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NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

S-23 (SS-128)

Radio Call Sign: November - India - November - Mike

S-18 Class Submarine (Holland-type): Laid down, 18 January 1919, at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Quincy MA.; Launched, 27 October 1920; Commissioned, USS S-23 (SS-128), 30 October 1923; S-23 patrolled the Aleutian and Kuril Islands from January 1942 to April 1943; Then, she returned to San Diego, and, after extensive overhaul, provided training services to the sound school; Decommissioned, 2 November 1945; Struck from the Naval Register, 16 November 1945; Final Disposition, sold for scrapping, 9 November 1946, delivered 15 November 1946, to Salco Iron and Metal Co., San Francisco, CA. S-23 was awarded one battle star for her World War II service.
Partial data submitted by Yves Hubert.

Specifications: Displacement, Surfaced: 854 t., Submerged: 1,062 t.; Length 219' 3" ; Beam 20' 8"; Draft 15' 11"(mean); Depth Limit 200'; Speed, Surfaced 14.5 kts, Submerged 11 kts; Complement, 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted; Armament, four 21" torpedo tubes, 12 torpedoes, one 4"/50 deck gun; Propulsion, diesel-electric, New London Ship & Engine diesel engines, hp 1200, Fuel Capacity, 41,192 gals.; Ridgeway Dynamo & Electric Co., electric motors, hp 1500, Battery Cells, 120, twin propellers.
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T-2 885k AA-2 (SS-60), with the pre-commissioned S-22 (SS-127), S-21 (SS-126) & S-23 (SS-128) at Fore River Ship Yard, 4 January 1921. US National Archives photo # 19lc 3 from NARA, College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
S-21, 23 & 26 105k Tied up along the dock from left to right: S-21 (SS-126), S-23 (SS-128) and S-26 (SS-131) at Groton CT., 4 May 1923. USN photo # 19-N-10270, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courtesy of Daniel Dunham.
S-18, 22, & 23 105k From left to right: S-18 (SS-123), S-22 (SS-127), & S-23 (SS-128) tied up along the dock at Groton, CT., 1 October 1923. USN photo # 19-N-10277, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courtesy of Daniel Dunham.
US Fleet Problem Number VI 1.72k Control Force Employment Schedule, 4 January to 1 March 1926. US Fleet Problem Number VI. Photo courtesy of Steve Ireland.
S-9 731k All the boats in the image are S-boats.
On the left is the S-9 (SS-114). The next is probably S-24 (SS-129). All of the rest are 20 series boats. The boat in the background IS NOT the S-2 (SS-106). It is a 20 series like the others. The last digit in the boat's name is obscured by the torpedo davit on the boat in the middle.
As for a location, the pier in the background looks like some images I have seen of San Pedro, California. Although the fact that this came from the New York Daily News Archive seems to indicate the Brooklyn Navy Yard or some location in the city.
I can't see the stern of any of the boats. This helps in dating the photo. It appears that the aft skeg of the S-24 is still in place and there are no post S-4 (SS-109) safety modifications so this would indicate that the photo was taken in the mid to late 1920's, but this is only a rough guess.
Photo & text i.d. courtesy of David Johnston
Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images, courtesy of
S-23 823k Aerial oblique view of S-23 (SS-128) passing near NAS Pensacola, Florida, 22 January 1927. USN photo # 80-G-466175, from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
S-23 190k S-23 (SS-128) with S-3 (SS-107) during the Presidential review of 4 June 1927 on maneuvers in the Atlantic with her crew lining the rails. USN photo # 19-N-11055, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courtesy of Daniel Dunham.
S-3 1.54k S-23 (SS-128) underway with crewmen manning the rail, during the Presidential Naval Review, 4 June 1927. S-3 (SS-107) is in the left background, also with rails manned. USN photo # NH 41805, from the collections of the US Naval Historical Center.
S-19 78k S-19 (SS-124) underway with other S-boats, S-21 (SS-126), S-23 (SS-128), during the Presidential review somewhere in the Atlantic ocean, 4 June 1927. USN photo # 19-N-11053, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courtesy of Daniel Dunham.
refleting 140k S-boats top and bottom as in a reflecting pool, probably at Pearl Harbor when they operated with Division 7, circa 1931-33. S-21 (SS-126), S-22 (SS-127), S-23 (SS-128) & what was thought to be S-24 (SS-129).
On 25 April 1931, S-22 & S-23 arrived together at Pearl Harbor.
If you look closely at the outboard one (on the far left) the fairings that cover the bow plane pivots are rounded. On the other boats in this photo these fairings are angular in shape. The angular fairings are a distinctive characteristic of the Quincy built 20 series S-boats (S-18) to (29). For the Union Iron Works built boats (S-30) to (41) this fairing is rounded and smaller in size. The only exception to this rule is the (S-19). She alone amongst the Quincy boats had the rounded fairings of the UIW boats (why I don't know yet). Therefore, the outboard boat in this photo can not be the (S-24). It has to be (S-19) or (30) to (41).
Text & photo i.d. courtesy of David Johnston
USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen &
SS_AL 385k
Live from Hollywood, SEA.S.I. Celluloid Investigators Case AL-14/S23-31

