Submarines continued page 2

Collecting Submarine Covers – Page 2 of 4
by Ned Harris (USCS # 3608)

William F. Spader, of Noank, Connecticut, sponsored printed/photo/thermograph cachets for submarines built at Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut.

William F. Spader cover documenting FDC of U.S.S. Darter (SS-227)

On 23 May 1938, USS Squalus (SS-192) submerged for a test dive off Portsmouth, New Hampshire and sank to the bottom due to flooding through a jammed main induction valve. A submarine marker buoy was released and word was passed through its telephone to her sister ship, USS Sculpin (SS-191), that there were survivors trapped on the bottom. Shortly after, the line parted and contact was lost. The next morning submarine rescue vessel U.S.S. Falcon arrived on the scene with the McCann Rescue Chamber aboard. With the help of Sculpin and other vessels, they were able to locate Squalus and the rescue started. A wire cable was attached to Squalus’s forward torpedo room by divers. The other end of this cable was fed to the downhaul reel in the McCann Rescue Chamber. The chamber was also attached to Falcon’s large salvage lift boom by another wire cable. A total of 4 trips were made down to Squalus. Finally, just past midnight on 25 May, thirty-nine hours after Squalus had sunk, the last of the 33 surviving crewmen reached the open air and the deck of Falcon. The rescue of the surviving Squalus crewmen was well documented by collectors. The cover below is one of several produced by Gow Ng for this event.

Gow Ng cover documenting the rescue of 33 men from the sunken submarine U.S.S. Squalus (SS-192)


The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor significantly degraded the U.S. Navy’s capability in the Pacific. It was the submarine force that was called upon to hold off the Japanese until the U.S. could recover. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz commended the job they did as follows: “It was to the submarine force that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.”

The submarine force made an immense contribution to the war in the Pacific. They sank 1178 Japanese merchant ships totaling 5,053,491 tons plus 214 Japanese naval vessels totaling 577,625 tons.

The submarine service of the U.S. Navy suffered the highest percentage of losses of any branch of the American armed forces with almost one in five vessels failing to return. However, the achievements of the U.S. submarines are legend as their crews, while representing only two percent of the Naval personnel, accounted for over fifty five percent of Japanese shipping losses. The Japanese merchant marine was second to none and vital to the fighting potential and economy of the island nation, but by 1945 it had ceased to exist as the U.S. submarines succeeded in its near total destruction.

During World War II, “U.S. Navy” was used instead of the ship’s name in the postmark, as a wartime security measure. These postmarks are referred to a type-z cancels. Three distinct types of wartime submarine covers can be found. Construction event covers (Keel, Launch and FDC) with Type-z cancels, Sailor’s mail covers, i.e. personal mail from the ship’s crew, and lastly official “penalty mail” covers.


Cover documenting the Oct 15, 1943 launch of the U.S.S. Tang (SS-306) Note the use of a Type z cancel for wartime security


Wartime “penalty mail” cover from U.S.S. S-33

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USS Tutuila (PR-4)
Cover by
Steve Shay (#L-10821)
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