The equation is simple. The number of surfaces must equal the number of dives in order for a submarine to be considered successful in its mission. There are very few other finite measurements that can be applied to submarines throughout our long history.
But that doesn’t mean that the time beneath the surface or in some cases on top are smooth or calm. Since the early days, man’s ability to overcome the many obstacles that help him to operate a submersible have been daunting to say the least. The seen and the unseen forces that work tirelessly to challenge the submariner are often found at the most inopportune time.
Submarine technology at the beginning of the twentieth century was primitive and a lot of trial and error discoveries challenged the assumptions that the engineers would make. Submariners around the world found this out all too often. The entire idea of using a submarine for a war fighting machine took a long time to solidify because of the dangerous nature of the discipline. Many brave men gave their lives as the Navy’s of the world experimented with the new technology.
As most American submariners know, Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to take a ride in a submarine. His experience helped to establish the submarine as one of the weapons of the future and had the side effect of rewarding the men submarine pay. I am eternally grateful for both. A lot of liberty ports were made that much more entertaining because of Teddy’s generosity. I wonder if he knew that would happen.
Some would survive but never go to sea again. Some were the pioneers whose stories are lost in antiquity. This article is just one glimpse of both kinds of stories. The odd twist is that one of the early men who braved the ocean deep did so with his faithful companion by his side. Lieutenant Shapleigh of the submarine Shark, was accompanied by his dog Ming as he performed his undersea duties.
I have not been able to find much about what happened to Lt. Shapleigh or the dog. Just another unsolved mystery.
In the meantime, enjoy this tale of submarine adventures in the early days. This one comes from the archives at the New York Tribune from 1906
New-York Tribune, April 29, 1906, Page 5, Image 19
A NARROW ESCAPE
Submarine Crew Loses Control — Down 200 Feet for an Hour.
One of the greatest naval problems of the day is the real value of submarine vessels. Their efficiency is highly indorsed by many experts and severely questioned by others, though they have not had much of a chance yet to show their destructive powers in actual warfare. The uncertainty connected with the operation of these strange shells, crammed with intricate mechanism, was forcibly expressed to a Tribune writer the other day by a petty naval officer in relating a comparatively recent and almost fatal experience of his in a submarine. He said:
“When we take a dive it’s a gamble, more or less, whether we will ever come up and see day light again. I came out alive from my last trip, but the call was a close one, and I will go down in submarines no more.”
Asked to relate the details of his narrow escape, the ex-submarine sailor told how nine men and two officers of the American navy recently escaped a tragic fate, similar to the fatal accidents which have befallen certain French and English submarines. The feature of his story which is of most importance is that which states the depth at which the submarine sank in the course of its uncontrollable dive, the greatest so far known. This is diplomatically mentioned, he pays, in the official report by the words “when she touched bottom.” So enormous was the pressure of water upon the vessel when this was reached that seams and rents were made in her lining, and interior fittings began to loosen and almost fall apart, while tiny streams of water trickled in at various points. The account of this unrecorded chapter of submarine happenings is as follows:
“In August, not quite two years ago, the submarine I was attached to, with eight others, about 10 a. m. ran out to make a practice attack upon a battleship off the Rhode Island coast. After running on the surface for a certain distance the order was given to fill the tanks and trim down— that is, to take in enough water for ballast to overcome the regular buoyancy, in order to cause sufficient downward momentum and enable the boat to dive. We did so and after the water had reached the proper height in the tanks the conning tower was closed and everything was shut off tight. The boat then started to sink.
“When ten feet was reached, the depth at which it was meant to run submerged until within a hundred yards or so of the spot where the intended torpedo attack upon the battleship was to begin, orders were given for a hard rising rudder and to go ahead on the propeller. To our dismay, the boat had acquired such downward speed that the diving rudder failed to check her.
