Click the images below for bigger versions:
Pair of Manuscript Diaries kept by an unidentified United States Navy sailor, a machinist, including accounts of his service aboard USS Octopus, an early US Navy Submarine, 1907-1911

2 diaries, small quarto, 247 pages, plus blanks, and pasted in clippings and pictures, original plain paper wraps, wrappers, worn, badly chipped, detached, but present, entries in ink, generally clear and legible.

$ 750.00 | Contact Us >

Diaries of an early US Navy submariner, a machinist. The diaries discuss his daily shipboard activities, as well as those in his personal life. From the entries we learn that the early submarines were mechanically unreliable, accident prone, and otherwise unsafe, the exhaust fumes, while the Octopus was in operation, were often overpowering. Our diarist was a thirty-year-old, five-year veteran of the Navy, who had been married for a year when the diaries begin, to a woman named Alice, and who was very religious.


          The diary entries begin July 22, 1907. Our diarist works in in engine rooms, tending and repairing engines. The first ship he mentions is the USS Vesuvius, a dynamite gun cruiser, then operating out of Newport, Rhode Island. The Vesuvius sails for Boston in August where it remains, until orders were given in November to put the Vesuvius out of commission. On December 17, he was discharged from the Navy.


        The next day, the 18th, our diarist went to Newport where he “got application papers at the Torpedo station.” On the 19th he notes that he went to Quincy and “saw Mr. Bowles of the Fore River Ship building Co….” He was employed the next day. By December 23 he was at work at the Fore River Company on the Birmingham (CS-2/CL-2, named for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, was a Chester-class scout cruiser, reclassified a light cruiser in 1920). He was engaged primarily in various aspects of building its engine. Our diarist in the meantime was also sending in applications to the “Newport Torpedo Station.” In May 1908 he began working on the North Dakota (USS North Dakota (BB-29) was a Delaware-class battleship). On June 16, 1908, he received word to report at the Torpedo Station that Saturday, our diarists reaction was succinct, “Praise God.”


     “June 18… I gave Mr Battles my notice at 10 am (he called it one weeks notice to avoid having to fire me) quit work at 11 and got laid off before noon. Went out and bought some tools and did some packing this afternoon.”


    “June 20 Fair Staid at the Y.M.C.A. last night. Met Mr. Cruthers on Thames St this morning. Reported for work at 9 am. The chief clerk sent me to Mr. Moore who told me to come in to work Monday morning left my grip of tools in the tool-room. Alice and I went all over the town looking for a tenement and I am dead tired as I slept little last night. We decided on the house at the head of Thames St.”


    “22. Hot. Met Miller this morning went to work at the Torpedo Station this morning. Tested out a new screw machine in the new factory, getting settled at 57 Farewell St…”


     “July 22 … Roosevelt was at the Training Station today…”


         In August he rejoins the Navy and is assigned to the Wabash. On September 1st he was given orders to leave the Wabash and “sent to the Hist at Newport” (USS Hist, formerly Thespia, was built in 1895).


     “Sept 1, 1908 Pease and I got started on piping job…. Told to pack our bags and hammocks to be ready to leave the Wabash at 12 noon to be sent to the Hist at Newport… We went over on the “Wave” and reported on the Torpedo Station, the Hist is not here at present so all I have to do is report once a day and stay ashore until the Hist comes in …”


     [Sept.] “11 fair. Stood the forenoon watch on the main engine. Cruised around all day. This evening all the submarine men went to the “Yankee” except the Octopus men …”


     [Sept.] “23. Foggy. This morning Cortney sent me to the “Octopus” I was very much disappointed but trust and pray that it may all come out well. I was sent to take the place of a man that is sick. Today we took out the pistons of the port engine (6 pistons) The “Yankee” ran aground near the “Hen and chickens” light and the submarine men are coming back aboard the Hist.”


     [Sept.] “24 Foggy. Worked on the “Octopus” assembling the port engine. This afternoon we came up and anchored off Fort Rodman the engine makes a fierce racket. I cant make up my mine whether I want to stay on the Octopus or not.”


