The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man… Thomas Robert MALTHUS

All About History of Submarines…(II)

Mechanically powered submarines (late 19th century)



The first submarine not relying on human power for propulsion was the French Plongeur (meaning diver), launched in 1863, and using compressed air at 180 psi (1241 kPa).

The first combustion-powered submarine was Ictineo II, designed in Spain by Narcís Monturiol. Originally launched in 1864 as human-powered, propelled by 16, it was converted to peroxide propulsion and steam in 1867. The 14 meter (46 ft) craft was designed for a crew of two, could dive to 30 metres (96 ft), and demonstrated dives of two hours. On the surface it ran on a steam engine, but underwater such an engine would quickly consume the submarine’s oxygen; so Monturiol invented an air-independent propulsion system. While the air-independent power system drove the screw, the chemical process driving it also released oxygen into the hull for the crew and an auxiliary steam engine. Monturiol’s fully functional, double hulled vessels also solved pressure and buoyancy control problems that had bedeviled earlier designs.

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Replica of Ictineo II, Barcelona

In 1870, the French writer Jules Verne published the science fiction classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which concerns the adventures of a maverick inventor in Nautilus, a submarine more advanced than any at the time. The story inspired inventors to build more advanced submarines.

In 1879, the Peruvian government, during the War of the Pacific, commissioned and built the fully operational submarine Toro Submarino. It never saw military action before being scuttled after the defeat of that country in the war to prevent its capture by the enemy.

The first submarine to be mass-produced was human-powered. It was the submarine of the Polish inventor Stefan Drzewiecki—50 units were built in 1881 for the Russian government. In 1884 the same inventor built an electric-powered submarine.


The Nordenfelt-designed, Ottomansubmarine Abdülhamid

Discussions between the English clergyman and inventor George Garrett and the industrially and commercially adept Swede Thorsten Nordenfelt led to a series of steam-powered submarines. The first was the Nordenfelt I, a 56 tonne, 19.5 metre (64 ft) vessel similar to Garret’s ill-fated Resurgam(1879), with a range of 240 kilometres (150 mi, 130 nm), armed with a single torpedo, in 1885. LikeResurgamNordenfelt I operated on the surface by steam, then shut down its engine to dive. While submerged the submarine released pressure generated when the engine was running on the surface to provide propulsion for some distance underwater. Greece, fearful of the return of the Ottomans, purchased it. Nordenfelt then built Nordenfelt II (Abdülhamid) in 1886 and Nordenfelt III (Abdülmecid) in 1887, a pair of 30 metre (100 ft) submarines with twin torpedo tubes, for the Ottoman navy. Abdülhamid became the first submarine in history to fire a torpedo submerged. Nordenfelt’s efforts culminated in 1887 with Nordenfelt IV which had twin motors and twin torpedoes. It was sold to the Russians, but proved unstable, ran aground, and was scrapped.

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Peral submarine hull, Cartagena

Two submarines, both launched in September 1888, marked the maturing of naval submarine technology.

One was the Peral Submarine, launched by the Spanish Navy. It had two torpedoes, new air systems, hull shape, propeller, and cruciform external controls anticipating much later designs. After two years of trials the project was scrapped by naval officialdom that cited concerns over the short range permitted by its batteries.

The other was the Gymnote, launched by the French Navy. Gymnote was also an electrically powered and fully functional military submarine. It completed over 2,000 successful dives using a 204-cell battery. Although she was scrapped for her limited range her side hydroplanes became the standard for future submarine designs.

Many more designs were built at this time by various inventors, but submarines were not put into service by navies until 1900.

End of the 19th century to World War I…

The turn of the 20th century marked a pivotal time in the development of submarines, with a number of important technologies making their debut, as well as the widespread adoption and fielding of submarines by a number of nations. Diesel electric propulsion would become the dominant power system and equipment such as the periscope would become standardized. Large numbers of experiments were done by countries on effective tactics and weapons for submarines, all of which would culminate in them making a large impact on the coming World War I.

