Archive for May, 2018

U.S.S Triton

Throughout history, civilization has been fascinated with what lies beyond what the eye can see. This idea that there is always more to explore led many explorers to the edge of the earth- and beyond. When Galileo announced that the world was round and not flat, a new challenge came into existence. The race was on to see who could circumnavigate the globe and in the fastest time. In 1960, a newly built nuclear submarine followed in the steps of explorers like Magellan to become the first nuclear submarine to circumnavigate the globe.

Born in 1480, Ferdinand Magellan is known for being the first to circumnavigate the world. The Portuguese explorer was living in Spain in 1519 when King Charles I of Spain agreed to fund Magellan on his mission to explore the world. On September 20, 1519, Magellan and his fleet of five ships and 200 men set sail. By November 20th, the crews had crossed the equator and stopped in Brazil to resupply in December. In a search for a passage that connected oceans, Magellan’s fleet continued down the coast of South America. The trip was a difficult one with food and water scarce at times. While in port at St. Julian, in April of 1520 three of the captains on the mission called their crews to mutiny. Magellan crushed the rebellion with the loyal crew continuing the journey. Near Santa Cruz, one of the vessels was wrecked during a scouting mission. On October 21, 1520, Magellan found what he was searching for. A passage that would connect the oceans. The passageway would eventually be named the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America. Another ship was lost at this time when it deserted the mission after entering the passage. By this point only three of the five ships remained, the Trindad, Concepcion, and Victoria. On November 8, 1520, the three ships reached the “Sea of the South” now known as the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, Magellan would not get to see his journey come to fruition. It is recorded that, “Throughout the Philippine Islands, Magellan and his men regularly interacted with the natives. At Cebú. The native chief, his wife, and several of the natives were baptized and converted to Christianity. Because of this, Magellan thought he could convince other native tribes to convert. But not all interactions with the natives were friendly. Chief Datu Lapu Lapu of the Mactan Island rejected conversion. So, Magellan took a group of about 60 men to attack Mactan. The Mactan’s had about 1500 men. On April 27, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was killed during battle on the Philippine Islands. The Trinidad and Victoria soon made it to the Spice Islands. The Trinidad needed much repair. So, the Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano continued on. On December 21,1521, the Victoria sailed across the Indian Ocean to Spain. September 6, 1522, they arrived with only 18 men at Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the coast of Spain.” Despite Magellan’s death, the trip was completed in his name, leaving him as the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. His discoveries during the voyage allowed for a greater understanding of the earth, new passageways, and the understanding of “trade winds” that allowed for better and safer voyages.

After Magellan’s journey, the question went from wondering if one could go around the world to how fast one could do so. Jules Verne addressed this question in his 1873 work, Around the world in 80 Days. It would be less than a century later, when the U.S. Navy would once again use something of Verne’s as a milestone. First, they named the first nuclear submarine Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In 1960, the U.S.S. Triton would beat Verne’s time of 80 days – and do it entirely underwater.

The U.S.S. Triton was commissioned in 1959. At the time, she was the largest, most powerful, and most expensive submarine ever built. She was 447 feet long and powered by two nuclear reactors. SSRN-586 would leave for an assigned shakedown like no other in 1960, named Operation Sandblast. Following the path of Magellan, Triton would map the ocean floor during her journey as well as deploy small buoys in order to trace the currents. Triton left her home port in New London on February 16th, 1960 with a stop at some small islands to mark the exact beginning of the trip. In just 60 days and 21 hours, Triton would make history, becoming the first submarine to circumnavigate the globe completely submerged. During the journey, the boat had to poke its sail out of the water just enough to let a sick crew member to be taken off. Despite this, the hull remained completely submerged during the entire trip.

Captain Beach mapping the circumnavigation. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Because it was known that his shakedown cruise would be different from others, the crew was given special instructions to document the trip in non-restricted and non-technical language. Efforts were taken to include descriptions and conversations of the crew’s morale during the trip- including stories about birth announcements received by crewmembers while away. These notes were donated by the family of CAPT Carl E. Pruett, USN, MC to an archive in order to preserve the historic journey. Below are two passages from the transcript:

Wednesday, 24 February 1960 (All times Papa, Time Zone Plus 3)
Today we expect to make our first landfall. This also will be the spot to which we shall return upon completion of our circumnavigation of the globe. Though the Sailing Directions describe St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks as bare and useless, interest has run high anyway.

