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Submarine

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The [[USS Los Angeles (SSN-688)Enlarge

The [[USS Los Angeles (SSN-688)

|USS Los Angeles]]

A submarine is a specialized boat that travels under water, usually for military or scientific purposes. Most major navies of the world employ submarines. Submarines are also used for marine and freshwater science and for work at depths too great for human divers. U-boat is the abbreviation of Unterseeboot, the German name for German submarines (first commissioned in WWI). Another underwater device for use in underwater exploration and salvage is the diving bell.

Table of contents
1 Scientific and commercial submarines
2 Military submarines
3 History of submarines
4 Submarine based movies
5 Related topics
6 References

Scientific and commercial submarines

In common usage, submarine normally connotes military submarine; vessels used for research or commercial purposes are usually called submersibles. Non-military submarines are usually much smaller than military submarines. A type called a bathysphere lacks self-propulsion. A predecessor of the bathysphere, the diving bell, consisted of a chamber, with an open bottom, lowered into the water.

Tourist submarines work mainly in tropical resort areas. In 1996, there were over fifty private submarines operating around the world, serving approximately two million passengers that year. Most of these submarines carried between twenty-five and fifty passengers at a time and sometimes made ten or more dives a day. In design, these submarines borrow mainly from research subs, having large windows for passengers' viewing and often placing significant mechanical systems outside the hull to conserve interior space. Nonetheless, even the seating aboard tourist submarines can be rather cramped. They are mainly battery-powered and very slow.

<em>Los Angeles</em>Enlarge

Los Angeles

-class nuclear powered military submarine of the United States Navy]]

A fairly recent development, very small unmanned submarines called marine remotely operated vehicles are widely used today to work in water too deep or too dangerous for divers. For example, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) repair offshore petroleum platforms and attach cables to sunken ships to hoist them. Such remotely operated vehicles are attached by a tether (a thick cable providing power and communications) to control center on a ship. Operators on the ship see video images sent back from the robot and may control its propellers and manipulator arm. The wreck of the Titanic was explored by such a vehicle, as well as a manned vessel.

Military submarines

There are probably more military submarines in operation than any other type of submarine, though it is difficult to obtain exact figures because navies are secretive about their submarine fleets.

Submarines are useful to a military because they can approach their attack victim without necessarily being detected, then strike at close range. A great deal of attention in the design of a submarine is devoted to making its travel through the water silent to prevent its detection by enemy ships and submarines.

Modern submarines are cigar-shaped. This design, officially called a "teardrop hull", was patterned after the bodies of whales. It significantly decreases the friction between the water and the sub, and allows the sub to go much faster than earlier designs. The USS Albacore was the first vessel to use a teardrop hull. With nuclear power they can remain submerged nearly all of the time, surfacing only rarely.

A raised tower on top of a submarine accommodates the length of the periscopes and electronics masts, which can include radio, radar, electronic warfare, and other systems. In the obsolete boat-shaped classes of submarines (see history, below), the control room, or conn, was located inside this tower, which was known as the conning tower. Since that time, however, conn has been located within the main body of the submarine, and the tower is more commonly called the sail today. In another interpretation, conning tower comes from the English verb to con, which means to navigate, indicating the presence of navigational systems in the conning tower. The conn should not be confused with the bridge, which is a small platform set into the top of the sail used for visual observation while running on the surface.

Modern submarines use an Inertial guidance system for navigation whilst submerged, however, drift error build up over time is unavoidable. To counter this, the global positioning system will be occasionally used to obtain an accurate position. The periscope is only used occasionally, since the range of visibility below the sea is short.

A typical military submarine has a crew of over one hundred. Their job is one of the most difficult assignments in the navy, for they must work in isolation for long periods, without much contact with their families, since submarines normally maintain radio silence to avoid detection. Operating a submarine is dangerous, even in peacetime; many submarines have been lost in accidents (see history, below).

Types of military submarines

Military submarines come in two general types: ballistic-missile submarines and attack submarines. (Outside these categories may fall the many smaller midget submarines, used for sabotage, espionage and secretive transport. Note that North Korea's submarine fleet, estimated as the fourth-largest in the world in the 1990s, consists largely of smaller vessels. Also outside the two categories fall the World War II German milch cow submarines: submersible supply vessels.)

Ballistic missile submarines (or boomers, in American slang) carry nuclear weapons in the missiles for attacking strategic targets such as cities or missile silos anywhere in the world. They are universally nuclear-powered, to provide the greatest stealthiness and endurance. They played an important part in Cold War mutual deterrence: since both the United States and the Soviet Union had the capability (or could contend to have) to heavily strike at the attacking nations should one attack the other, both nations were "deterred". The People's Republic of China also possesses one ballistic missile submarine (Xia class). The American George Washington-class "boomers" were named for "famous Americans" and the later Ohio-class were named for states, with the exceptions that some of the "famous Americans" were foreigners and SSBN-730 gained the name of a Senator.

