Submarine Rule #1: Close the Hatch (The Story of the Fulton)

Imagine spending an entire night under the surface of the ocean. In 1901, this had to have been quite an electric story. The American experiment with submarines was not that old yet and the thought of men actually living under the water’s surface was something that still lived in science fiction.

The Fulton was an Adler class submarine and she was being used to demonstrate the capabilities of the small vessel. She was still owned by the company that built her but the possibility of selling many more boats to the Navy was very much on everyone’s mind that day.

The first part of this story is the triumph of her experiment. What we do now with submarines has almost become an assumed capability. But in 1901, the future was not well defined. Key questions about the future of submarines were still in doubt.

I hope you make it all the way to the end to see the “rest of the story”. The mystery of why the United States government never bought her seems to be answered in that part of the tale.



New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 25 Nov. 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.



With the wind blowing sixty miles an hour and an abnormally high tide washing over her, the submarine torpedo boat Fulton rested on the bottom of Peconic Bay on Saturday night. The six men who were in her emerged at 10 0’clock yesterday morning, and declared that they never spent a more comfortable night anywhere. They were Rear Admiral John Lowe, U S. N. (retired): Captain Frank T. Cable, Mate John Wilson. Engineer John Saunders, Electrician Harry H. Morrill and Boatswain Charles Bergh. At 7 o’clock an Saturday night, Captain Cable Closed the hatch of the Fulton’s conning tower, and the boat sank out of sight in about fifteen feet of water. All night long she lay there, having absolutely no communication with the outside world, and utterly ignorant of the fact that the fiercest gale of forty years was sweeping over Peconic Bay. The test was made to demonstrate the truth of the contention that the air in the Holland submarine boats is sufficient in quantity and quality to enable their crews to remain under water for practically an indefinite period. The men names as going down in the boat are the boat’s crew, with the exception of Rear Admiral Lowe who went as a guest of the company. Food to last all night and bedding enough to make all comfortable were placed in the boat, and the men took turns standing watch. Four hour watches were kept.

Captain Cable said yesterday that the demonstration far exceeded his expectations. Not only was it a perfect success, but it showed the possibilities of the boat to be practically unlimited. Four flasks of compressed air were taken down, and it was figured that much of it would have to be used before morning. On the contrary, the flasks were not opened at all, and all of their contents that was used was the small leakage from one of them.

Early yesterday morning, when the gale began. Captain Cable noticed that the gauge indicated an unusual depth. He did not know whether the tide was higher than usual or the Fulton was sinking into the sandy bottom. When the boat arose the wharf was under several feet of water.

Rear Admiral Lowe said that the conditions during the test were wonderful. He regarded the demonstration as perfect, and thought that the length of time that the Fulton could remain under water was limited only by her capacity to carry food for her crew. Admiral Lowe served forty-three years in the navy before his retirement. He said yesterday that the air in the Fulton was perfectly normal all night. He slept several hours, and it was a perfectly natural sleep.

The crew of the boat corroborated the statements of Captain Cable. Mate Wilson expressed a desire to go below at once, upon noting the weather when the Fulton came to the surface. During the night the boat was heated by electricity from the storage batteries which furnished the light and the power to move the boat, bad it become necessary.


“While the Fulton was on the bottom, utterly unconscious of the terrific gale which was blowing overhead, the crew of the torpedo boat Winslow was having a hard night’s work. The Winslow, of which Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur Is commander, was moored near the place where the Fulton went down. She rolled and pitched heavily in the storm. The Adder, which is being fitted out for service in the navy passed through the blow with no trouble. The yacht Giraldi, owned by the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, was moored to a wharf nearby. She was torn from her fastenings and had to get up steam. Aboard her were E. B. Frost, vice-president and manager of the Holland Company, and a number of guests. Among the latter was Lieutenant Ralph Spear, of the navy, who inspected the building of the Adder, and is now watching the construction of the Shark and the Moccasin at Lewis Nixon’s shipyard at Elizabethport, N. J..

Mr. Frost and Lieutenant Spear were in the party that saw the Fulton go down, and they were watching for her reappearance when she came to the surface. Bath were highly elated over the demonstration.

The Fulton Is owned by the Holland Company and was built for its private use. It is the exact size and model upon which the Adder her sister submarine boats are being constructed and fitted out. Their length is forty-four feet, beam ten feet and displacement about sixty-five tons. The Adder will be the first turned over to the government. Work on her will be finished, it is expected, within a month. The government boats will carry fifty nine cubic feet of air when submerged, compressed to a pressure of two thousand pounds to a square inch. It was roughly figured yesterday by Captain Cable that, in view of the results shown by this demonstration, six men could live for eight months under water in the Fulton.

In an interview with a Tribune reporter Rear Admiral Lowe said:
“It is a long story or a very simple one. When we went down I assisted Captain Cable in making an inspection of the ship. Then I retired, while the crew played cards and read. Every few hours I was awakened, and made in inspections of the conditions.

