Submarine Base, San Pedro
In the early days of the 20th century, submarines were primarily charged with coastal and harbor defense. Understandably, these early submarines played a role in San Pedro's expanding harbor as well. It was during this early period of Los Angeles' growth period that San Pedro became the site of the first Submarine Base on the Pacific Coast. The entrance to the Port of Los Angeles (inclusive of the Port of Long Beach) is through two openings in the breakwater that protect San Pedro Bay. The eastern opening (closest to the QUEEN MARY) is called "Queen's Gate" (1967) and the western opening, which is used primarily for access to the Port of Los Angeles is called "Angles Gate."
There are a number of reasons why the ports of San Pedro (Los Angeles Harbor) and Long Beach in San Pedro Bay, California, was a suitable anchorage for the Pacific Fleet. Its 2.11 mile breakwater on the Western San Pedro side of the bay created over 600 acres of anchorage space, much of which was over 40 feet deep. Operational conditions were reported to be near perfect with good weather prevailing 70 percent of the year.
The monitor WYOMING, renamed CHEYENNE and converted to a submarine tender, was the first submarine tender to be assigned to San Pedro. Operating with the submarines of the 2d Submarine Division, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, in 1914, CHEYENNE was joined by the newly converted iron-hulled screw steamer ALERT, which had been transferred back to the Navy from the CALIFORNIA NAVAL MILITIA in 1910. ALTERT had been reactivated in 1912 as a submarine tender and placed in full commission that same year and was assigned to San Pedro to serve with the Pacific Torpedo Flotilla. In the spring of 1914, when troubled conditions with Mexico threatened American lives and property, CHEYENNE interrupted her submarine tending duties twice, once in late April and once in mid-May, to embark refugees at Ensenada and San Quentin, Mexico, transporting them both times to San Diego. CHEYENNE resumed her submarine tending operations in San Pedro, continuing those duties into 1917.
The first of these, the USS CARP (SS-20), was launched on September 6, 1911 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California, and commissioned on June 19, 1912. The CARP [renamed F-1 on November 17, 1913] was assigned to the First Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, operating in the San Francisco area on trials and tests through January 1913, when she and her sister ships BARRACUDA, PICKEREL and SKATE were assigned to the Flotilla's base at San Pedro.
All four of these F-class submarines were sent on to San Diego and then onto Honolulu, Hawaii, to become the first submarines to be stationed there. The facilities were inadequate and submarine operations soon would shift to temporary facilities located on Kuahua Island in Pearl Harbor.
The H-class of submarines were the next boats to be stationed at San Pedro. These were the SEAWOLF (SS-28) [renamed H-1]; NAUTILUS (SS-29) [renamed H-2]; and GARFISH (SS-30) [renamed H-3]. These submarines were stationed in San Pedro in late 1913. The three H-class submarines operated along the West Coast of the United States conducting tests and operations from lower California to Washington State. While engaged in operations off the northern coast of California, the H-3 ran aground near Eureka on the morning of December 16, 1916. The H-3 returned to San Pedro in 1917 where she served as the flagship of Submarine Division 7 participating in exercises and operations along the West Coast until 1922.
Meanwhile, the entry of the United States into World War I necessitated an increase of American naval strength in the Atlantic. On April 10, 1917, four days after the United States entered World War I, CHEYENNE was ordered to proceed to Port Angeles, Washington, the designated point of mobilization for the Pacific Fleet, in the company of the submarines H-1 and H-2. CHEYENNE remained in the area while the submarines H-1 and H-2 were transferred to the Atlantic Fleet. They were reassigned to San Pedro in 1920. During this westward transit, as the H-1 made her way up the coast, the submarine ran aground on Santa Margarita Island, California.
In San Pedro, in March, 1917, acting under instruction from the Navy Department, the Commander of Coast Torpedo Force in the Pacific, Captain C. F. Preston, USN, was able to arrange with the Board of Harbor Commissioners of Los Angeles for the continued use by the Navy free of charge a part of the newly built Freight Shed and the adjacent wharf on Municipal Pier No. 1, in the outer harbor; it being understood that the facilities to be furnished were for the use and benefit of the Submarine Force during the war.
By the end of May, 1917, the submarine tender CHEYENNE was ordered back to San Pedro from the Puget Sound Navy Yard for the purpose of establishing a permanent Submarine Base ashore, and that vessel reached San Pedro early in June and moored at the north end of the East Channel to Municipal Pier No. 1.
Actual work for the establishment of the Submarine Base was begun on June 10, 1917, and contracts were awarded for bulkheads in the shed space for the gas and fresh water plumbing, together with flushing and drainage systems. While this contract work was in progress, an enlisted force detailed from the CHEYENNE was stationed in emergency quarters installed at the north end of the Pier's Freight Shed. Upon the completion of the construction contracts, all material and appliances in use at the emergency quarters were moved to the Base site proper for other uses.
Coincidently with preparation of the site for quartering, messing and berthing, a Base Complement together with crews of submarines assigned to duty here, arrangments were completed for storing and handling necessary supplies and materials. From this time forward, under pressure of war conditions, activities at the Base necessitated the immediate creation of additional facilities to take care of the enlarged scope and augmented character of duty and work to be performed.
In October 1917, a Submarine School for enlisted men was established and a thousand men, of which the Submarine Base had 525 officers and men were now present. During this same time frame a Naval Reserve Training Station was established in San Pedro and Base's first three F-class submarines (F-1, F-2 and F-3) were reassigned to San Pedro and arrived at the Base for duty as training vessels for the instruction afloat of the school contingents being qualified as submarine men.
The Navy reestablished what was deemed to be a [temporary] submarine base by renting from the Board of Harbor Commissioners the city's Municipal Pier No. 1 and the tenders CHEYENNE and ALERT were assigned to provide temporary quartering, messing and berthing for the crews of the submarines to be assigned to duty there. In executing their new duties, both ships made short voyages along the California coast. That same year, the earliest submarines to be assigned to the Pacific Coast were the F-class boats consisting of the submarines F-1 [CARP] SS-20; F-2 [BARRACUDA] SS-21; F-3 [PICKEREL] SS-22; and F-4 [SKATE] SS-23.
Submarine Tender USS Alert (AS-4) with submarines of the F-class.