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Submarine History - The New Navy

One of the most revolutionary naval advances was the submarine. By 1900, the gyroscope, the gyrocompass, and the use of steel hulls, a safe method of propulsion in the internal combustion engine and the accumulator battery, combined to make the submarine possible. The development of the reliable torpedo provided the submarine with an excellent weapon of attack. In 1900, the six major navies of the world had only 10 submarines among them.

In 1905, an American submarine, the USS Holland, became the prototype for other navies with submarine forces. Displacing 105 tons, the Holland had three separate water-tight compartments housing her engine, control, and torpedo rooms. Her second lower deck housed the tanks and battery engines. The Holland could make almost 9 knots while submerged. A few years later the British introduced the conning tower and periscope, while the Germans in 1906 contributed the development of double-hulls and twin screws for propulsion and stability. By 1914, the six major naval powers of the world put 249 submarines to sea.

As a result of the American Civil War, armored ships, steam power plants, mines, spar torpedoes, explosive shells, and various other technological innovations, including the submarine, had been introduced as radical new concepts in conducting naval warfare. Subsequent to the Intelligent Whale's failure, inventors had realized that until a propulsion method better than manpower could be developed for underwater use, submarines were not going to be worthwhile weapons.

Before the concept of employing a manned submersible vessel in combat could fulfill its potential, three parallel concepts needed to reach maturity: the design and construction of a submersible platform, the design and construction of the weapon to be employed by the platform, and the tactical system of weapon delivery. The definition of the submersible's role relative to the larger military and naval strategy within which it was to be operated remained largely unchanged. That is, such weapons were generally considered as compatible with either riverine and coastal defense, or with attempts to sink enemy blockading naval vessels, as had been the objective of such vessels in both the War for Independence and the War of 1812, and would be again in the Civil War.

In the 1830s and 1840s, several French inventors - DeMontgery, Petit, Villeroi, and Payerne - had offered other submersible concepts, and some were actually built. But it was only when the French Navy became interested in a design by Captain Simon Bourgeois and naval constructor Charles Brun that significant progress was made.

In 1859 Bourgeois and Brun began work on Le Plongeur ("the Diver") at Rochefort -- the first submarine which did not rely on human power for propulsion. Powered by a reciprocating engine driven by stored compressed air, the 140-foot long Le Plongeur managed to average five knots submerged. She was a remarkable sight, with a displacement of 420 tons - by far the largest submarine to appear before the twentieth century. The reason for the great size was that much of Le Plongeur was storage space for enormous bottles of compressed air. The air was stored at 180 psi in 23 tanks which occupied much of the interior space of the hull. She was the first submarine to use compressed air to empty her ballast tanks.

On 24 January 1860, the Council of Work decided to continue the realization of the project. On 18 May 1863, Le Plongeur was launched. Le Plongeur suffered from inadequate longitudinal stability, mainly because she was very long and flat. She was fitted with a system of moving water from one end of the boat to the other by means of pipes and pistons to control the longitudinal equilibrium. This system worked too slowly. She would plummet downwards at a steep angle, and all the correcting gear would immediately swing into action. She would then make a break for the surface, where another 'correction' would start the process all over again. Experiments with the boat continued for three years, but eventually were abandoned.

The first steam-powered submarine in the world was the Ictineo II, built by the Spanish engineer Narcis Monturiol. Born in Figueres (Girona, Spain) on 28 September 1819, he studied Law and wrote on geography, physics and natural history. Monturiol eschewed law in favor of politics, making a name for himself as a political antagonist and socialist revolutionary. His early inventions included a cigarette rolling machine and a method for mass-producing notebooks. He first conceived of building a submarine to help coral fishermen. By June of 1859 the seven-meter-long Ictíneo was ready for its first real-life test. Ictíneo's propeller was hand-driven by a crew of four men.

Monturiol began construction of a much larger submarine, Ictineo II, on 10 February 1862. The boat was 17 meters long and displaced 65 tons. Launched on 02 October 1864, the propeller was initially operated by sixteen men. The Ictíneo II was outfitted with a single cannon that could be fired while completely submerged. Monturiol offered the Confederacy his advanced submarine Ictineo to smash the Federal blockade, but it was not purchased. Owing to its poor performance, Monturiol decided to replace the human power for a 6 Hp steam engine. The Ictineo II was re-launched on 22 October 1867, and while underwater it was propelled by a one-cylinder machine set in the boat's stern. The Ictineo II did thirteen submersions to a depth of as much as 30 meters, with the longest one lasting for seven and a half hours beneath the Barcelona harbor. Monturiol was ahead of his time, and among other things, he invented the double hull as well as the bulb-shaped bow, still used in modern vessels. Jules Verne may have drawn inspiration for Nautilus from this, the world's most advanced vessel of the day. In 1868 the Ictineo II was seized by creditors because of financial problems, broken up and sold as scrap metal. Narcis Monturiol died on 06 September 1885.

