A super submarine! (well at least it was supposed to be in 1921)

You can be forgiven if you claim to be a submarine expert but have never heard the name Oswald Flamm before today. To be honest, neither had I before I ran into this interesting thread of information that gives a glimpse into his story.

Oswald Flamm, Born July 30, 1861; Deceased June 12, 1935, was a German shipbuilding engineer.

His influence was much more than someone who came to the US after the World War with a dream of building a monster of a submarine that would surpass anything that had yet been built. In 1888 Oswald graduated as engineer in shipbuilding and ship machinery. Just 31 years old became he professor in shipbuilding at the Technischen Hochschule at Charlottenburg. He was specialized in how screws functioned, stability of ships and building of submarines. The magazine Popular Science dated July 1930 mentioned that he invented invisible torpedoes and that he offered this design to a not specified European government [France regarded the Surcouf-design?] while Germany was not allowed to build submarines since the First World War. The edition dated December 1927 reported that he invented a submarine cruiser of 7,000 tons with a length of 403’ and armed with 2-8” guns.

German professor Flamm designed armored submarine according to the Dutch newspaper De Tijd dated 18 January 1921

An item reported that Germany succeeded in improving the submarine weapon and finally managed to build 1,500 ton submarines with a range of more than a month. However plans to armor submarines sufficient against gunfire and depth charges were not executed while this disturbed the stability while coming to the surface. The well-known professor Flamm (1) of the Technical High School at Charlottenburg succeeded in theoretically armoring submarines thanks to a new stability system. He designed a 1.443 ton submarine with a 3,5cm thick armor and a surfaced speed of 17.5 knots. Designs for a 4.870 ton submarine with a speed of 25 knots were almost completed.

News of his proposed submarine was shared with American journalists at roughly the same time the Dutch article appeared.

The New York Herald, January 15, 1921


German Scientist Finds Method of Insuring Boat’s Stability


Offered Here, but Quickly Patented in England, Italy and Holland.


Professor Flamm Says Discovery Was Made in 1918, Too Late for War Use.  RAYMOND SWING.  Special Cable to The New York Herald

Berlin, Jan. 14

A new principle in stability which makes possible the protection of submarines with armor plate has been discovered by Oswald Flamm, professor ordinarious in Charlottenberg Technical College and one of Germany’s foremost authorities on submarine construction.

It is anticipated by German naval experts that Prof. Flamm’s discovery will lead to the building of submersible armored warships of 10,000 tons, with (gun turrets on deck, torpedo tubes and having a speed of twenty-five nautical miles an hour, with a cruising radius of 12,000 miles. Should these expectations be realized, naval warfare would be revolutionized and the building of capital ships, dreadnoughts and battle cruisers probably would be discontinued.

An important English ship building company has already taken out English patents n Prof. Flamm’s discovery and it also has been patented in both Holland and Italy.

The Invention was first offered to the United States, but the Americans delayed taking action. Prof. Flamm received The New York Herald correspondent in his office In the Charlottenburg Technical College, but declined to give an inkling of his stability secret.

“It is very simple and has nothing to do with the gyroscope,” he said. “I do not regard the gyroscope as serviceable, because as a device it is disastrous unless it runs perpetually, and there is no way of guaranteeing this.

Removes Depth Bomb Peril.

“The development of the submarine is bound up with the problem of using armor plate. An armored submarine would be immune to the guns of a merchant vessel and even to those of light cruisers. Neither would it be so endangered by depth bombs as is an unarmored underseas craft. Too, it could risk breaking through a destroyer defence with which dreadnoughts are now guarded in battle.

“But an armored submarine would turn turtle unless stabilized, and, besides the gyroscope, there has hitherto been only one method of stabilization known – that of balancing weight above the water with weight below. However, this method must be eliminated because it cuts down speed.”

Prof. Flamm made his discovery in 1918, and, therefore, he said, it had been impossible to try it out in the German navy.

“I first offered my secret to America, approaching persons in a position to deal authoritatively,” he continued. “I would have preferred that America benefit from it. I fail to understand why nothing was ever done. Now patents .have been taken out for me in three countries. I am too poor to pay with German currency for my own patents abroad. A start with America might have been made with a few hundred dollars, but that was more than I had to spend. I feel that America, having the Philippines to defend, must see the importance of keeping abreast with all new experimentation, especially along lines which may reduce the cost of her navy and lead to a change In naval methods.”

