The Evolution Of The Submarine As A Warship

THE EVOLUTION OF A SUBMARINE—AS A WARSHIP. At the close of the 19th century, the hail heard around the world was Britannia Rules the Sea. Ships of the Royal Navy were high profile targets for their enemies—both foreign and domestic. Douglas Porch, in his book The Path to Victory published in 2004, by Farrar, Straus, […]
THE EVOLUTION OF A SUBMARINE—AS A WARSHIP. At the close of the 19th century, the hail heard around the world was Britannia Rules the Sea. Ships of the Royal Navy were high profile targets for their enemies—both foreign and domestic. Douglas Porch, in his book The Path to Victory published in 2004, by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in New York, revealed that Irish revolutionaries in 1876, known as the Fenian Brotherhood, contracted John P. Holland, an Irish-American who had immigrated to the US in 1872, to develop a way to sneak up on British ships from underwater, and sink them. Holland’s work began in Paterson, New Jersey, on the Passaic River, and then moved to New York harbor. The Fenian’s, however, withdrew their support of Holland’s research when he failed to meet their timetables. Private investors though kept Holland afloat. By 1898, Holland had produced his sixth prototype—and, the US Navy was ready to buy. On April 11, 1900, the US Navy purchased Holland-VI for $150,000; and, for the record, the US Navy Submarine Force was born. Then, on October 13, 1900, USS HOLLAND (SS 1) duly was commissioned, Lieutenant H. H. Caldwell, US Navy, Commanding.   HOLLAND was 53.3 feet overall, with a maximum beam of 10.3 feet, a cruising draft of 8.5 feet, and a submerged displacement of 75 deadweight tons, dwt. HOLLAND was constructed with fitted steel-plate attached to angle-iron rib-frames that had been forged into perfect circles starting at 10.25 feet for the central one, and then decreasing to end-closures to form a parabolic, spindle-shaped hull. Safe test-depth was set at 80 feet to correspond to an external, water-head, crushing pressure of 35 psi, pounds-per-square-inch. HOLLAND featured an ingenious dual-propulsion system. A 50-horsepower Otto (gasoline) engine was geared to drive a propulsion-screw– a propeller– directly, or by a friction clutch could be connected as a dynamotor for charging HOLLAND’s electric battery. This battery then could be switched to provide electrical energy to an electric motor that by friction clutch could be connected to the propulsion shaft. HOLLAND’s maximum speed on the surface by gasoline-powered engine was rated at 7 knots; and, when topped-up with fuel, HOLLAND had an endurance-range of about 1500 nautical miles, nm, at her engine’s maximum continuous rating for making turns for 7 knots. When submerged, HOLLAND’s fully charged battery discharging at the six-hour rate had the ampere-hour capacity for electric motor propulsion at a rated maximum submerged speed of 5 knots for a submerged endurance-range of about 30 miles! And, to go in harm’s way, HOLLAND had a single internally loaded 18-inch diameter tube that extended through the pressure hull in the bow for launching the new, improved Whitehead diving-torpedo Mark-III that was 11.65 feet in length, and rated at 30 knots for a run of 2000 yards. Moreover, HOLLAND was designed with space-and-weight accommodation for two torpedo reloads. Submarines were now stand-off warships. Submarine Weapon Development.  The British, however, lagged in early submarine development.  The Admiralty apparently thought submarine attacks were dishonorable; and, declared that captured submariners would be treated as pirates, and be hanged, accordingly. After Britain’s rivals at sea commissioned Holland to build submarines for them, the Admiralty changed its tune.  As what could be expected, Holland later profited from selling submarines to that same Admiralty whose fleet he once had been paid to sink. It is interesting to note that it was the US inventor Robert Fulton who in 1805, after studying the design of Bushnell’s Turtle, positively demonstrated in a weapon-trial the feasibility of sinking a ship by detonating an explosive charge against its underwater hull. Some sixty years later in 1866, two years after the submarine CSS H. L. HUNLEY was lost detonating a torpedo attached to a bow-sprit spar that sank USS HOUSATONIC in Charleston harbor, Robert Whitehead, a Scottish inventor, demonstrated his advanced development model of an auto-mobile torpedo—to the Germans. At the behest of officials representing the German Kaiser’s government in Austria, Whitehead demonstrated an unmanned, underwater vehicle that was a self-propelled, lighter-than-water dirigible—a “diving submarine.”  