As an inspiration to the submarine pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, no other literary figure loomed as large as Jules Verne, the "father of science-fiction" and the author in 1870 of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Educated as a lawyer, Verne lacked formal training in science and engineering, but nonetheless chose so shrewdly from the speculative technologies of his day in creating a futuristic submarine for his protagonist, Captain Nemo, that the essentials of his undersea vision have nearly all been realized. American submarine inventor Simon Lake, for example, credited his life-long interest in undersea exploration to having read Verne's novel as a boy - and in 1898, he was thrilled to receive a telegram of congratulations from the author himself when his own Argonaut completed its first substantial ocean-going voyage.

According to Verne's tale, Captain Nemo and his men built Nautilus on a desert island in total secrecy by ordering components and materials from disparate sources and arranging their delivery to a variety of covert addresses. The design was entirely Nemo's, based on the engineering knowledge he had gained from extensive study in London, Paris, and New York during an earlier part of his life. The steel double hull is spindle-shaped and 70 meters (230 feet) long, with a maximum diameter of 8 meters (just over 26 feet).

As Captain Nemo describes it, .Nautilus has two hulls, one interior, one exterior, and they are joined by iron T-bars, which gives the boat a terrific rigidity. Because of this cellular arrangement, it has the resistance of a solid block. The plating can't yield; it's self-adhering and not dependent on rivets; and the homogeneity of its construction, due to the perfect union of the materials involved, permits it to defy the most violent of seas.

Submerged, the submarine displaces 1,507 metric tons (roughly 1,670 short tons) and surfaced, with only one-tenth of the hull above the water, it displaces 1,356 metric tons (1,495 short tons) - Verne is quite precise about this.

In late October of 1872 James McClintock [who had built the H.L. Hunley] journeyed from Mobile to Halifax, Nova Scotia to attend a discreet meeting with Royal Navy officers aboard the HMS Royal Alfred. The purpose of the trip was to discuss his work in submarine warfare and express his wish to build a submersible torpedo vessel for the Royal Navy. McClintock proposed to use an engine driven by ammoniacal gas, which he had seen in successful operation as a propelling power for street cars in New Orleans. It appears to have had the Hunley's overall dimensions, but possesed elements of the American Diver's internal arrangements. Essentially, it comprised the vessel McClintock desired to build, incorporating what he considered as the best elements of all his boats. McClintock admitted that his boats had suffered from three basic problems: the lack of a self-propelling motive power, inaccurate compass readings, and an inability to measure the horizontal movement while running submerged.

The next mechanically powered submarine was the steam-powered 'Resurgam', designed by a Manchester curate, the Reverend George Garrett, and built at Birkenhead in 1879. Garrett intended to demonstrate the 12 metre long vehicle to the British Navy at Portsmouth, but had mechanical problems, and while under tow the submarine was flooded and sank off North Wales.

The fact that no fewer than 28 ships on both sides of the conflict were lost to mines and "torpedoes" in the Civil War alerted the Navy to the promise - and the threat - of these new weapons. The torpedo, which had made its appearance in crude form during the Civil War, was attracting more and more attention, and questions of naval offence and defence and of the best governmental policy were attracting the serious attention of all whose duty led them into relation with such matters. The spar torpedo, used with some success during the Civil War, consisted of an explosive charge fastened to the end of a spar secured to a boat. Rigged in this way, the spar torpedo could be projected forward or abeam and lowered well below the waterline of an enemy ship.

David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) and other Navy visionaries were concerned about the impact that emerging technologies would have on future naval warfare. In 1869, when Admiral Porter became the Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, he actively campaigned for the creation of an experimental station to conduct hands-on experiments with torpedoes, mines, explosives, and electrical devices to determine how these new technologies should be employed. A committee was formed to examine sites for the experimental station, and in July 1869, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the new activity, the Naval Torpedo Station, would be located on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island.

