Please report any broken links or trouble you might come across to the Webmaster.
Please take a moment to let us know so that we can correct any problems and make your visit as enjoyable and as informative as possible.

NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

Celluloid Submarines

Click On Image
For Full Size
SizeImage DescriptionSource
Howe Motion Picture Series, Picturing U. S. Navy in Action, to Be Shown This Week.
Image and text provided by Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Newspaper text courtesy of The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]) 1902-1939, 21 February 1915, SUNDAY EVENING EDITION, Image 4, via
Celluloid 771k The Hero of Submarine D-2.
This photo-drama is a NAVY THRILLER with a smashing love story that makes the picture valuable not only from a dramatic standpoint but from an educational one, showing as it does the true condition of the U. S. Navy at the present time. Special authority was granted the Vitagraph Company by the U. S.Government to use the fleet and to do everything except declare war." The picture proves that officer for officer and man for man, the U. S. Navy has no equal among the fighting nations of today.
Image and text provided by The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation.
Newspaper text courtesy of The Sun.(New York [N.Y.]) 1833-1916, 02 April 1916, FIFTH SECTION LITHOGRAVURE SUPPLEMENT, Image 49, via
Celluloid 473k Universal makes a submarine movie. Image and text provided by Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Newspaper text courtesy of New-York Tribune.(New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, 30 July 1916, Image 47, via
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 &
Who Am I?400k
SEA.S.I. Celluloid Investigators Case AL-16-17

The AL-17 probably plows the waves in a supporting cast for S-23 (SS-128) as Hollywood takes to the airwaves
The boat is without doubt a post-safety conversion (i.e. early 30's) EB S-boat. It is hard to tell due to the quality of the picture, but the boat appears to have the rounded bow plane pivot fairings of the 30 series boats (S-30 to 41). The conning tower fairwater configuration rules out S-42 to 47.
I have an ongoing project to research the unusual numbers that have shown up on U.S. boats in the years prior to WW1. They are vertically arranged two digit numbers that do not match the boat's hull number. So far the data I have gathered show no direct correlation between the boat's name, hull number, or squadron/flotilla assignment. These numbers seem to have disappeared when the war started, only to make a comeback in a few photos from WWII. In this case, the AL-17 designation matches the style and location of the AL-14 that we confirmed to have been part of the movie.
Since the addition of AL-17, a sister boat, the AL-16 has been found. I am still way open for suggestions, but for right now I am leaning heavily towards these photos being related to the shooting of Hell Below.
Text & photo i.d. courtesy of David Johnston (USN, retired) with input from Jim Christley & Ric Hedman.
Photos from the private collection of Ric Hedman.
Photo fix by Jim Kelling.
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 &
SS-171741kSUBMARINE D-1 with PAT O'BRIEN, GEORGE BRENT, WAYNE MORRIS stars the real life Dolphin (SS-169) on 11 January 1938.AP Wire photo courtesy of Ron Reeves (of blessed memory).
Insert photo & text by Evening Star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, 01 January 1938, Page B-12, Image 26, courtesy of
The grandest sub that ever took a crash dive, manned by Uncle Sam's most reckless sailors!
Image and text provided by Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT.
Newspaper text courtesy of Carbon County News.( [volume] (Red Lodge, Mont.) 1936-current, 25 February 1938, Image 5, via

Additional Resources and Web Sites of Interest
Submarine Films
Back To The Main Photo IndexBack To the Submarine Index
Problems and site related matters, E-mail Webmaster
This page is created and maintained by Michael Mohl
All Pages 1996 - 2022, NavSource History All rights reserved.