2 The 'Peral'
From 'Beginnings' part 1 of 'Action In Submarines' By Arthrur Widder (1967)

The century since the Civil War has seen undreamed-of advances in the development of the submarine. Today the United States has a fleet of more than 150 undersea craft, a third of them propelled by nuclear power. Submarine armaments have advanced from the Hunley's container of black powder to missiles which, fired from underwater, can carry nuclear warheads to targets almost as far from the submarine as Sacramento is from New York.

Duplicating and even exceeding the fictional feats of Jules Verne's submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , the submarine USS Triton has circumnavigated the globe entirely underwater, while another submarine, the USS Nautilus , has pioneered a submerged northwest passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean beneath the North Polar icecap.

A Navy experimental submersible, the Trieste , has explored the Challenger Deep some seven miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean — the uttermost depth of the sea.

The conquest of the depths has ranked with the conquest of the air as one of man's long-cherished goals. In the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt there is record of early attempts by men to survive and move about under water, breathing through reeds extending up to the surface. Alexander the Great is said to have ventured under water in a watertight barrel and observed sea life through its crude glass window more than two thousand years ago, though it is hard to credit this semilegendary tale. The fertile genius of Leonardo da Vinci conceived plans for a submersible in 1490, and there is some indication — though not very reliable — that it may have been constructed. At the time that the Pilgrims were establishing the Ply mouth Colony in Massachusetts, a Dutchman named Cornelius van Drebel, "a very fair and handsome man, and of gentle manners,"

"King James himself journeyed in one of them on the Thames. There were on this occasion twelve rowers besides the passengers, and the vessel during several hours was kept at a depth of twelve to fifteen feet below the surface."

In 1652, thirty years after van Drebel's efforts, a Frenchman named Le Son built a submersible in Holland which came to be known as the Rotterdam Boat. It was intended for use against the British fleet, but never went into action.

The first submarine disaster on record occurred 120 years later, in 1774. An Englishman, whom history remembers only as J. Day, constructed a submersible in which he satisfactorily submerged to a depth of 30 feet and remained there for twenty-four hours.

Emboldened by this success, he planned a more ambitious venture, one that was to cost him his life. He constructed a larger boat and found someone who was willing to bet him (the amount of the bet is not on record) that he could not descend to the bottom of Plymouth Harbor, a depth of 132 feet, and remain there for twelve hours.

To accomplish the descent Day weighted his 50-ton craft with 30 tons of millstones as ballast. The millstones, each with a hole in the center, were spitted on wooden rods which extended out through the hull from the center of Day's submersible. When Day pulled the rods in, the millstones would drop off, and he and his craft would bob up to the surface. At least this was his plan.

Unfortunately for Day's bet, he did not reckon with the fact that water pressure increases with depth. A boat that will withstand the pressure of water at 30 feet may easily be crushed to splinters by the pressure at 132 feet. And this is apparently what happened. Day submerged at two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, June 28, 1774, and was never seen again.

The Turtle
Two years later a submarine was first used as a weapon of war. In 1776, at the start of the American Revolution, David Bushnell of Connecticut designed an odd wooden vessel 7 feet long, 8 feet from top to bottom, and 4 feet wide at its bulging center. It resembeld two giant Turtle shells bound together by bands of iron and, not surprisingly, it came to be called the Turtle.

Within the Turtle's oaken sides a single operator sat on an oaken brace that kept the two sides from being crushed in by water pressure — and he worked. His first job was to open the valves in the bottom of the Turtle and let water into the craft's wooden tanks. By carefully controlling the amount of the water he admitted, the operator could sink the Turtle exactly far enough so that, when at rest, it would remain just beneath the surface of the water. (When a vessel such as the Turtle — or one of today's modern submarines, for that matter — reaches a condition in which it will neither rise above nor sink below a certain depth, it is said to have neutral buoyancy at that depth.)

