Each April 11th, the United States Navy and US civilians honor this day as people across the nation celebrate National Submarine Day. April 11 is commemorated by the United States submarine community as Submarine Day—the anniversary of April 11, 1900, when the American Government purchased its first modern commissioned submarine, the USS Holland.
Cornelius Drebbel built the first workable submarine in 1620 using the 1578 plans of English mathematician, William Bourne. Most submarines were made of steel. America’s very first submarine, the Turtle, was built in the Revolutionary War era; however, the United States Navy did not exist when the Turtle was operational.
The first known U.S. Navy submarine was the USS Alligator, the fourth United States Navy ship of that name. The Alligator was built in 1862 and was active during the American Civil War.
Designed by Irish-American inventor, John Phillip Holland in 1896, the Holland VI was launched on May 17, 1897, at Navy Lt. Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was later purchased by the United States Navy on April 11, 1900, becoming the United States Navy’s first modern commissioned submarine, and was renamed USS Holland (SS-1).
During World War II, many submarines were built in Wisconsin. Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, located in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was a major shipbuilder for the Great Lakes. It was founded in 1902, and made mainly steel ferries and ore haulers. During World War II, they built submarines, tank landing craft, and self-propelled fuel barges called “YOs.” Employment at the company peaked during the military years at 7000. The shipyard closed in 1968, when Manitowoc Company bought Bay Shipbuilding Company and moved their shipbuilding operation to Sturgeon Bay. The company was proud of the 28 submarines it built in the war effort.
A Local US Navy Submarine Hero was Captain John Philip Cromwell from Henry, Illinois. Cromwell was the Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the USS Sculpin in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island on November 19, 1943. Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Capt. Cromwell carried out his secret orders despite savage opposition.
When the submarine under his command sustained fatal damage from Japanese depth charges, Cromwell ordered the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gunfight, thereby providing an opportunity for his crew to abandon ship. The brave Captain sacrificed himself and went down with the ship, rather than risk being captured and revealing the Navy’s plans under Japanese torture or drugs. He was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit and the Congressional Medal of Honor for giving his life for his country.
If you live in the DeKalb County area and want to support the various veterans programs, please stop by the DeKalb American Legion Post 66 (1204 S. 4th Street) and share stories and learn more about our many local veterans programs. We salute all US Navy service members and veterans.