Submarines: terror weapons of World War I. Two maritime disasters involving submarines bookend Hawaii’s pre-war experience. March 25, 1915: an accident off Pearl Harbor causes the loss of submarine USS F-4 with 21 crew. April 1, 1917: vessel SS Aztec torpedoed off France with 5 Hawaii merchant mariners among those drowned.
As ‘Europe’s war’ began in 1914, Elks meeting agendas focus on their Kamehameha Day Committee, financial support for the Salvation Army July 4th children’s picnic, and finding a permanent lodge site. In the Atlantic, the ocean is the battlefield with both sides expecting a quick victory. Britain, the world’s oceanic super-power, threw up a total naval blockade of goods for Germany. Including food as contraband, Britain aimed to starve Germany into surrender. Without the surface vessels to break Britain’s blockade, Germany declared their own blockade enforced by German U-boats. At first war ships were “shot without warning”, but unarmed merchantmen were allowed to put crew in lifeboats before torpedoes were loosed and the shipping sunk. Gentlemanly conduct soon ended as both sides took more drastic measures hoping to speed victory.
Military Preparedness programs begin in the US, including submarines, just in case. Among the experimental boats is the USS F-4, a 330-ton submarine. Aug. 1909, her keel is laid down in Seattle. She is launched Jan. 1912, and commissioned May 3, 1913, the 24th submarine in the U.S. Navy. F-4 is stationed on the west coast, and then moves to Hawaii Aug. 1914 with 3 sister subs as the 1st Submarine Group, Pacific Torpedo Flotilla.
The F-4 left the harbor March 25, 1915, for training maneuvers with the F-1 and F-3. When F-4 failed to return with the others, a search began. The sub was found in 51 fathoms, 1 1/2 miles off Oahu. As the waterfront learned of the search, crowds appeared waiting and watching. Next day, after repeat failed attempts to lift the boat, the Navy acknowledged loss of 21 crewmen. 
Life insurance for servicemen was unknown in 1915. Instead Hawaii’s civilian and military communities began an F-4 Relief Fund for the families of the crew. On the Lodge floor, 616 PER Dougherty moved a $100 donation to the Fund. When questions arose on how the Lodge would pay, Brother Thompson personally pledged $100, ending debate. Chagrin members made and carried a motion to donate $200. That summer, 616 Elks ‘passed the hat’ to fund the Salvation Army July 4th picnic, rather than appropriate from Lodge funds. As finances tightened, hope for a new lodge still was strong.
After the April 1915 Lusitania sinking with 1,198 people lost, Germany had an on/off policy of unrestricted U-boat attacks on merchant marine and passenger vessels. Hawaii newspaper stories began to favor the Allied countries. 1916 peace negotiations between the warring parties failed, and the submarine blockade was re-established, and then escalated early in 1917. Germany gambled Britain would sue for peace before American shipping losses lead to an American declaration of war. The British worked furiously diplomatically and with public opinion to draw in the Americans.
Shipping losses drove Britain close to surrender, but Germany lost the propaganda war. They became the hated Huns, the bloody hand of death, guilty of real and imagined brutality, solidifying Americans against Germany.
For Hawaii, the 1917 sinking of the Aztec would create an anger that swept away nearly all resistance to the US declaration of war.
Anita Manning, Lodge Historian
For more on the USS F-4 visit the Bowfin Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor or the web sites below
Minutes 616: 1914 Jun 12, Jul 3; 1915 Apr 2, 9, 23
 Raised in August 1915, a report determined corrosion let excessive seawater flood the ballast tank, sinking F-4 deeply. Water pressure opened her seams. The incident revealed design flaws, leading to improved safety.