WORLD SUBMARINE HISTORY TIMELINE
for NOVA by Captain Brayton Harris, USN (Retired)
Navy Times Book of Submarines: A Political, Social and Military History
Thanks to recent scholarship, we are able to add new material---hitherto unknown
early submarines, new details added to older listings . . . October 2011
French novelist JULES
VERNE brought submarines to full public consciousness with "Twenty Thousand
Leagues Under the Sea." A submarine-wielding despot Captain Nemo uses his
"Nautilus" to sink, among others, the then-fictional USS Abraham Lincoln. Verne's
research was impeccable: he even computed the compressibility of seawater "0"
for most purposes as .0000436 for each 32-feet of depth.
Where might he have gotten the idea? 1833, Villeroi "Waterbug"
Holland "No 1"
"Holland VI" trials
goes to sea
goes to sea
Status of forces
built by German FREDERICH OTTO VOGEL sank on trials.
Irish emigre and Patterson, NJ, schoolteacher JOHN
submitted a submarine design to the Secretary of the Navy, who passed the paperwork
to a subordinate. No one would willingly go underwater in such a craft, that officer
suggested, and, even if the idea had merit, he warned Holland, "to put anything
through Washington was uphill work."
Holland's first design: a 15.5 foot-long one man boat with a foot-operated
treadle to drive not only the propeller, but also to control the one-cubic-foot
ballast tank and discharge "used" air.
found sponsorship with the Fenians, a group of Irish revolutionaries, looking
for a way to harass the British Navy. He built a small prototype submarine, "Holland
No. 1" to test out his theories including the use of a gasoline engine. The
trial was successful enough to encourage building a larger, more warlike, boat.
GEORGE W. GARRETT tested the steam-powered "Resurgam:"
steam for a boiler for surface operations, steam stored in
pressurized tanks for submerged operations. The boat passed initial trials, but
sank while under tow (rediscovered in 1996). Out of funds but not undeterred,
Garrett took his ideas to a wealthy Swedish arms manufacturer, THORSTEN
NORDENFELDT. See below.
launched the "Fenian Ram" 31 feet long, armed with a ram bow and an air-power
cannon. Tests continued for two years, to depths of sixty feet for as long as
one hour. Surface and submerged speeds were about the same, 9 knots.
However, the Fenians became increasingly frustrated with Holland's delays, and,
faced with some internal legal squabbles, stole their own boat and hid it in a
shed in New Haven, CT, where it remained for thirty-five years. Holland had nothing
more to do with the Fenians; the boat was eventually donated to the city of Patterson,
where it is now on display in West Side Park.
and several investors formed the Nautilus Submarine Boat Company, hoping to sell
a submarine to the French, then at war in Indochina. The company prototype, dubbed
the "Zalinski Boat" after one of the investors, was launched in 1885. Too heavy
for the launching ways, the boat smashed into some pilings and was badly damaged.
Repaired, she made some token trial runs but the French war had ended and the
company went bankrupt.
built a battery-operated submarine, too awkward and unstable to be successful.
He followed up in 1889 with "Goubet II" also small, electric, and not effective.
H. L. TUCK demonstrated
"Peacemaker" powered by a chemical (fireless) boiler; 1500 pounds of caustic
soda provided five hours endurance. Tuck's inventing days ended when relatives
noting that he had squandered most of a significant fortune had him committed
to an asylum for the insane.
64 feet, armed with one external torpedo tube was launched. Powered by steam
on the surface -- and "accumulated" steam while submerged. (See "Resurgam.")
It took as long as twelve hours to generate enough steam for submerged operations
and about thirty minutes to dive. Once underwater, sudden changes in speed or
direction triggered in the words of a U. S. Navy intelligence report "dangerous
and eccentric movements."
However, good public relations overcame bad
design: Nordenfeldt always demonstrated his boats before a stellar crowd of crowned
heads, and Nordenfeldt's submarines were regarded as the world standard.
The Greek Navy took delivery of "Nordenfeldt I" in 1886, and seems to have
done nothing with it. Bitter rival Turkish Navy ordered two of the larger "Nordenfeldt
II" boats 100 feet with two torpedo tubes. When a torpedo was fired on a test
dive, the first boat tipped backwards and sank, stern first, to the bottom. The
second Turkish boat was left unfinished.
