, an early submersible craft, propelled by oars
According to a report in Opusculum
Taisnieri published in 1562:
Two Greeks submerged and surfaced in the river
Tagus near the City of
Toledo several times in the presence of
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, without getting wet and with the flame they carried in their hands still alight.
In 1578, the English mathematician
William Bourne recorded in his book Inventions or Devises one of the first plans for an underwater navigation vehicle. A few years later the Scottish mathematician and theologian
John Napier wrote in his Secret Inventions (1596) the following: "These inventions besides devises of sayling under water with divers, other devises and strategems for harming of the enemyes by the Grace of God and worke of expert Craftsmen I hope to perform." It's unclear whether he ever carried out his idea.
The first submersible of whose construction there exists reliable information was designed and built in 1620 by
Cornelis Drebbel, a
Dutchman in the service of
James I of England. It was propelled by means of oars.
18th century submarines
By the mid-18th century, over a dozen patents for submarines/submersible boats had been granted in England. In 1747, Nathaniel Symons patented and built the first known working example of the use of a ballast tank for submersion. His design used leather bags that could fill with water to submerge the craft. A mechanism was used to twist the water out of the bags and cause the boat to resurface. In 1749, the
Gentlemen's Magazine reported that a similar design had initially been proposed by
Giovanni Borelli in 1680. By this point of development, further improvement in design necessarily stagnated for over a century, until new industrial technologies for propulsion and stability could be applied.
The first military submarine was the
Turtle (1775), a hand-powered acorn-shaped device designed by the American
David Bushnell to accommodate a single person.
 It was the first verified submarine capable of independent underwater operation and movement, and the first to use
screws for propulsion.
19th century submarines
1806 illustration by Robert Fulton showing a "plunging boat"
In 1800, France built a human-powered submarine designed by American
Robert Fulton, the
Nautilus. The French eventually gave up on the experiment in 1804, as did the British when they later considered Fulton's submarine design.
In 1864, late in the
American Civil War, the Confederate navy's
H. L. Hunley became the first military submarine to sink an enemy vessel, the Union
USS Housatonic. In the aftermath of its successful attack against the ship, the Hunley also sank, possibly because it was too close to its own exploding torpedo.
In 1866, the
Sub Marine Explorer was the first submarine to successfully dive, cruise underwater, and resurface under the control of the crew. The design by
Julius H. Kroehl (in German, Kröhl) incorporated elements that are still used in modern submarines.
The French submarine Plongeur
The first submarine not relying on human power for propulsion was the French
Plongeur (Diver), launched in 1863, which used compressed air at 180
 The first
combustion–powered submarine was
Ictineo II, designed by the Spanish intellectual, artist and engineer
Narcís Monturiol, launched in
Barcelona in 1864.
The submarine became a potentially viable weapon with the development of the
Whitehead torpedo, designed in 1866 by British engineer
Robert Whitehead, the first practical self-propelled or 'locomotive' torpedo.
spar torpedo that had been developed earlier by the
Confederate navy was considered to be impracticable, as it was believed to have sunk both its intended target, and probably
H. L. Hunley, the submarine that deployed it.
Discussions between the English clergyman and inventor
George Garrett and the Swedish industrialist
Thorsten Nordenfelt led to the first practical steam-powered submarines, armed with torpedoes and ready for military use. The first was Nordenfelt I, a 56-tonne, 19.5-metre (64 ft) vessel similar to Garrett's ill-fated
Resurgam (1879), with a range of 240 kilometres (130 nmi; 150 mi), armed with a single
torpedo, in 1885.
A reliable means of propulsion for the submerged vessel was only made possible in the 1880s with the advent of the necessary electric battery technology. The first electrically powered boats were built by
Isaac Peral y Caballero in
Dupuy de Lôme and Gustave Zédé in France, and James Franklin Waddington in England.
20th century submarines
(launched in 1907) was the first Russian submarine able to cruise long distances. Wreck near
Submarines were not put into service for any widespread or routine use by navies until the early 1900s. This era marked a pivotal time in submarine development, and several important technologies appeared. A number of nations built and used submarines.