     [Sept.] 28 Foggy. Got up a 2-30 am got breakfast and caught the Fall River boat “Prascilla” which leaves Newport at 3-45 am Came aboard the Hist about 9 am about 10 am we went up to New Bedford. Airhart and I took some work up to a machine shop. The Cuttle-fish went aground when the tide went down. We put on oil …”


    [Oct.] 3 Windy to fair. We left Newport at 1 pm I saw Alice on the little pier. Just before dark the “Hist” signaled for us to “stand by” both her boilers are disabled. We anchored off Montauk point.”


    [Oct.] “4. We took the “Hist” in tow this morning for New York came near turning back to Newport”


    [Oct.] “5 Fair The tow line got foul of the Octopus propellor and we had to come alongside the Hist and send down a diver. We arrived at N.Y. Navy yard about 3 pm…”


    [Oct.] “6 Fair. Charged batteries. This afternoon we got orders to go to Philadelphia the Scorpion to act as tender, a lot of the men are ashore. We took on oil and got the engines ready. I went up to the shop this morning for a couple of close nippers. Slept aboard the “Octopus.”


     [Oct.] “10. … Today we took off the broken cyl-head and cleaned up… Went ashore at 4-30 pm went to City Hall (fine building) walked down market st and around town …”

     December 5, 1908 ”fair. Finished cleaning up the “Octopus” … we tested the clutch and motor this forenoon. …”


    “December 24. Fair. We tested out both engines and the aux machinery this forenoon. I put copper oil shield on port motor this afternoon. Am standing Dunn’s watch so he can go home. Went over to the Montgomery and saw Billy this evening, took hammock over to the Octopus this evening …”


     [Dec.] “27 Fair. Sunday Got under way for Norfolk at 7 am came to anchor at the Delaware breakwater at 4-30 pm.”


     January 11, 1909 “… Saw poor fellow with his leg crushed off by a sighting hood of a turret on the “Iowa” Worked till 7 pm taking out Stbd circulating pump. We made a trial run this afternoon not enough pressure on pumps. Went to the “Granby” and saw the “Kandy Kid.”


     January 15, 1909 “fair. We left the Navy yard about 10 am. We made a dive this afternoon at about 30 feet deep for 1 hour and 15 minutes. My first dive. Anchored and came aboard the Castine about 7 pm I got a letter from Alice just before we left the yard.”


    January 18. Fair. Took greater part of forenoon to get both engines running went from Lamberts Point to Norfolk, from there to York-town hard run, fumes were fierce from  a leaky joint, came aboard the Castine about 7-30 pm.”


    January 20, 1909 “Fair. Took leads on No 2 crank-pin this forenoon. Made a dive and fired torpedo this afternoon, Sylvester and Higgins remained on board charging batteries, and when Dunn and I returned from supper, we found the Octopus in bad shape. No 3 crank pin babbit was melted and the port Motor was burned out.”


     [January] “21 Fair. Daniels is fired off the Octopus. We got lost in the fog this forenoon in the motor-boat, went ashore at Yorktown…”


     [January] “23. Fair. Took leads this forenoon. Courtney tried to move the Octopus and rammed the Castine with our stbd propellor in such bad shape that propellor shaft will not revolve.  Got letter from Alice. Dick Allen got a letter from Quincy saying that there was a bad accident on one of the new submarines killed one man and wounded two others. Davison was badly hurt, air-flask bursted.”


     [February] “18. Fair. Made screws for periscope gear.”


    [March] “25. Fair. Red leaded port engine Klet was transferred to the Kansas today. I bought his folding cot.”


     [April] “4. Fair. Saw Mark Twain this morning on Fremason St. Daniels and I went to SS and Church this morning. Perry, Geisler, Allen, Stevenson, Daniels and I went to hear Dr. Starry this evening Geisler and I went to lecture at skating rink this afternoon.”


