you think you know about the history of submarines may not be true.
every book which covers the early history of submarines is riddled
with errors. It would appear that the authors, in a hurry to get to
the two World Wars and beyond, confined their treatment of the first
300 years of submarine development to a few pages, and their research
to a cursory review of other recent books. Let
one significant error stand for all: this, from a popular history
of the World War I British submarine force:
a hundred years earlier, Pitt had watched Robert Fulton's Nautilus
nose her way under the waters of Walmer Roads before attacking and
sinking the Danish brig "Dorothea."
are only two things wrong with this: British Prime Minister Pitt was
not present at the demonstration, and Fulton never had his "diving
boat" Nautilus in England; he built only one (many reports
to the contrary notwithstanding), which he demonstrated for the French.
In France. And which he scrapped in France. There is no evidence that
Nautilus was ever used to sink anything, anywhere. Fulton did
indeed sink "Dorothea" off the coast of England but he did so with
carefully placed explosive charges that he called "torpedoes." To
place the charges he used boats. Row boats. A short time later, Fulton
gave the Earl of St. Vincent (who likewise had not been present at
the demonstration) a briefing. The earl's response has ever since
been enshrined as the ultimate pithy saying about submarines: "Pitt
was the greatest fool who ever lived to encourage a mode of war which
they who commanded the seas did not want, and which, if successful,
would deprive them of it."
pithy sayings go, it would be first rate if these were the earl of
St. Vincent's words. However, the statement is Robert Fulton's report
of what the earl said. As delivered, the quotation is suspiciously
tinged with Fulton's views of his own transcendent importance.
pithy sayings go, it would have been even better had the earl been
talking about submarine boats. He was not. The conversations centered
on Fulton's schemes for delivering torpedoes by surface boats or rafts,
not by submarine.