1887 "Nordenfeldt III" 123 feet, rated to a depth of 100 feet and with an advertised
surface speed of 14 knots was sold to Russia, but ran aground en route. The
Russians refused to accept delivery; the boat was scrapped.
The U. S. Navy
announced an open competition for a submarine torpedo boat, with a $2 million
incentive. The specifications were based on presumed Nordenfeldt-level capabilities
and presumed a steam-powerplant of 1000 horsepower.
Nordenfeldt, Tuck, and Holland. Holland's design won, but because of contracting
complications, the award was withdrawn.
The competition was re-opened
a year later, Holland was again the winner but a new Secretary of the Navy diverted
the $2 million to surface ships. Nordenfeldt lost interest in submarines; Tuck
went into the asylum; Holland got a job as a draftsman, earning $4 a day.
built "Gymnote" for the French Navy a 60-foot, battery-powered boat capable
of 8 knots on the surface but limited by the lack of any method for recharging
the batteries while at sea. Her naval service was largely limited to experimentation.
PERAL's "Peral" successfully fired three Whitehead torpedoes while on trials, but internal
politics kept the Spanish Navy from pursuing the project.
| ||1893 |
a new Administration in office, the U. S. Congress appropriated $200,000 for an
"experimental submarine" and the Navy announced a new competition. There were
three bidders: Holland, GEORGE C. BAKER, and SIMON
Holland and Lake submitted proposals; the politically well-
connected Baker actually had a submarine, which he was demonstrating on Lake Michigan.
A novel feature: a clutch between the steam engine and an electric motor allowed
the motor to function as a dynamo, to recharge the batteries for submerged running.
A troubling feature: a pair of amidships-mounted propellers that swivelled up
or forward, through a clumsy period of transition.
When Holland's design
once again won the competition, Baker complained to his friends in Washington.
The whole business seems to have been put on "hold."
The scheme that Simon Lake submitted included a set of wheels by which the
boat could run along the bottom. He tested this theory in 1894 with small wooden
"test vehicle" dubbed "Argonaut Jr." and financed by relatives. Public demonstrations
brought in enough money to build a larger boat, "Argonaut I." See photo, below.
Lake's basic patent, granted Apr. 7, 1896
took a leaf from the Nordenfeldt playbook in this case, good public relations
to overcome political intransigence and let it be known that he was entertaining
offers from foreign navies. On March 3, the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company
was awarded $200,000 to build an 85-foot, 15 knot, steam-powered submarine to
be called "Plunger."
Holland was only somewhat pleased he didn't like
the imposition of a steam engine, as well some changes the Navy insisted upon:
the Navy knew what it wanted, but didn't know what it was doing. Congress was
thrilled, and immediately authorized two more submarines of the Plunger type at
Lake's prominently-wheeled "Argonaut I" coincidentally under construction in
the same graving dock as Holland's "Plunger." This boat used a gasoline engine
for both surface and submerged running (drawing air from the surface through breathing
launched in 1897, failed before ever leaving the dock. The temperature in the
fireroom reached 137 degrees at only 2/3 rated output. As one of Holland's employees
was later to testify, "They forced us to put steam in the "Plunger" against Mr.
Holland's advice. When we . . . put the steam on, we found it was so hot we could
not live in her." (In what must be an unwitting irony, the first U. S. Navy submarine
with built-in air conditioning was the 1935 SS-179, "Plunger.")
Upon his death in 1917, Louis Gathmann (correct spelling) may have amassed more patents than any other person, in a wide range of investigation. Much of his work was devoted to large-calibre artillery; however, according to the below article in the January 19, 1896 St. Paul Daily Globe, he was also interested in the design of torpedoes and submarines. I have found no evidence that he ever built either . . . and would welcome any information!
Clipping, courtesy, www.navsource.org
before "Plunger" had failed, Holland began construction of a new, smaller (54
feet), slower (7 knots), gasoline-powered boat, "Holland VI." Armament: one dynamite
gun (air-launched 222-pound projectile with seven loads) and a Whitehead torpedo
(three loads). Crew: six men. Habitability: included a toilet, to support operations
as long as forty hours. Holland began a series of public demonstrations.