This photo & the one below initially caused some confusion, because the numbering of the L boats ended with 11. The text is compiled from a series of emails.
The boat is an S boat but the "AL" designation was for American "L" class subs operating in the British Isles during WW I so as not to confuse them with the British "L" class boats working there too.
The book "Pigboats" written by Edward Ellsberg was made into a movie called "Hell Below" about WW I submarines. It would appear that more than one submarine was used in the movie, with S-31 (SS-136) getting the starring role but S-23 (SS-128) appears to be her understudy and appears here in these photos, with Jimmy Durante on the deck of the S-23 during a break in movie making.
You can see the "AL 14" on the front of the conning tower.
This submarine was thought to be the S-31 (SS-136). Unfortunately, given what I said above, this boat can not be the S-31! Other confirmed photos of the S-31 show her with the typical rounded fairings of the 30 series.
It has to be a 20 series boat, and my research shows that it has to be one of the following boats: S-18, S-21, S-23 to 27, or S-29. All of these boats were in Pearl Harbor with the S-28 when the photo was taken. I found it a little surprising that the movie company would travel all the way to Hawaii in 1932-33 at the height of the Depression to film on board a submarine, when they could have traveled to San Pedro or Groton for a lot less money and filmed on an R-boat.
To confirm the candidate, a email request for the boat's log was sent to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which responded with this message:
We located the following text in the log of the S-31 on Friday February 3, 1933:
"4 to 8(AM) Moored as before. At 0710 underway on motors, various courses and speeds to conform with harbor, standing out to operated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Picture Corp. At 0722 ahead both engines. At 0723 Breakwater light abeam to port. At 0725 cleared channel, set course 155 true, 144 psc. At 0750 changed course to 145 true. At 0752 stopped both engines, rigged ship for dive. At 0756 ahead port engine, set course 145 true."
Okay, so what do we make of this development? On the surface (excuse the pun!) it seems as if this is a slam dunk. The mention of the movie company in the boat's deck log seems to confirm it. But what if, due to some Navy operational commitment for the S-31, the movie company was forced to film portions of the movie on a different boat? What if the S-31 had to get under way for a mission when the movie company wanted to film some alongside shots? The S-23 may have been available so they did a quick paint job on her and dressed her up as a replacement AL-14.
This may seem like I am trying to rationalize my way around the log entry, but I have good reason to. I have seen three separate confirmed photos of the S-31 with the rounded bow plane fairings, completely different from the flat angle fairings of the boat in the AL-14 photo (typical of the boats in the 20 series). One of these photos was taken early in her career, but two were taken at about the same time as the AL-14 photo (one of which is on Looking Glass!). I can not think of a logical reason why the Navy would go to all the time, effort, and expense of replacing the smaller rounded fairings with the larger flat angle fairings! It doesn't make sense! There is no mechanical or structural advantage that I know of and the larger fairings would have actually created more drag. The pattern of flat angle fairings for the 20 series boats and rounded fairings for the 30 series boats is very consistent across the board. The only exception is the S-19. She had the rounded 30 series fairings, but she was built that way and had them her whole life.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that MGM filmed on board both the S-23 and the S-31 for some reason.
Text & Photo i.d. courtesy of Ric Hedman & David Johnston Susan Abbott, Archivist, Old Navy and Maritime Records, Archives I Textual Reference Section, National Archives and Records Administration.
USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen &
SS_AL 296k S-28 (SS-133) with the S-23 (SS-128) dressed up for her part in the 1933 movie "Hell Below" wearing the fictional "AL-14" for Hollywood and country. Text & Photo i.d. courtesy of Ric Hedman.
USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen &
S-23 1.25k Starboard side view of the S-23 (SS-128) entering Pearl Harbor, circa 1931-41. USN photo by Tai Sing Loo courtesy of Scott Koen &
128, 166 & 168 628k Two views of Nautilus (SS-168), Argonaut (SS-166) and S-23 (SS-128) (L to R) moored at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in September, 1940. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives - Carl Mydans Photographer, shared by Peter DeForest via Mike Green.
S-23 39k CPO's of the S-23 (SS-128) at Dutch Harbor, 1942. USN photo courtesy of Ron & Charles Wallis.
S-23 31k Capt. Rubble of the S-23 (SS-128), at Dutch Harbor, 1942. USN photo courtesy of Ron & Charles Wallis.
S-23 40k Officers and crew of the S-23 (SS-128), at Dutch Harbor, 1942. USN photo courtesy of Ron & Charles Wallis.
S-23 33k S-23 (SS-128) encrusted in ice at Dutch Harbor, 1942. USN photo courtesy of Ron & Charles Wallis.
S-23 73k An 1942 oil painting on board, by the artist William F. Draper entitled "Sub and Yippy Tie Up."
In a quiet inlet of the Bering Sea in 1942, a YP boat gets a coat of paint and an S-boat ties up for fuel and provisions. The short Alaskan day is ending and lights may be seen in the barracks until total darkness requires a blackout.
The S-boats that served in the Aleutians theater were:
S-18 (SS-123),
S-23 (SS-128),
S-27 (SS-132),
S-28 (SS-133),
S-30 (SS-135),
S-31 (SS-136),
S-32 (SS-137),
S-33 (SS-138),
S-34 (SS-139),
S-35 (SS-140),
S-36 (SS-141),
S-40 (SS-145),
S-41 (SS-146),
S-42 (SS-153),
S-44 (SS-155),
S-45 (SS-156),
S-46 (SS-157), &
S-47 (SS-158).
Sub and Yippy Tie Up by William F. Draper.
Painting #13 / 88-189-N. Courtesy of the USNHC.
S-23 26k Carlos Henry & Charles Wallis of the S-23 (SS-128) "Spinning a Yarn" over Memorial Day, 2005. Courtesy of Ron & Charles Wallis.

View the S-23 (SS-128)
DANFS history entry located on the Haze Gray & Underway Web Site.
Crew Contact And Reunion Information
U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation
Fleet Reserve Association

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PigBoats.COM TM A Historic Look at Submarines

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