“Further down into the depths she kept sinking—twenty, thirty, forty, until fifty feet was reached. At this point orders were given to blow out the water from the midship tank. This was the first indication of genuine danger, for this is an emergency tank, holding one thousand pounds of water, which is emptied and forced out under ordinary circumstances in five seconds by means of a 50-pound pressure of compressed air, and is the first step in a desperate situation. This was done, and should have brought the boat to the surface with a rush but it only momentarily checked her. She started to rise, then began settling down again—with the screw going ahead all the time.
“Down, down she sank, far down into the inky depths. Suddenly the craft with a thud came to a standstill, and we knew bottom had been struck. This gave our fears temporary relief. The failure to rise to the surface, after repeated trials, had revealed to the crew the great danger threatening them — death by suffocation from poisonous gases. Few, however, realized the full terror of the situation.
“At this moment I was ordered back from my post amidships to the diving rudder in the rear. In passing I quickly glanced at the depth register and noted that two hundred feet below the surface was the reading on the telltale dial Knowing that 147 feet was about the depth pressure the steel shell was calculated to with stand, and that 200 feet was possibly near the bursting point, I was in momentary expectation of a catastrophe. I realized that we now had nearly seventy yards of water over our heads and that the little door of the conning tower, our sole means of egress, was being held down by a weight of over fifty thousand pounds, yet I did not communicate the information to my mates.
“Soon this terrific pressure, which was squeezing the steel shell like a vise, began to tell on the inside. The main valves started to leak, and water was forced through the torpedo tube into the vessel. We tightened the valve and this stopped; but leaks started around the sea connections to the bilge pump, the air compressor and the shaft, and trickles came in from a seam rent in the main ballast tank and around the deadlights or portholes.
“This additional water was likely to give negative buoyancy, a much dreaded obstacle to overcome, but we had to watch it come in, realigns that only a thin sheet of steel stood between us and destruction, and with no avenue of escape we were veritably being locked in a death grip of the sea with the force of some grim monster unceasingly gnawing at the boat’s exterior with increased energy. It seemed only a question of seconds when the waters outside would crush down the hatches and cave in the sides, and, in fury, drown and jellify us all.
“To rise to the surface as quickly as possible was our only salvation. The rotary pump and air pressure were put on the main ballast tank and forward trimming tanks, but these it was found could not work against the tremendous force from the outside. One last resort was left— the hand pump, which was then put on the forward trimming tank. This was our final and supreme effort, a real tug of war with death. Would the hand pump be able to hold out against the mighty strain we were about to put upon it? That was the question in every mind, though none voiced it. With desperate strength the men bent to the task, and bent to it every ounce of energy they possessed.
“To our delight the hand pump held, and in a few minutes the water inside the submarine grew less as we slowly forced it into the surrounding sea. Soon a tremor went through our vessel as she loosed herself from the bottom, and at once we felt that the pressure which had threatened to destroy us had now become our friend and would bear us to the surface if we could pump more water out before the shell collapsed. Harder and harder we pumped, and slowly we rose, until finally we reached the surface again after being submerged for over an hour. The sweat poured from us in streams, and our heads ached from foul air, but we were at the top again, and that was enough joy for the moment. Had we been in deep ocean and had not struck bottom at two hundred feet there is no doubt there would have been no survivor left to tell the tale. As we crawled out of the conning tower half dazed and in a state near collapse I and some others decided that we had enough of submarine work, and on request have been assigned to other duties.
“After this accident the craft was docked and her damaged Interior and weak valves, piping, etc., were replaced by stronger equipment, and the limit of experimental diving for her was set at 100 feet. It was found that about one thousand pounds of water had entered on of the partially filled tanks, and this had caused us to lose control of the vessel.
‘There are two main classes of submarines, the diving type and the even keel type. The type used in our navy carries little reserve buoyancy and submerges by pointing the bow down about eight degrees, using the horizontal rudder for this purpose, and for this work a man has to receive special training at the diving rudder. The motive power is a gasolene engine for surface running and a compressed air motor for submerged. The most vital part of the equipment of a submarine is this compressed air both for breathing and power purposes. This Is stored in steel flasks.