Submarines designed for the purpose of attacking merchant ships or other warships are known as attack or hunter-killer submarines. They typically carry torpedoes for attacking naval vessels, and sometimes cruise missiles for attacking land-based targets or shipping. They use a much wider variety of propulsion systems. The majority use the same diesel-electric combination developed early in the 20th century, many use nuclear power, and a growing number use some other form of air-independent propulsion such as fuel cells or Stirling engines. All of the attack submarines of the United States use nuclear power. All American attack submarines (that had actual names rather than just alphanumeric designators) were named for "denizens of the deep" until the Los Angeles class, which are named for cities -- with the exceptions of several named for politicians, and the new Seawolf class, which received the traditional name for the first, a state name for the second and a presidential name for the third.

History of submarines

Submarines have been in use for a long time, but as technology has improved, their role has changed drastically. The common feature has always been their stealth, cloaked by miles of ocean. Even with modern detection systems, submarines can still travel almost invisibly.

Early submarines

A cross-section sketch of Bushnell's TurtleEnlarge

A cross-section sketch of Bushnell's Turtle

Though the first submersible vehicles were tools for exploring under water, it did not take long for inventors to recognize their military potential. The first military submarine was the Turtle, a hand-powered spherical contraption designed by American David Bushnell that accommodated a single man. During the American Revolutionary War, the Turtle attempted and failed to sink a British warship, the HMS Eagle in New York harbor on September 7, 1776.

In 1800, Robert Fulton demonstrated to the French, and then to the British, how to destroy ships with his human-powered submarine Nautilus using a mine, but none of the governments showed any interest.

During the American Civil War, the Union was the first to field a submarine. The USS Alligator was the first U.S. Navy sub and the first sub to feature compressed air or air filtration. It was the first submarine to carry a diver lock which allowed a diver to exit to plant electrically-detonated mines on enemy ships. Initially powered by oars, it was later converted to a screw-propeller. With a crew of 20, it was far larger than Confederate submarines. The Alligator was 47 feet (14.3 meters) long and about 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter. It was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras on April 1, 1863 while uncrewed and under tow to its first combat deployment at Charleston.

The Confederate States of America fielded several human-powered submarines including the CSS Hunley. The first Confederate submarine was the 30-foot long Pioneer which sank a target schooner using a towed mine during tests on Lake Pontchartrain but it was not used in combat. It was scuttled after New Orleans was captured and in 1868 was sold for scrap.

The CSS Hunley was used for attacking the North's ships, which were blockading the South's seaports. The submarine had a long pole on the front, upon which was attached an explosive charge. The sub was to sneak up to an enemy vessel, attach the explosive, move away, and then detonate. It was extremely hazardous to operate, and had no air supply other than what was contained inside the main compartment. On two occasions, the sub sank; on the first ocasion half the crew died and on the second, the entire eight-man crew perished. In February 18, 1864 the CSS Hunley sank the USS Housatonic in the Charleston Harbor, the first time a submarine successfully sank another ship. The Hunley did not survive its maiden mission and was not a major factor in the war. Another Confederate submarine was lost on its maiden voyage in Lake Pontchartrain; it was found washed ashore in the 1870s and is now on display at the Louisiana State Museum.

The first mechanically powered submarine was the peroxide driven Ictineo II, launched in 1864 by NarcĂ­s Monturiol. This submarine was originally built to ease the harvest of coral.

In 1870, writer Jules Verne published the science fiction classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which concerns the adventures of a maverick inventor in the Nautilus, a submarine more advanced than any that existed at that time. The fictional story inspired inventors to build more advanced submarines.

In 1879, a Manchester curate, the Reverend George Garrett built the steam-powered 'Resurgam' at Birkenhead. Garrett intended to demonstrate the 12 metre long vehicle to the British Navy at Portsmouth, but had mechanical problems, and while under tow the submarine was flooded and sank off North Wales.

The first submarine built in series, however, was human-powered. It was the submarine of the Polish inventor Stefan Drzewiecki - 50 units were built in 1881 for Russian government. In 1884 the same inventor built an electric-powered submarine. In 1899, the French steam and electric submarine Narval introduced the classic twin-hull design, with an inner hull inside an outer hull.

The Irish inventor John Holland had better luck, and designed and built several quite successful gasoline- and electric powered submarines. Some of his vessels were purchased by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, and commissioned into their navies.

The Spanish inventor Isaac Peral built a practical submarine in 1888, but despite of the success of the trials, the Spanish Navy scrapped the project.

Early SubmarinesEnlarge

Early Submarines

Many more submarines were built subsequently by various inventors, but they were not to become effective weapons until the 20th century. Both battery power and gasoline power were tried.