It essentially was an automated-mobile—an auto-mobile—underwater vehicle that could deliver a “numbing” explosive charge—a torpedo—to detonate against the underwater hull of a target-ship, and sink her—from a stand-off distance! As the world turned into the 20th century, a booming Industrial Revolution seemingly elevated science and technology as if they were its King and Queen, their supreme overseer.  It was like there had been a royal Coronation of Science & Technology. Figuratively, a silver spoon was placed in the mouth of each new steamship born in modernized shipways.  They indeed were capital-intensive assets.  This was Big Time financing. With the continuing evolution of submarines as reliable warships, torpedo advancements burgeoned to keep pace with them.  For instance, by the onset of WW-I, US submarines had the new Bliss-Leavitt Mark-X torpedo, which weighed in at a hefty 1,628 pounds with a 326-pound warhead, stood 17.1 feet in length with an 18-inch diameter-girth, and ran 6,000 yards (3 nm) with a rated speed of 35 knots. Now, enter the most efficient, the most cost-effective, the most peerless shipping interdictor, the most devastating business-loss inflictor, and most menacing national economic strangler of them all: Der Kriegsmarine Unterseebooten! The Enemy Below. During WW-I the word “U-boat” entered the world’s lexicon as a contraction of Unterseeboot, the German labeling of their new submarine warships. U-boat also entered the world’s consciousness as an offensive instrument of warfare that devastated commercial shipping. Contrary to popular belief, the crews of Germany’s feted Ubootwaffe were not all volunteers.  Once committed though, each German submarine-sailor soon came to understand that he must take pride in being a member of a unique undersea brotherhood.  Thus, the sailors of this brotherhood– this Ubootwaffe– became bound together by an intense camaraderie, by ever-present dangers, and by a unity of purpose more powerful than any known to other sailors. So, with over-extended capital investments, the British built new, capital-intensive, ocean-going steamships to bolster their colonized trade—strategic imports—from overseas.  The strategic plan of the Germans—Britain’s “new” continental rival– was to interdict British capital-intensive, economic assets that sailed those seas, and do so with stealth and surprise from a hidden position just below the surface of the sea. Germany set about to build and crew cost-effective U-boats whose individual tactical ship-sinking combats could be managed strategically to achieve their national goal of Economic Equality with their rival Great Britain.  These U-boats were armed with a German version of an advanced Whitehead torpedo that very effectively—very cost-effectively– delivered an explosive charge to a target-ship at a stand-off distance that typically was less than half a mile even though the torpedo had a maximum run of three miles. These U-boats featured a dynamo with an innovative design of an internal combustion engine that was not fueled with gasoline—and, did not require an ignition system.  Thus, this “rational heat engine” was more efficient, and safer, than gasoline-fueled ones.       In 1897, after a major re-design of the lubrication system for this coal-dust fueled, single cylinder, four cycle pump-engine for flooded mineshafts, the first successful engineering development model of a liquid-fueled, “coal-oil,” engine was completed by its then-bankrupt inventor in collaboration with the Krupp firm and an Augsburg-Nuremberg machine shop, Maschinefabrik Augsberg Nürnburg– MAN. Some fifteen years later, in 1912, a year before the death of the engine’s impoverished inventor, the US Navy procured a number of them from New London Ship and Engine Company, NELSECO, teamed with Vickers– a British shipbuilder licensed by this German conglomerate.  These engines were the coal-oil fueled, four cycle version having four cylinders with a 12.75-inch bore and a 13.5 stroke that were rated 275 BHP @400 RPM.  They were scheduled for installation in E-1 Class (ex-SKIPJACK) US-submarines to replace the scheduled gasoline-powered prime movers for the dynamos in their dual-propulsion hybrid system.[1] In 1908, the German Navy favored the lighter (pounds-per-horsepower), two cycle version; but, in preparatory expediency for their inevitable war plans, they proceeded to fit all their U-boats with a six-cylinder, four cycle version of this now-feted engine as designed by its fatherly inventor whose name they bear– Rudolf Diesel, 1858-1913. The rest of the story is legendary. Diesel Boats Forever!
[1] Notably, on March 5, 1912, a month before SS TITANTIC sank, President Taft established the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla– Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz, US Navy, Commanding. Continue to read here Read the previous post by Captain Wellborn here    
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