Which submarine was invented first?

Which submarine was invented first?

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In some books I saw the Ottomans invented Tahtelbahir in 1719. Is it true ?

The first submarine was developed by Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutchman, in 1620. The first submarine that went into action was the Turtle, developed by David Bushnell in 1776. It went in action, but never sank a ship. The first submarine to do that was the Hunley in 1864. (With the loss of the submarine, and its entire crew).

The first modern submarine that went into service was the Holland, invented by John Holland in 1903.

I disregard earlier inventions, such as that of Alexander the Great, because those are not documented, and non-propelled vessels such as diving bells (or diving clocks). Diving bells are relatively easy to construct, and were in use long before submarines. They are not submarines.

The first Turkish submarine was a Nordenfelt in 1886. I can't find anything at all before. It's not impossible this Tahtelbahir made a submerged vessel, but his wouldn't be the first. That honor goes to Drebbel. Further reading on Nordenfelt here.

The first submarine that was successful enough to warrant widespread adoption, changing the nature of naval warfare forever, was built by John Holland. His basic design is still in use today.

There were underwater vessels built before Holland's design, but none were successful enough to warrant widespread adoption. Arguably, methods to travel underwater date back to the time of Alexander, who was recorded to have dove into the Med using an early diving bell.

Holland benefited from two technical advancements that filled in the missing pieces: sustainable power under water (electric motors and batteries), and a safer (for the crew of the submarine) method of attack, the Whitehead torpedo.

It is now believed that the crew of the CSS Hunley were killed or incapacitated by the underwater shock of the explosion, when the explosive charge detonated prematurely, with the Hunley still next to the USS Housatonic, so an effective military submarine really couldn't have been built before the self powered torpedo was available.

It all depends on the definition of "submarine". By the very same wikipedia page on Cornelis Drebbel, it is now believed the accounts of the time were greatly exagerated and the ship was neither completely submergible, nor capable of independent propulsion, relying on the Thames currents to make the crossing of the river.

Jos cited the Holland submarine as the first modern submarine "that went into service". Without that last clause, other modern submarines were built before, like the one built by Isaac Peral in 1888.

The Evolution of Submarine Design

The following timeline summarizes the evolution of submarine design, from the submarine's beginning as a human-powered warship to today's nuclear-powered subs.

The first submarine design was drafted by William Borne but never got past the drawing stage. Borne's submarine design was based on ballast tanks which could be filled to submerge and evacuated to surface - these same principles are in use by today's submarines.

Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutchman, conceived and built an oared submersible. Drebbels' submarine design was the first to address the problem of air replenishment while submerged.

David Bushnell builds the one-man human powered Turtle submarine. The Colonial Army attempted to sink the British warship HMS Eagle with the Turtle. The first submarine to dive, surface and be used in Naval combat, its intended purpose was to break the British naval blockade of New York harbor during the American Revolution. With slight positive buoyancy, it floated with approximately six inches of exposed surface. Turtle was powered by a hand-driven propeller. The operator would submerge under the target and, using a screw projecting from the top of Turtle, he would attach a clock-detonated explosive charge.

Robert Fulton builds the Nautilus submarine which incorporates two forms of power for propulsion - a sail while on the surface and a hand-cranked screw while submerged.

John P. Holland introduces the Holland VII and later the Holland VIII (1900). The Holland VIII with its petroleum engine for surface propulsion and electric engine for submerged operations served as the blueprint adopted by all the world's navies for submarine design up to 1914.

The French submarine Aigette is the first submarine built with a diesel engine for surface propulsion and electric engine for submerged operations. Diesel fuel is less volatile than petroleum and is the preferred fuel for current and future conventionally powered submarine designs.

The German U-boat U-264 is equipped with a snorkel mast. This mast which provides air to the diesel engine allows the submarine to operate the engine at a shallow depth and recharge the batteries

Cornelis Drebbel built three submarine in the 1620s - they all worked

The world's first practical submarine was built in 1620 by Dutch engineer Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel, under the patronage of James 1 of England. Drebbel built three submarines according to the sketchy information available from that time, each larger than the last and the third being capable of carrying 16 people, of which 12 were the oarsmen.

No credible illustrations or accurate descriptions remain of Drebbel's submarine, though it seems the last of the three prototypes constructed was probably a decked over and heavily modified rowboat which was regularly seen in the Thames river undergoing trials.

The oarsmen rowed one oar each, with the oars protruding from the side of the boat through waterproofed leather seals.

Air was supplied by snorkel-like tubes that were held above the water's surface by floatation devices, enabling the submarine to be underwater for long periods. Accounts suggest the boat could travel from Westminster to Greewich and back under water, completing the return journey in three hours at a depth around 15 feet below the surface.

A BBC article recently described the Drebbel submarine thus: "The whole submarine was covered in greased leather, with a watertight hatch in the middle, a rudder and four oars. Under the rowers' seats were large pigskin bladders, connected by pipes to the outside. Rope was used to tie off the empty bladders in order to dive, the rope was untied and the bladders filled. To surface the crew squashed the bladders flat, squeezing out the water."

Some reports suggest Drebbel had a chemical means for generating fresh air in the submarine and although this seems highly implausible for the period, Drebbel's inventiveness and knowledge of chemical reactions suggest he certainly had the knowledge to achieve such a remarkable feat.

Though later renowned for inventing the first working thermostat and the first microsocope with two lenses, the following link from the University of Twente in Holland suggests Drebbel might have had the technology to generate oxygen from heated Potassium Nitrate (Saltpetre).

It reads: "Drebbel did two more chemical processes. He oxidized sulfur for sulfuric acid, through heating sulfur and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). He made it more efficiently than any other way at that time. It became the basis for John Roebuck's work for production in the lead chamber. He also found a way to make oxygen from heating saltpeter, which is now one of the standard way to produce it."