Completes Submarine Design.

Prof. Flamm has finished detailed designs for a submarine of 1,443 tons, armored with thirty-five millimeter (1 1/3inch) plates, weighing 131 tons, and with a protective expanse of 750 square meters. The plans call for two 10 1/2 centimeter (1 inch) guns In turrets, one at each end of the vessel, and with movable deck torpedo tubes as well as stationary tubes under the water line. This design calls for a surface speed of 17 1/2 nautical miles an hour.

Also he has partially worked out plans for the construction of a subma, line of 4.K70 tons and 121 meters long, Ji carrying two or four twenty-one centimeter (8 inch) guns and with a speed of twenty-five nautical miles an hour. (He said he did not wish to give exact figures because of the difficulty in estimating net results before the problems of construction were solved. But he said he hoped to build a boat of 8,400 tons and one of 9,900 tons with a speed of twenty-eight nautical miles, armored with plate sixty to seventy millimeters (2 ½ Inches) thick and carrying four guns of twenty-one or twenty-two centimeters. Prof. Flamm makes no precise claim for his invention. “All submarine developments are enriched by actual experience must wait for a service test before I can be sure if the success of the designs as they are now worked out.”

Prof. Flamm is cooperating with leading electrical and armament experts of  such firms as the Krupps and Siemens and Halske In completing his designs.


Has Rule Not to Buy without Knowing What it Gets

Officers of the Navy Interested In constructing professed only mild interest In he report that Prof. Oswald Flamm-of Germany has Invented a now principle if stability making submarine dreadnaughts possible. Leading officers of the. Bureau of Naval Construction said they knew of of Flamm and that he was highly regarded.

They pointed out that Prof. Flamm had not directly approached the Government of the United States with his idea, but there had been indirect suggestions that he would like to sell his Government something which he was not willing to unfold until after the sale was made. The naval authorities make it a rule not to buy anything unless they know what they are getting. The American officers profess to doubt the actual sale of the Flamm principle to European governments, although they admit the possibility of the sale.

Concerning the capital ship, the school of American naval officers now in control of the building programme of the American Navy profess to see nothing in naval construction or in lessons learned from the war which renders the capital surface ship obsolete.

They are not turning their backs on new developments and new ideas. They are experimenting with all of them and are producing what they believe will be a well-rounded fleet but with the capital ship preserved.

Professor Flamm’s idea was never adapted by the Americans. By 1922, the Washington Naval Treaty limiting arms had been signed and adapted.

The Washington times.(Washington [D.C.]) May 31, 1922

Limiting Auxiliary Ships to 10,000 Tons Shelves Plan For Giant Submarines.

Undisputed American supremacy on the seas, through the medium of 20,000-ton submarines, was sacrificed when the United States agreed to the program of
the recent arms conference.

This amazing fact was revealed at the Navy Department today, following the publication of Berlin dispatches heralding the invention of a 7,000-ton submarine by Prof. Oswald Flamm, who constructed the Deutschland and other master submersibles for the Germans.

The First Civilian Submarine – theleansubmariner

Prohibits Construction.

The remarkable advance represented by a 20,000-ton submarine is strikingly shown by contrasting it with those of the S-class, the latest and best of the American navy which displace only 1,230 tons submerged.

The five-power naval treaty which grew out of the arms conference and which already has been ratified by the Senate prohibits construction of auxiliary craft of more then10,000 tons. Thus it in doubtful whether the 20.000-ton monster will become an actuality. The plans and specifications will be carefully preserved, however, against a possible collapse of the limitation program due to failure of ratification of the treaty abroad.

Navy Department officials were amused at the dispatch from Berlin which quoted Prof. Flamm as stating that the United States had shown only a “mild Interest” in his Invention, while Japan and Great Britain have been pressing him to turn
over the plans.

20,000 Boat Planned.

It was revealed that when Prof. Flamm submitted his plans to the Navy Department, the “mild interest” displayed was due to the fact that plans for the 20,000 ton submarine were at that time complete

This meant a submersible about the tonnage of the old battleship Massachusetts or Iowa, besides which a 7,000 ton craft would be a toy.

