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The Evolution of Submarine Design
Evolution of Submarine Design
Submarine Resources
- Submarine Main Page
- The Saga of the Submarine
- Periscope
- Submarine Photos
- Hyman G. Rickover
The following briefly summarizes the evolution of submarine design, from its beginning as a compressed air or human powered warship to today's nuclear power.

1578 - The first submarine design was drafted by William Borne but never got past the drawing stage. Borne's submarine design was based on ballast tanks which could be filled to submerge and evacuated to surface - these same principles are in use by today's submarines.

1620 - Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutchman, conceived and built an oared submersible. Drebbels' submarine design was the first to address the problem of air replenishment while submerged.

Bushnell's Turtle

Bushnell's Turtle

1776 - David Bushnell builds the one-man human powered Turtle submarine. The Colonial Army attempted to sink the British warship HMS Eagle with the Turtle, although unsuccessfully. The Turtle is the first submarine to dive, surface and be used in Naval combat. David Bushnell’s Turtle, the first American submarine. Built in 1775, its intended purpose was to break the British naval blockade of New York harbor during the American Revolution. With slight positive buoyancy, Turtle normally floated with approximately six inches of exposed surface. Turtle was powered by a hand-driven propeller. The operator would submerge under the target, and using a screw projecting from the top of Turtle, he would attach a clock-detonated explosive charge. This 1875 drawing by Lt. Francis Barber is the most familiar rendering of Turtle. However, it contains several errors, including internal ballast tanks and helical screw propellers.

1798 - Robert Fulton builds the submarine Nautilus which incorporates two forms of power for propulsion - a sail while on the surface and a hand-cranked screw while submerged.
Holland VII

Right Photo: Holland VII

1895 - John P. Holland introduces the Holland VII and later the Holland VIII (1900). The Holland VIII with its petroleum engine for surface propulsion and electric engine for submerged operations served as the blueprint adopted by all the world's navies for submarine design up to 1914.

1904 - The French submarine Aigette is the first submarine built with a diesel engine for surface propulsion and electric engine for submerged operations. (Diesel fuel is less volatile than petroleum and is the preferred fuel for current and future conventionally powered submarine designs.)

1943 - The German U-boat U-264 is equipped with a snorkel mast. This mast which provides air to the diesel engine allows the submarine to operate the engine at a shallow depth and recharge the batteries.

1944 - The German U-791 uses Hydrogen Peroxide as an alternative fuel source.
USS Nautilus (SSN 571)

Left Photo: USS Nautilus (SSN 571)

1954 - The U.S. launches the USS Nautilus - the world's first nuclear powered submarine. Nuclear power enables submarines to become true "submersibles" - able to operate underwater for an indefinite period of time. The development of the Naval nuclear propulsion plant was the work of a team Navy, government and contractor engineers led by Captain Hyman G. Rickover.
USS Skipjack (SSN 585)

Right Photo: USS Skipjack (SSN 585)

1958 - The U.S. introduces the USS Albacore with a "tear drop" hull design to reduce underwater resistance and allow greater submerged speed and maneuverability. The first submarine class to use this new hull design is the USS Skipjack.
USS George Washington (SSBN 598)

Left Photo: USS George Washington (SSBN 598)

1959 - The USS George Washington is the world's first nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarine.

Next page > History - The Saga of the Submarine

Images Provided by The United States Navy

From Mary Bellis,
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