Some reports of the time suggest that King James I actually rode in the third submarine on a trip under the Thames in 1626. Though seeming to have the ear and favour of the King, Van Drebbel's invention failed to interest the British Navy despite a development period of 15 years, Drebbels' submarine never got beyond the trials stage. Ironically, three hundred years later, the submarine would become the most feared of all naval vessels.

Though Drebbel was a type of court inventor, the main purpose of his employment was in relation to his experience with chemicals and his knowledge of fireworks.

He was hired in 1604 after he had demonstrated his "perpetual clock" to King James I - it never needed winding, and was driven by changes in atmospheric pressure. Throughout his extraordinary life, Drebbel was never to achieve the fame and fortune his subsequent patents suggest he deserved.

His patents included a thermometer, a perpetual motion clock, a chimney, a dying process, a pump and his thermostat was led to the first automatic chicken egg incubator and the first oven with self-regulating temperature. His work with lenses saw him build microscopes and telescropes and even design and build a machine for grinding lenses.

How the Submarine Was Born

From a leather-covered rowboat to a streamlined modern vessel with nuclear warheads, the submarine has made great strides since its conception.

The concept of a ship that could submerge beneath the water and then resurface dates back as far as the late 1400s, when Italian Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci claimed to have found a method for a ship to remain submerged for a protracted period of time. However, da Vinci refused to reveal his discovery to the world because he feared “the evil nature of men who practice assassination at the bottom of the sea.”

The Early Pioneers of Submersible Ships

A Dutchman, Cornelis Drebbel, built the first known practical submersible in 1620, using blueprints developed nearly 50 years earlier by English amateur inventor William Bourne, whose plans never got beyond the drawing board. A leather-covered, 12-oar rowboat, Drebbel’s craft was reinforced with iron against water pressure to a depth of 15 feet. He tested the submersible in the Thames while working under contract to the British court. King James I observed the tests, although it is probably apocryphal that the monarch ever made a test dive himself. Despite several successful tests between 1620 and 1624, the Royal Navy eventually lost interest in Drebbel’s invention, and none was commissioned or built.

During the latter years of the 17th century, a number of other European inventors and scientists worked on submarine designs. In 1680, Italian inventor Giovanni Borelli sketched plans for a submarine that could be sunk or raised using goatskins in the hull that were alternately filled or emptied of water by twisting a rod. A few years later, French physicist Denis Papin designed and built two submarines consisting of a heavy metallic box and air pump. When enough air was pumped inside, the operator could open holes in the floor of the sub to let in enough water to float the box. Papin reportedly tested a second, oval-shaped vessel on the Lahn River in 1692. There were also reports of Ukrainian Cossacks employing a submersible boat, much like a modern diving bell, that they propelled by walking beneath it on the bottom of the river.

The Turtle: The First Military Submarine

The first military submarine was Turtle, which made its debut during the American Revolution. Built in 1775 by Connecticut inventor David Bushnell, the walnut-shaped submersible measured 7 feet high and 5½ feet wide. Bushnell designed it to be operated by one man and capable of submerging 20 feet deep for up to half an hour. Made of oak and covered with pine-tar pitch for waterproofing, Turtle looked more like a beer keg than a modern submarine. The ship dove and surfaced by means of brass pumps that took in or expelled seawater as ballast, while using 700 pounds of lead weights that could be played out in 50-foot increments on a line.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolution, patriots were desperate to strike a blow at British ships blockading New York harbor. Bushnell’s Turtle was pressed into service. To sink the British ship Eagle, Turtle would need to come alongside and fasten a 150-pound bomb to Eagle’s keel with a screw. Bushnell initially gave the piloting job to his brother, Ezra, but Ezra’s poor health led to the postponement of the plan. In the end a sergeant in the Continental Army, Ezra Lee, was chosen for the task. On September 6, 1776, Lee set out on the mission. Unfortunately for the Americans, he could not drill a hole into Eagle’s copper-reinforced bottom, and the attack failed.

The Submarine Takes its Iconic Shape

In 1801, expatriate American designer Robert Fulton, then living in France, demonstrated the copper-hulled Nautilus, the first fish-shaped submersible, which employed a screw to push rather than pull the vessel. The vessel included sails for surface propulsion and enough compressed air to keep a four-man crew underwater for three hours. In spite of successful trials on the Seine River in Rouen and at Brest, the French Admiralty declined to invest in Fulton’s new technology.

In the 1850s, the Danes were at war with the German states, and the Danish Navy blockaded German ports. A Bavarian artillery engineer, Wilhelm Bauer, devised a plan to utilize submarines to attack the Danish ships. With public support, he built Brandtaucher (Fire Diver). Disaster struck when the hull plates sprang a leak, and the ship sank to the bottom and became embedded in mud. Bauer persuaded his men to let the water flow in, equalizing the pressure inside and outside the submarine to enable the hatch to be opened. After six long hours underwater, the crew was able to flee its doomed vessel. Bauer did not give up. In 1856 he built Seeteufel (Sea Devil), a 52-foot submarine carefully equipped with a rescue device, for Russia during the Crimean War.

Submarines of the Civil War

Confederates tried their hand at submarines during the Civil War. In 1861, New Orleans-based machinist James McClintock built Pioneer, a cigar-shaped vessel with conical ends, 30 feet long and four feet in diameter. Pioneer was built with countersunk rivets to join quarter-inch iron plate to its interior framework. This reduced friction while she moved underwater. During a subsequent test run, Pioneer successfully sank a schooner on Lake Pontchartrain.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, the Union Navy soon took New Orleans, and one of the financial backers of the submarine, Horace L. Hunley, ordered Pioneer scuttled to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Hunley did not give up. He built another vessel, Pioneer II, or American Diver. He set out to sink a blockading Union ship, but a squall blew in from the sea. While being towed by a tug, the submarine sank after a big wave swept over its open hatch.