From his position of neutral buoyancy just beneath the surface of the water, the operator could bring the Turtle to the surface by cranking a vertical propeller in the top of the craft's hull. At the surface he could look out through the glass windows of his rude conning tower. To move the vessel forward he cranked a forward-pointing propeller. To control his direction he manipulated a tiller. Vent pipes, with valves to prevent the inrush of water, extended above the surface to provide fresh air.

The Turtle was designed to carry a 150-pound explosive charge in a watertight cask. The plan was for the submersible to make its way beneath a British warship and bore a hole in the warship's hull, using a drill mounted in the top of the craft. A large screw would be driven into the hole, and the explosive charge would be tied to the screw by a line. The charge, once in place, would be exploded by a timing device set to go off when the Turtle was safely out of range.

On the night of September 6, 1776, the Turtle set out to destroy the 64-gun British frigate Eagle, which lay at anchor in New York Harbor off Governor's Island. George Washington waited in a house on Broadway in New York City for the results of the foray.

The Turtle's one-man captain and crew was a daring twenty-seven-year-old sergeant of the Continental Army from Connecticut named Ezra Lee. Lee in the submersible reached the Eagle in the small hours of the morning.

He wrote later that as he approached the British ship,

"I could see men on deck and hear them talk. I then sunk down and came up under the bottom of the ship. Up with the screw but found it would not enter." (Unknown to Lee, the submerged portion of the Eagle's hull was sheathed in protective copper.)
"I pulled along to find another place," he continued, "but deviated a little to one side and immediately rose with great velocity and came above the surface two or three feet . . . then sunk again like a porpoise. I hove about to try again, but on further thought I gave out, knowing that as soon as it was light the ship's boats would be rowing in all directions, and I thought the best generalship was to retreat as fast as I could, and my compass being no use to me I was obliged to rise up every few minutes to see that I sailed in the right direction.
"While on my return passage to the city, my course was very crooked and zig-zag and the enemy's attention was drawn towards me from Governor's Island. When I was abreast of the fort on the island, three hundred or four hundred men got up on the parapet to observe me; at length a number came down to the shore, shoved off in a twelve-oar'd barge with five or six sitters and pulled for me.
"I eyed them," Lee continued, " and when they got within fifty or sixty yards of me I let loose the magazine in hopes that if they should take me they would likewise pick up the magazine, and then we should all be blown up together. But as kind Providence would have it, they took fright and returned to the island, to my infinite joy.
"I then weathered the island and our people, seeing me, came off in a whale boat and towed me in. The magazine, after getting a little past the island, went off with a tremendous explosion, throwing bodies of water to immense height."

The captain of the Eagle, thinking he was under shellfire, moved his ship out of the harbor.

Although the Turtle made two more attempts to sink a British ship, neither attempt was successful. In the end the aroused Eagle sailed up the Hudson River and sank the sloop carrying the submersible, and someplace in the dark silt of the Hudson River's floor it doubtless rests today.

"I thought and still think that it was an effort of genius," Washington declared of the Turtle to Thomas Jefferson, "but that too many things were necessary to be combined to expect much against an enemy who are always on guard."

After the Revolutionary War, Robert Fulton, the American who is remembered for his work in the development of a practical steamboat, designed a more advanced submersible than the Turtle. Among other innovations it had iron ribs and copper plating, and a sail which could be rigged for propulsion when the boat was operating on the surface. Fulton called it the Nautilus — the first of several famous submarines so named, including both the fictional submarine of Captain Nemo in the pages of Jules Verne and the first submarine to operate on nuclear power.

Constructed in France in 1801 on a grant of 10,000 francs after its plans were rejected by the United States, Fulton's 21-foot craft was ultimately deemed worthless by Napoleon because its top speed under water was only two knots. Additionally, the French Ministry of Marine considered that a vessel which could make an unseen attack on an enemy ship — thus denying the enemy the opportunity of fighting back and meeting what it called a "gallant death " — was ethically unacceptable under the existing code for the conduct of warfare at sea. One French admiral remarked fervently,

"Thank God France still fights her battles on the surface, not beneath it."