     [April] “5. Fair. Overhauled gasoline pump and worked on torpedo tube this afternoon. Scrubbed clothes this evening.”


     May 30, 1909 “Hot. I went to S.S. and morning service. Brother Thompson, Georgie and Miss Kite and Edgar came over this afternoon and Dan and I showed them the Octopus and Louisiana. I took supper with brother Thompson and went to evening service.”


     June 23 “Fair. Two 2d class machinists came to the Octopus this forenoon. Johnson was sent to the “Cuttlefish” Worked till 2 am “all in”.


    “July 1, 1909 Fair. Came aboard at 7 am Worked putting split-pins in lower exhaust cap – nuts of Stbd engine. The Castine was sent out to Brenton Reef to stand by the stranded “Nero” and we came in to the dock. Charged battery two hours. Went ashore 5-30 on Higs name.”


     [July] 26. Fair. Ran engines two hours bad fumes respirator little good, fired torpedoes at “Vermont” took on 100 gallons of engine oil.”


     [September] “6. Fair. Dive. Fired two torpedoes and wrecked them both. Made myself a hack-saw frame.”


     [September] “25. Fair. Charged batteries. Left N.Y. for Newport3-10 pm. Made nice run for two hours then took Nina’s tow line, was commended.”


     [October] “8. Fair. Went to the range and made three dives. Captain Bingham told me that I was rated Chief from today… Went ashore 5 pm. Alice and I took a pleasant walk.”


     [December, 1909, Newport to Hampton Roads] “15. Fair. Got orders to leave at 3 pm. Got stores aboard. Got shore leave from 4 to 6 pm. Had to go to Church to meet Alice. It hurts to be parted. Got under way at 9 pm. Hard night run.”


    [December] “17. Came alongside the Nina at 6 am. Got a line foul of our port propellor. The Nina raised our stern and we cut her free. Just able to eat. Stood watches 3on3 off till 11pm.”


    [December] “21. Bingham rammed the stern of “Mars” (USS Mars (AC-6) was a collier of the United States Navy) and bent both his periscopes. Bushnell and I went ashore and saw “King Casey.”


   “22. Got under way for Charleston S.C. at 3 pm.”


    January 10, 1910 “Taking down Stbd engine. Scrubbed hammock at 530 am. Took bunk on Texas this evening. Mr. Bingham got back from Washington.”


    [January] “ 12. Fair. Stripping Stbd engine. Mr. Bingham is to be detached and Mr. Smith is to take the Octopus. God grant that I remain on the “Octopus.” Spoke to Mr. B on the quarter-deck of the “Texas”


     [February] “12. Fair. Took out port crank-shaft. The N.Y. Herald says the Octopus is ordered in reserve, hope it won’t keep us from going to Newport this summer. Wrote to Alice.”


    “13. Fair. The paper states that the “Nina” is probably lost (between Hampton Roads and Boston) Lasher and I went to good YMCA lecture at Academy of music.”


    “14. Fair. “Octopus” went in reserve but no word as yet about transfers. Lining up main shafts.”


   “19. Nina given up as lost. Machinists ordered to new boats but order held-up by Mr. McNair.”


   “22. Washingtons birth-day. The draft left this morning for Boston by the Clyde line (Daniels, Stevenson, Treese, Nilaird, Grubie, Enos and Creck and Saunders) leaving me the longest man on the “Octopus”. This afternoon Leon Lusher and I went for pistol practice then Lusher and I went to Charleston and saw military parade.”


    March 14, 1910 “Fair. Assembling Stbd engine. A new first class electrician came to the Octopus today.”


    “18. Fair. Assembling water service and induction pipes, man hurt on dredge. Cuttlefish came out of dry-dock.”


     April 4, 1910 “Fair. Mr. Smith officially took command of the Octopus today. Lined up Stbd fuel-pump. Tried out Stbd engine with gasoline after supper, blew out No 4 cyl-hd gasket.”


    [April] “7. Made short run. Stbd engine runs fine. Four new machinists came to Octopus. Mr. Smith says the Montgomery is to take us to Newport the 22d.”