The determined Hunley built a third submarine, named after himself. The Horace L. Hunley was more advanced than its predecessors. Built from a boiler, the vessel had diving plates on each side of the hull, manual pumps to increase or decrease water ballast, and a single screw and rudder. The submarine had a snorkel for air and was equipped with a 90-foot-long spar loaded with black powder. A crew of eight hand-cranked the propeller shaft. Three crews were lost while testing the vessel in Mobile, including Hunley himself.

The submarine was raised, re-outfitted, and transferred to Charleston, South Carolina. On the night of February 17, 1864, Hunley set out to sink the Union warship Housatonic, anchored 12 miles outside Charleston harbor. The sub came up to the enemy vessel to attach the charge. While attempting to back away, Housatonic inadvertently rammed Hunley, setting off the bomb. In a matter of minutes, Housatonic sank. Unfortunately for the crew aboard Hunley, so did the sub.

Early in the 1880s, George Garrett, an English clergyman, and Thorsten Nordenfeldt, a Swedish inventor, teamed up to build the first steam-powered submarines. Nordenfeldt III, their best, could submerge to a depth of 50 feet for a range of 14 miles. A steam engine powered the submarine on the surface and was shut down to dive. Nordenfeldt III also had twin torpedo tubes. Sold to the Ottoman Navy, Nordenfeldt III later had the distinction of firing the first underwater torpedo.

The Arms Race of the Early 20th C.

In 1889, an officer in the Spanish Navy, Don Isaac Peral, designed a more advanced submarine. Named after himself, Peral’s ship was entirely powered by electricity and made of steel. Peral was capable of 10 knots on the surface and eight knots submerged. In many respects, Peral resembled the submarines later developed during World War I. It had two torpedoes, fresh-air systems, and a fully reliable underwater navigation system. Despite two years of successful tests, the hidebound Spanish Navy terminated the project—a lucky break for the United States Navy, which would go to war with the Spanish nine years later.

Americans became involved in the development of the submarine during the last few years of the 19th century. Irish inventor John Philip Holland built America’s best-known practical submarine, Holland. A gasoline engine powered the submarine on the surface, and a battery-driven motor did so when the vessel was submerged. Holland could fire 18-inch torpedoes from a single torpedo tube. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt witnessed the sub’s sea trials and recommended that the Navy buy Holland, but it was not until 1900 that it was formally commissioned. Six more submarines of the Holland type were ordered. Holland’s company later filled orders by Great Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, and Japan. The Holland Torpedo Boat Company was the forerunner of General Dynamics, which continues to build sophisticated submarines today.

Another pioneer in the development of the submarine was Simon Lake. In 1894, Lake launched the first practical submarine in the rivers of New Jersey. The following year, the Lake Submarine Company began to build the first steel submarine, Argonaut I. Lake’s submarines had the first bow and stern diving planes for depth control. In 1897, he patented the “even-keel” submarine. Lake developed the periscope and virtually eliminated the magnetic effect of metal surrounding the submarine’s compass. In 1898, Argonaut completed a 1,000-mile cruise above and beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

During the early part of the 20th century, Great Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Both sides placed emphasis on battleships and other surface ships. Nevertheless, the two countries also constructed submarines. Typical of these submarines was Germany’s U-20, which would infamously sink the British liner Lusitania. U-20 displaced 650 tons running on the surface and 837 tons submerged. Two eight-cylinder diesel engines capable of 15 knots powered it on the surface, and two electric motors provided up to nine knots when submerged. U-20 carried an 88mm deck gun and seven torpedoes similar to the Whitehead torpedo developed by an English inventor of that name. The torpedoes were 12 to 16 feet long and weighed about a ton. Air driven, they could travel up to 40 knots for the first 1,000 yards with a warhead of 290 pounds of trotyl explosive.

World War I: The Strategic Impact of Submarines

The submarine proved its value early in World War I. On September 22, 1914, three obsolete British cruisers, Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy, were sunk by a single German submarine, U-9. Of the nearly 2,300 men aboard the cruisers, more than 1,400 were lost. U-9 sank the three cruisers with an expenditure of only six torpedoes.

The most notorious victim of a submarine during World War I was the Cunard Line’s Lusitania. On May 7, 1915, she was off Old Head, near Kinsale, Ireland, when she encountered U-20. With a single torpedo the German submarine sank the liner with the loss of more than 100 American passengers. This was doubly shocking since up to that time it was believed that any ship traveling faster than 15 knots was immune from submarines. Lusitania was going 18 knots when she was torpedoed.

A few months later, U-24 torpedoed and sank the passenger liner Arabic of the White Star Line. The Woodrow Wilson administration put pressure on Germany to refrain from sinking any more passenger liners. Germany agreed not to sink the liners unless they resisted—the so-called Arabic pledge. The following year, however, a German submarine torpedoed and damaged a ferry boat, Sussex. Germany restated her vow not to sink passenger liners.

German U-boats became larger and more powerful as the war progressed. One such example was U-53. This submarine was more than 200 feet long and carried two medium-caliber deck guns, with a range that was a great deal farther than its predecessors. On October 7, 1916, U-53 surfaced on the East Coast of the United States. Eventually, U-53 sank four ships off the American homeland. Since the sub was operating in international waters, the United States Navy could do nothing but protest ineffectually against the attacks.

A few months later, Germany announced that it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Any ship, including American vessels, would be sunk if they tried to go to or from Great Britain. This ill-conceived policy brought the United States into the war on the Allied side and fatally tilted the conflict away from Germany, whose submarine warfare proved decisive—for the wrong reasons.

The Interwar Japanese Submarine Fleet

During the interwar years, Japan developed a varied submarine fleet. Some carried aircraft, others cargo. Many were equipped with the most advanced torpedo of the war, the oxygen-propelled Type 95, nicknamed “Long Lance.” The size of Japanese submarines varied. Some were midget submarines with one-man crews and an 80-mile range. Others were medium- or long-range subs with the fastest submerged speeds of the war. Because of the Imperial Navy’s decision to attack enemy warships instead of merchant ships, Japanese submarines proved largely ineffective, sinking less than one-fourth as much merchant shipping as the submarines of the U.S. Navy. The lack of radar also hampered Japanese submarine warfare efforts.

