10 Most Famous Submarines

9. U-boats


The Treaty of Versailles limited the number of a German surface navy. Therefore, the rebuilding of the German navy involved mainly the building of Unterseeboot (undersea boat) which is anglicized into U-boat. The newly created U-boat navy was one of the least politically Nazi in all German army. Before and during the World War II, more than a thousand U-boats were built with the sole purpose of defeating the Royal Navy through underwater warfare and commerce raiding. Despite the esteemed leadership of the Fleet Admiral Karl Döenitz (above), mass attacks (Rudeltaktik) and the coded communications through Enigma machine, U-boats failed to cut off Britain’s trade supply routes.


 8. Turtle


Although there were no substantiated accounts of its role in Battle of Kip’s Bay, Turtle was considered the first submarine used in battle. Designed in Connecticut in 1775 by American David Bushell, Turtle was funded by George Washington (although he doubted its military importance). Unlike the modern submarines, unshapely Turtle was to drill into another ship’s hull and plant a gunpowder keg there. About 8 feet long, 6 feet tall, and 3 feet wide, it is only big enough to contain a person (and contained air only for thirty minutes) who also has to propel it with hand-cranked propellers-the first recorded use of the screw propeller for ships. On September 7, 1776, Turtle attacked British Admiral Howe’s flagship HMS Eagle, but failed because of Eagle’s think copper-sheet hull and of the stability issues.


7. Plongeur


Designed by Captain Siméon Bourgeois, Plongeur (Diver) was the first submarine to be propelled by mechanical (rather than human) power. Between its launching in April 1863 and its eventual sinking a decade later, Plongeur was involved in many underwater experiments that greatly improved the later submarine designs especially concerning the stability of the vessels.  Plongeur dove to a maximum depth of 10 metres.


6. Drebbel’s submarine


The world’s first submarine was designed by a Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel. The court inventor for England’s James I, Drebbel was trying to convince the Royal Navy that this was the vessel of the future, and this he demonstrated in 1602 up the Thames River. Drebbel took a fishing boat, built a wooden roof over it, and covered everything with greased leather. It was powered by twelve oarsmen, who breathed air that came through a snorkel tube. King James himself even took a ride inside one of Drebbel’s later submarines. However, the Royal Navy wasn’t convinced that a vessel that traveled underwater could have any military use, and Drebbel died in poverty. It would take three hundred more years for the Royal Navy to change their minds.


5. U-96, Das Boot


Based on a novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, 1981 Wolfgang Petersen movie Das Boot made U-96-the title U-boat-almost synonymous with submarine warfare. The movie follows a single mission of the U-boat through the eyes of a war correspondent Lt. Werner. Juxtaposing claustrophobic interior of the vessel, monotony of day-to-day life in a submarine and the exciting alternative a battle offers to that monotony, Petersen paints a strong anti-war message through this “journey to the edge of the mind” (in German, Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes).


4. Red October


Based on two real-life deflection-related incidents, Tom Clancy’s highly successful debut novel The Hunt for Red October is about the deflection plans of a submarine captain Marko Ramius. The eponymous Red October is an experimental Typhoon class nuclear submarine equipped with a stealth propulsion system that renders sonar detection near-impossible. The propulsion system, nicknamed “Caterpillar Drive”, utilized a pumpjet system. Unlike its real-life counterparts, Ramius’ defection plans were successful, and Red October was delivered into American hands at the end of the novel. 


3. USS Nautilus


In 1951, the US Congress authorized the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine and three years later, USS Nautilus-the word’s first nuclear-powered submarine-was launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. On 9 June 1958, departing the Pacific coast, she began her history-making voyage-Operation Sunshine. After a long await at Pearl Harbor for better Arctic weather, Nautilus became the first vessel to reach the geographic North Pole on 3 August and the first to voyage across the North Pole submerged on 7 August. Because gyro- and magnetic compasses become inaccurate above 85 degrees N, a special gyrocompass was built, and the captain was authorized to use torpedos to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to surface. In later years, Nautilus became ineffective as it generated more noise through vibrations of the hull. The Navy retired the ship and it is now a museum of submarine history.


2. USS Triton

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In the dramatic age of nuclear submarine, USS Triton set numerous records. At the time of her commissioning in 1959, Triton was the largest, most powerful, and most expensive submarine ever built, costing over 100 million dollars. Also, it is the only non-Soviet submarine to be powered by two nuclear reactors, and also the first U.S. nuclear submarine to be taken out of service. However, every record pales in comparison with her monumental Operation Sandblast-a submerged circumnavigation of the Earth. On 16th February 1960, Triton began its voyage patterned after the first circumnavigation led by Magellan.  It arrived back on 10 May 1960, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced its successful voyage at the White House. However, by this time, because of the public uproar over the U-2 Incident, most of the official celebrations for its circumnavigation were already canceled. Antigua and Barbuda issued a stamp commemorating its circumnavigation (above).


1. Nautilus


Named after Robert Fulton’s Nautilus, (the first practical submarine, invented in 1800), Nautilus is more than a plot device is Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Double hulled and separated into water-tight compartments, Nautilus can travel 50 knots and displaces 1500 cubic meters of water-a feat undreamt of when Verne published his novel in 1870. Nautilus uses a technique called “hydroplaning” to dive down in warped angles and powerful pumps that produce large jets of water when the vessel emerges rapidly from the surface of the water. It is driven by electricity through sodium-mercury batteries and was built piecemeal on a deserted island by its crew commandeered by one Captain Nemo, of indeterminate age and nationality.   



Bonus: Yellow Submarine


“Yellow Submarine” is a 1966 song by The Beatles (credited to Lennon/McCartney). It also became the title song for the 1968 animated United Artists film, also named Yellow Submarine, and the film’s soundtrack. The film is about Pepperland, a cheerful music-loving paradise under the sea, protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which falls under a surprise attack by the music-hating Blue Meanies. The film was based on many musical pieces by The Beatles. Paul McCartney was inspired by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner,  and originally conceived it as being about differently coloured submarines, but evolved to include only a yellow one. In 2005, a 51-foot long yellow submarine metal sculpture was placed outside Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport.

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