Unless a stealthy approach could be achieved, chances of success were slim. The idea of using a self-propelled vehicle to carry the charge to an enemy at some distance followed quite directly. Its first successful implementation was the work of an Englishman, Robert Whitehead. The Fish torpedo, the Navy's first self-propelled torpedo, was built by the Naval Torpedo Station in 1871. The design was based on the physical characteristics of the Whitehead torpedo designed by the Whitehead. Into this problem in its broadest aspects John Ericsson threw himself in the early 1870s with all the ardor of his younger days. Developed during the 1870s and 1880s, when the Torpedo Station was experimenting primarily with this type, the Ericsson torpedo was slow, noisy and impractical, but was the first torpedo to use two counter-rotating propellers mounted on a single shaft.

Now recognized as "the father of the modern submarine," Irish-American inventor John Philip Holland (1841-1914) rose from relative obscurity as a New Jersey parochial school teacher to become the best-known and most influential submarine pioneer of the early 20th century. Holland offered his first submersible design - powered by a foot treadle - to the Navy Department in February 1875. The Navy provided no financial encouragement. The inventor had intended to separate air and ballast water internally using flexible, oiled silk partitions.

John Holland's first submersible, subsequently known as Holland Boat No. I, was laid down in some secrecy at the Albany Iron Works in New York City. In the spring of 1878, the boat was moved to a second iron works in Paterson - more convenient for its inventor - and launched into the Passaic River there on 22 May. Holland I was 14 feet long, weighed 2-1/4 tons, and was intended to be powered by a 4-horsepower Brayton-cycle petroleum engine driving a single screw. Fitted with both ballast and compressed air tanks fore and aft, the boat had a crew of one - Holland himself. The 14-foot craft - propelled by an improvised external steam supply - worked just well enough to convince the anti-British Fenian Brotherhood to fund Holland's next prototype.

Holland incorporated all the key concepts he had deduced about submarine navigation and then confirmed in Holland I in the so-called Fenian Ram, built in New York City between 1879 and 1881. The 19-ton submersible was powered by a 17-horsepower Brayton engine and armed with a pneumatic "dynamite gun" for two years of increasingly successful tests in New York Harbor. Holland's steady progress in improving the Fenian Ram came to an abrupt halt in November 1883 as a result of bitter internal dissension in the Fenian Brotherhood over the Ram's actual potential for harming the British and a consequent lawsuit over the expenditures of the Skirmishing Fund.

In late 1883 Holland met Lt Edmund L. Zalinski, USA, who owned and operated the Pneumatic Gun Company, which marketed his own version of the "dynamite gun" that had armed the Fenian Ram. Zalinski hoped to finance the building of a new submarine that would feature his pneumatic gun as its main armament. He offered Holland a position with the Pneumatic Gun Company, and Holland - despairing of the hoped-for Navy job - quickly accepted. Together, the two men founded the "Nautilus Submarine Boat Company," and Holland began supervising the construction of what became known as the Zalinski Boat in mid-1884 on a small island off Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.5 The new, cigar-shaped submarine was 50 feet long with a maximum beam of eight feet. To save money, the hull was largely of wood. Although demonstrated with some success in 1886, the boat was broken up when financial backing ran out.

A submarine torpedo-boat, bearing the suggestive name of Peacemaker, underwent in New York harbor a series of trials in 1884 that excited both the curiosity of the public and the interest of naval and military men. This vessel, the invention of Mr. J. H. L. Tuck, was built of iron and steel; length, 30 feet; width, 7 feet 6 inches; depth, 6 feet. The crew consisted of a pilot an engineer. The former stands with his head in a little dome projecting foot above the deck, from which small plate-glass windows permit him to see in every direction. Compressed air for breathing is store in a series of reservoirs within the boat. Not the least to notable feature of the Peacemaker was the the "fireless engine," an invention based upon the discovery that a solution of caustic soda can be utilized under certain conditions to produce the heat necessary for generating steam. Side-rudders, or defiectors, are placed at the bow and stern, with which, by varying their angle of inclination from a horizontal plane, the vessel is made to dive, or rise to the surface of the water, at the will of the pilot. It is designed to approach the enemy's ship under water, and, in passing beneath the latter's keel, to release two torpedoes connected by a short rope. The torpedoes are imbedded in cork floats, to which powerful magnets are attached, which cause them to rise as soon as detached from the boat, and to adhere to the ship's bottom. Connection is still retained with the torpedoes by electric wires, and after the boat has steamed away to a safe distance, the explosion is caused by an and electric fuse. In the recent trials the vessel ran a distance of two and a half a miles without coming to the surface, and demonstrated that, although submerged to a depth as great as fifty feet, it was still under perfect control of the pilot. It was proposed by the inventor make a number of improvements in vessel, but the Peacemaker was unable to control her depth.