World War II Submarine Warfare

When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in the 1930s, he rebuilt the German Navy and ordered the construction of new U-boats to replace the 360 subs sunk or surrendered during World War I. When World War II broke out, the German submarines adopted new tactics, traveling in “wolf packs” to attack Allied convoys. The British had reintroduced the convoy system, installing radar on their ships and using high-frequency direction finders to locate the signals of the enemy submarines. Unbeknownst to the Germans, the British broke their code, allowing the British to know when and where German submarines would strike.

German submarines became larger and faster. In 1940 the Nazis developed U-300, a streamlined 550-ton vessel capable of reaching 19 knots when submerged. In July1942, German engineers scrapped U-300 and came up with U-301. In the end, only seven subs of this type were completed an additional two were near completion before being damaged in an Allied air raid.

American submarine efforts were much more successful in World War II. A total of 314 subs served in the United States Navy. Fifty-two were lost during the war, with 41 of the losses directly attributable to enemy attacks. A total of 3,506 American submariners were killed in the war. In return, American subs devastated Japanese shipping, sinking more enemy supply ships than all other weapons combined, including aircraft.

Entering the Nuclear Age

After the war, the United States and the Soviet Union raced to build better submarines during the Cold War. Out of this came the nuclear-powered submarine, which could stay submerged longer and had a much longer range than World War II-era subs. Both sides placed ballistic missiles aboard submarines. These vessels carried long-range missiles with nuclear warheads. In 1955, Nautilus became the first nuclear-powered submarine. Advances in technology, including equipment that could extract oxygen from sea water, allowed the subs to remain submerged for weeks or months at a time. Three years later, Nautilus completed the first voyage beneath the Arctic ice cap.

Two American nuclear submarines, Thresher and Scorpion, were lost to equipment failures during the Cold War, while the Soviet Union lost at least four subs, including Komsomolets, which held the depth record among military submarines of 3,000 feet. Komsomolets sank in April 1989 in the Barents Sea off Norway after a catastrophic fire aboard ship. A total of 42 Russians died in the frigid waters.

Most of the wars since World War II have been land wars, with submarines playing little part in them. However, in 1982 Argentina seized the Falkland Islands off the Argentine coast. Great Britain responded by dispatching elements of the Royal Navy to the South Atlantic, blockading the islands with submarines. During the war, the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Conqueror. The cruiser was sunk, and 368 men were lost. It was the largest loss of life during the entire war. General Belgrano had the unwanted distinction of being the first (and so far only) ship sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine.

The modern submarine is a deadly weapon. From a leather-covered, 12-oar rowboat to a vessel armed with nuclear warheads capable of wiping out entire civilizations, the submarine has made great strides militarily. Perhaps da Vinci was right to fear “the evil nature of men who practice assassination at the bottom of the sea.”

This article was first published by the Warfare History Network.

The Writer Who Built the World’s First Engine-Powered Submarine

A man cannot one day just decide to build a submarine, much less the first powered submarine, much less if that man is a writer. Yet that is just what Narcis Monturiol did.

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As a young firebrand of the mid-19th century, Monturiol flirted with inflammatory subjects including feminism and Communism, placing him under the watchful eye of an oppressive regime. When he fled to Cadaqués, an isolated town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, he found a peaceful fishing village where he could expand on his ideas of a Utopian world. It turned out that Cadaqués would also be the inspiration for his biggest idea.

In Cadaqués, the few locals mostly fished from the shore or from boats. Others dove for coral and returned with a magical diversity of things—fish, crabs, snails and, of course, great and wondrous corals, sold as decoration for local homes. Monturiol became transfixed by these treasures, seeing them as baubles befitting a Utopia. He admired the coral divers for their quest—a quest for discovery in an the unknown realm beneath the waters that he called “the new continent”—but was troubled by an accident in 1857 that left one diver dead by drowning.

He was so affected by the sight that he wanted to do something to make the life of coral divers easier. As Robert Roberts, one of Monturiol’s later collaborators put it, “The harvesting of valuable coral and the relatively scarce fruits born to those that dedicate their livelihood to this miserable industry…incited Narcís Monturiol.”

Munturiol had always been a dreamer. He was born in 1819 in Figueres, a town in Catalonia, the region that would later give birth to eminent artists including Salvador Dali, Antony Gaudi, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.

Monturiol’s father was a cooper, designing and building barrels for the wine industry. Monturiol could have continued in his father’s footsteps but instead chose to become a writer and socialist revolutionary. At an early age, Monturiol began to write about feminism, pacifism, Communism and a new future for Catalonia, all of which are the sort of things that make dictatorships, such as that of then Spanish statesman Ramón María Narváez, uncomfortable. Persecuted for his beliefs, Monturiol fled to France for a while before returning to Spain. When his writings got in trouble again, this time in France, he came to Cadaqués, the coastal town just a few miles from Figueres.

In 1857, with visions of the new continent in his mind, his Utopia that he and his friends would create through writing and art, Monturiol went home to Figueres to begin his project. This all sounds ridiculous and quixotic, because it is.

Just how Monturiol came up with his specific plans is unclear. Perhaps thanks to his father’s influence, though Monturiol also hired a master builder of ships and a designer to help, the submarine came to look a bit like a giant wine barrel, tapered at both ends. It was at once simple and sophisticated.

Submarine technology wasn’t new to Monturiol or his contemporaries: historical mentions of “diving boats” can be traced to the time of Alexander the Great. The first real submarine – a boat capable of navigating underwater – was built by Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor who served in the court of England’s King James I during the Renaissance. Drebbel’s crafts were manually powered, requiring 12 oarsmen to row the underwater vessel whose submersion was controlled by the inflating – or deflating – of rope-tied pig’s bladders placed under each oarsmen’s seat.  Into the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russians perfected Drebbel’s vision, creating the first prototype for a weaponized submarine under the patronage of Czar Peter I in June of 1720. Submarine technology continued to pique the interest of innovators – especially in Russia and Germany – but economic and scientific constraints hindered the expansion of submarine technology into the 19th century.

