USS F-4 SS-23 (1913-1915)
Originally named Skate, the F-class submarine was renamed the F-4 on November 17, 1911. Launched on January 6, 1912 by the Moran Brothers Company
of Seattle, Washington, the 142-foot vessel was sponsored by Mrs. M. F. Backus and commanded by Lieutenant (junior grade) K. H. Donavin. The F-4 was commissioned on May 3, 1913.
After joining the First Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, F-4 took part in development operations that group conducted along the west coast. Beginning in August 1914, the F-4 participated in those operations in Hawaiian waters. However, while conducting submarine maneuvers off Honolulu on March 25, 1915, the F-4 sank. She was in 51 fathoms of water, 1.5 miles from the harbor. Despite the best efforts of Honolulu’s naval authorities, the missing boat was never located and all 21 of her crew members perished.
On August 29, 1915, a diving and engineering precedent was set as the Navy raised the sunken vessel. It took a brave and tenacious effort by those who descended to affix the cables needed to tow the vessel to shallow waters. Naval Constructor J.A. Furer, Rear Admiral C.B.T. Moore, and Lieutenant C. Smith showed great ingenuity in their ability to design and construct the pontoons that helped them bring the wrecked submarine ashore.
Of the 21 onboard, only 4 of the dead could be identified. The remaining 17 bodies were buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. After inspection, the investigating board blamed the cause of the tragedy was corrosion of the lead lining of the battery tank, permitting the seepage of sea water into the battery compartment that caused the commanding officer to lose control on a submerged run. Others blamed a valve issue on the loss of control, while based on other reported issues, a problem with the air supply lines to the ballast tank might have led to the sinking.
The F-4 was stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry on August 31, 1915. In 1940, a trench off the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, was filled with the remains of the F-4.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.