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S-39 file photo [32185]


CountryUnited States
Ship ClassS-class Submarine
Hull NumberSS-144
BuilderBethlehem San Francisco Shipyard
Laid Down14 Jan 1919
Launched2 Jul 1919
Commissioned14 Sep 1923
Sunk15 Aug 1942
Displacement868 tons standard; 1,079 tons submerged
Length219 feet
Beam21 feet
Draft16 feet
MachineryTwo New London Ship & Engine diesel engines (2,400hp), two General Electric electric motors (3,000hp), 120-cell Exide battery, two shafts
Bunkerage171t diesel fuel
Speed14 knots
Armament1x4in/50cal deck gun, 4x21in torpedo tubes, 12 torpedoes
Submerged Speed11 knots


ww2dbaseCommissioned in Sep 1923, submarine S-39 was transferred to Submarine Division 17 of the US Navy Asiatic Fleet in late 1924, based in Manila, Philippine Islands with regular tours in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China. On 8 Dec 1941, when Japan raided Pearl Harbor in the US Territory of Hawaii, she was on patrol out of Luzon in the Philippines, and was shifted to the San Bernardino Strait to counter Japanese minelayers, possibly sinking one transport during this first war patrol on 13 Dec 1941. Her second war patrol began in Manila and ended in Surabaya (Dutch: Soerabaja) in the Dutch East Indies in Jan 1942. Her third war patrol was spent in the Java Sea, the Karimata Strait, and the South China Sea, with one sinking, the oil tanker Erimo. Her fourth war patrol, out of Brisbane in Australia, had her patrolling waters near the Louisiade Archipelago at the southern border of the Solomon Sea and then moving on into the Solomon Islands. Her fifth and final war patrol, under the command of Lieutenant Francis Brown, saw her running aground on submerged rocks off Yela (French: Rossel) Island of Louisiade Archipelago. She immediately blew ballast tanks and jettisoned fuel in an attempt to lighten the load, but subsequent attempts at backing off the rock all resulted in failure. On the next day, ballast tanks and fuel tanks were flooded in order to keep the submarine steady on the rock while rough seas crashed into her; in the afternoon, she was informed that Australian minesweeper HMAS Katoomba was en route to rescue her crew. On the following day, 15 Aug 1942, her four remaining torpedoes were deactivated and fired off into the sea. Though previous attempts to back off of the rock had failed, Brown ordered one more try, but the submarine's screws were too high and failed to move the boat. By mid-morning, her list had increased from 30 degrees on the first day to 60 degrees. Fearing that the submarine might roll over and sink, Brown gave permission for crew members to escape to a nearby reef. Lieutenant C. N. G. Hendrix and Chief Petty Officer W. L. Schoenrock swam to the reef with mooring lines, and 32 crew members would use the lines to escape to the reef; meanwhile, 12 crew members including Brown remained on the submarine. At about noon on 15 Aug 1942, Katoomba arrived and took on the crew. It was agreed that S-39 would soon be destroyed by the waves, the submarine was left on the rocks without any attempt to destroyer her by Katoomba's guns. After his return to Australia, Brown was threatened with court martial, but he was ultimately spared of such fate by Admiral Ralph Christie; he would go on to command submarines S-43 and S-44 later in the war. The rescued crew members of S-39 were taken to Townsville in northeastern Australia and would later be assigned to other submarines.

United States Navy

Last Major Revision: Jan 2023

Submarine S-39 (SS-144) Interactive Map


USS Canopus with submarines USS S-36, S-37, S-38, S-39, S-40, and S-41, Apra Harbor, Guam, 1924USS S-39 in the Gatun Locks, Panama Canal Zone, 17 Jan 1924
See all 17 photographs of Submarine S-39 (SS-144)

S-39 Operational Timeline

14 Jan 1919 The keel of S-39 was laid down at the Bethlehem shipyard in San Francisco, California, United States.
2 Jul 1919 S-39 was launched at the Bethlehem shipyard in San Francisco, California, United States, sponsored by Clara M. Huber.
14 Sep 1923 USS S-39 was commissioned into service.
17 Sep 1924 USS S-39 departed San Francisco, California, United States.
5 Nov 1924 USS S-39 arrived at Manila, Philippine Islands.
11 Dec 1941 USS S-39 was attacked by Japanese anti-submarine vessels in the Philippines for several hours, but escaped unharmed.
13 Dec 1941 USS S-39 fired four torpedoes at a Japanese transport just north of the San Bernardino Strait in the Philippine Islands, scoring one hit.
21 Dec 1941 USS S-39 arrived at Manila, Phlippine Islands, ending her first war patrol.
8 Jan 1942 USS S-39 discovered a Japanese submarine in the Sulu Sea and fired a torpedo at the target while submerged; the torpedo missed.
24 Jan 1942 USS S-39 arrived at Surabaya (Soerabaja), Java, Dutch East Indies, ending her second war patrol.
4 Mar 1942 USS S-39 (SS-144; Lieutenant J. W. Coe) fired four Mark 10 torpedoes at Japanese fleet oiler Erimo south of Belitung Island in western Java Sea, scoring three hits. Erimo's commanding officer, Captain Soma, beached Erimo to prevent sinking. The light cruiser Yura rescued survivors, but four crewmen were lost. Erimo was abandoned as a constructive total loss.
10 May 1942 USS S-39 departed Brisbane, Australia, starting her fourth war patrol.
20 May 1942 American submarine USS S-39 conducted a reconnaissance mission at the Deboyne Islands north of New Guinea.
5 Aug 1942 While underway in the Coral Sea, USS S-39 reported that her executive officer had been placed on the sick list.
7 Aug 1942 USS S-39 reported that her executive officer's health conditions worsened and might be developing pneumonia. The submarine was ordered to set sail for Townsville, Australia, to disembark the sick officer.
10 Aug 1942 USS S-39 departed Townsville, Australia, resuming her fifth war patrol.
13 Aug 1942 After dark, USS S-39 grounded on submerged rocks off Yela (Rossel) Island of Louisiade Archipelago and developed a 30-degree list.
14 Aug 1942 Throughout the day, rough seas crashed over USS S-39, which was stuck on submerged rocks off Yela (Rossel) Island of Louisiade Archipelago.
15 Aug 1942 USS S-39, which ran aground after dark on 13 Aug 1942, had her list increased to 60 degrees. Her remaining four torpedoes were deactivated and fired into the water. Australian minesweeper HMAS Katoomba arrived at about 1200 hours and took on the crew members.
19 Aug 1942 The survivors of USS S-39, which ran aground on 13 Aug 1942, arrived at Townsville, Australia via HMAS Katoomba.

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Submarine S-39 (SS-144) Photo Gallery
USS Canopus with submarines USS S-36, S-37, S-38, S-39, S-40, and S-41, Apra Harbor, Guam, 1924USS S-39 in the Gatun Locks, Panama Canal Zone, 17 Jan 1924
See all 17 photographs of Submarine S-39 (SS-144)

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