Diesel electric propulsion became the dominant power system and equipment such as the periscope became standardized. Countries conducted many experiments on effective tactics and weapons for submarines, which led to their large impact in
World War I.
John Philip Holland built a model submarine in 1876 and a full-scale version in 1878, which were followed by a number of unsuccessful ones. In 1896 he designed the Holland Type VI submarine, which used internal combustion engine power on the surface and electric
battery power underwater. Launched on 17 May 1897 at Navy Lt.
Crescent Shipyard in
Elizabeth, New Jersey, the Holland VI was purchased by the
United States Navy on 11 April 1900, becoming the Navy's first commissioned submarine, christened
Commissioned in June 1900, the French steam and electric
Narval employed the now typical double-hull design, with a pressure hull inside the outer shell. These 200-ton ships had a range of over 100 miles (160 km) underwater. The French submarine Aigrette in 1904 further improved the concept by using a diesel rather than a gasoline engine for surface power. Large numbers of these submarines were built, with seventy-six completed before 1914.
The Royal Navy commissioned five
Holland-class submarines from
Barrow-in-Furness, under licence from the
Holland Torpedo Boat Company from 1901 to 1903. Construction of the boats took longer than anticipated, with the first only ready for a diving trial at sea on 6 April 1902. Although the design had been purchased entire from the US company, the actual design used was an untested improvement to the original Holland design using a new 180 hp petrol engine.
These types of submarines were first used during the
Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. Due to the blockade at
Port Arthur, the Russians sent their submarines to
Vladivostok, where by 1 January 1905 there were seven boats, enough to create the world's first "operational submarine fleet". The new submarine fleet began patrols on 14 February, usually lasting for about 24 hours each. The first confrontation with Japanese warships occurred on 29 April 1905 when the Russian submarine
Som was fired upon by Japanese torpedo boats, but then withdrew.
World War I
The German submarine
, which sank three British
in less than an hour in September 1914
Military submarines first made a significant impact in
World War I. Forces such as the
U-boats of Germany saw action in the
First Battle of the Atlantic, and were responsible for sinking
RMS Lusitania, which was sunk as a result of
submarine warfare and is often cited among the reasons for the entry of the
United States into the war.
At the outbreak of war Germany had only 20 submarines immediately available for combat, although these included vessels of the diesel-engined U-19 class with the range (5,000 miles) and speed (eight knots) to operate effectively around the entire British coast.
 By contrast the
Royal Navy had a total of 74 submarines, though of mixed effectiveness. In August 1914, a flotilla of ten U-boats sailed from their base in
Heligoland to attack Royal Navy warships in the
North Sea in the first submarine war patrol in history.
The U-boats' ability to function as practical war machines relied on new tactics, their numbers, and submarine technologies such as combination diesel-electric power system developed in the preceding years. More submersibles than true submarines, U-boats operated primarily on the surface using regular engines, submerging occasionally to attack under battery power. They were roughly triangular in cross-section, with a distinct
keel to control rolling while surfaced, and a distinct bow. During World War I more than 5,000 Allied ships were sunk by U-boats.
World War II
World War II, Germany used submarines to devastating effect in the
Battle of the Atlantic, where it attempted to cut Britain's supply routes by sinking more
merchant ships than Britain could replace. (Shipping was vital to supply Britain's population with food, industry with raw material, and armed forces with fuel and armaments.) While
U-boats destroyed a significant number of ships, the strategy ultimately failed. Although the U-boats had been updated in the interwar years, the major innovation was improved communications, encrypted using the famous
Enigma cipher machine. This allowed for mass-attack
naval tactics (Rudeltaktik, commonly known as "
wolfpack"), but was also ultimately the U-boats' downfall. By the end of the war, almost 3,000 Allied ships (175 warships, 2,825 merchantmen) had been sunk by U-boats.
 Although successful early in the war, ultimately the U-boat fleet suffered a casualty rate of 73%, almost all fatalities.
