewhat improved performance capabilities, she moved south to Bermuda in November of 1941 and conducted training and patrol operations there into December of 1941. Then, after 7 December 1941, following the Japanese attack on the Territory of Hawaii which plunged the United States into the Second World War as an active participant, USS S-42 proceeded back to the Panama Canal Zone.
During January of 1942, USS S-42 conducted security patrols in the Pacific Ocean approaches to the Panama Canal. The next month, she prepared to join allied forces in the southwest Pacific; and, in early March, she started out across the Pacific Ocean. On 15 April, the S-boat arrived in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Australia. There, Submarine Division 53 joined the S-boats of the Asiatic Fleet, forming Task Force 42. These World War I-designed submarines were to “fill the gap” to impede Japanese progress in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomons, until larger and better-equipped fleet-type submarines could be sent to the area.
Ten days after her arrival, USS S-42 cleared Moreton Bay and headed north across the Coral Sea for her first war patrol. After reaching 15 Degrees South Latitude, she ran submerged during the day and surfaced at night to recharge her batteries and allow a brief respite from the high temperatures and humidity of submerged running. On the afternoon of 3 May 1942, she entered her assigned patrol area; and, that evening, she closed the coast of New Ireland. Two days later, she sighted; fired on; and missed a medium-sized tender off Cape Saint George. On the 6th, she shifted eastward to patrol between Buka and the cape. On the 11th, while off the New Ireland coast, she sighted the minelayer “Okinoshima,” through driving rain from the east. She fired four torpedoes; scored with three; and sent the 4,400-ton Japanese ship to the bottom.
The action, begun at 0439, was over by 0452. But, by 0515, enemy destroyers were closing USS S-42’s position. Within five minutes, they began dropping depth charges. At 1130, the last depth charge attack took place. At 1430, the last sound contact was made with the still searching enemy.
Sea water leaked into the control room in increasing amounts, but USS S-42 remained submerged for another four hours. The submarine then surfaced to repair some of the damage and recharge her batteries. When she submerged, she was unable to control her depth. The submarine then surfaced for further temporary repairs. At dawn, she dove… successfully.
Leaks in the control room, however, continued, and, so, she headed home. That day, the 12th of May 1942, the submarine attempted to send a message to Commander Submarine Squadron 5. Two days later, she was still trying to communicate with Brisbane, sending her message via Port Moresby, Townsville, and Honolulu. On the 16th, her port main engine flooded, but was put back into commission, temporarily. On the 17th, the S-boat raised Dutch Harbor, where her dispatches were relayed to Brisbane. Three days later, the submarine arrived in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Australia.
On 3 July 1942, USS S-42 departed Brisbane for her second war patrol. On the 12th, prior to taking up her offensive role in Saint George’s Channel, she landed an agent at Adler Bay, near Rabaul. His first report, soon dispatched, warned USS S-42 to avoid native canoes as the Japanese were paying well for information. Weather, however, proved to be the worst impediment encountered as frequent rains and heavy seas hindered the submersible’s hunting.
On the night of the 19th, USS S-42 returned to Adler Bay; reembarked the Australian intelligence officer; then got underway for Brisbane, where the submarine arrived on the 28th of July.
During the first week of August 1942, the Allied offensive began with the landings on Guadalcanal. Two weeks later, on the 21st, USS S-42 headed for the Solomons to support the offensive by patrolling in the already bloodied and iron-filled waters of the Savo Island–Cape Esperance area.
On the 23rd, an engine room hatch, improperly latched, began to leak–15 gallons per hour at 90 feet. Wooden wedges were driven into the hatch coaming, reducing the flow to a drip. USS S-42 continued on to the Solomons.
USS S-42 arrived on station five days later and remained into September; but–without modern electronics, quick maneuverability, and speed–she was unable to close the night convoys from Rabaul.
Upkeep at Brisbane occupied the period between 19 September and 19 October 1942. On the 20th, the S-boat headed for the Solomons to intercept traffic on the Rabaul-Faisi-Buin line. Assigned to Bougainville Strait, she again made many contacts, but was unable to score. On 2 November, she fired four torpedoes at a destroyer steaming in company with three others. An explosion was heard, but depth charge attacks precluded determining the results.
On 6 November, USS S-42 departed the area and made for the Fiji Islands. On the 16th, the submarine moored in Suva harbor, where she was joined by others of her division; and, on 1 December, the submarine got underway to transit to the United States.
Transiting the Panama Canal in early January of 1943, USS S-42 proceeded to Cuba in February; provided antisubmarine warfare (ASW) training services for newly-commissioned destroyers operating out of Guantanamo Bay through March; then continued on to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she underwent overhaul and acquired air conditioning and radar. In late June, she departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, for San Diego, California, whence she sailed for the Aleutians in mid-August. On 2 September, the S-boat departed Dutch Harbor for the Kurils and her only war patrol in North Pacific Ocean waters.
Stopping en route at Attu, the forty-day patrol was spent primarily in the Paramushiro-Onekotan area. The submarine returned to Dutch Harbor on 12 October. On 23 November, she departed again. Enroute to her assigned area, her port main engine seized, and her war patrol was cancelled. On the 27th, she put into Massacre Bay, Attu, where she remained for repairs into January of 1944. In February, she returned to Dutch Harbor; thence proceeded to Pearl Harbor and another tour in the southwest Pacific area.
USS S-42 arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea, on 19 March. There, through May, she provided target services to ships conducting ASW exercises. In June, she shifted to Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralties; provided similar services until 1 August; then prepared for her last war patrol. Five days later, she got underway for Halmahera with a four-man Australian intelligence team embarked. On the 15th, 21st, and 22nd, members of the team were landed, singly, at designated points. These men were to contact and pick up other agents previously landed. On the 26th, the scout landed at Gorango Bay was recovered, alone. He had been unable to contact his assigned agent. The other scouts were not recovered. On 3 September, USS S-42 returned to Seeadler Harbor.
Resuming ASW training duties, USS S-42 remained in the Admiralties into October. At mid-month, she arrived at Brisbane for overhaul; and, during January of 1945, the S-boat returned to the Admiralties. In mid-February, the submarine departed Manus for the west coast of the United States, arriving at San Diego at the end of March. There, she provided training services for the West Coast Sound School through the end of the Second World War…which officially ended on 2 September 1945 when representatives of the Empire of Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard battleship Missouri (BB-63) …which was anchored in Tokyo Bay, Japan, for that occasion.
During September of 1945, USS S-42 shifted to San Francisco, California…where she was decommissioned on 25 October 1945.
On 13 November 1945, the S-boat was struck from the Navy List. A year later, the vessel was sold to a shipbreaker for subsequent scrapping.
USS S-42 (SS-153) earned one battle star for her services during the Second World War.