Understanding the Concept of the Submarine

The submarine is one of the greatest naval inventions in the history of war. This innovation allows men to dive to certain depths in the open seas at will. Submarines were equipped with weapons and communication devices. The submarine could stay at sea for months at a time and only required a few men to operate. They were small, quick, and hard to locate by larger ships. The submarine was thought to be the perfect naval vessel.

The concept of the submarine dates back to Archimedes, the ancient mathematician, who “dreamed of building war vessels that could submerge at will and operate under the sea, so that they might sink the enemy without forewarning of their presence”(Bennett 265). A Dutchman named Cornelis Drebbel built the first successful submarine in 1620. Cornelis had designed a wooden submersible vehicle encased in leather. It was able to carry 12 rowers and a total of 20 men. Amazingly enough, the vessel could dive to the depth of 20 meters and travel 10-km. He conducted several series of trips below the surface of the Thames River, which lasted many hours. This early submarine was the first to address the problem of oxygen replenishment while submerged.

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In 1774, Thomas Day was one of those who lost their lives while trying to make the submarine dream a reality. The first use of the submarine in combat was in 1778 during the American Revolution when David Bushnell’s “hand-propelled Turtle” was sent to attack the 64-gunned flagship, HMS Eagle. The Turtle had a one man crew operation. In 1790, Robert Fulton developed a submarine called the Plunger, which he tried to interest Napoleon Bonaparte in it’s potential as a great naval investment. During the Civil War in the United States of America, the Confederate Hunley was dispatched and successfully sank the blockading Federal ships. At this time, three inventions were developed: the battery driven electric motor, the internal combustion engine, and the whitehead torpedo.

The submarine is a vessel that has been designed for underwater operations. It has the capability to operate underneath the surface or on the surface of the water. This along with its armament makes it a vital piece to our nations sea power and sea control. It was created to provide the country with possession of it with a greater power and the ability to defeat any opposing navy with greater ease. The submarine has been developed over the years as one of the greatest naval weapons.

The submarine is one of the most difficult vessels to battle. During World War One, the “most difficult problem in fighting submarines was finding them”(Coffman 95). However, there were a few ways in which the Allies tried to stop the German U-boats. Since fighting the submarines required a new strategy, there were inventions that helped the Allies.

The first invention that helped the Allies fight the Germans was the listening device. This device could not only “detect submarines up to twenty miles away, but could also determine the direction of the sound”(Coffman 99). This listening device was planted on 110 foot long wooden boats called “subchasers” the subchasers were equipped with a depth charge – a large can of 300 pounds of TNT which could be hurled overboard to designated depths and set off – and the listening device. Since the subchasers were small and agile, they were a good match to battle the submarines. The subchasers usually operated in-groups of 3 protecting convoys of U.S. troops.

The second invention that proved useful was the idea to mine the 250 mile North Sea Straight between Scotland and Norway. By setting up a gigantic mine field in the North Sea Barrage, this prevented any more German vessels to get out on to the open sea. The mining of the North Sea Barrage took approximately 5 months to complete and used 56, 571 mines. Although only a few submarines suffered destruction by the mines, this destroyed the German’s chances of getting their submarines out onto the open sea, thus preventing any continuance of the naval battle.

The Germans sent out the U-boats to patrol war zones in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. In January 1918, Germany built “some 87 new U-boats”, but at the same time “78 were lost”(Ferguson 283). Germany only had about 100 U-boats working, of which only a third could patrol the waters of Britain. The anti-submarine tactic of creating convoys of ships helped reduce the percentage of sinking to below one percent. However, the percentage of U-boat sinking rose to over 7 percent (Ferguson 283).

In 1916, the German submarines arrived on the East Coast of the United States and sunk neutral and British ships. The performance of these German vessels proved to the United States that although the war was being fought in Europe, the U.S. wasn’t as far away as believed (March 459). However, Germany relied upon the submarine to win the war.

The submarine is a great technological advance. Although its concept was dreamed up over 2000 years ago, only today are the advantages of having a fleet of submarines profitable. The submarine could’ve been the deciding factor in the war on the water, however American and British anti-submarine inventions hindered Germany’s victory. We have found new ways of propulsion, air replenishment while underwater, communication, depth control, and armament. Indeed, the submarine does play a vital role in our history and the existence of our Navy. Without it, where would we be?

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