3 Pigboats
From 'Beginnings' part 1 of 'Action In Submarines' By Arthrur Widder (1967)

Even after the turn of the century many important personalities continued to be highly skeptical of the ubmarine and its potential. In 1900 Viscount Goschen, first ord of the British Admiralty, said to Parliament that

the idea of submarine navigation is a morbid one. We need pay no attention to the submarine in naval warfare. The Submarine is the arm of weaker powers.

In reply to Goschen a member of Parliament named Arnold Foster replied that

If this boat is made practical, the nation which possesses it will cease to be feeble and become in reality powerful. More than any other nation do we have reason to fear the submarine.

His prophetic words attracted little interest. In 1901 a senior British admiral considered what submarines might do to his fleet. The thought of the havoc they might wreak annoyed him, and he fumed that if any of the diabolical vessels were used against his ships and he managed to capture any of their crews he would summarily hang them om the yardarm like pirates.

In 1904 Great Britain's first sea lord, Lord Fisher, saw the submarine as the "coming dreadnought." Few others saw it that way, and Fisher had to conceal the funds necessary to begin a submarine building program in his budget estimates or the construction of more acceptable ships.

"I don't think it is even faintly realized the immense impending revolution which the submarines will effect as weapons of war," he warned.

(Shortly after the beginning of World War I, ten years later, Fisher was recalled from retirement at the age of seventy-three to resume his position as Britain's chief naval officer. He was astonished to find that the Royal Navy had twelve fewer submarines than when he had retired four years before.)

Germany was no quicker than Britain to recognize the submarine's potential. Its secretary of state for naval affairs, fork-bearded Alfred von Tirpitz, dismissed them, saying,

"Submarines are as useless as ever."

But in spite of the general lack of interest in the submarine on the part of most prominent naval personalities at the turn of the century, a few far-seeing inventors realized that they were on the verge of something big. A Swede named Norden-feldt constructed a submarine that used steam power for propulsion. The fact he had not solved the problem of keeping the submarine on a reasonably even keel led to chaos when he demonstrated his boat to prospective buyers in the harbor of Constantinople, Turkey.

No sooner did one of the crew take two steps forward in the engine room," an account of the event recorded , "than down went the bow, whereupon the hot water in the steam boilers and the cold water in the ballast tanks all ran downhill, increasing the slant still further. English engineers, Turkish sailors, monkey wrenches, hot ashes from the boiler fires, Whitehead torpedoes, and other movables came tumbling after, till the submarine was nearly standing on her head, with everything inside packed into the bow like toys in the toe of a Christmas stocking.
The crew pulled themselves up out of this mess," the account continued, "and clawed their way aft, till suddenly up came the bow, down went the stern, and everything went gurgling and clattering down to the other end.
The submarine was a perpetual seesaw," it went on, "and no mortal power could keep her on an even keel. Once they succeeded in steadying her long enough to fire a torpedo. Where it went to, no man can tell, but the sudden lightening of the bow and the recoil of the discharge made the submarine rear up and sit down so hard that she began to sink stern foremost, whereupon to correct this condition the water was blown out of her ballast tanks by steam pressure, and the main engine started full speed ahead, till she shot up to the surface like a flying fish.
The Turkish naval authorities, watching the trials from the shores of the Golden Horn, were so impressed by these antics that they bought the boat. But it was impossible to keep a crew on her, for every native engineer or seaman who was sent aboard prudently deserted on the first dark night."

Between 1904 and 1915 eighteen submarines were lost in accidents. Eight were British, four were French, two were Russian, and one each was lost from the American, German, Italian, and Japanese navies. A total of 255 men went down in them.

Number 6
The Japanese submarine was lost on April 15, 1910. Called the No. 6 , it was captained by Lt. Takuma Faotomu, who wrote a description of his submarine's last hours that is a moving testament to the stoic courage of the Japanese, and to that of all early submariners, each of whom knew that he was risking his life every time he submerged in the erratic submersibles of the day.

