A submarine is a vessel which has been designed for underwater operations. It has the capability to operate
underneath the surface or on the surface of the water. This along with it's armament makes it a vital piece to
our nations sea power and sea control.
Evidence of this type of craft goes back into history an estimated 2000 years. Aristotle has described for us
a type of submersible chamber that was used in the year 332 B.C. These were used by the sailors of Alexander The
Great during the blockade of Tiros in order to put obstacles and some types of charges of unknown kind.
In China there had also been a report that a primitive submarine was in existence around 200 B.C. In fact, this
submarine was reported to be able to move by the bottom of the sea.
Later on after many centuries in 1578, a man by the name of William Borne drafted the first submarine design.
His design included ballast tanks which are used to submerge and surface the craft. Unfortunately his submarine
never got passed the drawing stage.
The first successful submarine was built in 1620 by a Dutchman named Cornelis Drebbel. Cornelis had designed
a wooden submersible vehicle encased in leather. It was able to carry 12 rowers and a total of 20 men. Amazingly
enough, the vessel could dive to the depth of 20 meters and travel 10 km. He conducted several series of trips
below the surface of the Thames River which lasted many hours. This early submarine was the first to address the
problem of oxygen replenishment while submerged.
In 1775 or 1776, an American engineer and student at Yale, David Bushnell invented the Turtle. The Turtle was
egg-shaped and carried only a one man crew. It was driven by two hand-cranked screw propellers, one for forward
movement and the other for versicle movement. The Turtle had a complex system of valves, air vents, and ballast
pumps to control submergence, these were made out of lead and kept the vehicle upright, and it also had a mine
with a time fuse. The mine was supposed to be attached to the bottom of the target ship with a detachable screw.
Piloted by Sgt. Ezra Lee, the Turtle was the first combat submarine. On 6 September 1776 the Turtle attacked the
British flagship HMS Eagle in New York Harbor. When Lee tried to attach the mine to the ship, the screw was deflected
by the ship's copper sheathing. Lee had no other choice but to jettison the mine.
Robert Fulton used the principles that were used in developing the Turtle to make his own creation in 1798, the
Nautilus. It uses two forms of power for propulsion, diving planes, shape, armament, and under sea air replenishment.
Fulton built a sail for surface runs and a hand-cranked screw propeller for use while submerged. The Nautilus had
a streamlined shape to reduce water resistance and it also had ballast tanks to raise and lower the craft. It also had
diving planes which could be adjusted to determine the vessels angle of ascent of descent. The vessel was 21-24.5 ft
long and carried a crew of 4. The only armament on board the Nautilus was an explosive mechanism called a torpedo.
Basically, it was a box of dynamite.
Some people have stated that the Nautilus could stay under sea for 24 hours at a depth of 8 meters while others
say it could stay submerged only up to 6 hours.
Fulton also was the first to experiment with compressed air for the replenishment of oxygen while under the sea.
However, when he tried to get government support money he did not receive any so the whole project was dropped.
Later in 1850, Germans constructed the submarine Sea Devil under the supervision of the Barbarian Bauer. This
submarine supposedly made over 130 divings with a large crew of 14.
During the civil war the confederates built 4 submarines to use against the Union fleet. The Huntley was the
most famous of the four. In 1864, the Huntley rammed into the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
A torpedo on the Huntley spar exploded and sank both of the vessels. This was the first submarine that made a successful
attack on a warship, during the civil war.
After the war was over two designers concentrated on the submarines. Simon Lake, who died in 1945, worked out
the idea of submerging by negative buoyancy, which is used today. John Philip Holland experimented in other directions
and won a U.S. Navy contract in the late 1890's. In fact, most of the latter half of the 1800's was used in attempt
to develop an adequate means of submarine propulsion. Both of the inventors experimented with compressed air, steam,
and electricity as power sources.
The French Navy made the most serious and successful efforts in the construction of submarines. The Narval class
submarines were the product of there effort. They were equipped with intergrated systems and mechanisms for autonomous
propulsion and under the sea surface sailing.
Soon after the Narval class submarines were unveiled other big countries joined the "game." Another big factor
in the success of the submarines was the invention of the automobiled torpedo by a fellow named Whittehead in 1870.