New York Times, May 17, 1897: ". . . the Holland, the little cigar-sharped
vessel owned by her inventor, which may or may not play an important part in the
navies of the world in the years to come, was launched from Nixon's shipyard this
Spanish-American War intruded on Holland's efforts to sell his new boat to the
Navy, although Theodore Roosevelt at the time,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy told his boss, "I think that the Holland submarine
boat should be purchased." The war begun, Holland offered to go to Cuba and sink
the Spanish fleet if, upon being successful, the Navy would buy his boat. The
Navy properly was horrified at the thought of a private citizen using a private
warship to sink foreign ships; times had changed since Bushnell and "Turtle" and
the days of the privateers.
In September, SIMON
LAKE'S 36-foot "Argonaut I" made an open-ocean passage from Norfolk, VA,
to Sandy Hook, NJ, prompting Jules Verne to send
Lake a cable: "The conspicuous success of submarine navigation in the United States
will push on under-water navigation all over the world . . . . The next war may
be largely a contest between submarine boats."
By November, with the
war ended, the Navy held an "official" trial of "Holland VI." There were some
problems; Holland did not have enough money to fix them, so he joined forces with
another manufacturer to form the Electric Boat Company. He was designated Chief
VI, as pictured in the December, 1898 Scientific American.
The French fielded
the 148-foot, 266-ton "Gustav Zede" named for the recently-deceased designer.
On maneuvers, the submarine "torpedoed" an anchored battleship, to the consternation
of some, and pride among other, French naval officers.
The success of
"Zede" prompted an international competition for a submarine with a surface range
of 100 miles and a submerged range of 10 miles. There were twenty-nine entries;
the winner was MAXIME LAUBEUF'S "Narval," 188-feet,
136-tons, which began life with steam power that soon enough was switched to a
A modified "Holland
VI" passed the Navy trials; the company made a formal offer to sell the boat to
the Navy, and moved it down from New York to Washington, DC to enhance the PR
effort with some demonstrations for members of Congress.
"Argonaut I" was enlarged, improved, and redesignated "Argonaut II."
On April 11,
the U. S. Navy bought "Holland VI" for $150,000 and changed the name to USS Holland.
The boat had cost $236,615 to build, but the company viewed it as a loss-leader.
The Navy ordered another submarine.
Congress held hearings. One admiral
testified: "The Holland boats are interesting novelties which appeal to the non-professional
mind, which is apt to invest them with remarkable properties they do not possess."
the senior officer of the Navy noted that if the Spanish had had two submarines
at Manila, he could not have captured and held the city. Besides, he said, "Those
craft moving underwater would wear people out." In August, Congress ordered six
more Holland submarines.
Holland in drydock.
By October, the British
had five Hollands on order, but not until senior naval leadership had wrestled
with a moral dilemma: they, like many others through the years, believed that
covert warfare was, basically, illegal. Gentlemen fought each other face to face,
wearing easily recognized uniforms. The Navy agreed to proceed with caution, primarily
to "test the value of the submarine as a weapon in the hands of our enemies."
However; Rear Admiral A. K. Wilson assured
himself of a certain immortality by declaring that the submarine was "underhand,
unfair, and damned UnEnglish." The government, he wrote, should "treat all submarines
as pirates in wartime . . . and hang all crews."
of France Emil Loubet became the first chief executive
to go for a submerged ride, aboard "Gustav Zede." He did so in full formal dress,
frock coat an all. Three months later, on maneuvers three hundred miles from her
base, "Zede" put a practice torpedo into the side of the moving battleship "Charles
Martel" to the reported "general stupefaction" of those aboard the battleship.
Submarines had become so popular in France that the newspaper Le Matin
had launched a public fund-raising drive to build submarines for the Navy: "Francais"
launched in 1901 and "Algerien" launched in 1902.
designer RAIMONDO LORENZO D'EQUEVILLEY, looking
for work, was rebuffed by the German Navy; Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was on record,
"The submarine is, at present, of no great value in war at sea. We have no money
to waste on experimental vessels." D'Equevilley took his plans to the Krupp Germania
shipyard, which built the 40-foot "Forelle" (Trout) on speculation. Powered only
by electricity and without an underway recharging system, like the French "Gymnote"
"Forelle" was not a practical warship. However, Kaiser Wilhelm II was impressed
and his brother, an admiral, took a ride.