    [April] 10. Hot. Assistant Secretary of the Navy inspected the yard this morning. Cady and I went shooting this afternoon, shot snake and found human skeleton.”


     [April] “20. Fair. Put stores on Kite. The Tarantula USS B-3 (SS-12) was one of three B-class submarines) rammed us this afternoon (big dent) We leave early in the morning.”


     [April] “25. Fair. Got under way at 4-45 am ran down and got on tow line. Stbd fwd motor bearing ran hot. Taking down Port engine. Ran Stbd engine 40 minutes on tow line but gave it up as we ran up too much on tow-line.”


     [April] “28. Mr. Barr spoke to me about coming to the “Vesuvius” I shall have to remain on the Octopus till summer operations are over. Alice and I called on Mr. Melville last evening and looked over our building plans 85 cts for recording deed of lot at City Hall.”


    May 31, 1910 “Fair. Dive 11. Mr. Smith told me that I was to be transferred to the Hancock… went ashore 6 pm”


    June 4, 1910 “Fair. Called at Mr. Sexton office at 9-45 am and presented my request he said he would order me sent to the “Vesuvius” but could not promise my remaining on her after the summer work…”


    [June] “6 Fair. Wheeler told me as soon as I reported in that I was to go to Newport Torpedo Station. Praise God… At 2 pm I took launch over to pier 19 took walk about town…”


    [June] “9 Sea bag came up this morning. Reported to Mr. Ober and put water tank in the “Breaker” I am to go to the Vesuvius when she comes down. Came ashore 4-30 pm…”


    “11. Wet. Reported on the Vesuvius this morning, overhauled reducer in dynamo room and valve stem guide rod on after fire-room main feed pump. Came ashore at 2-40 pm…”


    August 17. Fair. Torpedo struck us amidships and nearly struck the Mount Hope. Stayed aboard this evening. Overhauled main circulating pump.”



           The USS Octopus, later designated USS C-1 (SS-9), was the lead ship of her class of submarines built for the United States Navy in the first decade of the 20th century.


            The C-class submarines were enlarged versions of the preceding B-class, the first American submarines with two propeller shafts. They had a length of 105 feet 3 inches overall, a beam of 13 feet 10 inches and a mean draft of 10 feet 10 inches. They displaced 240 long tons on the surface and 273 long tons submerged. The C-class boats had a crew of 1 officer and 14 enlisted men. They had a diving depth of 200 feet.


            For surface running, they were powered by two 240-brake-horsepower (179kW) Craig gasoline engines, each driving one propeller shaft. When submerged each propeller was driven by a 115 -horsepower (86kW) electric motor. They could reach 11 knots on the surface and 9 knots underwater. On the surface, the boats had a range of 776 nautical miles at 8.13 knots and 24 nautical miles at 8 knots submerged.


           The boats were armed with two 18-inch torpedo tubes in the bow. They carried two reloads, for a total of four torpedoes.


            C-1 was laid down by Fore River Shipbuilding Company in Quincy, Massachusetts, under a subcontract from Electric Boat Company, as Octopus. Octopus was launched on October 4, 1906 sponsored by Miss F. Webster, and commissioned on June 30, 1908, Lieutenant C. E. Courtney in command. She was renamed C-1 on November 17, 1911. Assigned to Submarine Flotilla 2 (SubFlot 2), Octopus operated out of Newport, Rhode Island and New York City until October 9, 1908. Tests and experiments, of both submarine design and the tactical use of her type, continued from Norfolk, Virginia and Newport until she was placed in reserve at Charleston, South Carolina on February 14, 1910. Recommissioned on April 15, the submarine conducted experiments and served as a training vessel at Newport until May 10, 1913. C-1 was reassigned to Submarine Group 1, Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, and from May 29 – December 7 operated out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She served in Panamanian waters in training, and later, on patrol during World War I until August 4, 1919, when she was decommissioned at Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone. Here, she was sold April 13, 1920.