Chief of Naval Operations
Submarine Warfare Division

The Saga of the Submarine
Early Years to the Beginning of Nuclear Power

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Holland and Lake were at odds in developing their submarine concepts . Lake experimented with boats that ascended vertically according to negative or positive buoyancy controlled by pumps and tanks.

Holland’s boats were given neutral buoyancy by admitting water to balance the weight of the boat with the weight of water it displaced. With diving planes and a constant source of power, Holland’s boat could dive and surface on diagonal lines. Holland’s principle, with some alternatives for fast diving and surfacing, is still used by modern submarines.
USS Holland
USS Holland at the Naval Academy,
Annapolis, MD

A later crew of the USS Holland. Left to right are: Harry Wahab, chief gunner's mate; Kane; Richard O. Williams, chief electrician; Chief Gunner Owen Hill, commanding; Igoe; Michael Malone; Barnett Bowie, chief machinist mate; Simpson; Rhinelander.

For all its innovations, USS Holland had at least one major flaw; lack of vision when submerged. The submarine had to broach the surface so the crew could look out through windows in the conning tower. Broaching deprived the Holland of one of the submarine’s greatest advantages – stealth. Lack of vision when submerged was eventually corrected when Simon Lake used prisms and lenses to develop the omniscope, forerunner of the periscope. Sir Howard Grubb, designer of astronomical instruments, developed the modern periscope that was first used in Holland-designed British Royal Navy submarines. For more than 50 years, the periscope was the submarine’s only visual aid until underwater television was installed aboard the nuclear powered submarine USS Nautilus.

USS Stingray (SS 13)
USS Stingray SS 13

In 1912 the U.S. Navy replaced its submarine gasoline engines with safer and more efficient diesel engines. The oil-burning diesel engine required no complicated ignition, or sparking systems, and it produced fewer noxious fumes. The USS Skipjack (SS-24) and USS Sturgeon (SS-25) were the first U.S. submarines equipped with diesel propulsion.

The diesel engine and the electric battery remained the power source for submarines until nuclear power was introduced in the 1950’s. While many modern submarines are still diesel powered, nuclear power has become the propulsion system of choice in US submarine construction. The British Royal Navy’s submarine force is also entirely nuclear-powered. The French, Russian, and Chinese Navies use nuclear propulsion for some of their submarines.

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