Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/270

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.





SUBMARINE navigation has engaged the attention of inventors and attracted general interest for a very long period. Its practical application to purposes of war was made about 130 years ago. The main object of that application was to threaten, or if possible destroy, an enemy's battleships engaged in blockade by means of under-water attacks, delivered by vessels of small dimensions and cost, which could dive and navigate when submerged. From the first, submarines were admittedly weapons favored by the weaker naval power; and as a consequence their construction found little favor with our naval authorities. Under the conditions which prevailed a century ago in regard to materials of construction, propelling apparatus and explosives, the construction of submarines necessarily proceeded on a limited scale, and the type practically died out of use, almost at its birth. Enough had been done, however, to demonstrate its practicability and to make it a favorite field of investigation for inventors, some of whom contemplated wide extensions of submarine navigation. Every naval war gave fresh incentive to these proposals, and led to the construction of experimental vessels. This was the case during the Crimean War, when the Admiralty had a submarine vessel secretly built and tried by a special committee, on which, amongst others, Mr. Scott-Bussell and Sir Charles Fox served. Again, during the civil war in America, the Confederates constructed a submarine vessel, and used it against the blockading squadron off Charlestown. After several abortive attempts, and a considerable loss of life, they succeeded in destroying the Federal Housatonic, but their submarine with all its crew perished in the enterprise.

It is impossible to give even a summarized statement of other efforts made in this direction from 1860 onwards to 1880; but one cannot leave unnoticed the work done in the United States by Mr. Holland, who devoted himself for a quarter of a century to continuous experiment on submarines and eventually achieved success. The Holland type was first adopted by the United States Navy, and was subsequently accepted by the British Admiralty as the point of departure for our subsequent construction of submarines. In France also successive designs for submarines were prepared by competent naval architects, and a few vessels were built and tried. The Plongeur, of 1860, was a submarine of large size, considerable cost and well-considered design; but her limited radius of action and comparatively

  1. An address before the Royal Institution of Great Britain.