Although there is indeed no excuse to make for the sinking of His Imperial Japanese Majesty's boat," Lieutenant Faotomu wrote in careful Japanese characters as his submarine rested beyond help on the bottom of Hiroshima Bay, "and for the doing away with subordinates through my heedlessness, all on board the boat have discharged their duties well and in everything acted calmly until death.
While going through . . . exercises we submerged too far," Faotomu continued, "and when we attempted to shut the sluice valve, the chain broke. Then we tried to close the sluice valve by hand but it was too late, for the afterpart was full of water, and the boat sank at an angle of about 25 degrees. The switchboard being under water, the electric lights went out. Offensive gas developed and breathing became difficult. The boat sank about 10 A.M. on the fifteenth, and though suffering at the time from this offensive gas, we endeavored to expel the water by hand pumps. As the vessel went down we expelled the water from the main tank. As the light has gone out, the gauge cannot be seen, but we know the water has been expelled from the main tank.
The above was written under the light of the conning tower," Faotomu wrote, "at about 11:45 o'clock. We are now soaked by the water that has made its way in. Our clothes are wet and we feel cold. I had been accustomed to warn my shipmates that their behavior in an emergency should be calm and deliberate, as well as brave, yet not too deliberate, lest work be retarded.
The officers and men of submarines should be chosen from the bravest of the brave or there will be annoyances in cases like this," he continued. "Happily all the members of this crew have discharged their duties well and I am satisfied. I have always expected death whenever I left home, and therefore my will is already in the drawer at Karasaki.
I respectfully request that none of the families left by my subordinates suffer. The only thing I am anxious about is this. Atmospheric pressure is increasing and I feel as if my tympanum were breaking," Faotomu wrote, the brush strokes of his writing becoming less and less precise.
12:30 o'clock. Respiration is extraordinarily difficult. I mean I am breathing gasoline. I am intoxicated with gasoline.

Faotomu's last words were: It is 12:40 o'clock." His account was recovered when the No. 6 was salvaged.

The first German navy submarine, the U-1 ("U" for Unter-seeboot , or " undersea boat "), was built in 1904 by the Krupp Shipbuilding Works at Kiel. Its 400-horsepower kerosene engine could move it at 11 knots on the surface. Submerged and operating on electric power, its speed was three knots less. Six years later in 1910 the first submarine to employ diesel power for surface propulsion, the U-19, was built. Its 1,700-horsepower engine could move it at 15 knots.

On January 17, 1911, less than a year after the Japanese submarine No. 6 sank, the German submarine U-3 sank in Kiel Harbor. From the bottom of the harbor the U-3's commanding officer released a buoy containing a telephone connected to the submarine. Someone on a passing boat saw the buoy floating on the surface and picked up the phone. From the sunken U-3 the commanding officer told of his submarine's plight, and in short order a floating crane was brought into position to attempt a rescue operation. A chain was slipped under the U-3 and its bow was lifted clear of the water. Twenty-seven seamen had squeezed through the submarine's torpedo tube to safety when the chain slipped, tearing off a ventilator. Water rushing in through the ventilator hole drowned the commanding officer and two subordinate officers, who had chosen to be the last to leave.

By the start of World War 1 in 1914, several of the major navies of the world included submarines among their ships, but except for the very mixed success of the Hunley in sinking the Housatonic in the Civil War, the submarine had yet to prove itself as a warship in action. Many navy men were openly skeptical of its worth. Sailors of the faster and more glamorous surface ships scorned submarines as "pig boats," partly because of their bulbous and somewhat piglike shape, and partly because of the foul conditions which developed in their cramped spaces during submerged operations.

Nevertheless, though many considered the vessel an undesirable stepchild, World War I was less than two months old when a submarine's dramatic success in sinking three capital ships in one encounter caused the merit of submersible warships to burst upon the world with the force of an exploding Whitehead torpedo.

« NEXT » « Action in Subs » « Library » « Home »