“Early this morning Captain Cable called my attention to the pressure gauge, which indicates the depth. It showed that we were lower in the water than at high tide last night, when we submerged. There was nothing to show us why it was, hut a little while later I noticed that the water, as we saw it through the deadlights, was very dirty, and I imagined that a storm was blowing. There was no rock or roll of the vessel to indicate what was going on.”
Continuing, Rear Admiral Lowe said that the air in the boat was as clean and pure as in a house or in the cabin of a yacht. “Not once.” added the Admiral, “did I notice any sign of bad air, gas or other impurity. Considering that we did not draw on the tanks at all. I consider this wonderful. It upsets all the theories of the Physicians and scientists, who tell us that what we did last night was impossible. I was very critical all night, and nothing escaped me.”

Mr. Frost said that no more had been accomplished than he expected.

“England sealed up one of our boats in a dock and kept her crew in there for twelve hours,” said Mr. Frost. “That is the reason we fixed fifteen hours for our demonstration. It could just as well have been fifteen days.”

Captain Cable heard this remark, and said that if the food could be provided he would undertake to stay under water so many days or weeks.

The experts present united in calling attention to the seagoing; qualities of the Fulton and the Adder, as shown during the gale which prevailed until night. Neither of the submarine boats was affected by the sea or the wind. Other boats, of twice their tonnage, rolled and tossed so that they had to got under way and seek a sheltered harbor.


The longest time that any submarine boat had been under water heretofore in the United States was three hours. Lieutenant Harry Colwell kept the Holland submersed as long as that In the Potomac last year. The Fulton had never been under longer than about twenty-five minutes, when she made a two mile run submerged a few weeks ago. Speaking of his experience, Captain Cable said he thought that the last barrier to the acceptance of the Holland type of boat as available for use in lime of warfare was removed. It had been conceded for a long time that the boat could successfully discharge a torpedo with reasonable accuracy. Objection had been made that the boat was not seaworthy, and that the air could not be breathed for a long time with safety to the men. Captain Cable said he felt sure that the problem of air was one easily disposed of, but he did not expect such a wonderful demonstration as that which followed the submersion of the Fulton.

When the boat went underwater there was no sea on, and almost a dead calm prevailed. When she came to the surface a pale of great velocity had lashed the waters of Peconic Bay into a furious sea. Through it all the Fulton was not disturbed at all. A glass filled with water lost none of its contents during the entire time that the boat was below. Compared with the Winslow, the Giraldi and other larger boats. Captain Cable said that the Fulton needed no higher testimonial of her seaworthiness. The Adder has little of her machinery in her and is much higher out of the water than the Fulton, yet she gave no evidence of being in a rough, choppy sea.


Lieutenant Spear said that in such weather the Fulton could torpedo a dozen battleships with perfect safety to herself. He gave It as his opinion that the torpedo boat could not be Been running on the surface at a distance of one hundred yards from the object of attack.

Mrs. Cable, wife of the Fulton’s commander, witnessed the sinking of the boat. Her husband waved good night to her as he closed the tower. Yesterday morning she said that she slept soundly, having absolutely no fear of the outcome of the test. At their boarding house Mrs. Cable had breakfast ready for her husband at 10:30 o’clock, and he was there promptly to claim it.

A delegation of foreign naval officials will watch the Fulton perform within a few days, final preparations will then he made to take the boat to Washington for the winter. There demonstrations will be made in the Potomac River as may be desired for the purpose of acquainting members of Congress and naval officials with the boat. To test further her seagoing qualities Captain Cable will take the Fulton from New-Suffolk to Hampton Roads under her own power. That will be the longest trip ever attempted in a submarine. Lieutenant MacArthur, who is to take command of the Adder upon her completion, was deeply impressed with the result of the submersion test as it is called. He compared it with what has been done with the French submarines, and pronounced the American boat far ahead of all others.

Lieutenant. MacArthur was under orders to take the Winslow to Newport. R. I. yesterday, but was prevented from doing so by the Gale. He said after the Fulton came to the surface and he heard the report of Rear Admiral Lowe and Captain Cable, that he would not have hesitated to comply with the order had he commanded the Adder, Instead of the Winslow. After being in the boat under water for fifteen hours, the crew of the Fulton worked all day yesterday as they had worked Saturday, and at night none of them felt the slightest ill effect from the part he had taken in the remarkable demonstration.

And now: The rest of the story:

The Fulton was an Adder Class Submarine Torpedo Boat: Laid down as Fulton. Built at Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey during the summer of 1901. She was a prototype of the A-Class subs. She was put into service but never commissioned by the Navy. Electric Boat planned to enter Fulton, a company-financed prototype of an ‘improved’ Holland.

