Nautilus (1800 submarine)

Nautilus (1800 submarine)
Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France
Name: Nautilus
Laid down: Perrier boatyard in Rouen
General characteristics
Length: 21 ft, 3in
Beam: 6ft. 4 in.
Propulsion: Hand-cranked screw propeller or Sail (when surfaced)
The Nautilus (1800).

Nautilus, first tested in 1800, is often considered the first practical submarine, though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel's of 1620.[1]:1-8



The Nautilus was designed between 1793 and 1797 [1]:36 by the American inventor Robert Fulton, then 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.[1]:37


Fulton built the first Nautilus at the Perrier boatyard in Rouen of copper sheets over iron ribs. It was 21 ft, 3 in (6.47m) long and 6ft 4in (1.93m) 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.[1]:37[1]:42

Nautilus was first tested, with constant success, in dives in the Seine near Rouen 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 (110m) course two minutes faster. During this time he changed the rudder, and the screw propeller to one with four vanes like a windmill.[1]:38

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, to consist of Volney, Monge, and Laplace.

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 ft3 (5.7m3) 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 (38mm) 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.[1]:41

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.[1]:42

The overseeing committee enthusiastically recommended the building of two brass subs, 36 ft (11m) long, 12 ft (3.7m) 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.[1]:43

Planned second vessel

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

Though knowing the French had no further interest, the British preferred to keep a control on this dangerous device by paying Fulton £800 to come to England (to which had been going before France) and develop a second Nautilus for them. Once there, they focused him on carcasses, with which he neatly blew up the brig Dorothea off Walmer Castle in October 1805. 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.[1]:43-49

These show that his British Nautilus was planned as a 35 ft (11m) long, 10 ft (3.0m) 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.[1]:49-50

See also

Media related to Fulton Nautilus submarine at Wikimedia Commons

Later Mentions

James McGee used Robert Fulton's experiments in submarine warfare as a major plot element in his novel Ratcatcher. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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