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Under Water Warfare The Struggle Against the Submarine Menace 1939 -1945
Early developments in America, Britain, and Germany

We must now cross the Atlantic Ocean to America. The 1893-4 U.S. Navy Appropriations Bill listed $200,000 to be spent on a Submarine. Three designs were selected for further study:

(a) The Baker Boat from the Chicago Detroit Dry Dock Company, the hull was made from 6 inch seasoned oak, and was designed to withstand 75 pounds of pressure per square inch. Steam engines would charge batteries to supply electric motors, ventilation was provided via two tubes reaching up to the surface, and electric fans sucked fresh air down them. One boat was built, but in trials, it would not maintain an even depth

(b) John Philip Holland's design- he was awarded a contract by the U.S. Navy, and formed the Holland Boat Company in New Jersey, and on the 23 June 1896 laid the keel of his Submarine named, "Plunger." On completion she was 85 feet long, and displaced 140 tons, her main fault on trial, when submerged, the machinery produced an extremely hot interior in the boat. Holland built a second model, it was smaller, being 53 feet long, and only displaced 75 tons. In lieu of steam he used an Otto gas engine, under water 5.5 knots was achieved, with 7 knots on the surface. The batteries could be charged by the gas engine. Holland was almost there, and he was awarded $120,000, and the U.S.Government recommended that the Navy use this Submarine.

(c) The third design to be selected was produced by Simon Lake, it was a 14 feet long pine contraption, mounted on wheels, designed to be driven like a car along the sea bed, but this submission was rejected. Lake however did not give up, by 1897, he had produced another version, still with wheels, the "Argonaut."

Still he kept at it, and another boat, the "Protector," looking more like the shape of emerging Submarines, was shown to the Russians, they responded by ordering 4, and they were built at Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, at Newport News, in Virginia.

Lake now began to arouse the interest of the U.S.Navy, the "Protector," now had a spacious conning tower and wheels that now folded away up into the hull.

The Board appointed to examine Lake's work now recommended that 5 be ordered, four to be used for the protection of entrances to Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Harbour, and Puget Sound, whilst the fifth was earmarked for training purposes. Holland was in financial difficulties, but he received cash assistance from a well wisher, and he was able to found the Electric Boat Company, and sold his first Submarine to the U.S. Navy in 1900 at a price of $150,000. It is worth recording that the same company 55 years later, produced the first nuclear powered Submarine for the U.S.N at a cost, not including propulsion equipment, of $30 million.

At this stage the Admiralty was aware of Holland's achievement but there were still mixed ideas of the morality of under water warfare, and its place within the Royal Navy.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson made no bones about his attitude to this debate, he described the Submarine as "under hand, unfair, and damned un English."

Lord Fisher, soon to become become the First Sea Lord, held an opposing view, and he prevailed. A Holland type boat was bought from America, and in 1902, after some design modifications, five Submarines were ordered front Vickers at Barrow. The first completed in 1904, was christened A1 and displaced 180 tons. A gasoline engine gave her a surface speed of 11 knots, whilst electric motors produced 8 knots submerged.

One interesting feature was a periscope, designed by a Torpedo Specialist, Captain. R.H S Bacon, he had worked in conjuction with an Irish optician.

Meanwhile, Krupp at his Kiel plant, and, at his own expense launched a boat in August 1905, it was 116 feet 8 inches long, had a 200 Horse Power internal combustion motor for a surface speed of 11 knots, and made 9 knots submerged from its electric motors. It was further equipped with 2 periscopes, and a gyro compass.

The German Government ordered a similar Submarine to be named U1; both the German and British Navies had failed to scale any inspirational heights when naming their first Submarines to join their respective fleets

The British gasoline engine in her boats was a constant safety threat, and in fact, A5 was destroyed by an explosion just atter she refuelled on 16 February 1905.

From the start, German designers had been wary of the problem, and went down the path of the heavy oil engine, by the time they laid down U19, in 1911, the diesel engine was well advanced, and she was built with a pair of diesels. It was safer, the oil having a much lower flash point than petrol, it evaporated less, and had the added advantage of economy.

On 1 September 1914, the German U2I, in company with her sister boat U20, had managed to penetrate the Firth of Forth, they viewed the Forth bridge and took in all the British Naval ships anchored off the dockyard at Rosyth. They then decided to withdraw to open water. The following day U21 was surfaced, recharging batteries off May Island at the entrance to the Firth. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Hersing, sighted a British light cruiser, he dived, but could not get into a position to attack.

He surfaced, attd resumed battery charging, again at 1545(3.45P.M.) he sighted the same cruiser, again dived, but this time he was able to attack. He fired one Torpedo, hitting H M S "Pathfinder" just abaft the bridge- in just four minutes she had sunk,taking 259 out of a crew of 296 with her.

The first Man of War to be sunk by a Submarine since the"H.L.tlunley" disposed of the "Housatonic."

The Submarine menace had truly arrived.

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling in 1916, was invited by the British Admiralty to visit the relatively new Submarine Service. He did so and read some of the official records. He then wrote an article titled "British Submarines - Little Tin Turtles"

World War 2 Submarines, on either side of the conflict, were indeed a far cry from those Kipling wrote about over twenty years earlier.

Related links:

  • HMS Holland 1-1901 Great description of HMS Holland will be found here. Gives complete history.

  • U 1 - 1906 This site includes photo of U1 and also a great trip through the U1 via a QuickTime Video Clip. Not to be missed.

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