Naval officials explained today that the idea of putting battleship under water was suggested by the steady development of the bombing plane. The air service of both the army and the navy became convinced of the theory that the time was approaching when a battleship; could not escape from the unerring accuracy and deadly destruction of bombs dropped from airplanes.

While not willing publicly to admit that the battleship as at present constituted has outlived its usefulness, naval officials recognize the fact that the battleship would
have to be endowed with new physical characteristics if it were to survive.

It was agreed that the “submersible battleship” was the one solution. Within reasonable bounds there was no limit to the size of battleships and battle cruisers.
Conversely, it was found that there was no limit to the size to which submarines might be built. The only problem involved was the matter of stability, both on the surface and submerged. It was therefore upon this question that naval experts concentrated, with the result that the problem was soon evolved. How It was solved Is. of course, a carefully guarded secret.


The Evening World. (New York, N.Y.) June 02, 1922

Plans for Super-Submarine Coming to U.S. From Berlin; Has Cruise Range 23,000 Miles

Awaited With Interest, Though Navy Has Specifications for Much Larger Submersible, With Heavier Guns.
Submarine experts In the Navy Department are awaiting with keen interest the arrival of plans for a super-U-boat, sent to the United States from Berlin by the American Naval attaché. Prof. Oswald Flamm, an Instructor in the Technical High School at Berlin, and a German authority on undersea craft, is the inventor. The limitation imposed on his own country by the Allies with respect to submarine construction has not dampened Prof. Flamm’s Interest. He constructed the Deutschland, the big commercial submarine, whoso unheralded arrival at an American port in the early months of the world war caused a sensation. Prof. Flamm has recently completed designs for several new types of submarines, it was learned at the Navy Department today, although only meagre information has reached Washington as to the 7,000 ton submersible referred to In recent cable dispatches from Berlin. This sub-sea cruiser is sold to have a cruising radius of 21,000 miles.

“As a matter of fact,” said an American naval authority to-day, “we have many plans hero for larger submarines than the 7,000-ton Invention mentioned. The idea of a big submarine is nothing new to us. Both of the plans submitted to us provide for bigger guns than those which the 7,000-ton craft would carry, which are said to be 8-inch and 3 ½ – inch. However, it is an involved question and whether undersea fighting ships of this size are practicable is another question. The largest submersible actually built is only 2,000 tons. We have one of that size and Germany had several. It is a big step to a 7,000-ton undersea ship.”

This naval expert explained that inventors are constantly sending in designs for new types of submarines of larger size than the prevailing types, but some of these are “freak” suggestions. The United States may not, as some appear to believe, build submarines of any size it sees proper. We are expressly limited under the terms of the naval treaty formulated at the Washington Conference last winter, to auxiliary craft of not more than10,000 tons. Prof. Flamm’s Invention comes within this limitation and if it strikes American naval men favorably, it may be adopted. To get the right to construct submarines after Prof. Flamm’s design may mean that we will have to enter into negotiations with the Krupps, famous German gun makers. It is understood they have bought the Invention, and Prof. Flamm Is sending his plans to this country with the express understanding that we will not give out any Information about them. As a commercial proposition the United States can probably arrange With the Krupps for the right to manufacture the super-submersibles according to the Flamm design, if it is approved by our submarine experts.

“We have promised to keep secret any Information Prof. Flamm furnishes about his new ship,” said a naval expert who has been in correspondence with Berlin about the matter. “I had a letter from one of our naval men at Berlin about it, but those plans have not yet arrived. We have not even the dimensions. This is based on some patent which Prof. Flamm has and he wanted the Navy Department to have it patented in this country for him. We understand the Krupps have already bought the plan and in case any other country wants it the Krupps must be consulted. Until we look it over it is unwise to pass on its feasibility.”

So the super submarine he envisioned was never built.

He died in 1935 just as Germany was breaking free from the post war doldrums and beginning its ascent into a brand new era of war using submarines.

One interesting thing about the Professor. In 1915, he advocated for the suspension of the practice of allowing non-combatants from ships to be given quarter. His advice at the time was roundly criticized in the US and other non-belligerent countries as being barbaric. Towards the end of his life, he also let out that he had created some super weapons that would change the course of naval warfare including ray-guns.

He certainly was an interesting character.

My last submarine was the USS Ohio SSBN 726. Her displacement was 16,704 tons.

I guess we will have to wait a bit for an American submarine that tops 20,000.

Mister Mac


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