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USS Plunger, launched in 1902

In 1896, the Irish-American inventor John Philip Holland (1841–1914, born in Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland) designed submarines that, for the first time, made use of internal combustion engine power on the surface and electric battery power for submerged operations. The ‘Fenian Ram’, in 1881, was the launching the world’s first successful submarine. The Holland VI was launched on May 17, 1897 at Navy Lt. Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard of Elizabeth, New Jersey. On April 11, 1900 the United States Navy purchased the revolutionary Holland VI and renamed it the USS Holland (SS-1), America’s first commissioned submarine. (John P. Holland’s company, the Holland Torpedo Boat Company/Electric Boat Company became General Dynamics „Cold War” progeny and is arguably the builder of the world’s most technologically advanced submarines today).

The first mechanically powered series of submarines to be put into service by navies, which included Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States, were the Holland submersibles built by Irish designer John Philip Holland in 1900.[9] Several of each of them were retained in both the Imperial Russian and Japanese Navies during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905.

Although both warring nations possessed some Holland submarines, with the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) purchasing at least 5 from the United States, the Russian navy preferred the German constructed submersibles built by the Germaniawerft shipyards out of Kiel. In 1903 Germany successfully completed its first fully functional engine-powered submarine, the Forelle (Trout). This vessel was sold to Russia in 1904 and shipped via the Trans-Siberian Railway to the combat zone during the Russo-Japanese War.

A prototype version of the Plunger-class or A-class submarines, the Fulton, was developed at Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard for the United States Navy before the construction of the A-class submarines there in 1901. A naval architect and shipbuilder from the United Kingdom, Arthur Leopold Busch, superintended the development of these first submarines for Holland’s company. However the Fulton was never purchased by the U.S. Navy and was eventually sold to the Imperial Russian Navy during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Two other A-class vessels were built on the West Coast of (USA) at Mare Island Naval Shipyard/Union Iron Works circa 1901. In 1902, Holland received a patent for his persistent pursuit to perfect the underwater naval craft. By this time, Holland was no longer in control of the day-to-day operations at Electric Boat, as others were now at the helm of the company he once founded. The acumen of business were now in control of these operations as Holland was forced to step down. His resignation from the company was to be effective as of April 1904.


The 1900 French submarine Narval

In 1904, the Imperial Russian Navy ordered several more submersibles from the Kiel shipyard, submarines from the Karp class. One sample of which was modified and improved, and commissioned into the Imperial German Navy in 1906 as its first U-Boat, the U1. U1 was retired from service in 1919, and is currently preserved and on display in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Many other countries became interested in Holland’s products around this time. Holland’s innovations and ideas were considered to be the most technologically advanced at the time and were universally acknowledged as such. From 1901 onwards some of Holland’s vessels were purchased by the United States Navy and other governments including the United Kingdom, the Imperial Russian Navy, Imperial Japanese Navyand the Royal Netherlands Navy.

Commissioned in June 1900, the French steam and electric submarine Narval introduced the classic double-hull design, with a pressure hull inside the outer light hull. These 200-ton ships had a range of over 100 miles (160 km) on the surface, and over 10 miles (16 km) underwater. The French submarine Aigrette in 1904 further improved the concept by using a diesel rather than a gasoline engine for surface power. Large numbers of these submarines were built, with seventy-six completed before 1914.

Submarines during World War I…


The German submarine U-9, which sank three British cruisers in a few minutes in September 1914

Military submarines first made a significant impact in World War I. Forces such as the U-boats of Germany saw action in the First Battle of the Atlantic, and were responsible for the sinking of Lusitania, which was sunk as a result of unrestricted submarine warfare and is often cited among the reasons for the entry of the United States into the war.