Fulton made greater progress with the British, at least for a time. On October 15, 1805, his Nautilus set out to sink an aged Danish brig called the Dorothea in a demonstration at Walmar Roads, near Deal. The two-man submarine passed underneath and beyond the target hulk while the mines it was towing behind it on the surface struck and exploded against the brig's side, destroying it.

Witnessing the successful demonstration of the Nautilus's capabilities were several British dignitaries, and it is possible that Fulton might have found a buyer for the submarine and others like it except for one of the minor ironies of history. Six days after the Nautilus's successful demonstration at Walmar Roads, the British fleet resoundingly defeated the French at the battle of Trafalgar in one of the great sea battles of history, and Britain was established as the unchallenged mistress of the seas for nearly a century to come. After such a victory Britain felt no need to improve its navy by any step so radical as buying submarines — Trafalgar had proved that sailing ships of the line were more than good enough.

Fulton never lost interest in submarines, even after his success with the steamboat Clermont made him a fortune. Using money gained from the Clermont, he planned and began construction on a submarine which was to be fully 80 feet long and 14 feet in diameter. Called the Mute because of its silent method of attack, it was to have a crew of ninety. Work on it ended when the visionary Fulton died on February 24, 1815.

A legacy from Fulton is the word torpedo. He was the first to apply it to marine explosive charges, taking the word from the name of the torpedo electricus , a type of crampfish which stuns its prey with a powerful electric shock. However, it was not until fifty years after Fulton's death that the term assumed its present meaning of a self-propelled underwater weapon.

During the War of 1812 an American submarine attempted to sink the 74-gun British ship Ramillies in Long Island Sound off the entrance to New London. The submarine passed beneath the Ramillies' keel three times, but the operator was unable to explode his charge against the ship's hull.

In 1814 the idea of a naval submarine was again proposed to the British Admiralty, which pondered the proposal for a time before deciding it was " too diabolical. "

Napoleon, though he had rejected the submarine as a weapon of war, might well have been rescued from his exile by one. A 100-foot submersible boat, designed to dive beneath the ring of British ships that guarded the former French emperor on the island of St. Helena, was secretly constructed under the supervision of a British smuggler named Thomas Johnson, who was to receive £40,000 for his part in the project. The boat was constructed in England — perhaps because England was the last place the British would expect such a plot to be hatched. Like Fulton's Nautilus, whose plans the smuggler Johnson drew upon, the submarine was designed to spend most of its time on the surface, where it was to be powered by sails. Just at the time that Johnson was set to sail for St. Helena in 1821, word of Napoleon's death was received, and the submarine rescue mission died at its outset. The submarine itself was ultimately confiscated by British authorities.

In the middle of the 1800s several nations experimented with submarines, Spain, France, and Germany among them. An American shoemaker and part-time inventor named Lodner D. Philips constructed a submersible which he demonstrated in Lake Michigan by taking his wife and children for a dive. (He failed to surface from a later descent in Lake Erie.) Another American submarine, constructed in 1864 and called The Intelligent Whale , survived its almost catastrophic tests and is today on display at the Naval Historical Display Center at Washington, D.C.

At the same time that The Intelligent Whale was being constructed, an Austrian naval officer named Luppis walked into the office of a British engineer, Robert Whitehead, in the then-Austrian port of Fiume on the Adriatic Sea. Luppis brought plans he had drawn up for a self-propelled torpedo. Whitehead looked them over with interest. Luppis's ideas were crude. For example, to guide the torpedo he visualized long yoke lines that would be manipulated from the submarine in much the same way as reins are manipulated to direct a horse. Nevertheless, Whitehead recognized that Luppis's basic concept was sound.

Discarding most of the Austrian's work, Whitehead spent many hours at his drawing board preparing plans of his own. Two years later he had developed the design for a practical torpedo, and in 1868 he offered a model for sale. It was 14 feet long and 14 inches in diameter. It weighed 300 pounds and carried 18 pounds of explosives in its nose.