By the summer of 1859, just two years after the drowning, his dream was built. The submarine was 23 feet long and equipped with appendages for gathering coral and whatever else could be found in the great and unknown abyss. Monturiol was eager to test the submarine and took it for a trial with a crew of two other men, including the boat builder, in Barcelona’s harbor—even he was not bold enough to attempt a maiden voyage in in Cadaqués’ stormy bay. The submarine, named Ictíneo, a word Monturiol created out of the Greek words for fish and boat, was double-hulled, with each hull made of olive wood staves sheathed in copper. It moved thanks to Monturiol’s own foot power via two pedals, or at least that is how he hoped it would move.

A schematic drawing of the front of the Ictineo, the world's first engine-powered submarine. (Wikipedia) A replica of the Ictineo I on display at a maritime museum in Barcelona. (Wikipedia) A portrait of Ictineo inventor Narcís Monturiol, done by artist Ramon Martí Alsina. (Wikipedia)

Monturiol untied the mooring rope as a small crowd looked on, climbed in, waved and closed the hatch. The submarine began to move under human power and as it did, it disappeared into the water. It worked! Monturiol eventually completed more than 50 dives and established that the submarine was capable of diving to 60 feet and staying submerged for several hours. The submarine was able to dive deeper and for more hours than any submarine that had ever been built.

To Monturiol, the experience was at once tremendous and terrifying. As he would later write: “The silence that accompanies the dive… the gradual absence of sunlight the great mass of water, which sight pierces with difficulty the pallor that light gives to the faces the lessening movement in the Ictíneo the fish that pass before the portholes—all this contributes to the excitement of the imaginative faculties."

For a while, Monturiol enjoyed the excitement and tried to drum up interest among investors for the production of more-advanced submarines. Catalonians pledged money at concerts, theatre performances, and other gatherings were held, town to town, to garner funds and support for his endeavors. Then, one day in 1862, a freighter drilled straight into the sub, which was docked in Barcelona’s Harbor, and crushed it. No one was harmed, and yet the dream splintered.

Monturiol was distraught. The Ictineo had taken years of his life. Now he had no choice. He would have to build the Ictineo II, an even larger submarine.

In 1867, the Ictineo II launched successfully. Monturiol descended to 98 feet and yet, to him, the endeavor still seemed clumsy. It was hard to power a submarine with nothing but one’s legs. Monturiol opted to develop a steam engine to be used inside the submarine. The steam engine, like the submarine, was not a new invention. It had been around for almost two centuries: Thomas Newcomen first patented the idea in 1705, and James Watt made innumerable improvements in 1769.  In a standard steam engine, hot air is forced into a chamber with a piston, whose movement produces the power to motor practically anything, such as a submarine. For Monturiol, however, he couldn’t simply apply the technology of a standard steam engine because it would use up all of the valuable oxygen in the sub. The standard steam engine relies on combustion, using oxygen and another fuel substance (usually coal or fire) to produce the heat needed to create steam. This wouldn’t work. Instead, he used a steam engine run by a chemical reaction between potassium chlorate, zinc, and manganese dioxide that produced both heat and oxygen. It worked, making the Ictineo II the first submarine to use a combustion engine of any kind. No one would replicate his feat for more than 70 years.

Others tried to copy the concept of an engine-propelled submarine, but many failed to replicate the anaerobic engine Monturiol had created. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the German Navy created a submarine that ran on hydrogen peroxide, known as the Walter Turbine. In the modern era, the most common anaerobic form of submarine propulsion comes from nuclear power, which allows submarines to use nuclear reactions to generate heat. Since this process can occur without any oxygen, nuclear submarines can travel submerged for extended periods of time – for several months, if need be.

When Monturiol began constructing his submarine, the United States was entangled in the Civil War. Both sides in the conflict used submarine technology, though their vessels were rudimentary and often sank during missions. When Monturiol read about the Civil War – and attempts to use submarine technology in the conflict – he wrote to Gideon Welles, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, to offer his expertise and designs to the North. Unfortunately, by the time Welles responded to Monturiol’s solicitation, the Civil War had ended.

The submarine was an incredible innovation, but the timing was wrong. He could not sell the submarine and for whatever reason he did not choose to explore on his own. He desperately needed and wanted more funding to feed himself and, of course, produce more submarines and, at this point, would do nearly anything for it. He even installed a cannon on the submarine to interest the military—either that of Spain or, as he later tried, the United States (so much for pacifism)—all to no avail. In 1868, he sold his dream submarine for scrap. Its windows went into Spanish bathrooms and its engine—the first submarine engine in the world—became part of a device used to grind wheat. The grand machinery of his imagination would be used to make food, each bite bearing, one supposes, some taste of Monturiol’s dreams. 

Monturiol died broke, and his submarines do not seem to have directly inspired any others. Yet, in Catalonia he has come to have a kind of understated fame. He was Dali before Dali, Catalonia’s first visionary artist, who worked with the tools of engineering rather than painting. The most concrete testimonies are a replica of his submarine in Barcelona harbor and a sculpture of him in the square in Figueres. In the sculpture, Monturiol is surrounded by muses. Even though the muses are naked, the statue seems to go largely unnoticed, overshadowed in the town by the more prominent legacy of Dali. But maybe the real testimony to Monturiol is that his spirit seems to have continued just beneath the surface in Catalonia. People know his story and every so often, his spirit seems to rise up like a periscope through which the visionaries—be they Dali, Picasso, Gaudi, Miro or anyone else—can see the world as he saw it, composed of nothing but dreams.

World’s first submarine attack

On September 7, 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the American submersible craft Turtle attempts to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship Eagle in New York Harbor. It was the first use of a submarine in warfare.