Submarines during the World Wars

The first military submarines to see effective use were the U-boats of Germany, first introduced in the First Battle of the Atlantic in World War I. The innovation that made the U-boats practical war machines was their use of diesel. More like submersible ships than the submarines of today, U-boats operated primarily on the surface, submerging occasionally to attack. Thus, they were roughly triangular in cross-section, with a distinct keel, to control rolling while surfaced. The sinking of the ocean liner RMS Lusitania by a U-boat was a major factor in bringing the United States of America into the war.

Germany again put submarines to devastating effect against the merchant ships of the United Kingdom and the United States in the Second Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. Although the U-boats were improved, the main reason for their success was the introduction of mass-attack tactics called a pack (in German, Rudel) commonly traveled and fought together. (The term is often translated as "wolf-pack", but the German word does not specify wolves.) Germany attempted to maintain a blockade against the United Kingdom, which because of its reliance on imports for food and industry was extremely vulnerable. Winston Churchill wrote that the U-boat threat was the only thing that ever gave him cause to doubt the Allies' eventual victory.

During World War II the Japanese intended their submarines to be scouts. The submarines were fast, large, could operate over 100 days and many carried an aircraft with them. However they lacked radar, were not very maneuverable under water and due to their weak hull they could not dive deep. At the end of the war, the submarines were used to transport supplies to island garrisons.

Meanwhile the US used their submarines to attack merchant shipping, destroying more Japanese shipping than all other weapons combined. While the British and Japanese also fielded attack submarines, they were used in fleet actions where they were almost useless due to their low speeds.

Diesel-fuelled submarines needed air to run their diesel engines, thus they carried very large batteries for submerged travel. These batteries limited the speed and range of the submarines while submerged. The schnorkel was used to allow German submarines to run just under the surface, attempting to avoid detection visually and by radar. The German navy experimented with engines that would carry peroxide to allow diesel fuel to be used while submerged, but technical difficulties made this infeasible. On the other side, the Allies experimented with a variety of detection systems, including chemical sensors to "smell" the exhaust of submarines.

Modern submarines

In the 1950s, nuclear power partially replaced diesel fuel in those nations with access to nuclear technology. Equipment was also developed to extract oxygen from sea water. These two innovations gave submarines so equipped the ability to remain submerged for weeks or months, and enabled previously impossible voyages such as USS Nautilus's crossing of the North pole beneath the Arctic ice cap in 1958. Most of the naval submarines built since that time in the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia have been powered by nuclear fission reactors. Use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuel enables submarines to travel around the world submerged and essentially hidden for months at a time. The most limiting factors in the length of time staying submerged now are food supply and willingness of the crew to remain in the space-limited submarine.

While the greater endurance and performance from nuclear reactors mean that nuclear submarines are the norm, conventional diesel-electric submarines have continued to be produced by both nuclear and non-nuclear powers. Conventional submarines are cheaper to build. When running on batteries they are often quieter than nuclear submarines, giving a tactical advantage.

During the Cold War, the United States of America and the Soviet Union maintained large submarine fleets that engaged in cat-and-mouse games; Russia continues this tradition today. The Soviet Union suffered the loss of at least four submarines during this period: K-129 was lost in 1968, K-8 in 1970, K-219 in 1986, and Komsomolets in 1989 (which held a depth record among the military submarines - 1000 m). Many other Soviet subs, such as K-19 were badly damaged by fire or radiation leaks. The United States lost two nuclear submarines during this time: USS Thresher (SSN-593) and USS Scorpion (SSN-589).

The United Kingdom employed nuclear-powered submarines against Argentina in 1982 during the two nations' dispute over the Falkland Islands. The sinking of the antiquated ARA General Belgrano by HMS Conqueror was the first sinking by a nuclear-powered submarine in wartime.

In 2000, a Russian Oscar II-class submarine (which is the world's largest cruise-missile submarine), the Kursk, sank in the Barents Sea when a leak of hydrogen peroxide in a torpedo made it blow inside. In 2001, the American submarine USS Greeneville accidentally struck and sank a Japanese ship, Ehime-Maru, killing nine Japanese crewmen. In August 2003, the Russian nuclear November class submarine K-159 sank in the Barents Sea. The submarine was decommissioned, and it had only ten crew on board.

Submarine based movies

A number of films have been inspired by the danger, drama and claustrophobia of being on a submarine, and the suspense of the cat and mouse game of submarine warfare. Titles include:

Related topics

Articles on specific vessels

See also: List of submarines of the Royal Navy, List of submarines of the United States Navy, List of U-boats

Articles on specific submarine classes

See also: List of Soviet and Russian submarine classes, List of submarine classes of the Royal Navy, List of United States submarine classes

References