This gave the submarine the ultimate weapon.
In 1886 Greece, a naval country, acquired for the first time a submarine. It was the Swiss made Nordenfelt which
was steam powered and could reach speeds up to 9 knots. The Nordenfelt was meters in length and displaced 160 tons.
There was also a torpedo on board for armament. This submarine was in service until 1901.
In 1898 J.P. Holland launched his submarine and it was commissioned the USS Holland. This was the United States
Navy's first submarine. It was 53 feet long and displaced 75 tons. The USS Holland used a gasoline engine while running
on the surface and an electric motor while submerged. At top surface speed, it could reach a speed of 7 knots.
The United States was pushed into World War I partly because of the German's unrestricted submarine warfare. The
Germans were sinking allied ships anywhere and anytime they came upon them. They bombed merchant and passenger ships
killing British and American citizens. The United States noticed that the development of the periscope and self-propelled
torpedo, the submarine became a major factor in naval warfare. The success of the submarines for the Germans led to
the development of depth charges.
The U.S. launched the first of the "S" boats. The boats were 219 ft in length and were considered the first "fleet"
type submarines because for the first time they were able to preform operations with the fleet. The armament of these
boats were torpedoes and deck guns. If it was a small target they would use the deck guns and if it were a large target,
it would get a torpedo.
Between the World Wars there were new improvements in submarine design and operation. Underwater sound devices were
made for communications and for the detection of enemy ships. There also was rescue devices made such as the Momsen lung.
This was a lightweight breathing apparatus used by the crew in case of emergency. The typical U.S. submarine had increased
its speed to 18 knots on a surface run using diesel engines and 8 knots submerged using electric motors. Most of the time
that the submarine would have to surface was to recharge its batteries to continue underwater.
In World War II the Balao class was launched. It had a super thick hull design so it could submerge over 100 feet
more then the previous Gato class submarines. All in all, there were 122 submarines of this class launched making it
the largest class of submarines ever built.
Later on in 1943, the German Navy invented a new piece for their submarines. It was a snorkel mast. This would allow
the submarines to run on diesel power while under water at periscope depth and recharge their batteries. Amazingly enough,
the Germans also came up with an alternative power source in 1944. Hydrogen Peroxide was found to be a good alternative
fuel source for the submarines.
Starting with the Trench class submarines, the Navy removed their deck guns and proceeded to streamline the hull.
They also added the snorkel mast and additional battery power so they could run faster and longer then the previous
Although the submarines only accounted for 2% of the U.S. Navy, it proved that the submarines were a needed part
of the Navy. They are credited with the sinking of over 50% of the Japanese naval and merchant fleets.
In 1953 the USS Albacore was launched and commissioned. It had a new hull design which resembled a blimp. The new
hull type proved so successful in providing greater submerged speeds nearly all of the following submarines after it
copied its style.
The USS Nautilus was commissioned in 1954. This was the most technologically advanced submarine of its time. It was
the worlds first nuclear powered submarine. It could reach speeds of more than 20 knots when submerged, and could remain
under water for an indefinite period of time. In fact, in 1958 the USS Nautilus made the first undersea transit
of the North Pole. The development of the Naval nuclear propulsion plant was the work of a team Navy, the government and
contractor engineer who were led by Captain Hyman G. Rickover.
When we entered the year of 1960 the first submarines incorporating a battery of solid-propellent submarine-launched
ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads were built in the U.S. These new weapons were capable of hitting targets about
2500 miles when fired from the submerged submarine.
In 1970 the Ohio class submarines were built with 24 launching tubes for intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBM
each with a range of 4600 miles. The USS Ohio, the first of the class, was commissioned in 1981.
From then to present day, there has been many changes in the submarines. Such changes are those of the technological
advances like the computer of smaller size and more up to date equipment. In our world ever changing, there will always
be something new to replace the old.
Submarines have come a long way from Alexander The Great in 332 B.C. to those in our present day. We have found new
methods of propulsion, air replenishment while underwater, communication, depth control, and armament. Indeed, the submarine
does play a vital role in our history and the continuance of our Navy. Without it, where would we be?