“Trimming down ready for diving is usually done in smooth water, and is accomplished by filling the tanks so that only about four hundred pounds of positive buoyancy is left. When ready to dive the conning tower is closed and the main ballast and amidships tanks are blown or emptied; then the craft begins to sink. As she gains headway the diving rudder is put in operation and the vessel plunges down. The depth is regulated by the diving rudder, and a scale registers the descent. For returning to the surface the amidship tank is blown. For a run on top, after the vessel has regained buoyancy, the conning tower is opened and the gasolene engine put in operation.
“The boat is equipped for warfare with one torpedo tube, situated in the extreme bow. This has a watertight door which opens the moment of the discharge of a torpedo, which can be fired every ten minutes. For vision and getting ranges while submerged a high periscope, the end of which is supplied with a lens and prism, protrudes above the water line and reflects below the location of surface objects above.
“It is a difficult matter, however, to judge the crucial moment for firing a torpedo, as the craft has to be pointed up and at the same time kept at the requisite depth, so as to have the periscope lens just clear of the water. If the periscope is shot away the boat is useless until repaired, as a conning tower attack is impossible in the daytime.
“The estimated speed of the submarine is eight knots, and it is said to be able to run forty to fifty miles submerged. It is limited in active operation to about fifty miles from a base and about twenty-four hours of habitability. Its chief strategic value is centered in its invisibility, being capable of creeping up within a hundred yards or so and delivering a blow to an enemy’s battleship.
“In this particular branch of the service the United States government is behind that of other powers, such as France and England, who have done the most toward the development of the submarine. The French government is placing great dependence on these disappearing craft, having some forty built and thirty more on the ways. These are of various designs. Some of the new ones are to be of 800 tons displacement, the largest in the world. England has over fifty, perhaps twenty-five completed and the same number building. England began to construct these vessels in 1900, and has improved and perfected only one type, the same as that used in this country. Her more recent ones are of 300, 500 and 600 tons displacement, having an extensive superstructure, forming a bridge throughout their entire length, and with a speed of from fourteen to fifteen knots.
“The United States navy has built only eight, with four now under construction. The latter are somewhat larger than the present ones. Lieutenants Nelson and Shapleigh, of the Shark and Porpoise, are considered the foremost submarine commanders in the United States navy. The former manipulated the evolutions of the Plunger when the President took his dive in her off Oyster Bay, in the Sound, in August of last year. These officers are at present conducting a series of endurance tests and runs at the Torpedo Station. Newport, with some new electric Interior appliances lately installed In their vessels, after over a year’s over hauling at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. These up to-date improvements will be utilized In future submarines, which will bring both the new ones and the present ones to a higher state of efficiency than before, and lessen the chances of accidents.
“To further insure the safety of the Submarine and its crew the government tug Nina is just now being fitted with a special electric hoisting apparatus, consisting of a steel mast and out rigger boom, with a counterbalance weight of five tons, so as to raise quickly to the surface any disabled submarine Ring holes have been fitted to the bow and stern for this purpose. All deep diving experiments in the future will be in the company of the Nina. Living Quarters for two crews and several officers have been provided on her. Submarine crews are composed of nine or ten picked men, made up of the most intelligent and well trained electricians, machinists and gunners obtainable. The- average pay is $50 a month.
“Among the interesting naval relics on Cob Dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard which strikingly shows the advance in submarine navigation is what is practically the first submarine built in America. This crude craft, named the Intelligent Whale, is made of wrought iron, 35 feet long and about 8 feet in diameter. Eight men operated her propeller by hand, while another did the steering. Two crews, fifteen men in all, were drowned while experimenting in this primitive boat. After many unsuccessful trails it was finally abandoned by the government. And now rests as a curious relic with a deadly record. “
Well, another tale from our submarine family history. I hope you enjoyed this brief view into the rear view mirror.