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  IN THE BEGINNING................     

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A Brief history of the earliest submarines.

 At various times throughout history people have dreamt of travelling to the depths of the seas. Stories such as Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' have fired peoples imaginations in ways on a par with mans desire to fly. In practice this proved to be particularly fraught with problems and dangers and a safe and practical submarine had been difficult to design and build. Various designs had been drawn up from the earliest times including an ingenious early design by Leonardo De Vinci. Building a usable submersible, however, had proved more difficult.

 

 

One of the first recorded attempts at building a usable submersible included Dutchman Cornelius van Drebbel's design which was basically an enclosed rowing boat which was ingeniously constructed with leather 'gaskets around the oars to enable it to be rowed. It is reported that it did submerge and travel some distance just below the surface of the River Thames in 1624.

 

 

Various other attempts to build a submersible occurred over the years but the most celebrated include the first known offensive submarine the 'Turtle' built by American David Bushnell which was basically a one man hand propelled wooden barrel carrying a keg of gunpowder used during the American War of Independence in 1776 against the British.

 

 

Another inventor Robert Fulton, an anti British Irish American, designed a four man submarine the 'Nautilus' which he tried to sell to Napoleon for use against the British after the battle of the Nile in 1800 but Napoleon wasn't impressed so the inventor then tried to sell the idea to the British but the Admiralty, in its usual response to innovation declined the offer.

 

 

 Another well documented and more successful submarine was produced by the Confederate side in the American Civil War. This was named the 'Hunley' which did successfully attack and sink a Federal ship the 'Housatonic', this being the first submarine 'kill', but it was lost with its crew of eight during the attack.

 

 

In 1879 the Reverend George Garrett designed and built a submarine in Britain named the 'Resurgam'. It was the first powered submarine (i.e. not propelled by hand) but it was lost at sea whilst under tow to Portsmouth in Hampshire for demonstration to the Royal Navy following trials. The wreck was discovered of the coast of Wales in 1995 and it is hoped that it may one day be salvaged and put on display somewhere.

 

Another Irish inventor was John Holland. He started training for the priesthood but in the 1860's he left holy orders to emigrate to America. There he followed a passion of his in his spare time to design a submarine. He tried to interest the American navy in his designs but they weren't interested. A new anti British Irish American organisation calling itself the 'Fenian Society' (the forerunner if the IRA) did show an interest and funded Holland (also anti British) in a bid to obtain the submarine for use against the British. For one reason and another they fell out with Holland and never did use the submarine against the British (but ironically Holland's submarine design  did eventually help to set the British Royal Navy on the road to setting up its Submarine Service).

 

Holland eventually found another backer, an American named Isaac Rice, a businessman who among his other interests owned a company producing electrical storage batteries. They founded a company in 1899 that was to become the worlds biggest producers of submarines the 'Electric Boat Company'. The American Navy did eventually buy the first of it's submarines from them and named it 'USS Holland'. Holland's submarine was successful mainly due to its strong hull (good for depths of up to 100 feet) and a basic propulsion concept which was to set the standard for submarines for years to come i.e. an internal combustion engine charging batteries for submerged running. Holland and Rice soon convinced the British Admiralty to buy five of the Holland boats (Holland 1 to Holland 5) which was the beginning of the RN Submarine Service in 1901.

 

It is interesting to note that several of these early boats were built with the sole intention of attacking the British Royal Navy. This was probably because the Royal Navy during the 18th and 19th centuries was very formidable and practically invincible so any new way of attacking it and causing damage was considered by Britain's enemies. The concept of a craft that could approach and attack ships without being seen or caught was very attractive. It is also curious that several priests seem to have been involved in the invention of these craft

 

Until the advent of John Holland's design submarines designs had been both impractical and of limited success but The Electric Boat Company's Holland boats did result in the foundation of both the United States and British Navy Submarine Services. These early, small and very basic machines have, over the intervening 100 years, culminated in today's technically advanced nuclear propelled submarine monsters of the deep. True 'submarines'. Today's ballistic missile submarines are the most complex machines man has ever built.  

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