Hodges Square’s hidden history

A fellow history enthusiast asked me if I knew how Hodges Square in New London got its name. I didn't. He said that he casually wonders about it as he drives by it on his way to work every day. It turns out that the neighborhood was named for Arthur Frederick Hodges; I'm glad my friend was curious because Arthur's story is important.

In 1927 Machinist Mate Arthur Hodges was in the submarine service, in line for a promotion. He was single, 28 years old, of medium build and his eyes were blue. He was a Mason, an Elk, and a member of the W.B. Thomas Hose Volunteer Fire Company. His mother had been widowed twice, and his brother, Wallace, had died in a tugboat accident. Fate wasn't kind to this family.

On Dec. 17, 1927, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Paulding was patrolling for rum runners off Cape Cod. Finished for the day, she headed for Provincetown Harbor. Simultaneously the submarine known as S-4, which had been conducting drills in the same area, also called it a day and started to surface. When the Paulding saw the S-4 directly in her path, it was too late to avoid a collision. The submarine and her crew, which included Arthur, quickly sank to the bottom of Cape Cod Bay.

The Paulding radioed for assistance, lowered life boats, and watched hopefully for the S-4 to resurface. Instead, all they saw were a few air bubbles and an oil slick.

Conditions within the S-4 sound unimaginably horrific. The electrical circuits shorted out immediately, throwing the entire vessel into total darkness. Attempting to escape the water that was flooding in, some of the men barricaded themselves in the engine room, others went to the motor room, and a few fled to the torpedo room which had a water-tight door. The air reeked of chlorine gas and the cold was bone-chilling.

Although the submarine was under only about 110 feet of water, rescue efforts were severely hampered by high seas and a savage storm off the Cape. Most of the crew, including Arthur, probably suffocated or drowned within the first 24 hours, but the men sequestered in the torpedo room suffered longer.

During periods when the weather abated enough for divers to go down, they could hear the men in the torpedo room tapping out messages in Morse code on the submarine wall, heartbreaking messages like: "Please hurry," and "Is there any hope?" Finally the air supply gave out and there was no more tapping.

On Christmas Eve, after 10 days of brave but futile attempts and with the certain knowledge that there were no survivors, the rescue mission was halted. It resumed as a recovery mission the following spring.

After this tragedy the Navy immediately began work to improve submarine safety. They raised the S-4 and used her to test the McCann rescue chamber, a diving bell constructed at Electric Boat. Other technical improvements were developed and became standard equipment for all submarines. Procedures were changed so that surface ships and submarines would operate in separate sea lanes. In the future, many lives would be saved, and the answer to a submariner's question, "Is there any hope?" was much more likely to be "Yes."

In 1928, at the request of his friends at the fire station, New London named Hodges Square for Arthur. With the advent of the Gold Star Bridge and later I-95, the area became increasingly isolated from downtown. Now the Hodges Square Village Association is spearheading a revitalization initiative designed to make the neighborhood a more integral part of the city as well as an attractive destination in its own right. I think a plaque honoring Arthur would be a meaningful tribute.

Carol Sommer of Waterford is a self-proclaimed history nut. She writes a monthly history column inspired by local street signs.

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