Back to Home

Seward Johnson and the Submarine Chaser

Profile picture for user mgurowi
By Margaret Gurowitz
Sep 27, 2007

Seward Johnson, 1928

I received a comment on my last post from Todd Woofenden, who’s the editor of a fascinating website, The Sub Chaser Archives, which details the stories and history of U.S. sub chasers in World War I.   Sub chasers were heavily armed wooden hulled boats that were built to hunt down the German U-boats, or submarines, that dominated the seas and caused heavy losses to shipping and merchant convoys carrying supplies.  Given the destructive effectiveness of the U-boats, this was dangerous work.

I had mentioned in my last post that Robert Wood Johnson’s younger brother, John Seward Johnson, was on a sub chaser during World War I.  In fact, he was the second in command on Submarine Chaser 255 when he was 21.  Here’s a photo of the subchaser Seward Johnson served on, courtesy of The Subchaser Archives.  According to the Subchaser Archives, these boats had two commanding officers and typically had around 22 crewmen.  Here's a photo from 1917 of sub chasers under construction at the New York Navy Yard, which gives an idea of their size...which, according to the Archives, was 110 feet.

Here’s a quote from Seward Johnson about his sub chaser days from a 1969 Company publication in our archives:

“ ‘Our orders were to bottle up German and Austrian submarines that were making disastrous forays on our shipping in the Mediterranean.  This is where my experience with signaling helped me considerably as a commanding officer.  As soon as the flagship broke out their signal flags, I was the first in the fleet to understand the message.  I would break out my answer immediately, before any other vessel.’ ”  [Johnson & Johnson Bulletin, in-house publication, April, 1969, pp. 2-3.] 

Share this article

Read 1 comment
Full name will be displayed as entered.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
By submitting your comments, you agree that your comments may be made available to the public. All comments will be reviewed before posting, and if approved, will be shared publicly on the site. Please do not include any information and/or comments that you would like to remain private. Since this blog is about history, topics that don’t directly relate to the history of Johnson & Johnson and its operating companies won’t be posted.. Issues not related to the history of J&J, including any product complaints, will be forwarded to the appropriate Johnson & Johnson team for follow-up as appropriate. This site will not publish any comments that have inappropriate language... so be nice! We will use the information you submit in accordance with our  Privacy Policy.
Christian D'andrea
NOVEMBER 18, 2010 03:01 PM

Thanks for the links to the great photos of the subchasers.
From this post, and the recent Veterans Day post, it seems as though the J&J in-house bulletins placed a premium, through the years, on tipping their hats to employees (and family members) who served their country.