D'Equevilley turned his hand
to marketing, publishing a book (in Germany) in which he traced the history of
submarines. "As exaggerated as it may sound," he wrote, "who knows whether the
appearance of undersea boats may put an end to naval battles." Krupp worked on
a larger, improved design the "Karp" class powered by gasoline engine on the
surface, with an onboard battery recharging system. Russia ordered three. The
German Navy ordered one, but asked for a kerosene rather than gasoline engine.
On their first
fleet maneuvers, the five British Hollands were assigned to defend Portsmouth
and managed to "torpedo" four warships. Of this, Admiral
John Arbuthnot (Baron) Fisher
known as "Jacky" in a profession which cherished nicknames almost as much as
tradition wrote, "It is astounding to me, perfectly astounding, how the very
best amongst us fail to realize the vast impending revolution in Naval warfare
and Naval strategy that the submarine will accomplish!"
On a more somber
note: "A-1" first of a brand-new British designed class of improved Hollands
was run over by an unwitting passenger ship, and sank with the loss of all hands.
"A-1" was salvaged and put back in service.
British Holland "No. 3," in service from 1902 to 1912.
out of management and increasingly ignored, resigned from Electric Boat and formed
John P. Holland's Submarine Boat Company. He sold plans for two larger, improved
submarines, to be built in Japan under the supervision of a Holland associate;
one achieved a remarkable underwater speed of 16 knots, about twice that of the
five earlier model Hollands in Japan.
Holland solicited business from
around the world, but quickly discovered that all of his patents were controlled
by Electric Boat a fact of which the company made certain that all potential
customers were aware. He tried to interest the U. S. Navy in a new, fast hull
design; tested in an experimental tank at the Washington navy Yard, it promised
submerged speeds as high as 22 knots. The Navy offered the opinion that it would
be too hazardous for submarines to go faster than 6 knots underwater.
He was sued by Electric Boat for breach of contract, for unethical conduct, and
even for using the name "Holland." The suits were eventually dismissed by the
courts, but Holland's business never recovered.
blocked from competing for submarine contracts, challenged what had become a monopoly
business for Electric Boat. He won, and the Navy agreed that the next procurement
would be through an open competition. Lake planned to enter "Protector," launched
in 1902, as a template for a new class of submarines. Electric Boat planned to
enter "Fulton," a company-financed prototype of an "improved" Holland.
However, Lake was desperately short of cash, and grabbed the opportunity to sell
"Protector" to Russia, just then at war with Japan (and took orders for five more).
Thus, as the only entrant, "Fulton" won the design competition, leading to continued
orders from the U. S. Navy but within a month, in an amazing display of impartiality,
"Fulton," too, was en route to new owners in Russia. Impartiality? Only a few
months earlier, Electric Boat had received a contract to deliver five Hollands
Lake's "Protector," taken out of the competition and sold to Russia in a
desperate bid for cash.
"Fulton," about to be loaded on a barge to begin its journey to Russia.
Roosevelt became the first U. S. president to take a submerged ride in the A-1
"Plunger" (not the unfinished steamboat, but a later Holland model. The first
"Plunger" became a training target for Navy divers). He was so impressed with
the hazards and hardships of the duty that he instituted submarine pay for crew
U-1, the first
German "U-Boat" (for unterzeeboot), was launched. This modified "Karp" was 139
feet long, displaced 239 tons, had a surface speed of 11 knots, a submerged speed
of 9 knots, and a range of two thousand miles. It was joined in 1908 by a twin,
U-2. By this time, the French had a submarine force of sixty boats, the British
almost as many. Germany finally took notice.
Simon Lake received
his first U. S. Navy contract. However, Simon Lake was an inveterate tinkerer,
unable to keep his hands off a design even when a boat was almost finished. The
first submarine he managed to sell to the U. S. Navy "Seal," laid down in February
1909 was delivered two years, five months and fifteen days late.
obsolete by the time she entered service, Simon Lake's "Seal" nonetheless set
a depth record, 256 feet, in 1914. The Lake Torpedo Boat Company had some World
War I contracts, but went out of business in 1924.
held that submarines were limited to harbor operations; of course, but the people
who wrote the doctrine had not been paying attention. The question could be, operations
in whose harbor? In the annual fleet maneuvers, the first of the new "D" class
"torpedoed" two cruisers as they left port 500 miles from the submarine's home
British D-1, 1908-1918. Note the marked shift from the Holland porpoise-like hull
shape to that of a surface ship a shift common in all navies of the day. It
was an acknowledgment that submarines would spend most of their lives on the surface
and needed sea-keeping qualities not found in a streamlined "underwater" hull.