Although largely overshadowed by Irish-American submarine pioneer John Holland, U.S. inventor and entrepreneur Simon Lake was nonetheless responsible for a significant share of the key developments that made possible the modern submarine. Although some authorities have questioned the claims of Lake's proponents for his invention of the periscope, the double-hulled submarine, and the diver's lock-in/lock-out chamber, he was a genuine innovator in the field of undersea technology, and his Lake Torpedo Boat Company built a total of 33 submarines for the U.S. Navy between 1909 and 1922. Additionally, two of Lake's most characteristic design features - hull-mounted wheels for bottom crawling and "level diving" by means of amidships hydroplanes - became an intriguing "road not traveled" in the evolution of submarine design.

From reading Jules Verne's 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Lake had been captivated by the prospects of undersea travel and exploration. Thus, when the US Navy announced a submarine design competition for 1893, he quickly resolved to put his burgeoning mechanical skills to work in this new field. Lake's "Submarine Vessel" patent was filed in April 1893 in conjunction with his entering the Navy's submarine design competition that year. This early design already shows several of Lake's characteristic innovations: wheels for running on the bottom, a diver's airlock, and amidships hydroplanes. Although granted first, Lake's "Submarine Locomotive" patent was intended as a supplement to his earlier filing for the "Submarine Vessel" and claimed a number of innovations specifically for salvage operations. Steampowered on the surface, the new design used batteries and electric motors underwater. A careful reading of the patent also reveals that although it was not one of his claims, Lake intended to use closely-spaced double hulls and utilize the void between them as tankage.

Although disappointed by his loss in 1893, Simon Lake nonetheless returned to Baltimore determined to break into the submarine business one way or another. Within a year, he had built a crude wooden demonstrator, called by him Argonaut Junior - and by others, "the pitch-pine submarine." This was little more than a large, triangular wooden box that could be ballasted to sink to the bottom, where it could be made to crawl forward on a set of man-powered wheels.

The enthusiasm Lake generated attracted enough investment capital for its constructor to found the "Lake Submarine Company" and begin designing and building a "real" submarine within a year. Argonaut I was 36 feet long by 9 feet in diameter and incorporated most of the distinctive features of Lake's 1893 design, including powered wheels for bottom crawling and a diver's air-lock. The boat was driven by a 30-horsepower gasoline engine, even while submerged, when it used a hose supported by a surface float to supply combustion air.

Because its first open-ocean voyage showed that Argonaut I needed to be more seaworthy, Lake had the vessel rebuilt the following year in Brooklyn, New York, largely by lengthening the boat to 56 feet and adding a flooding, schooner-like superstructure for better surface performance. The resulting submersible was dubbed New Argonaut, or Argonaut II.

Lake decided to compete for the military market himself and in 1900 founded his own "Lake Torpedo Boat Company" as an adjunct to his salvage interests. He immediately embarked on the design and construction of a submarine intended to compete with the Holland boats, and by 1 November 1902 had launched a prototype at Bridgeport he named Protector. Lake's first naval submarine was 65 feet long and displaced 170 tons. By then - like Holland - he had adopted the use of internal combustion engines for running on the surface and charging storage batteries, with electric motors underwater.

In response to Lake's challenge, John Holland and the Electric Boat Company came up with an improved submarine of their own - the Fulton - in 1903, and after tortuous negotiations and continuing delays, the Navy agreed to a definitive in-water competition between the two boats in May 1904 in Narragansett Bay. However, before these trials could take place, growing financial problems forced Lake to sell Protector to the Russian navy, which had agreed to purchase five boats of his design just prior to the Russo-Japanese war. Consequently, after some likely connivance with Electric Boat, who quickly arranged a token demonstration, the Navy again awarded EB its next submarine contract.

Lake had not given up hope of breaking the de facto Electric Boat monopoly on building submarines for the U.S. Navy. Using the proceeds from his Russian sales, he built two more experimental prototypes, Lake X - launched in October 1904, and Lake XV - launched in February 1906. Because of disputes between Lake and the government, the former boat was never granted an official trial, but after an intense pro-Lake publicity campaign, the Navy agreed to pit Lake XV against Electric Boat's new Octopus in trials held in the spring of 1907. The outcome was a decisive defeat. Lake's candidate was bested by Octopus in virtually every performance category.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:55:46 ZULU