Old submarines

I didn’t know that submarines existed 150 years ago, but one is being restored in NZ:

The wreck of another one half that age has been located off Turkey:


Turtle (also called American Turtle) was the world’s first submersible vessel with a documented record of use in combat. It was built in 1775 by American David Bushnell as a means of attaching explosive charges to ships in a harbor, for use against Royal Navy vessels occupying North American harbors during the American Revolutionary War. Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull recommended the invention to George Washington, who provided funds and support for the development and testing of the machine.

Several attempts were made using Turtle to affix explosives to the undersides of British warships in New York Harbor in 1776. All failed, and her transport ship was sunk later that year by the British with the submarine aboard. Bushnell claimed eventually to have recovered the machine, but its final fate is unknown. Modern replicas of Turtle have been constructed and are on display in the Connecticut River Museum, the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force Library and Museum, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, and the Oceanographic Museum (Monaco).

H. L. Hunley, often referred to as Hunley, was a submarine of the Confederate States of America that played a small part in the American Civil War. Hunley demonstrated the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare. She was the first combat submarine to sink a warship (USS Housatonic), although Hunley was not completely submerged and, following her successful attack, was lost along with her crew before she could return to base. The Confederacy lost 21 crewmen in three sinkings of Hunley during her short career. She was named for her inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley, shortly after she was taken into government service under the control of the Confederate States Army at Charleston, South Carolina.

Blockquote Drebbel’s submarine was propelled by oars. The precise nature of this submarine is unclear, it may be possible that it resembled a bell towed by a boat.[5] Two improved types were tested in the River Thames between 1620 and 1624.[6][7] Of one of these tests Constantijn Huygens reports in his autobiography of 1651 the following:

Worth all the rest put together is the little ship, in which he calmly dived under the water, while he kept the king and several thousand Londoners in the greatest suspense. The great majority of these already thought that the man who had very cleverly remained invisible to them - for three hours, as rumour has it - had perished, when he suddenly rose to the surface a considerable distance from where he had dived down, bringing with him the several companions of his dangerous adventure to witness to the fact that they had experienced no trouble or fear under the water, but had sat on the bottom, when they so desired, and had ascended when they wished to do so; that they had sailed whithersoever they had a mind, rising as much nearer the surface or again diving as much deeper as it pleased them to do, without even being deprived of light; yea, even that they had done in the belly of that whale all the things people are used to do in the air, and this without any trouble. From all this it is not hard to imagine what would be the usefulness of this bold invention in time of war, if in this manner (a thing which I have repeatedly heard Drebbel assert) enemy ships lying safely at anchor could be secretly attacked and sunk unexpectedly by means of a battering ram — an instrument of which hideous use is made now- a-days in the capturing of the gates and bridges of towns.[8]

I would mention that some of the first diving suits were nearly submarines. These date back to the early 1800’s. But they made the case for building submersible ships to come later. I’ve read where some of these suits didn’t have air pumped down to them but used blocks of ice in the tall helmet so that as the ice melted it released oxygen for the diver’s need.

1620 England, Cornelis Drebbsl’s oar driven submersible


Submarine History 1580 - 1969

Going Under: Diving Suits

I’ve visited the Submarine Museum in Groton Connecticut where the USS Nautilus is docked and gone aboard it. What was a real treat to see there is a full scale model of the Turtle which is cut away to reveal it’s workings. One of the more amazing things to realize was just how small men were in those days as compared to today.

Another Museum to visit to see an early submarine is the Presbytere
in New Orleans. It is in the old town section along the River Walk. It preceded the Hunley Submarine which was the most famous submersible operational war craft of the CSS. But the Hunley wasn’t the first by any means as the CSS Navy was experimenting earlier on. The submarine housed at the Presbytere employed 3 men and it sank in Lake Pontchartrain during trials. I understand Hunley was one of several men invested in submarine warfare in the early 1860’s era.
The website below list this early prototype as 1878 but that was when the ship was removed from the lake. I understand that it was abandoned there after it sank so to keep it hidden safe from spy’s.

Civil War Era Submarines

This is what I can share from my travels regarding early American Submarine technology. No doubt other countries in earlier times have experimented too.

The question of why the industry of submariner seamanship came about in the first place? I figure it was first salvage, then naval architecture, and ultimately warfare.

One of the most unique things I had ever seen regarding submarines was in High School in a Time Magazine. It was a remote controlled bulldozer the Japanese had developed to work at depth. It was controlled from the surface and had air & exhaust lines as well as control cables, lights and cameras. I’ve never heard any more about it so I don’t know what the disposition of it was.

It’s happening now: http://www.nautilusminerals.com/irm/content/seafloor-production-tools.aspx?RID=333

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Thanks Louis, I always wondered if that concept would develop. I live on a River and the nearest locks and dams are some distance from me. I see components going by on barges but I never see equipment like that aboard them.

I’ll throw a couple of other “old submarine” ideas on the table for those interested. Submarines are a fascinating subject as they represent man’s creative nature to overcome his native realm. We were under water before we flew in the air and that before going into space. In some cases there were developments with submarine vehicles which actually combined land, water, and air.

Toward the end of WW2 the Germans developed a Track and Propeller driven submarine. It didn’t see much action as Allied Air Power could have easily destroyed them. The idea was for these subs to lay about on the coast or bays etc much like alligators laying in wait at shores edge for prey. The crew could be mustered as a scramble much like today’s SAC Fighter Jets, thus not having to be in place for long grueling hours in a conventional submarine.

The Seeteufel had a track drive much like a bulldozer and would have been classed as a midget submarine. It was built by Borgward and due to it’s small size carried torpedoes or mines on it’s exterior. When needed it could be operated much like a tractor to take to water and then use propeller propulsion. It used a gasoline engine with air fed to it via a snorkel and had an electric motor for submerged operation.

Seeteufel land going submarine


Flying Submarines ? Yes.

During WW2 the Soviet Union conceived such a plan. It was the idea of engineer Boris Ushakov but it never really got off the drawing board.

circa 1937


Ultimately Nikita Khrushchev ended the project in the early 1950’s.

Later, however, in the USA in the early 1960’s Donald Reid a Defense Contractor to the Navy attempted to build such a flying submarine.


It actually flew at 75 feet above the water and did submerge to a depth of 10+ feet. Enough to prove a concept ?

Worthy of mention here is how we see submarines today as missile carriers. When the WW2 Germans developed the V1 and V2 missiles
they considered launching them from their submarines. Unfortunately they didn’t have large enough submarines for the task, but they did consider building these 500 ton V2 carrying platforms to be towed by their submarines to the sores of the USA and launch V2’s at New York.

These were unmanned and unpowered sea going silo’s which would have been towed slightly submerged in the horizontal mode. When ready for launch the aft tanks would be flooded to place the V2 in the vertical mode for launch.

Rocket U-Boat

YEY-YAH! I heart so much the library, the librarian, and the featured books display.

For those who would like to read the book 20,000 Leagues, here it is in .pdf

Verne’s pondering of what would become modern submarine warfare
is intriguing and worth the read.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


Back to a form of reality. Here is the control room of the Holland 1 the first UK Royal navy submarine. Keel laid in 1901, sank on its way to the breakers in 1913.


There is a new book coming out about the H L Hunley Confederate Submarine. How it sank and what happened may be different than what has been surmised. Smithsonian’s website

The New Explosive Theori about what Doomed the Crew of the Hunley

The 135 lb black powder charged torpedo may have been enough to
create shock waves that would have lead to catastrophic lung damage and cardiac arrest.

Visit the link and learn more.