Submarines were first built by Dutch inventor Cornelius van Drebel in the early 17th century, but it was not until 150 years later that they were first used in naval combat. David Bushnell, an American inventor, began building underwater mines while a student at Yale University. Deciding that a submarine would be the best means of delivering his mines in warfare, he built an eight-foot-long wooden submersible that was christened the Turtle for its shape. Large enough to accommodate one operator, the submarine was entirely hand-powered. Lead ballast kept the craft balanced.

Donated to the Patriot cause after the outbreak of war with Britain in 1775, Ezra Lee piloted the craft unnoticed out to the 64-gun HMS Eagle in New York Harbor on September 7, 1776. As Lee worked to anchor a time bomb to the hull, he could see British seamen on the deck above, but they failed to notice the strange craft below the surface. Lee had almost secured the bomb when his boring tools failed to penetrate a layer of iron sheathing. He retreated, and the bomb exploded nearby, causing no harm to either the Eagle or the Turtle.

During the next week, the Turtle made several more attempts to sink British ships on the Hudson River, but each time it failed, owing to the operator’s lack of skill. Only Bushnell was really able to competently execute the submarine’s complicated functions, but because of his physical frailty he was unable to pilot the Turtle in any of its combat missions. During the Battle of Fort Lee, the Turtle was lost when the American sloop transporting it was sunk by the British.

Submarine – The History of Submarine War

The legendary origins of the submarine stretch back to 332 BC with a tale about Alexander the Great being lowered into the sea in a glass barrel to study fish. The submarine concept was thereafter consigned to the backwaters of history for some 1,800 years.

It reappears with the publication in 1578 of Inventions or Devises by William Bourne, an English gunner turned innkeeper and mathematician. In this work, Bourne describes the principle of making a boat sink and rise again by changing the volume of the ship. If you contract the volume of the ship, it will sink if you expand its volume, it will float upward. The exact process for doing this is not made clear, and contemporary materials and techniques precluded effective experiment.

Early Submarines

The Alexander legend and Bourne’s principle related more to the diving bell than a boat. The next step forward, conceptually, was to add some form of propulsion. The Dutchman Cornelius van Drebbel achieved this around 1620.

His boat, Drebbel I, is probably the first working submarine. Basically an enclosed rowboat manned by 12 oarsmen, it probably had a sloping foredeck. This would have forced the boat under as forward momentum was applied, like the angled plane of a modern submarine.

In 1636, a French priest, Marin Mersenne, added another piece to the jigsaw. He suggested that a submarine should be built of copper and be cylindrical in shape to better withstand increasing pressure at depth. Early designs for submarines, henceforth, generally adopted a porpoise-like form. Despite these early concepts and the Drebbel I prototype, it was more than 200 years before the French Navy launched the first true precursor of the modern submarine. In 1863, the Plongeur (‘Diver’), which was powered by engines run on compressed air, became the first submarine that did not rely on human propulsion for momentum.

Military possibilities of the Submarine

It was not long before the military possibilities of a submerged boat began to be realised. As early as the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652- 1654), Louis de Son had built his 72ft-long ‘Rotterdam Boat’. This, in effect, was a semi-submerged battering-ram designed to approach an enemy warship unnoticed and punch a hole in its side. Once launched, though, it was unable to move.

The American War of Independence provided further impetus in the form of David Bushnell’s Turtle. Water was pumped in and out of the skin of the boat to change its ballast, thus enabling the boat to sink and rise. This one-man boat was driven by hand-cranked propellers, one to provide vertical movement and another to provide horizontal drive. The Turtle became the first submarine to attack a ship, probably the HMS Eagle, in New York harbour in 1776. The attack failed, as Ezra Lee, the boat’s pilot, was unable to attach its armament, a 150lb-keg of gunpowder, to the enemy ship’s hull.

Another American, Robert Fulton, attracted the attention of Napoleon in 1800 with his Nautilus. This submarine had a number of successful test dives, reaching a depth of 25ft and an underwater speed of 4 knots. It was driven by a hand-cranked propeller underwater, and by a sail when on the surface. Although it made a number of attacks on Royal Navy ships, they could always see the Nautilus coming and easily evaded it.

Failure meant Fulton’s dismissal, and the Royal Navy, with the world’s largest fleet, breathed a sigh of relief. Submarine warfare did not develop further for 50 years. Then, the American Civil War (1861-1865) provided a major stimulus, particularly on the Confederate side. The Union had retained control of the US Navy, and its blockade of the South meant that the Confederacy was bound to search for ways to break it: the submarine was one of these.

Several prototypes were built – by both sides – but these depended primarily on improvements to established technology rather than anything radically new. The most significant achievement was the destruction of the USS Housatonic in 1864, the first submarine victory. The oar-propelled CSS Hunley attacked the Housatonic with an explosive device on the end of a spar that was attached to its nose. Though the Hunley did not survive the attack, war beneath the waves had definitely begun.

The Royal Navy and the modern submarine

The real breakthrough, and the birth of the modern submarine, came courtesy of John Phillip Holland, towards the end of the 19th century. He became the first designer to successfully unite three new pieces of technology – the electric motor, the electric battery, and the internal combustion engine – to create the first recognisably modern submarine.

The Admiralty’s official position at the time was to give submarine development ‘no encouragement’. But it could not afford to ignore it completely, and, in October 1900, five Hollands were ordered with the purpose of testing ‘the value of the submarine in the hands of our enemy’. The Hollands were built under licence at Vickers’ yards in Barrow, which was to become the home of British submarine construction.

The traditionalist view at the Admiralty thought of submarine warfare, in the words of Rear Admiral Wilson, as ‘underhand, unfair, and damned un-English’. Notwithstanding such views, the submarine gained a champion in Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher. Having watched the five Hollands ‘sink’ four warships in an exercise to defend Portsmouth Harbour, Fisher realised that naval warfare had changed. So, when he became First Sea Lord (1904-1910), he diverted 5% of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, despite strong opposition, to the construction of submarines.