Powered by compressed air and driven by a single propeller in its stern, it could make a speed of about 6 knots for a distance of 200 to 700 yards. Once launched it ran without guidance (but, hopefully, in a straight line) until it struck its target and exploded, or until its compressed air ran out and it sank. In its basic conception Whitehead's torpedo was a direct forebear of the torpedo of today.

In 1875 the man who is generally considered to be the father of the modern submarine, John P. Holland, was at work on his first submersible. Holland, a lean and bespectacled man with a walrus mustache, was born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1841. He emigrated to the United States as a young man not long after the Civil War and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. Though trained as a schoolteacher, his main interest was in ships, and after reading about the exploits of the Hunley at Charleston he focused his attention on submarines. His first effort was called the Fenian Ram . Launched in 1875 it achieved only modest success. Holland built better ones in 1877 and 1881. In 1884 he formed the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and worked to interest the United States Navy in the potential of submarines as weapons of war.

At the same time another American inventor, Simon Lake — also bespectacled and, like Holland, the author of a generous mustache in the mode of the day — was at work on his own ideas for submarines. Born in 1867, Simon Lake lived to see the enormous success of the submarine as a weapon of war before he died, almost eighty years later, in 1945. Lake designed his submersibles on the principle of submergence by means of ballasting with water. This was the principle by which Ezra Lee submerged the Turtle.

Holland, on the other hand, at first followed the principle of submergence in which the moving submarine was forced down into the water by means of small winglike appurtenances, called bow planes, near the front of the vessel. When the bow planes were tilted downward, the flow of water over their surfaces would act to turn the bow of the submarine down, and the vessel would submerge in something like a power dive.

However, Holland's early submarines often returned to the surface out of control — " porpoising " — a problem that Lake's water-ballasted craft did not experience. Lake even put wooden wheels on his first submarine and successfully rolled along on the bottom of bodies of water much as he would in a carriage on dry land. His principle of ballasted submergence was found to be the sound one, and before long Holland adopted it too.

Basically the principle is this. A submarine is constructed with large tanks just outside its inner hull. Water can be admitted to these tanks, and it can be blown out again by air pressure. When water is admitted, the submarine becomes heavier than when the tanks contain air, and the submarine sinks like a tin can with a hole in it..

How far it sinks depends on how much water is admitted — the more water, the deeper it goes. When it reaches a desired depth, machinery in the submarine closes its " holes " and prevents more water from entering by carefully applying just enough air pressure inside the tanks to equal the pressure of the water outside.

The submarine will remain at the desired depth until the air pressure in the tanks is reduced and more water is admitted, or until the air pressure is increased and water is blown out. When water is blown out and replaced in the tanks by air, the submarine becomes lighter and begins to rise. How far it rises depends on how much water is blown out.

This was the principle employed by Lake in his Argonaut. Holland adopted it, and it remains today the basis of the ability of submarines to submerge into the deep and ascend again to the surface — the feature that distinguishes them from all other types of vessels.

Some of the curiosity and the venturesome spirit of these inventive early submariners comes down to us in Lake's recollections of the first successful operations of his submarine Argonaut near Baltimore in 1897. Among other unusual features, his submarine had an open hatch in the bottom. Air pressure in the boat prevented water from flooding in, and through the hatch, or " watergate " as Lake called it, the inventor could observe the bottom and its marine life, and even leave the craft in a diver's suit.

"I spent many happy hours that summer cruising along the bottom of Chesapeake Bay with the watergate open, so that I might see what was going on at the bottom of the bay," Lake wrote. "Sometimes I speared fish through the open door, and often raked up oysters for our evening dinner, or set out trot-lines when the fishing promised to be good. If there were no fish to be seen, there were no fish to be caught, and the Argonaut moved on. At night the lights in the living compartment attracted fish by the schools when we were submerged."

