Submarines. By Fits And Starts.

by Daniel Russ on October 6, 2013





The CSS Hunley was the first submarine to sink another ship. In accomplishing this mission, it also sank itself, for the fourth time, and this time all hands perished. The Confederates were charging ahead with the designs of newer more sophisticated submersibles. Two New Orleans businessmen, J. K. Scott and R. F. Barrow, funded and built the CSS Pioneer, a bloated propeller driven craft that was about 34 feet long and about ten feet wide in the middle and it was also powered by men working a crankshaft.  It was developed in Lake Ponchatrain and  scuttled by the builders to keep it from falling into enemy hands.


The Union Navy had less success and employed a French designer named Brutus De Villeroi in to build it in 1861. Whilst being toward to Charleston Harbor where it would be used to launch an attack it sank on the way in Cape Hatteras.


Lawyers scuttled a submarine by tying it up in years of ownership litigation. The USS Resurgam was developed and constructed by an engineer and man of the cloth, Reverend George Garrett. Garrett was inspired by Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Beneath The Sea.


Powered by a single piston coal fired steam engine, the heat in the engine could push the Resurgam forward hours after the engines was shut down for submersion. Crew members had to wear a gas mask made by Garrett just to avoid asphyxiation. As did so many of the early submarines, the Resurgam sank on the way to a demonstration around Portsmouth Sound.


It is interesting to note that we see science fiction becoming fact before our eyes. However both Garrett and submarine designer Simon Lake showed up to work with copies of 20,000 Leagues Beneath The Sea. When Lake built the Argonaut the eponymous boat, it was the first workable submersible that actually operated in the high seas.


Lake received a congratulatory note from Jules Vernes.


When the United Sates Navy commissioned prototype submersibles in the advent of World War I, the top designer chosen was the Irish American James Holland. In second place came Simon Lake, who was immediately hired by the Tsar and moved to St. Petersburg Russia to build their submersibles. Holland’s submarines were the prototypes for subs for decades to come.


Sources: wiki, The Illustrated World Guide To Submarines, John Parker. Hemres House Ltd., 2007


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