From the beginning of Fisher’s tenure to the outbreak of the First World War, there was continual development of the submarine, from the Hollands through A to D classes. The D-class, with its decking and deck gun, represented a major change from the porpoise shape of earlier submarines, and introduced the form that would become familiar through two world wars.

Submarines in World War Two

Lulled into the belief that ASDIC made submarines irrelevant, the British Government, advised by the Admiralty, agreed in 1935 that the German Navy should be allowed the same tonnage of submarines as the Royal Navy.

Captain, later Admiral, Dönitz was ready with his submarine strategy. WWI experience implied that in a ‘tonnage war’, merchant ships could be sunk faster than they could be replaced. In order to achieve this, U-boats were to operate in Atlantic waters in ‘wolf packs’: seven or eight boats would shadow merchantmen across the sea, attack at night, and then submerge to escape, ready for the next attack.

The strategy worked until mid-1943, when the Germans had lost 250 submarines and sunk over 3,000 Allied vessels. In May, the tide turned, with 42 U-boats sunk in that month alone, forcing Dönitz to withdraw his fleet from the Atlantic. Even so, over the next two years they lost a further 520 submarines and sank only 200 ships. American aid, the convoy system, long-range air cover, and improvements in detection and anti-submarine weapons all had their effect.

Having lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the Germans were forced to rethink. One result was the development of the snorkel, a breathing tube that meant the submarine could use its diesel engine whilst just below the surface, conserving battery power. It also made submarines less visible from the air, though the snorkel did leave a trailing wake, and it could be picked up on sonar. The standard U-boat had been the Type VII, of which more than 700 were built. They were around 200ft long, with a surface displacement of 760 tons, and a surface speed of 15 knots, equalling the speed of most surface ships. They had a dive time of 20 seconds to a maximum safe depth of 650ft, a range of over 8,700 miles, and could go seven or eight weeks without refuelling. Britain’s equivalent workhorse was the T-class.

They were the first of the Navy’s boats to have their fuel tanks inside the hull, eradicating the problem of leaking fuel leaving surface trails. Whilst slightly smaller than the classes they replaced, they were an all-round improvement, and an all-welded hull meant they were stronger and able to dive deeper.

The T-class performed sterling service in all naval theatres of war. HMS Truant, for example, sank enemy ships in home waters, in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East – clocking up 81,000 tonnes of destruction in all. There was also success in the Far East for HMS Trenchant, which sank the Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara.

Submarines during The Cold War

Post WWII developments were dominated by the Cold War and the arms race between the US and the USSR. Changed political realities meant a different role for the submarine. The Royal Navy’s job ceased to be aimed at attacking surface shipping, and focused instead on the interception of Soviet submarines.

The new Amphion class had been designed and introduced towards the end of WWII, but the submarine’s new role, and the development of increasingly sophisticated equipment, meant they were gradually refitted. They had already been given the Snort mast, a development of the German snorkel, and air-warning radar that worked whilst the submarine was underwater. Extra streamlining was introduced, which included the removal of the deck-gun but perhaps the most important advances were in the complex array of sonar devices that were added to the boat.

Nuclear Submarines

The Americans had also been busy, and another German invention, the rocket, became one of the major areas of advance in submarine design. The US’s experimentation with sub-launched missiles would lead to Polaris and Trident.

They also went nuclear in the sense of having developed a suitable power-plant for a submarine. In 1955, USS Nautilus made the first nuclear-powered submarine patrol, all 323ft and 3,674 tons of it. It had a surface speed of 18 knots and a capability of reaching 23 knots submerged. The Nautilus also represented a radical shift in design. Capable of sustained underwater cruising, the Nautilus had returned to the streamlined, porpoise shape of the early pioneers, for there was now no need to spend long periods on the surface. It revolutionised naval warfare, for it combined the stealth and surprise of traditional submarines with a speed greater than their quarry.

The British, too, developed nuclear-powered submarines, and Dreadnought, the Navy’s first example, went to sea in 1963. There were two strands to British design: one was the attack submarine, with responsibility for protecting Britain’s nuclear deterrent the other was the Submerged Ship Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN), which carried Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The most famous of the latter was the Resolution Class HMS Conqueror, which sank the Belgrano during the Falklands War in 1982, and remains the only nuclear submarine with an official kill.

Such combined operations point the way to contemporary military strategy. As the Malta Convention of 1998 declared the Cold War over, so the role of the submarine has changed. It is no longer just anti-submarine work, but, in military terminology, ‘Maritime Contributions to Joint Operations’. This also includes the ability to launch special forces operations and undertake intelligence gathering – but the Silent Service has always been capable of multi-tasking. Silent, submerged, and lethal, the submarine has changed the face of naval warfare.

Invention of submarines- The rise of the marine age

Someone truly said..”Necessity is the mother of invention”. The invention of submarines is no exception. The roots of the invention of submarines can be found during the siege of Syracuse (415 - 413 BC). The military troop divers cleared obstructions using primitive kind of submarines. The answer to the questions “Who invented submarine first?” is… the scientists of the Athenian military . The history of submarines is as old as 2,432 years [Now it is 2017].

80 years later, In 332 BC, Alexander the Great used primitive submersible in the form of a diving bell. The great mathematician of all time, Archimedes (287-212 BC) gave his famous “Archimedes' principle” and explained buoyancy in a scientific manner. His principle was very well used to design and construct water vehicles which can float on the surface but not for submarines [though the principle used to drive submarine is same].

Whatever submarines used before 1578 were kind of primitive type and their success was very limited. In the year 1578, the Englishman William Bourne developed the first working model of modern submarines. His submarine was consist of leather bags with manual adjustments to fill-in and fill-out the water inside and outside of the bags. This was the basic principle which is used even today to submerge the submarine and bring it back to the surface. His model was able to completely submerged in the water, rowed beneath and stay underwater until oxygen lasts inside the wooden and waterproofed submarine. The basic requirements of staying underwater were eliminated in the year 1605 when Magnus Pegelius built and demonstrated the first submersible to be actually built in modern times.

