Only the hardiest and bravest need apply

The submarines of the first B class were larger and more capable than the original Holland class and included a number of improvements. These improvements allowed them to travel further and faster with less attachment to the shore or escort vessels. But the challenges of the Holland followed them. Specifically, the challenge of dealing with the fumes from the fuel they were still linked to.

While the E and F boats were launched in 1909, they were still not operational yet. Events around the world concerning submarine operation were not at a standstill however. Despite many accidents and loss of life, the nations that were in the submarine race continued onward.

London, May 26. A French submarine named Pluviose was sunk today in the English Channel in a collision with a Calais-Dover packet. All the crew of the submarine were drowned. The submarine was maneuvering half submerged when the collision occurred. There were twenty-seven men aboard. The packet was the Pas De Calais. She returned to Calais in a damaged condition. A wireless message from the Pas De Calais says the collision occurred only a few miles from Calais. British and French torpedo boats at once rushed to the scene. The weather was brilliant at the time of the accident and as the Pluviose was only partly submerged the collision could not have resulted from an inability of the officers of either vessel to see the other.

Submarine disasters in foreign navies have been frequent. The following is a list of such accident:

British submarine A 1 sunk in collision March 27, 1900; eleven killed.

British submarine A 5 sunk in explosion Feb. 18, 1905, three killed, 15 wounded.

British submarine A 8 sunk explosion, June 1905, 14 killed:

French submarine Farfadette sunk near Tunis July 6, 1905; 13 lost.

French submarine Lutins, sunk in explosion at Bizzarta, Oct. 17, 1906; Commander Fepoux and 14 men killed.

American submarines Viper, Cuttlefish and Octopus, crews injured by inhaling poisonous gas October 10, 1908, on way home from New York to Norfolk,

American submarines Grampus and Pike injured at Mare Island Navy yard by explosion of barge September 16. 1908; one killed, several hurt.

Italian submarine Foca blew up in Bay of Naples April 26, 1909; eight killed.

Russian submarine Kambala rammed by cruiser off Sebastopol June 13, 1909, several sailors killed.

British submarine C 11 rammed by cargo steamship off Cromer, England, July 14, 1909, 13 sailors drowned.

British submarine C 16 and C 17 collided at same time but no one was injured.

Japanese submarine sunk off Japanese coast March 1910, by overloaded water tanks. All killed.

The Japanese submarine loss was more dramatic than most since the crew did not die right away.

The reason that was revealed was the journal kept by her commander which was recovered and published in the Japanese press after his death.


Needless to say, submarining was not an easy life for anyone involved. Nut men still volunteered and the boats continued to learn more and more about submarine navigation and operation.


Air Heavy With Gasoline a Chief Cause of Trouble.

Annapolis, Md.: “With these three stations no enemy could even approach New York City within striking distance from the sea.” This statement came from an authority on submarine warfare. The three stations he referred to were at the eastern end of Long Island, at Gardiner’s Bay, and a main station to which the former were subsidiary in the Chesapeake Bay. There, it is declared the chief station of the submarine service on the Atlantic coast should be located; the mouth of the Patuxent river forming an ideal spot. As submarine boats now can cover on their own power a radius of 800 miles with effective fighting service the main station could protect New York City and the whole eastern coast, Washington and the South Atlantic seaboard.

The run of the first submarine division, consisting of the Cuttlefish, the Viper and the Tarantula, from Charleston, S. C, to Annapolis. Md., when two of the flotilla made without aid from their convoy, nearly 500 miles each, marked fin epoch in submarine possibilities. Cast off from their convoys the Viper held her own with a storm that kept her commanding officer. Midshipman Warren, sixty hours in succession without relief on the bridge.

The first impressions of descending into the hold of a submarine are the smallness of its accommodations for a crew of thirteen and the astonishing amount of apparatus inside the boat. The sides appear to be walled in with what look like electrical appliances, the ends are cut off with machinery in the bow and engines in the stern. Along the sides, resting upon the bottom of the hull, are torpedoes.

“Oh, it’s not so bad on the submarine,” said a member of the crew. “It is not expected of these boats to do anything more than hover around the shore and to prevent an enemy’s ships coming in. We could live a long time under water by means of our ten compressed air tanks. The worst thing on the submarine is the fumes from the gasoline when we are running the boat on the surface. When we are submerged we go entirely by electricity. I tried sleeping in my hammock one night and I breathed the fumes of gasoline all night. The best air is near the floor.”

Another seaman, who has served two years on a submarine, was asked the other day what were the sensations of a descent. “There are no sensations,” he answered. “You hear the hatch close over you, and that is all. Sometimes you feel the boat incline when rising or diving. I’ve been under water three hours when we were at target practice with the fleet last year. That was the longest.”

What are the worst phases of life on a submarine?

“When the engines are running to charge the batteries or we are running on the surface the fumes from the gasoline are very strong and unpleasant. They will sometimes make a man unconscious. He has then to be taken on deck for fresh air. This sickness is followed by a splitting headache that nothing but sleep will cure. They do not come so often, and the crew, do not mind them. A man generally feels this sickness coming on, and then he goes, out into fresh air.”

It is not expected that except in cases of the most urgent necessity the crew of a submarine shall sleep on board. There is scarcely room on board for the thirteen men to move about and but one bunk, the commander’s is provided. That is in the worst possible place. It gets the full force of the gasoline fumes and is shut off by heavy canvas. A tender is a necessity, if for no other reason than to cook the food, for the submarine’s crew. The only appliance for that purpose on the underwater boat is an electric heater on which coffee may be heated.

The work on board submarines has developed a new ailment, gasoline heart, for which defect several men have been place on the retired list. A member of the crew of one of these divers described the symptoms by saying that the gasoline has the same effect as chloroform. At the moment he was sitting on a barrel of oil near his ship and was almost prostrated by the strong odor.

The submarine has begun also to develop a literature. Among the sayings already coined is one that runs:

The submarine’s work is never done —

Others work from sun to sun.

A sailor is reported as saying enviously as he saw the crew of a submarine putting oil aboard ship while he remembered the hard work of coaling the ordinary warship, that “these fellows coal ship with a hose line!”

Frank R. Stockton, in compliment to the cleanliness of the American naval ships, likened the service to an old woman with a broom. On hearing this a member of the crew of a submarine here said: never “The submarine may be represented by a man with a piece of waste in his hand.” This is because so much oil is used in the submarines that the crews spend all their spare time cleaning up.

A marine took advantage of the water warriors to give his service a high place. A young lady was being shown around the yard by him and when they same to the fishlike boat he explained to the visitor that this was a submarine.

“What is a submarine?” she asked

“Why a submarine,” he replied, “is a boat where they have to serve seven years before they can become a marine!”

Arizona Republican.(Phoenix, Ariz.), 18 July 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020558/1910-07-18/ed-1/seq-2/

The boats of the E and F class were being built in the year 1910 and would soon join the fleet.

Their new diesel engines would eliminate some of the dangers of the work.

But the ocean would continue to challenge even the newest technologies.

Mister Mac

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s