Imperial Japanese Navy operated the most varied fleet of submarines of any navy, including
Kaiten crewed torpedoes, midget submarines (
Type A Ko-hyoteki and
Kairyu classes), medium-range submarines, purpose-built supply submarines and long-range
fleet submarines. They also had submarines with the highest submerged speeds during World War II (
I-201-class submarines) and submarines that could carry multiple aircraft (
I-400-class submarines). They were also equipped with one of the most advanced torpedoes of the conflict, the oxygen-propelled
Type 95. Nevertheless, despite their technical prowess, Japan chose to utilize its submarines for fleet warfare, and consequently were relatively unsuccessful, as warships were fast, maneuverable and well-defended compared to merchant ships.
The submarine force was the most effective anti-ship weapon in the American arsenal. Submarines, though only about 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, destroyed over 30 percent of the Japanese Navy, including 8 aircraft carriers, 1 battleship and 11 cruisers. US submarines also destroyed over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant fleet, crippling Japan's ability to supply its military forces and industrial war effort.
Allied submarines in the Pacific War destroyed more Japanese shipping than all other weapons combined. This feat was considerably aided by the Imperial Japanese Navy's failure to provide adequate escort forces for the nation's merchant fleet.
During World War II, 314 submarines served in the US Navy, of which nearly 260 were deployed to the Pacific.
 When the Japanese attacked Hawaii in December 1941, 111 boats were in commission; 203 submarines from the
Tench classes were commissioned during the war. During the war, 52 US submarines were lost to all causes, with 48 directly due to hostilities.
 US submarines sank 1,560 enemy vessels,
 a total tonnage of 5.3 million tons (55% of the total sunk).
Royal Navy Submarine Service was used primarily in the classic Axis
blockade. Its major operating areas were around
Norway, in the
Mediterranean (against the Axis supply routes to
North Africa), and in the Far East. In that war, British submarines sank 2 million tons of enemy shipping and 57 major warships, the latter including 35 submarines. Among these is the only documented instance of a submarine sinking another submarine while both were submerged. This occurred when
U864; the Venturer crew manually computed a successful firing solution against a three-dimensionally maneuvering target using techniques which became the basis of modern torpedo computer targeting systems. Seventy-four British submarines were lost,
 the majority, 42, in the Mediterranean.
Cold-War military models
The first launch of a
cruise missile (
SSM-N-8 Regulus) from a submarine occurred in July 1953, from the deck of
USS Tunny, a
World War II fleet boat modified to carry the missile with a
nuclear warhead. Tunny and its sister boat,
Barbero, were the
United States' first nuclear deterrent patrol submarines. In the 1950s,
nuclear power partially replaced diesel-electric propulsion. Equipment was also developed to extract
oxygen from sea water. These two innovations gave submarines the ability to remain submerged for weeks or months.
 Most of the naval submarines built since that time in the US, the Soviet Union/
Russian Federation, Britain, and France have been powered by nuclear reactors.
In 1959–1960, the first
ballistic missile submarines were put into service by both the United States (
George Washington class) and the Soviet Union (
Golf class) as part of the
nuclear deterrent strategy.
During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union maintained large submarine fleets that engaged in cat-and-mouse games. The Soviet Union lost at least four submarines during this period:
K-129 was lost in 1968 (a part of which the
CIA retrieved from the ocean floor with the
Howard Hughes-designed ship
K-8 in 1970,
K-219 in 1986, and
Komsomolets in 1989 (which held a depth record among military submarines—1000 m). Many other Soviet subs, such as
K-19 (the first Soviet nuclear submarine, and the first Soviet sub to reach the North Pole) were badly damaged by fire or radiation leaks. The US lost two nuclear submarines during this time:
USS Thresher due to equipment failure during a test dive while at its operational limit, and
USS Scorpion due to unknown causes.
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the
Hangor sank the Indian frigate
INS Khukri. This was the first sinking by a submarine since World War II.
 During the same war, the
Tench-class submarine on loan to Pakistan from the US, was sunk by the
Indian Navy. It was the first submarine combat loss since World War II.
 In 1982 during the
Falklands War, the Argentine cruiser
General Belgrano was sunk by the British submarine
HMS Conqueror, the first sinking by a nuclear-powered submarine in war.
21st century submarines
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