Aug. 30, 1917: The first submarine ever built at a U.S. Navy shipyard, the USS L-8, is commissioned.

The Navy paid the Lake Torpedo Boat Co. $52,700 for the plans. The keel was laid down Feb. 24, 1915, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. The vessel was launched April 23, 1917, 17 days after Congress declared war on Germany during in World War I.

The 165-foot sub is equipped with four 18-inch torpedo tubes. During the waning days of the war, it takes part in patrols looking for German U-boats, using the strategy of accompanying a decoy fake merchant ship and waiting for a German submarine to surface and attack it with deck guns, then firing torpedoes at the Germans. There is no record that the L-8 ever lured a German submarine into such a trap, however.

The L-8 is decommissioned in 1922 and sunk as a target in 1926 off Rhode Island in a torpedo test. A Rhode Island company begins to work on the wreck in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The company recovers a propeller, which it gives to the Naval War College.

High-resolution mapping of the wreck shows that it is largely intact at a depth of 110 feet.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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