P'TOWN REMEMBERS 1927 SUB DISASTER
PROVINCETOWN - He was a young Navy commander. She was the beautiful daughter of a prominent Baltimore family. . . .
Among the young members of the dashing submarine corps, Lt. Commander Roy Kelhor Jones and his wife, Evelyn Bond Jones, were considered a glamorous pair.
But on Dec. 17, 1927, tragedy struck. Jones was skipper of the S-4, a submarine on maneuvers off Provincetown that sank when struck by the Coast Guard destroyer Paulding.
Yesterday, Jacqueline Jones Hull, daughter of the S-4's skipper, participated in the 45th annual service at St. Mary of the Harbor Church honoring the 40 men who lost their lives aboard the submarine, and the many servicemen and townspeople who struggled vainly to save them. . . .
The sinking of the S-4 was a tragedy that gripped the nation's attention and haunted Provincetown residents for months.
The S-4 was a 231-foot, double-hulled submarine weighing 90 tons. It had just been repaired and refitted at the Navy yard in Portsmouth, N.H., when it was sent to Provincetown Harbor for a deep-water trial course to determine its underwater fitness.
The Paulding had been transferred to the Coast Guard from the Navy, and was used for policing rum-running off the East Coast.
The Paulding had just finished her open-sea patrol and was headed into Provincetown Harbor late the afternoon of Dec. 17 when she rammed the S-4. The collision was about 1,800 yards southwest of Wood End near the tip of Provincetown.
The submarine's ballast tanks were damaged in the collision, causing the vessel to sink 102 feet to the ocean's floor.
Francis Roza of Provincetown was a 19-year-old Coast Guardsman assigned to the Wood End station the day of the accident.
"The seas were vicious that day. And we had gale-force winds. Four of us went out in a 36-foot open boat to try and rescue those we could," he said.
But there was nothing the Coast Guard could do. And in the days that followed, all rescue efforts failed.
The Falcon, the Navy's only salvage ship in the Atlantic, was sent to Provincetown from New London.
Two days after its sinking, Navy divers communicated with six men still alive on the sub by using a wrench to bang out Morse code on the vessel's metal hull. That wrench is now part of a memorial display in a museum at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
"There was such a horrible helpless feeling, knowing there were men down there waiting for you to help. But nothing seemed to work," said Roza.
Navy divers nearly lost their lives when sand collapsed a tunnel being dug beneath the submarine.
. . . Local fishermen volunteered to drop grappling lines around the submarine and attempt to haul it into shallower waters.
"To this day I don't understand why those men couldn't have been rescued," said Ernest Tarvers, a retired fisherman from Truro.
"We could have dropped hooks around that sub and hauled her in. She was so close to shore, I just don't understand how we couldn't get her in."
John Lynch of New York City is at work on a book about the S-4.
"There really wasn't much they could do. The only places the grappling hooks could have been attached were the anchor and propeller, and that wouldn't have been enough," he said yesterday.
One good thing did come out of the sinking.
"These were the early days of submarines and those men were, in a sense, pioneers," Lynch said. "This tragedy spurred the military into developing better rescue technology."
. . . Newspapers across the country had a field day with the S-4 sinking, Lynch said. There was cutthroat competition among reporters to dig up the most "sensational or shocking story."
. . . .
More than 100 people, including veterans, local residents and representatives of the Coast Guard and Navy attended yesterday's simple but moving ceremonies at the church.
Two wreaths were placed upon the cross, but later this week, Captain Anthony Jackett of the fishing vessel Plymouth Belle, will take one of the wreaths to the site of the S-4 sinking.
Cape Cod Times, December 13, 1982.