Specifications: Displacement; Surfaced, 107 t., Submerged, 123 t.; Length 63′ 10″; Beam 11′ 11″; Draft 10′ 7″; Speed, Surfaced, 8 kts, Submerged, 7 kts; Depth Limit 150′; Complement, 1 Officer, 6 Enlisted; Armament, one 18″ torpedo tube, 5 torpedoes; Propulsion, Otto Gas Engine Works gasoline engine, HP 160; Fuel Capacity 767 gal.; Electro Dynamic electric motors, HP 150; Battery Cells 60; single screw.

Fulton Sinking after her test in November 1902… Incident occurred on December 10:  Costly Carelessness

One Man’s Neglect Sunk the Holland Submarine Boat Fulton at Her Dock.


The Vessel Has Been Raised and the Only Damage it that Done by Water, and When Overhauled and Cleaned the Machinery will be as good as Ever

New York, Dec.11 – To the carelessness of one man, that marvel of submarine torpedo boats, the Fulton, owes temporary disaster.

She is foundered under 15 feet of water on the very spot where a few water days ago she scored a splendid triumph in a record-breaking 15-hour test. She sank ignominiously at her dock simply because one of her crew neglected to close her forward hatch at a time it should have been closed the tightest.

She Found Bottom

The accident occurred at the wharf of the Holland Torpedo Boat Co., at New Suffolk, Long Island, Monday afternoon. Capt. T. Cable, who commands the Fulton, was in New York In his absence the crew undertook to make trifling repairs. They left open a forward hatchway, then submerged the forward end of the boat, so as to get at the stern. Quicker than an eel the boat went searching for the bottom. It found the same just where it was thought be.

Not a word of the accident was told Monday night. Even the company officials were left in ignorance of it. But after a night of unsuccessful efforts to raise the vessel, the crew lost heart and called on the New York office for assistance.

Company Official’s Statement

Isaac L. Rice of the Holland Company, made this statement of the accident:

The accident is not as serious as at first feared. Comparatively little injury was done to the Fulton, but of course, this salt water bath of many hours will not do her machinery any good.

This incident was a pretty good way to establish one of the principle roles of submarines: Close the damn hatch.

The Fulton never did make the long trip to Norfolk. Her record setting days were over. Immediately after this incident, purchasing scandals in New York and Washington DC rocked the nation’s capital and the Fulton was quietly put on the sidelines. Eventually she was sold to the Russians and her fate was sealed.

In 1904, the submarine was bought by Russia. The 20-meter submarine “Som” (Russian for Catfish) was brought on a steamer to the Nevsky factory where it was upgraded, and then transported by rail to Vladivostok and made combat-ready for participation in the Russian-Japanese War. In 1905, Som made several sorties.

In July 1915, the submarine was taken back to Petrograd, where it became part of the Baltic Fleet. On May 10, 1916, Som was lost during a military campaign after colliding with the Swedish steamer Ingermanland.

According to the testimony of the ship’s captain, the submarine, which was at periscope depth, did not notice that the ship had stopped moving and crashed into it. According to another version, Ingermanland deliberately rammed a Russian submarine when it attempted to stop the ship for inspection.

The entire crew of the Som – 18 people under the command of Lieutenant Khrisanf Bugurayev – perished in the incident.

In 2015, Swedish searchers found what appears to be the Fulton/Som off the Swedish coast by means of a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

On 27 July 2015, it was reported that a foreign mini-submarine, 20 m (66 ft) long and 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter, had been located the previous week by Swedish diving group Ocean X Team, led by Dennis Åberg. The submarine was found 2.75 km (1.48 nmi; 1.71 mi) offshore on the east coast of central Sweden. The group had received coordinates for where to search from Icelandic company Ixplorer.

According to the divers who found the submarine, it was a modern model and it appeared to be intact, suggesting that the remains of the crew may still be on board. The hull was marked with Cyrillic letters. The pictures from the wreck showed that the yellow submarine was standing on the sea bottom with its tower pointing straight up.

The diving group informed the Swedish armed forces on Monday 27 July 2015, and video material from the wreckage was handed over for analysis. The hull of the wreck features the “hard sign” Ъ in a final position. Since this usage was discontinued during the 1917 orthographic reform, it indicated that the ship predated the Soviet era.

On 28 July 2015, a statement was released by the Swedish armed forces public relations office that stated that analysis of the video footage and other evidence indicated that the wreck was “most likely” that of the Imperial Russian Navy Som-class submarine Som (Сом). Som sank with all hands on active service in 1916 after a collision with the steamship Ångermanland in the Sea of Åland, somewhere between Arholma and the Svartklubben lighthouse. According to several sources who previously worked with submarine analyses for the Swedish armed forces, the location of the submarine had been known for at least one year.

As of 28 July 2015, the Swedish armed forces considered the wreck to be of historical or marine archaeological interest rather than military, and handed over the case to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The ministry consequently informed the Russian embassy in Stockholm.

The little boat had been sitting on the bottom since 1916, nearly a hundred years after it left on that last mission. Hopefully she can now rest in peace for eternity.

Mister Mac

2 thoughts on “Submarine Rule #1: Close the Hatch (The Story of the Fulton)

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