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Submarine History - Old Steam Navy

William Bauer, a German, built a submarine in Kiel in 1850, but met with little success. Bauer's first boat sank in 55 feet of water. As his craft was sinking, he opened the flood valves to equalize the pressure inside the submarine so the escape hatch could be opened. Bauer had to convince two terrified seamen that this was the only means of escape. When the water was at chin level, the men were shot to the surface with a bubble of air that blew the hatch open. Bauer's simple technique was rediscovered years later and employed in modern submarines' escape compartments that operate on the same principle.

Probably the most unique cutter to have sailed under the Revenue Service ensign, Naugatuck, also known as the E.A. Stevens, was a gun battery that could partially submerge for protection. She displaced 120 tons, was steam-driven, and mounted a 100-pounder Parrott rifle and two 12-pounders. Of a radical design, she was a semi-submersible ironclad, needing only 15 minutes to take on enough water ballast to sink almost 3 feet. Thus, she could enter battle with only her impenetrable turret mounting a 100-pounder rifled-Parrot gun above water. Afterwards, she could pump the water overboard again in just eight minutes flat. She was built by H. R. Dunham of New York, possibly in 1844, and purchased by the Stevens family of Hoboken, New Jersey to test ideas for an ironclad, known as the "Steven's Battery," they were constructing. The Stevens family donated the Naugatuck to the Revenue Marine on 12 March 1862, to generate interest in this novel design.

She was evidently highly modified before entering service, since depictions of this vessel show no turret, but rather a pivot gun, and a pair of huts on the deck that are evidently incompatible with a submersible. Thus modified, she took part in the famous battle between the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor in Hampton Roads and in the attack on Drewry's Bluff, VA, in 1862. Being contemporary with the famous Monitor and Virginia, she was rushed south in hopes of tipping the balance in the Union's favor. In her first action, she served as bait for a well-laid trap. Her commanding officer, Lieutenant D. C. Constable, USRM, placed the USRMS Naugatuck within a quarter of a mile of the Confederate battery at Sewell's Point and bombarded it until, as planned, the Virginia steamed out to investigate. Lieutenant Constable then slowly retired toward a squadron of U.S. Navy steamers, amidst which lurked the Monitor, in hopes of trapping and destroying the Confederate ironclad. But the Virginia sensed danger, refused the bait, and retired. She also served as a guard vessel in New York Harbor later in the war. She was removed from service in 1872.

There was one feature of the earlier plans which were submitted to Napoleon III in 1854, which he did not embody in the "Monitor," and which, indeed, was omitted from all published plans and descriptions of the system given out in former years. This was a system of submarine or subaqueous attack, which, he states in a letter to John Bourne, had attracted his attention since 1826. After the Civil War the time seemed ripe for the presentation and development of this idea, and he accordingly developed his designs for a torpedo, and for a method of firing it under water from a gun carried in the bow of a boat, and suitably opening to allow the discharge of the torpedo projectile.

This was Ericsson's so-called "Destroyer" system, and was embodied finally in a boat called the "Destroyer," which he built in company with his friend, Mr. C.H. Delamater, and with which he carried on numerous experiments. The Destroyer, launched in 1878, could fire submarine torpedoes. On the "Destroyer" the means of defence consisted simply in a light deflecting deck armor forward, the vessel being intended to fight bows on and depending on her means of offence rather than defence, which were made quite secondary in character.

In the end, however, the system did not commend itself to the naval authorities, and the "Destroyer" was left on her designer's hands, an instance of difference of opinion between Ericsson and those charged with the duty of naval administration, and with no supreme test of war to provide opportunity for the determination as to which were the more correct in their judgment. With the "Destroyer," and his work in connection with her, closes the record of Ericsson's connection with the advance in naval construction.

But the idea of the swift, small torpedo-boat -- invented by John Ericsson -- lived on. These small boats had speed greater than that of larger ships, and could dash in close to them, loose their torpedoes, and dash away. The world's navies recognized the need for a counter weapon and developed the torpedo-boat destroyer.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:55:42 ZULU