California's First Submarines
The submarine A-3 was originally laid down as GRAMPUS (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 4), later designated SS-4, and the submarine A-5, laid down as PIKE (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 6), later designated A-6, were both built in California. Union Iron Works was a subcontractor for the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company of New York.
The GRAMPUS and PIKE both were laid down on the same day, December 10, 1900. GRAMPUS was launched July 31, 1902 and PIKE was launched January 14, 1903. Both were commissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard on May 28, 1903.
The first commanding officer of GRAMPUS was Lt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., (the older brother of later to be General of the Army Douglas MacArthur of World War II fame) would later become the first Captain of the PIKE as well.
Both GRAMPUS and PIKE operated from Mare Island Navy Yard for three years in training roles. Members of both crews took part in the relief efforts after the earthquake in San Francisco on April 18, 1906.
PIKE was decommissioned on November 28, 1906 and remained in inactive status until June of 1908, when she was recommissioned for operations with the Pacific Torpedo Flotilla, on the Pacific coast. PIKE was renamed A-5 (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 6) on 17 November 1911. PIKE (A-5) was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard on June 26, 1912 and placed in reserve.
Two and a half years later, GRAMPUS (A-3) and her sister ship PIKE (A-5) were loaded on board the ship HECTOR and on February 15, 1915 sailed for the the Philippines as deck cargo. Both submarines were again recommissioned in 1912 and assigned to the Asiatic Fleet. Soon after the beginning of World War I, PIKE sank at the dock at the Cavite Navy Yard, on April 15, 1917. The sinking was due to a leak in a main ballast tank. She was raised on April 19 and, reconditioned and sent back to active service patrolling the waters to Manila Bay. PIKE was decommissioned on July 25, 1921. She was struck from the Navy list January 16, 1922 and later sank as a target off Corregidor.
With due acknowledgement of the accomplishments of America's submarine designers and builders, past and present, much of the progress made in the development of the modern submarine can be credited to those early submarine men who pioneered in those "pig boats" from the time of their inception --- at the turn of the century --- up to and including World War I.
Commencing back there --beginning with the 'A' class submarines --- those valiant, unsung heroes learned and operated their undersea craft the hard way. By trial and error, by experimenting and improving, by demanding better design and equipment in subsequent classes built, these officers and men undoubtedly contributed more than anyone else toward the production of the sleek, smooth-running, long-range submarines of World War II. Among these were the men who served on the first two submarines built at Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California --- USS GRAMPUS (A-3) and USS PIKE (A-5).
Early submarine pioneers at Mare Island Naval Shipyard aboard the submarine GRAMPUS. (U.S. Navy Photo)
USS PIKE (A-5) in drydock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard