The first USS SEAWOLF (SS-28) was authorized on 3 March 1909 and built by Union Iron Works in San Francisco, CA. Her name was changed to H-1 on 17 November 1911. Launched and commissioned in 1913, H-1 spent her early years operating with Torpedo Flotilla 2 of the Pacific Fleet, which included her sister ships USS H-2 (SS-29) and USS H-3 (SS-30). Those operations turned into patrols with the outbreak of World War I. In October of 1917, H-1 moved to the other side of the country to prowl the waters off New London, Connecticut. She provided much-needed real-world experience to a number of students at Submarine School.
In the winter of 1920, H-1, traveling with H-2, set out for the west coast. The two boats transited the Panama Canal on 20 February and then turned to head up the coast of Mexico. On the evening of 12 March, as they hugged the coast of the Baja Peninsula, H-1 fetched up on a shoal about 400 yards off Santa Margarita Island’s Redondo Point. Despite attempts to maneuver off the rocks, the stern of the boat refused to move. Her position made it impossible to throw a line to H-2 for a tow.
The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander James Webb, determined that the crew should abandon ship, which meant swimming to shore through rough seas; three men, out of a complement of 25, did not make it. Webb himself was also lost when he was swept from the bridge by a large wave. The darkness and choppy waters made it impossible for his men to locate him. Late the following day, a steamship arrived on the scene to pick up the crew, who were soaked and hungry but alive. They were taken to Los Angeles, where they disembarked on 19 March.
Meanwhile, several U.S. Navy ships converged on the stricken H-1 and attempted to haul her off the rocks. On 26 March, the repair ship USS VESTAL (AR-4) finally managed to wrench the sub free. VESTAL began the trip to San Diego with H-1 in tow, but in less than an hour the sub succumbed to the wounds inflicted by the rocks and sank beneath the surface, coming to rest in 50 feet of water.
Although the wreck was sold for scrap it was never salvaged. In 1992, the remains of H-1 were rediscovered. Today she plays host to scores of divers who travel to Mexico just to see her.