In August 1914, a flotilla of ten U-boats sailed from their base in Heligoland to attack Royal Navy warships in the North Sea in the first submarine war patrol in history. Their aim was to sink capital ships of the British Grand Fleet, and so reduce the Grand Fleet’s numerical superiority over the German High Seas Fleet. With much depending more on luck than strategy, the first sortie was not a success. Only one attack was carried out, when U-15 fired a torpedo (which missed) at HMS Monarch, while two of the ten U-boats were lost. The U-9 had better luck. On 22 September 1914 while patrolling the Broad Fourteens, a region of the southern North Sea, U-9 found a squadron of three obsolescent British Cressy-class armoured cruisers (HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, and HMS Cressy), which were assigned to prevent German surface vessels from entering the eastern end of the English Channel. She fired all six of her torpedoes, reloading while submerged, and sank all three in less than an hour.


German U-boat U 14

The U-boats’ ability to function as practical war machines relied on new tactics, their numbers, and submarine technologies such as combination diesel-electric power system developed in the preceding years. More submersibles than true submarines, U-boats operated primarily on the surface using regular engines, submerging occasionally to attack under battery power. They were roughly triangular in cross-section, with a distinct keel to control rolling while surfaced, and a distinct bow. During World War I more than 5,000 Allied ships had been sunk by U-boats.

Interwar developments…

Various new submarine designs were developed during the interwar years. Among the most notorious ones were submarine aircraft carriers, equipped with a waterproof hangar and steam catapult to launch and recover one or more small seaplanes. The submarine and its plane could then act as a reconnaissance unit ahead of the fleet, an essential role at a time when radar still did not exist. The first example was the British HMS M2, followed by the French Surcouf, and numerous aircraft-carrying submarines in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Submarines during World War II…


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German U-175 Submarine on the surface

Germany had the largest submarine fleet during World War II. Due to the Treaty of Versailles limiting the surface navy, the rebuilding of the German surface forces had only begun in earnest a year before the outbreak of World War II. Expecting to be able to defeat the Royal Navythrough underwater warfare, the German High Command pursued commerce raiding and immediately stopped all construction on capital surface ships save the nearly completed Bismarck-class battleships and two cruisers, switching its resources to submarines, which could be built more quickly. Though it took most of 1940 to expand the production facilities and get the mass production started, more than a thousand submarines were built by the end of the war.

Germany put submarines to devastating effect in the Second Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, attempting but ultimately failing to cut off Britain’s supply routes by sinking more merchant ships than Britain could replace. The supply lines were vital to Britain for food and industry, as well as armaments from the US. Although the U-boats had been updated in the intervening years, the major innovation was improved communications, encrypted using the famous Enigma cipher machine. This allowed for mass-attack tactics or „wolf packs” (Rudeltaktik), but was also ultimately the U-boats’ downfall.

After putting to sea, U-boats operated mostly on their own, trying to find convoys in areas assigned to them by the High Command. If a convoy was found, the submarine did not attack immediately, but shadowed the convoy to allow other submarines in the area to find the convoy. These were then grouped into a larger striking force to attack the convoy simultaneously, preferably at night while surfaced.

From September 1939 to the beginning of 1943, the Ubootwaffe („U-boat force”) scored unprecedented success with these tactics, but were too few to have any decisive success. By the spring of 1943, German U-boat construction was at full capacity, but this was more than nullified by increased numbers of convoy escorts and aircraft, as well as technical advances likeradar and sonar. Huff-Duff and Ultra allowed the Allies to route convoys around wolf packs when they detected them from their radio transmissions. The results were devastating: from March to July of that year, over 130 U-boats were lost, 41 in May alone. Concurrent Allied losses dropped dramatically, from 750,000 tons in March to only 188,000 in July. Although theSecond battle of the Atlantic would continue to the last day of the war, the U-boat arm was unable to stem the tide of personnel and supplies, paving the way for Operation Torch,Operation Husky, and ultimately, D-Day. Winston Churchill wrote that the U-boat „peril” was the only thing that ever gave him cause to doubt the Allies’ eventual victory.

By the end of the war, almost 3,000 Allied ships (175 warships; 2,825 merchant ships) were sunk by U-boat torpedoes. Of the 40,000 men in the U-boat service, 28,000 (or 70%) lost their lives.


2 responses

  1. Chiar interesant mrs…

    12 Decembrie 2010 la 9:12 AM

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