The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
-Persuasion

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

450px-FultonNautilus1

Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

The Nautilus was designed between 1793 and 1797  while Robert Fulton was living in the French First Republic. He proposed to the Directory that they subsidize its construction as a means to balance British seapower, but he was turned down. His second proposal to them was that he be paid nothing until the Nautilus had sunk British shipping, and then only a small percentage of the prize money. Again, the design was rejected. Fulton directed his next proposal to the Minister of Marine, who finally granted him permission to build.

The Nautilus (1800).

The Nautilus (1798).

Fulton built the first Nautilus at the Perrier boatyard in Rouen of copper sheets over iron ribs. It was 21 ft 3 in (6.48 m) long and 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) in the beam. Propulsion was provided by a hand-cranked screw propeller. Her hollow iron keel was her ballast tank, flooded and emptied to change her buoyancy. Two horizontal fins on the stubby horizontal rudder controlled angle of dive — the origin of the diving planes used on all modern submarines. It resembled a modern research submarine in shape — a long teardrop with an observation dome we would call a conning tower. When surfaced, a fan-shaped collapsible sail, looking rather Chinese, provided propulsion. Air, other than that enclosed, was provided by a waterproofed leather snorkel tube

It was always designed to carry a “carcass”, as Fulton called his dragged mines. A device on the top of the dome drove a spiked eye into the enemy’s wooden hull. The submarine then released its mine on a line that went through the eye. The submarine sped away, and only when the long line had paid out would the mine strike the target hull and explode by a detonator. The mines were nothing like a self-propelled torpedo: They were variously-sized copper cylinders carrying ten to two hundred pounds of gunpowder, triggered by a gunlock mechanism that went off on contact with the hull.

Nautilus was first tested, with constant success, in dives in the Seine at Rouen, in the Saint-Gervais dock, beginning July 29, 1800. As the river current interfered with some tests, Fulton took the boat to Le Havre to work in the quiet salt water of the harbor. He tested endurance with a candle lit, and found the flame did not challenge the air capacity of the snorkel. He tested the speed of his two men cranking against two men rowing on the surface, and Nautilus covered the 360 ft (110 m) course two minutes faster. During this time he changed the rudder, and the screw propeller to one with four vanes like a windmill.

Robert Fulton presents his steamboat to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1806

Robert Fulton presents his steamboat to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1806

Through friends like Gaspard Monge and Pierre-Simon Laplace, Fulton obtained an interview with Napoleon, but nothing came of it. However, the Minister of Marine was by Fulton’s friends pushed into appointing a scholarly panel to assess the submarine.

On July 3, 1801 at Le Havre, Fulton took down the revised Nautilus to the then-remarkable depth of 25 feet (7.6 m). With his three crewmen and two candles burning he remained for an hour without difficulty. Adding a copper “bomb” (globe) containing 200 ft (5.7m) of air extended the time underwater for the crew for at least four and a half hours. However, one of the renovations included a 1.5 in (38 mm) diameter glass in the dome, whose light he found sufficient for reading a watch, making candles during daylight activities unnecessary. Speed trials put Nautilus at two knots on the surface, and covering 400m in 7 min. He also discovered that compasses worked underwater exactly as on the surface.

The first trial of a carcass destroyed a 40-foot sloop provided by the Admiralty. Fulton suggested that not only should they be used against specific ships by submarines, but be set floating into harbors and into estuaries with the tide to wreak havoc at random.

The overseeing committee enthusiastically recommended the building of two brass subs, 36 ft (11 m) long, 12 ft (3.7 m) wide, with a crew of eight, and air for eight hours of submersion.

In September, Napoleon expressed interest in seeing the Nautilus, only to find that, as it had leaked badly, Fulton had her dismantled and the more important bits destroyed at the end of the tests. Despite the many reports of success by reliable witnesses like the Prefect Marine of Brest, Napoleon decided Fulton was a swindler and charlatan. The French navy had no enthusiasm for a weapon they preferred to think suicidal for the crews (though Fulton had no problems). Certainly, it would be overwhelmingly destructive for conventional ships.

A cross-section of Fulton's 1806 submarine design.

A cross-section of Fulton’s 1806 submarine design.

In 1804, Fulton switched allegiance and moved to England, where he was commissioned by Prime Minister William Pitt to build a range of weapons for use by the Royal Navy during Napoleon’s invasion scare. Among his inventions were the world’s first modern naval torpedoes, which were tested, along with several other of his inventions, during the 1804 Raid on Boulogne, but met with limited success.

Additionally, he was paid £800 to develop a second Nautilus for them. The victory at Trafalgar made his work no longer a danger, and he was ignored until he left, in frustration, for America in October 1806. He left his papers on submarines with the American consul in London. He never asked for them, never referred to his Nautilus work, and the papers went unpublished until 1920.

These show that his British Nautilus was planned as a 35 ft (11 m) long, 10 ft (3.0 m) beam sea-going boat with a crew of six, to be provisioned for 20 days at sea. The upper surface was provided with 30 carcass compartments. The hull was to imitate a sea-going sloop with conventional-looking mast and sails that could be lowered and unstepped for submersion. Her two-bladed propeller, still hand-cranked, folded up out of the water when surfaced to reduce drag. When submerged, air came through two streamlined ventilation pipes, and light from the conning tower. However, nothing of it was actually constructed.

The Nautilus, created by en:user:WikiFred for the DVD release of the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The Nautilus, created by en:user:WikiFred for the DVD release of the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The Nautilus is memorialized as the fictional submarine captained by Nemo featured in Jules Verne’s novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874). Verne named the Nautilus after Robert Fulton’s real-life submarine Nautilus (1800).


Historical information and photos from Wikipedia.com

Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon
This entry was posted in Military History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Jane Austen Wall Plaque Quote



  • Jane Austen Giftshop

  • Jane Austen Newsletter

  • Jane Austen in Bath

  • Jane Austen iPhone App

  • ArabicChinese (Simplified)DutchEnglishFrenchGermanHindiJapaneseRussianSpanish
Powered By Mow - Wordpress Popup Plugin