We'd love to hear from the
submarine world. Of course, if you are an expert in the field, what
follows will probably not be news to you but, while we wait for you to
tell us about the submarines of this century, we though it might be
interesting to look back at how it all began...
many attempts to get a boat to function underwater between 1578 and 1763
were successful, including 17 chronicled designs, the problem with
getting funding for any serious manufacture of such vessels was their
lack of attack capacity, rendering them of no interest to the military
forces of the world at that time.
in 1742, American inventor, David Bushnell, was instrumental in bringing
the submarine out of the realms of gimmickry and giving it credibility
as a fighting craft.
In 1775, Bushnell graduated from Yale, at the time when the first
skirmishes between British troops and American colonists were taking
place. His bitterness towards Britain fuelled his desire to put his
engineering ability to use in aiding the colonist revolt.
designed, and built, a small submarine which could be trimmed down until
the conning tower was awash by letting water in to two small internal
Her armament consisted of a detachable charge of 150 lbs (about 68
kilos) of gunpowder which could be attached to the underside of an enemy
vessel by means of a screw.
1776, as the British lay off New York, Bushnell, together with Ezra Lee,
a Sergeant in the American army, launched the submarine and Lee managed
to place it underneath the hull of H.M.S. Eagle, commander Lord Howe,
but was unable to attach the charge.
Bushnell had been unaware of the fact that British warships, at that
time, were sheathed with copper, to prevent infestation of their timbers
by marine parasites.
A further two
attempts were no more successful than the first and , in 1782, when the
war ended, Bushnell abandoned his submarine experiments. He changed his
name and became a successful medical practitioner.
American, Robert Fulton was born in 1765 and, when he came of age, was
apprenticed to a jeweller for a while, before taking up portrait and
landscape painting professionally. During a visit to England, in 1794,
he was inspired to take up a career in engineering and turned his early
attentions, unsuccessfully, to attempts to improve upon the lock system
In 1797, Fulton settled
in Paris. He was a visionary in marine terms and so intensely certain of
his ideas that, by 1801, even Napoleon Bonaparte was convinced that the
answer to Britain's superior naval strength lay in arming France with a
fleet of submarines.
grant of 10,000 francs enabled Fulton to build a prototype which he
named the 'Nautilus' which is, perhaps, where Jules Verne gained his
inspiration for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and other works.
The vessel was 21' long and 7' across at the widest point and had
internal tanks which could be flooded to submerge it. 'Nautilus' had a
hand-turned propeller for underwater travel and a de-mountable sailing
rig for surface voyaging.
demonstrate the capacity of the 'Nautilus', Fulton succeeded in placing
a charge beneath an old schooner, anchored centrally in a bay, for the
purpose, by taking 'Nautilus' beneath the hull of the vessel and placing
a charge, before retiring to a safe distance to watch the explosion,
along with members of the French Ministry of Marine Affairs.
Unfortunately, they remained unimpressed in spite of the total success
of the demonstration, possibly because the water was clear and calm in
the bay and it seemed to them that the 'Nautilus' would have been
observed long before she was able to place the charge.
Under normal circumstances, of course, this would have been most
unlikely. Fulton's very choice of location, therefore, allowing a clear
view of the proceedings, may have worked against him that day.
Fulton, not prepared to see his invention disregarded, crossed to
England to demonstrate his submarine to the British Admiralty.
British, lacking foresight in equal measure to their enemies across the
Channel, showed no greater interest than had the French Ministry and
Fulton returned, with 'Nautilus', to his native America. It would be
nice to be able to say that his countrymen received his invention with
the acclaim it deserved but the truth is that Fulton was just too far
ahead of his time and he and 'Nautilus' were ignored at home too.
It might be said that he was the Barnes Wallace* of the nautical world.
Robinson and Linnet Woods for MarineZine
British inventor Barnes Wallace, born in the late nineteenth century,
was most famous for inventing the bouncing bomb, used to demolish dams
and other structures over water which could not be destroyed from above
but crumbled when their foundations were hit by relatively small
charges. The British Government ridiculed his invention, saying that it
could not possibly work.
fact it worked perfectly, although it required some finesse to hit
targets accurately. The bomb had to be dropped at a fixed distance from the target and at an exact height of 150'.
In those days there was no system in existence to allow pilots to know
when they were at an exact height above ground and so Wallace hit upon
the idea of placing two spotlights on the aircraft carrying the bomb.
When the beams of the two spotlights merged on the surface of the water,
the bomb was dropped, bouncing along on the surface of the water towards the target and reaching it
at its most vulnerable point.
the British Government procrastinated over admission of its earlier
failure to know a successful idea when it saw one, the war raged on and
thousands of lives were lost until, at last, it was agreed that the bomb
should be used and a squadron of Lancaster Bombers succeeded in destroying
their target of three enemy dams in the course of a single
This story was immortalised in the great
movie "The Dam Busters".
Wallace's swing-wing aircraft was also offered
to the British air force but was considered a 'foolish aberration'.
America, on the other hand, immediately saw the possibilities and the
rest, as they say, is history.
On the rather lighter note for which we aim
to become known:
Back when we were wondering how to get this page started, an
Italian cruiser sitting at the next table in the bar, read out an
advertisement in a local, Caribbean, free marine newspaper All At Sea,
Here is the
advertisement (from the January 2000 edition):
246' Whiskey Class Submarine, 1957 model of
the world's most popular sub. Sleeps 56. 15,000 mile range. One owner.
Cruise missiles optional. $555,000 /obo, (or best offer) ...
we thought...optional Cruise missiles? It gets better...the kind
Italian let us have the paper, which turns out to be an excellent read,
we recommend it highly to anyone who can get it...it's a free paper
around the islands of the Caribbean.
There was an article on page 43 of the All At Sea newspaper, entitled
"ANYONE WANT A RUSSIAN SUB?" Apparently, the vessel also
sported six 533mm torpedo tubes and storage space for up to a dozen
torpedoes...standard armaments appear to include a single SM-24 Zif twin
57mm and one 2M-8 twin 25mm gun...
The sub is on display
in a Swedish sub but was re-fitted for service just before the break-up
of the Soviet Union. She was in active service until 1991. It was
suggested she could be converted to a private yacht. Our imaginations
ran wild... wouldn't it be grand to be able to surface anywhere,
anytime, armed to the teeth to ward off pirates...yes, yes, we know we'd
have to give up the guns! We didn't even have ten percent of the asking
price handy at the moment, so don't worry! It was just one of those
Talk to us
about your submarine experiences, please, we'd love to hear! Meanwhile,
if naval history is your strong point, have a go at our In-Quiz-ition
No.1 on the InQuizitive page - ten questions and links to the
answers so that you can check on how you're doing...