Trevor, Clay, Timmy, & Mitchell

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In the First Word War military submarines made a significant impact for the first time. The German U-Boats enjoyed a great deal of success and were responsible for destroying around half of all the food and supplies transported by the British Merchant Navy. These same "U-Boats" were responsible for sinking over 11 million tons of allied shipping.

How was the Submarine Developed?

1775: American independence fighter David Bushnell constructed the Turtle. According to contemporary reports, this one-man sub was slowly manoeuvred under the anchored British frigate Eagle, using muscle powered propellers. An attempt was made in 1776 to attach an explosive charge, but it failed.

1800: American Engineer Robert Fulton constructed the Nautilus for the French Navy to be used against Britain. It was made for 4 men, using muscle propulsion. It was tested to 8 m depth but never used in combat.

1850: Wilhelm Bauer in Germany constructed the Brandtaucher. It had a steel hull and was designed for 2 men and muscle propulsion. It was tested in 1851 to 10 m depth but never used.

1854: Wilhelm Bauer built the Seeteufel for the Russian Navy. It had a steel hull and a 13 men crew. It was engine powered on the surface and muscle powered during diving. It made more than 100 test dives until 1856 but was never put in use.

1863: S. Bourgois and C. Brun built Le Plongeur for the French Navy. It was tested until 1867 but never used.

1863: Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley was 12 m long and hand cranked by 7-8 men. Constructed by James McClintock, Baxter Watson, and Horace L. Hunley, it was used in the American Civil War. The first attack in 1864 was successful, sinking the USS Housatonic. Perhaps too successful, because the explosion sank the sub as well, killing all men.

1869-1870: Jules Verne presented the Nautilus in his book Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers. This sub was purely fictional, but ahead of time, very well-written and an inspiration for future designers.

1879: The Resurgam was an early functional steam-driven British submarine, made by George William Garrett. It sank under tow in 1880. The wreck is now being investigated.

1887: Gustave Zedé constructed Le Gymnote. It was steam-driven on surface and electric motors gave an underwater speed on 5 knots. It had a periscope and carried one torpedo, but proved too difficult to maneuver for practical use.

1899: French sub Le Narval was the first to be made with a double hull.

1900: J.P. Holland constructed the SS-1 for the US Navy. It was driven by a petrol engine on surface and carried 2 guns and 3 torpedoes.

1901: J.P. Holland constructed Holland 1, the first submarine for the British Royal Navy. It was similar to the SS-1.


In World War I the submarines played a significant role for the first time. Diesel engines were introduced instead of petrol engines. Germany used the subs as a blockade against Britain.The submarine became a potentially viable weapon with the development of the first practical self-propelled torpedoes, the Whitehead torpedo.

U-Boats in World War I

Germany was the first country to employ submarines in war as substitutes for surface commerce raiders. At the outset of World War I, German U-boats, though numbering only 38, achieved notable successes against British warships; but because of the reactions of neutral powers (especially the United States) Germany hesitated before adopting unrestricted U-boat warfare against merchant ships. The decision to do so in February 1917 was largely responsible for the entry of the United States into the war. The U-boat campaign then became a race between German sinkings of merchant ships and the building of ships, mainly in the United States, to replace them. In April 1917, 430 Allied and neutral ships totaling 852,000 tons were sunk, and it seemed likely that the German gamble would succeed. However, the introduction of convoys, the arrival of numerous U.S. destroyers, and the vast output of American shipyards turned the tables. By the end of the war Germany had built 334 U-boats and had 226 under construction. The peak U-boat strength of 140 was reached in October 1917, but there were never more than about 60 at sea at one time. In 1914–18 the destruction—more than 10,000,000 tons—caused by the U-boats was especially remarkable in view of the small size (less than l,000 tons), frailty, and vulnerability of the craft.

How did the Submarine Change Warfare?

  • Surveillance and information gathering
  • Communication of data
  • Landing of special operations forces
  • Attack of land targets
  • Protection of task forces and merchant shipping
  • Denial of sea areas to an enemy