The Saga of the

Page 2

The first American submarine is as old as the United States itself. David Bushnell a Yale graduate, designed and built a submarine torpedo boat in 1776. The one-man vessel submerged by admitting water and surfaced by pumping it out with a hand pump. Powered by a pedal-operated screw and armed with a keg of powder, the egg-shaped Turtle gave Revolutionary Americans high hopes for a secret weapon Ė a weapon which could destroy the British war-ships anchored in New York Harbor.

The keg of powder was to be attached to an enemy shipís hull and detonated by a time fuse. However, a boring device which was operated from inside the oak-planked Turtle failed to penetrate the copper-hulled vessel. Since the keg could not be attached, the project was abandoned, but not before an actual attempt was made to blow up HMS Eagle.

Then came another American, Robert Fulton, who successfully built ;and operated a submarine ( in France) in 1801, before turning his talents to the steamboat. Fultonís cigar-shaped Nautilus had a kite-like sail for surface power.

Fultonís Nautilus

It also carried flasks of compressed air which permitted the two-man crew to remain submerged for five hours. Today, nuclear powered submarines carry compressed oxygen to help renew the air supply during long underwater periods.

William Bauer, a German, built a submarine Kiel in 1850, but met with little success. Bauerís first boat sank in 55 feet of water. He opened the flood valves to equalize the pressure inside the submarine so the escape hatch could he opened. Bauer had to convince two terrified seamen this this was the only means of escape. When the water was at chin level, the men were shot to the surface with a bubble of air that blew the hatch open. Bauerís simple technique was rediscovered years later and modern submarines have escape compartments which operate on that principle.

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