In 1720, Russia built the first modern military submarine in the ruling of Tsar Peter the Great. That submarine was equipped with “fire tubes” which can be thrown to the surface of the water in order to blast the enemy ships. All credit goes to its designer Yefim Nikonov (a carpenter).

The name of first American military submarine was “Turtle” which was launched in 1776. It was a single person, hand-powered submarine. It was fully capable of doing all required operation and movements with the ability to carry out attacks. Later, many countries designed and built similar submarines.

The first powerful submarine which was independent of oxygen, as well as combustion power, was “Ictineo II”. The credit goes to Narcis Monturiol the year 1864. This submarine was 14 meters long, with a capacity for 2 crew members and ability to dive up to 30 meters and stay underwater for 2 hours. The pressure, buoyancy, movements, and inner air all were in complete control.

After that, a new era of powerful and robust submarines started. Later, the use of submarines was not limited to the military. The use of submarines become so wide that people categorize them into two categorize -- the military submarines and the personal submarines . The personal submarines are those submarines which can be owned by any person as his private property. There are several usages of personal submarines, such as exploration, filming, recreational, research, spy, tourism etc. These private submersibles are wide in their capabilities and features. Many private companies are now manufacturing these personal submarines as a new industry is already set up now. Hence, there are several private submarines are available for sale (including luxury submarines) today.

Before wrapping the article, let me answer few frequently asked questions-

Que: Where was submarine invented?

Ans: As said above, the very first submarines footprints were found in Athens, the capital city of Greece. But the first modern submarine was invented by Englishman William Bourne in England.

Que: Who invented the submarine periscope?

Ans: In 1854 Hippolyte Marié-Davy invented the first naval periscope, consisting of a vertical tube with two small mirrors fixed at each end at 45°. Simon Lake used periscopes in his submarines in 1902. Sir Howard Grubb perfected the device in World War I

Que: Who found submarine? Who built a submarine? Who made submarine? When was submarine made?

Ans: The first fully functional modern type submarine was first built by the Englishman William Bourne in the year 1578.

Que: Who invented submarine sonar?

Ans: The French physicist Paul Langévin invented first submarine sonar in the year 1915.

Que: The submarine is used for what?

As said above, submarines are used for various purposes like military warfare, spy, personal leisure or recreation, tourism, exploration, expedition, scientific research, filming documentaries, etc.


Construction of NAUTILUS was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, USN.

In July of 1951, Congress authorized construction of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. On December 12th of that year, the Navy Department announced that she would be the sixth ship of the fleet to bear the name NAUTILUS. Her keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut on June 14, 1952.

After nearly 18 months of construction, NAUTILUS was launched on January 21, 1954 with First Lady Mamie Eisenhower breaking the traditional bottle of champagne across NAUTILUS’ bow as she slid down the ways into the Thames River. Eight months later, on September 30, 1954, NAUTILUS became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy.

On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 11 am EST, NAUTILUS’ first Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the memorable and historic message, “Underway On Nuclear Power.” Over the next several years, NAUTILUS shattered all submerged speed and distance records.

CDR Anderson On July 23, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii under top secret orders to conduct “Operation Sunshine”, the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. At 11:15 pm on August 3, 1958, NAUTILUS’ second Commanding Officer, Commander William R. Anderson, announced to his crew, “For the world, our country, and the Navy – the North Pole.” With 116 men aboard, NAUTILUS had accomplished the “impossible”, reaching the geographic North Pole – 90 degrees North.

In May 1959, NAUTILUS entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine for her first complete overhaul – the first of any nuclear powered ship – and the replacement of her second fuel core. Upon completion of her overhaul in August 1960, NAUTILUS departed for a period of refresher training, then deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to become the first nuclear powered submarine assigned to the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

Over the next six years, NAUTILUS participated in several fleet exercises while steaming over 200,000 miles. In the spring of 1966, she again entered the record books when she logged her 300,000th mile underway. During the following 12 years, NAUTILUS was involved in a variety of developmental testing programs while continuing to serve alongside many of the more modern nuclear powered submarines she had preceded.

In the spring of 1979, NAUTILUS set out from Groton, Connecticut on her final voyage. She reached Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California on May 26, 1979 – her last day underway. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1980 after a career spanning 25 years and over half a million miles steamed.

In recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power, NAUTILUS was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on May 20, 1982. Following an extensive historic ship conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, NAUTILUS was towed to Groton, Connecticut arriving on July 6, 1985.

On April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force, Historic Ship NAUTILUS, joined by the Submarine Force Museum, opened to the public as the first and finest exhibit of its kind in the world, providing an exciting, visible link between yesterday’s Submarine Force and the Submarine Force of tomorrow.

The new Dreadnought and the nuclear deterrent

Submarines have come a long way since they revolutionised underwater warfare in the WWI era. The SM U-21 a German submarine commissioned shortly before the outbreak of the war was 65m long, could travel 50m, below the surface, and had a displacement of 824 tonnes when submerged.

In comparison, the Royal Navy’s new Dreadnought class of nuclear deterrent carrying submarines will be the largest ever built for service, at 150m long with a displacement of more than 17,000 tonnes. The ship will also be the first to simulate night and day schedules through lighting to make the transition from surface to submersion easier for the crew.

Yet another one to be named HMS Dreadnought, the first in class is in development by BAE Systems with support from Rolls-Royce. The programme will eventually deliver four submarines to replace the current Vanguard class of submarines, meaning the UK will be able to have at least one submarine at sea at all times. Like the Vanguard, Dreadnought will generate its own fresh water and oxygen, meaning the submarine only has to surface when it runs out of food.

The HMS Dreadnought is expected to be in service with the Royal Navy from the early 2030s according to the Ministry of Defence’s Submarine Delivery Authority.

Watch the video: The Invention And Development of Submarines I THE GREAT WAR Special (June 2022).


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  4. Caomh

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