HISTORY of the Submarine

        The credit for the first submarine goes to Cornelius van Drebbel who built and demonstrated his in 1620.   The Turtle, the first combat submarine, was designed by David Bushnell while he was a student at Yale and was launched during the American Revolution. A wooden craft shaped like a wide-bellied barrel, the Turtle had a one-man crew and was driven by two The Turtle From 1620hand-cranked screw propellers, one for forward and one for vertical movement. It had a complex system of valves, air vents, and ballast pumps to control submergence and was armed with a mine equipped with a time fuse. The mine was to be fastened to the bottom of the target ship by a detachable screw. Piloted by Sgt. Ezra Lee, the Turtle attacked the British flagship Eagle off New York on the night of Sept. 6, 1776. The screw was deflected by the ship's copper sheathing, and Lee was forced to jettison the mine. Nevertheless, many of the principles embodied in the Turtle were used again by Robert Fulton in his submarine, the NAUTILUS.
        Fulton's Nautilus, successfully tested in 1800-01, was the first practical submersible vessel. The craft, 7.4 m (24.5 ft) long and carrying a crew of four, had a streamlined shape to reduce water resistance. A hand-operated screw propeller was placed at its stern, and it had water ballast tanks to raise or lower the craft. The pitch of its horizontal rudders, or diving planes, could be adjusted to determine the ship's angle of descent or ascent, and it had a folding mast and sail for surface travel. Fulton could keep his vessel submerged for periods of up to 6 hours. He was also the first to experiment with tanks of compressed air to augment the oxygen supply inside the vessel. At the time, however, Fulton could not gain sufficient support from any government, and the project was dropped. 
        It was the Hunley that made the world's first successful attack on a warship, during the Civil War. In 1864, it rammed the Federal corvette Housatonic in Charleston harbor. A torpedo on the Hunley's spar exploded and sank both vessels. 
        After the Civil War two designers concentrated on submarines. Simon Lake (d1945) worked out the idea of submerging by negative buoyancy, which is used today. John P Holland experimented in other directions and won a U.S. Navy contract in the late 1890's. 
        Holland's submarine, launched in 1898, was commissioned the U.S.S. Holland in 1900--the Navy's first submarine. It was 53 feet long and displaced 75 tons. It used a gasoline engine on the surface and an electric motor when submerged, and could speed at 7 knots on the surface. 
        It was the German submarines, called U-boats or unterseebooten, which quickly demonstrated the importance of undersea warfare during World War I. Public feeling ran high against the Germans when they torpedoed the British ship Lusitania in May 1915. The U.S. was drawn into the war partly because the Germans continued their unrestricted submarine warfare. 
        In 1918 the US launched the first of it's 'S' Boats (SS-105 to SS-162).  The boat was 219ft in length and had a beam of 21 feet. The 'S' Boats were considered to be the first 'fleet' type submarine because they were able to perform operations with the fleet for the first time. The weaponry used on these boats consisted of torpedoes and deck guns.  Many targets were thought to be too small to waste a torpedo on, so the men would man the deck guns to destroy the smaller targets. Although they were aging, they were still used at the start of WWII.
        The submarines that lead our way in WWII started in 1941 with the USS Gato (SS-210).  There were 73 Gato class submarines built and their main task was to carry out offensive action against enemy shipping.  They bore the brunt of the battles of WWII.
        Launched in 1942, the Balao class (SS-285) had a super thick hull design so it could submerge 100 feet deeper than the Gato class boats could.  There were 122 submarines of the Balao class built, making it the largest class of submarines ever built.
        Starting with the Tench (SS-412) class, the submarines were 'guppied'.  Their deck guns removed, the hull streamlined, snorkle mast added and additional battery power so they could run faster and longer than previous submarines.
        Though US Submarine force only accounted for 2% of the Navy, it is credited with sinking over 50% of the Japanese naval and merchant fleets.
        The world's first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was built at the Groton, Conn., shipyards, and launched in January 1954. It had been developed primarily through the Come Along way.determination of Admiral Hyman RICKOVER, who finally--despite powerful opposition--secured the U.S. Navy's backing for the program. The ship was 98.4 m (323 ft) long, carried a crew of 105, and cruised at more than 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) when submerged. It was 'Underway on Nuclear Power' on the morning of January 17, 1955.   Its cruise beneath the polar ice cap to the North Pole in August 1958 dramatically demonstrated the potential of nuclear submarines. When better-designed and better-armed submarines joined the U.S. nuclear fleet, however, the Nautilus became increasingly costly to maintain. It was decommissioned on March 3, 1980 after a career spanning 25 years and over a million miles.  It is currently on display at the Submarine Museum in Groton, Connecticut. 
        In a nuclear submarine, a nuclear reactor produces an intense heat that generates the steam necessary to drive the turbines. A single fuel charge can propel a vessel up to 640,000 km (400,000 mi). With the addition of equipment that transforms seawater into oxygen and fresh water, such a submarine can remain submerged for months. 


This page was last updated on 04 January, 2003
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