Submarines in Art

Submarines have fascinated the world for centuries. The idea of underwater travel has been apart of most of record history. In 1776, the Turtle became the first submersible to perform an attack on another vessel. During the Civil War, the H.L Hunley sank the Housatonic. As diesel power grew, so did submarines. They became an essential part of the Navy, providing defense to the American coastlines and shipping lanes during WWI. During WWII, submarines sank one-third of the Imperial Navy. The 1950’s saw the birth of nuclear-powered submarines and a complete change to how the submarine force operated. The submarine force is also known as the silent service – the inner working of the force is a secret, classified to those who aren’t part of the crew. Artists over the years have tried to capture this secretive force, “drawn to its sleek yet hidden ship.” They try to capture the mystery of submarines in their work, giving us a glimpse under the water. Below you will find a collection of artworks from the NHHC Collection.

CSS H.L Hunley

Description: Drawing, Pen and Ink on Paper; R.G. Skerrett; 1902; Framed Dimensions 20H X 25W
Accession #: 45-125-P

A man stands in front of the USS Hunley

H L Hunley, a small hand-powered submarine, was built privately at Mobile, Alabama, in 1863, based on plans furnished by Horace Lawson Hunley, James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson. Her construction was sponsored by Mr. Hunley and superintended by Confederate officers W. A. Alexander and G. E. Dixon. Following trails in Mobile Bay, she was transported to Charleston, South Carolina, in August 1863 to serve in the defense of that port. On February 17, 1864, she was part of blockade duty off Charleston, approached the steam sloop of war USS HOUSATONIC and detonated a spar torpedo against her side. The Federal ship sank rapidly, becoming the first warship to be lost to a submarine attack. However, H L HUNLEY did not return from this mission, and was presumed lost with all hands. Her fate remained a mystery for over 131 years, until May 1995, when a search led by author Clive Cussler located her wreck. In August 2000, following extensive preliminary work, H L HUNLEY was raised and taken to a conservation facility at the former Charleston Naval Base.

USS Barracuda in Drydock at Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire

Description: Drawing, Pen and Ink on Paper; by Vernon Howe Bailey; 1941; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W
Accession #: 88-165-CB

A submarine at dry dock with scaffolding and work crews along the side

After thirteen years of service beginning in 1924, USS BARRACUDA was decommissioned in 1937 and placed in the reserves. The submarine was recommissioned in 1940. The submarine is seen in a drydock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard before it left the Yard in March of 1941 to join Submarine Division 71 operating in the New England area. Established by the Federal Government in 1800, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) launched its first product, the 74-gun warship USS Washington, in 1815. During World War I, the PNSY workforce expanded to nearly 5,000. At this time, PNSY took on a new and important role—the construction of submarines—in addition to the overhaul and repair of surface vessels. World War II saw the civilian employment rolls swell to over 25,000. Over the course of World War II over 70 submarines were constructed at PNSY, with a record four submarines launched on one day. Following World War II, PNSY was the Navy’s center for submarine design and development. PNSY continued to build submarines until 1969, when the last submarine built in a public shipyard, the nuclear powered USS Sand Lance, was launched. Today the Shipyard continues the tradition of excellence and service to the Navy and the nation by supplying the U.S Navy’s submarine fleet with high quality, affordable, overhaul, refueling and modernization work.

All Hands Below, USS Dorado

Description: Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Georges Schreiber; 1943; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W
Accession #: 88-159-IU as a Gift of Abbott Laboratories, Inc.

Sailors at a table relaxing they are next to two torpedoes

Relieving the tension of hours below surface, crewmen on board a U.S. Navy submarine play a round of cards while a shipmate kibitzes from his bunk. While pondering his cards, each player also listens for the call to battle stations. In the foreground, the bulbous warheads of twin torpedoes seem to peer balefully in quest of targets.

USS Nautilus 

Description: Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Albert K. Murray; C. 1957; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W
Accession #: 88-195-HL

Men in a small boat approach a submarine on the surface

On 17 January 1955 U.S.S. Nautilus (SSN-571) signaled the attainment of the long-anticipated goal of “underway with nuclear power.” Nautilus is called the first “true submarine” because it was capable of operating for long periods without frequent contact with the surface and air of the above world

Loading Fish, USS Seacat

Description: Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Salvatore Indiviglia; 1960; Framed Dimensions 29H X 42W
Accession #: 88-161-UI

A crew on the deck of a submarine are maneuvering a torpedo

Sailors gently lower 4000 pounds of torpedoes into the submarine Seacat (SS 399) in July 1960. In this era of Cold War tensions, Seacat helped keep watch of the United States southern coast and in the Caribbean. A torpedo, or “fish”, is being loaded into USS Seacat (SS-399) in preparation for an exercise off Naval Station, Key West. The men pull and strain, hold and release their lines so that the 4000 pound bomb is safely lowered below.

Trident, The Black Knight

Description: Painting, Oil on Masonite; by John Charles Roach; 1984; Framed Dimensions 34H X 44W
Accession #: 88-163-CU

A submarine is tied up to pier that is in a building

USS Michigan (SSBN-727) rests quietly at the US Naval Base at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1988, waiting to be replenished for sea.

These artists were able to provide a glimpse of the submarine force through a medium many might not expect.

To check out the rest of the collection visit the View From the Periscope exhibit page at https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/art/exhibits/communities/a-view-from-the-periscope.html

Do you have a favorite piece of submarine art?

 

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