Monday, 25 April 1960 (All times Zulu, GMT Zero) 0754
Crossed equator for the fourth and final time this cruise at longitude 28°-03 ? West. 1200 Position 00°-53’ North, 29°-01 f West. We are within a few miles of St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, at which point we will have completed the first submerged circumnaviga- tion of the world. It has taken us exactly 60 days by our reckoning, though as pre- viously stated a person marooned here would have counted 61. But the number of hours would have been the same. 1330 St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks in sight, bearing due west. 1500 First submerged circumnavigation of the world is now complete. We are circling and photographing the islet again, as we did just two months ago. The weather is nice and the sun is shining brightly. Our mileage (Rock to Rock) is 26,723 nautical miles and it has taken us 60 days and 21 hours (days calculated as 24 hours each). Dividing gives an average overall speed of just over 18 knots. No other ship – and no other crew could have done better. We are proud to have been selected to accomplish this under- taking for our Nation. Our total mileage for the trip will be a little more than 36, 000 nautical miles (including the 2, 000 -mile mercy mission for our ill crewman) and it now looks as though our over- all time since departure from New London will be 85 days (New London computation). We have been instructed to proceed to a rendezvous point off Cadiz, Spain where the destroyer WEEKS is to meet us. WEEKS will send aboard the completed bronze plaque we designed in tribute to Magellan, but it is our understanding it is to be presented at a later date, possibly by the U. S. Ambassador. For the time being we are still to avoid detection, making our rendezvous off Cadiz beyond sight of curious onlookers.

U.S.S Triton’s submerged circumnavigation stood as a testament to the ongoing military dominance of the U.S. Submarine Force. It also showed the scientific and engineering superiority that had been created by the nuclear propulsion program. Following in the footsteps of the brave explorers from centuries before, Triton’s mission takes its place among the true adventurous stories of sailing around the world.

Letter from Captain Beach to Commander Greene of the US Naval Institute in 1960 during Triton’s voyage. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Drebbel and the Rowboat Submarine



The modern submarine is an engineering marvel. Submarines are powerful underwater cities that can move undetected throughout the water. However, today’s silent giants are the result of centuries of hard work based off man’s thirst for knowledge. The idea for a submarine came from the need to understand and explore what lay beneath the surface of the water. What was lurking and what treasures could be found. In 1578, William Bourne designed the first known recorded plans for what would become a submarine. His design was a completely enclosed boat bound with waterproofed leather.

Bourne’s Design

It could be submerged and rowed beneath the surface. Unfortunately, Bourne’s design never became a tangible work. But it would inspire others including Cornelius Drebbel.

Cornelius Drebbel was born in Holland in 1572. In his early life he was said to have been an artist and engraver- a common profession for a Dutchman at this time. In 1604, he made his way to England with Hendrick Golzius who introduced him to alchemy. It was during this time that Drebbel began his career as an inventor.

Drebbel

He is credited with the invention of a perpetual motion machine, compound microscope and the mercury thermostat. In 1610 and again in 1619 he was invited to Prague to show his Perpetual Motion Machine which could tell the time, date and season. It was while working for the King of England and the Royal English Navy, that Drebbel began working on his concept for an underwater rowboat or submarine.  There is no surviving sketches of Drebbel’s 1620 submarine, and accounts are few. But from the ones available, it is said that the submarine was “covered in greased leather, with a watertight hatch in the middle, a rudder and four oars. Under the rowers’ seats were large pigskin bladders, connected by pipes to the outside. Rope was used to tie off the empty bladders. In order to dive, the rope was untied and the bladders filled. To surface the crew squashed the bladders flat, squeezing out the water. [1] In total, Drebbel would build three working submarines. The final model had six oars and could carry 16 men. To create an air supply, tubes were held above the water’s surface with floatation devices allowing the submarine to stay underwater for longer periods. Accounts suggest that the submarine could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back underwater. The trip took three hours with the boat traveling 15 feet below the surface.

Painting of Drebbel’s submarine in the Thames.

Over the centuries, scientists have questioned how Drebbel truly created a supply of fresh air on a submarine. While highly doubted, some suggest that he might have had the technology to generate oxygen from heated Potassium Nitrate. Drebbel’s work in alchemy could have led him to such a discovery, and his work with thermostats could have caused such a reaction. Along with the debate on fresh air, there is also debate over whether King James I rode in the third of the submarines built. It is believed that during a trip under the Thames in 1626, that the King may have been aboard. Despite the King’s interest in Drebbel’s work and a development period of 15 years, the Royal Navy would not move past the trial stages with the boat.