The frustration which many inventors felt when trying to convince others of the prospective worth of the submarine is summed up in Lake's lament:

"I do not know and I never will know why some men seem to be so obstinately antagonistic to anything which is new. I tooled around over the Chesapeake Bay bottom all that summer, as though I were in a coach-and-four on Long Island roads, and no naval man would listen to my story."

In due course, though, naval men listened to Lake's competitor, Holland, and authorized him to build a submarine for consideration. On April 18, 1900, a Holland-built submarine was purchased by the United States Navy for $150, 000, and the Navy's submarine service dates its existence from that day.

The submarine was named the Holland by the Navy, and it represented the fruits of many previous efforts of Holland, Lake, and inventors who had gone before. Displacing 75 tons, it was just short of 54 feet long, and slightly more than 10 feet in diameter. A 45-horsepower gasoline engine provided power on the surface, and a 50-horsepower electric motor moved it under the surface where, in the watertight boat, the fumes from an internal combustion engine would soon have become suffocating.

The Holland's armament consisted of a deck gun recessed in the bow, and three torpedoes which could be fired in turn from a single torpedo tube.

During the Spanish-American war both Holland and Lake offered the services of their submarines to the United States Navy, and they might possibly have had some success in minesweeping and cable-cutting, but neither offer was accepted. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Lake sold five of his submarines to Russia and made a considerable fortune. Like his Argonaut of 1897, Lake's submarines for Russia employed wheels for moving about on the bottom, and had an added advantage in the form of a periscope, which he invented. Holland — Lake's competitor to the end — sold five of his boats to Russia's enemy, Japan, but no submarine on either side saw action in the war.

The reputations of Holland and Lake as principal pioneers in the development of submarines are secure, but little known is the fact that much of their work at the turn of the century was brilliantly anticipated a decade before in the submarine of an inventive Spaniard, Isaac Peral. Peral's pioneering achievement might, if it had been properly exploited, have profoundly altered the conduct of the Spanish-American war.

Peral, a Spanish naval lieutenant, constructed his submarine in 1889 — eleven years before the Holland was commissioned. Peral's submersible, named after himself, carried a crew of eight and successfully completed a two-hour submerged test run, attaining the remarkable underwater speed of eight knots, using an electric motor developed by Peral.

On August 27, 1889, the Peral demonstrated its ability to fire its three torpedoes, hitting an anchored target three-quarters of a mile away with each one. On May 22, 1890, it proved its seaworthiness with a submerged run of eight hours, covering a distance of 45 miles in extremely rough seas.

Unquestionably the Peral was far and away the most advanced submarine of its day, and was in fact the first modern submarine. It incorporated features — all developed by Peral — which were as much as twenty years ahead of similar developments in other countries. Among them were a range finder, a depth meter, and a device which filtered carbon dioxide out of the submarine's air by means of caustic soda. With a flotilla of such craft Spain might have altered for a time the balance of naval power in Europe and recaptured a measure of its former glory at sea. As it was, though, political intrigue and Peral's unfavorable personality combined to defeat both the naval officer and his submarine. A contentious individual, Peral alienated important friends and fell out of favor with the queen regent, Maria Cristina. Defeated in a bid for public office, he died in 1895. Three years later Spain was at war with the United States, and the Spanish, with antiquated and inefficient forces, suffered some of the most decisive naval defeats of modern times. Completely off course in its submarine research after Peral's departure from the scene, Spain at the start of the war was experimenting with a submersible that was as round as a cannon ball and another that was to be powered by a huge clock spring. If Spain had had Peral-type submarines at Manila Bay and Santiago, it is both possible and likely that the United States Navy would have suffered significantly at their hands. The American naval hero of the war, Admiral George Dewey, said to the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House of Representatives:

"If the Spaniards had had two of those submarines at Manila, I never could have held it with the forces I had."

Today the Peral rests on blocks in the ancient Spanish port city of Cartagena, a monument to Spain's lost opportunity and, like Peral himself, almost forgotten.

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