After the US Navy laid the keel of the S-42-class submarine USS S-44 (SS-155) on January 14, 1921 at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in Quincy, Massachusetts, she eventually went down the quays on October 27, 1923. The Navy commissioned her on February 16, 1925. When she cruised on the surface, she displaced 903 tons. While submerged, the submarine displaced 1,126 tons. Powered by two 1,200 horsepower Diesel engines that drove her through the water at a maximum speed of 14.5 knots while surfaced, she could submerge powered by 120 battery cells supplying electricity to electric motors at a maximum speed of 11 knots. Her maximum diving depth was 200 feet — far less than the fleet submarines (400 feet) the Americans launched after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The boat had four 21-inch forward-facing torpedo tubes, one 4-inch deck gun, and could carry 12 torpedoes. Her crew included four officers and 34 enlisted men.
After operating off the New England coast, she served at Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone from mid-1925 until 1927 when she then moved to a new base at San Diego, California. The submarine then cruised to Hawaii in 1930. Seven years later, she returned to her former base in the Panama Canal Zone.
After an overhaul in 1941, the submarine began her wartime service in the Canal Zone early in 1942. Later in March and April, the S-44 crossed the Pacific to the American submarine base in Brisbane, Australia. She patrolled the waters four times near the Solomon Islands. During these patrols, she torpedoed and sank the Japanese salvage ship Shoei Maru on May 12 and the converted Japanese gunboat Kiejo Maru on June 21. Her most famous victory was the sinking of the heavy cruiser Kako on August 10. Later on October 4, she attacked a Japanese destroyer but ran into trouble this time. The Japanese counterattacked with an intense depth charge attack that severely damaged the submarine. The S-44 had to return in early 1943 to the U.S. for needed repairs.
After completing repairs and a badly needed overhaul at the Philadelphia in June 1943, the submarine left for the Aleutians and arrived there in mid-September. While on her fifth patrol on October 7, she sighted a Japanese ship and attacked it with her deck gun. Tragically, the ship was a destroyer, which overwhelmingly outgunned the S-44. The submarine absorbed fatal damage, and she quickly sank. There were only survivors from her crew.