While a great inventor, the recognition for Drebbel’s work would not come until after his death. During his time in the English court, he was mainly used for his experience in alchemy and his knowledge of fireworks.  Despite his numerous patents for inventions that have ties to groundbreaking innovations, during his lifetime Drebbel experienced little fame or fortune. In 2001, a replica of the boat was built for BBC programming by boat builder Mark Edwards. Edwards was to closely follow the possible techniques used by Drebbel in creating the craft. A crew of two, using oars with folding leather blades, operated the boat. The oars were fitted with greased leather seals, which were clamped to the hull to prevent water from entering. Lead weights were used to ensure that the craft would stay partially submerged. Water was pumped though ballast tanks to keep her at a constant depth. Like the original, the two-man crew had to rely on a compass to navigate and used a large rudder for steering and braking. The vessel only had a half hour of breathable air before carbon dioxide levels became dangerous. Despite the abbreviated air supply, the replica proved that Drebbel’s design was functional and indeed the beginning of submarine development, securing Drebbel’s place in submarine history.

Replica of Drebbel’s submarine

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/drebbel_cornelis.shtml

Cape Cod and The Submarine

Orleans, Massachusetts is a quiet town in Cape Cod with a population a little over 5,000 and is known for its bass and blues fishing. Nauset Beach at the edge of town is today known as a great place for off-road-vehicle fans to drive through dunes and catch the sunset. But in 1918, Orleans became the site of something far less tranquil. Orleans, Massachusetts became the only part of the Continental United States to be attacked during World War I.

In July of 1918, the quiet town of Orleans was enjoying the hot summer on a Sunday morning. While great war was raging in Europe, those in Cape Cod truly felt that it was millions of miles away. Three miles off the coast of Nauset Beach, the tugboat Perth Amboy was pulling four barges in the morning fog. The U.S. Navy was aware that an attack could happen on the coast of New England. The German U-boat SM-U156 had been off the coast of the Eastern seaboard for some time. It was on July 21, 1918, when that fear of attack would come to fruition. According to “Attack on Orleans” author Jake Kilm, “Right around 10:30am, a deckhand on the Perth Amby sees something either skimming across the water or flying across the water. Just as he’s about to yell, ‘submarine’, a third projectile comes screaming through the sky and crashes right into the pilothouse.”[1]

 

Figure 1 Lifeboats being pulled in. https://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/single-post/2018/04/09/Attack-on-Orleans-Centennial-is-coming

There were 32 men, women and children aboard the tugboat and barges who were quickly moved to lifeboats as the shelling continued.  Kilm continued, saying, “The aim from the German guns apparently is not very good and some of these shells go wild and some actually land on the beach and the marshes, and that makes the event significant.” A crowd gathered along the beach to watch the event unfold. Twenty minutes after the incident had begun, a single Navy plane flew past, dropping a single bomb on the U-boat. Unfortunately, the bomb didn’t explode. Had it worked, the U-boat would have been in trouble.  A little while later, some more planes arrived dropping bombs near the U-boat’s location. This was enough to scare the German submarine away after 90 minutes of shelling.  By the time the lifeboats made it to shore, over a thousand people were on the beach. The news quickly reached Boston, when Dr. J Danforth Taylor called the Boston Globe and said, “This is Dr. Taylor of East Boston, I am at Nauset [Beach] on Cape Cod. There is a Submarine battle going on just off shore.”[2] To the tiny town, it was the most excitement they had ever seen.

Figure 2 One of the sunken barges. https://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/single-post/2018/04/09/Attack-on-Orleans-Centennial-is-coming

By the end, no one was killed and only two men were injured. Three of the four barges were left sunk. The Perth Amboy, while badly damaged, would be able to be repaired and keeping working. She would end up being sold to Great Britain during World War II and would help evacuate French citizens during the evacuation of Dunkirk. The SM U- 156 would eventually hit a mine of the coast of Norway while returning to Germany and sink to the bottom.  Before heading back, she would sink allied merchant ships off the coast of Maine and Canada for a few weeks.

The dramatic event on that Sunday morning would leave an impression on the tiny Cape town. The continental United States would not see another attack on its shores until September 11, 2001. World War I clearly showed the powerful capabilities submarines could have during wartime. Submarine development would quickly advance and by World War II, submarines would be powerful components for both the Allied and Axis sides of the war.

[1] https://news.wgbh.org/post/attack-orleans-when-world-war-i-hit-cape-cod

[2] https://www.boston.com/news/history/2017/07/21/99-years-ago-world-war-i-arrived-on-the-shores-of-cape-cod