U. S. Navy purchased a set of plans from the Italian designer Laurenti. It was
not a happy move. While the Laurentis had some advanced features, they were difficult
to build and awkward in service.
Laurenti G-4, the 26th U. S. submarine, at the Cramp shipyard in Philadelphia
one year after launching, one year before commissioning
Thanks in large
part to the efforts of a 26-year old Navy lieutenant, Chester Nimitz who by
this time had commanded three U. S. submarines the obnoxious and dangerous gasoline
engine was replaced by diesels, beginning with Nimitz' fourth submarine command,
addressed the Naval War College on "Defensive and Offensive tactics of Submarines."
A highlight: he offered an innovative method for forcing enemy ships into submarine-patrolled
waters: "drop numerous poles, properly weighted to float upright in the water,
and painted to look like a submarine's periscope."
In the annual
fleet maneuvers, two British submarines slipped into a theoretically-safe fleet
anchorage and "torpedoed" three ships. A staff evaluation warned that enemy submarines
might prove a serious menace to the fleet. The Navy Board scoffed.
to get serious about submarines with the "30s" series U-31 to U-41. These diesel-powered
boats displaced 685 tons, carried six torpedoes and one 88mm deck gun, had a surface
speed of 16.4 knots, submerged 9.7 knots and a maximum range of 7,800 miles
at 8 knots.
On the eve of
World War I, the art of submarine warfare was barely a dozen years old, and no
nation had submarine-qualified officers serving at the senior staff level. Ancient
prejudice against submarines remained: they represented an unethical form of warfare,
and they did not "fit" in the classic, balanced structure of a navy where battleships
were king. No nation had developed any method for detecting submarines, or attacking
them if found.
scorecard: professional intransigence aside, and thanks largely to the
efforts of Admiral Fisher, Great Britain had the world's largest submarine fleet;
Germany, with a late start, had the most capable.
Great Britain: seventy-four
in service, thirty-one under construction, fourteen projected.
sixty-two boats in service, nine under construction.
boats (five Hollands and eight Lakes, the rest from Britain, France and Germany).
Germany: twenty-eight in service, seventeen under construction.
United States, thirty in service, ten under construction; Italy, twenty-one
in service, seven under construction; Japan, thirteen and three; Austria, six
Excluding freelance designers, adventurers and Civil War experience,
the submarine safety record was surprisingly good. The U. S. Navy had one accident,
two men killed. The German Navy, one accident with three men killed. Japan and
Italy had each lost a submarine, each with a crew of fourteen. At the other end
of the scale, Great Britain: eight accidents, seventy-nine killed; France, eleven
accidents, fifty-seven killed; Russia, five accidents, seventy killed.
June, British Admiral Percy Scott wrote letters to the editors of two newspapers.
In one, he said "as the motor has driven the horse from the road, so has the submarine
driven the battleship from the sea." In the other: "Submarines and aeroplanes
have entirely revolutionized naval warfare; no fleet can hide from the aeroplane
eye, and the submarine can deliver a deadly attack even in broad daylight." He
called for more submarines, and no more battleships.
He was loudly attacked
from all sides, by other senior naval officers, by the government, by the conservative
press. In summary: his theory was "a fantastic dream."
By August, Great
Britain and Germany were at war.
On September 5, U-21 sank the British
cruiser "Pathfinder" with one torpedo. From weapon launch to sunk took three minutes.
There were nine survivors of a crew of 268. A week later, the British had their
turn when E.9 sank the German light cruiser "Hela" with two torpedoes.
Then, on September 22, 1914, one virtually prehistoric German submarine, U-9,
sank three British cruisers. On the same day. Within slightly more than 90 minutes.
A month later, U-17 became the first submarine to sink a merchantman. A month
after that, U-18 penetrated the British fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow; although
she did no direct damage and was captured, the effect upon the British Navy was
electric: this one small boat forced the most powerful battle fleet in the world
to shift to a base on the other side of Scotland.
The face of naval
warfare was, indeed, changed forever.
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Book of Submarines: A Political, Social and Military History"
December 7, 2011