Friday, 18 December 2015

Military History Photo Friday: What's this Bizarre Contraption?

Photo courtesy Marcin Szala
This photo was taken in the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany. What do you think it is? An old boiler they took out of the basement and were too lazy to send to the scrapheap? An unfinished Panzer tank? The world's ugliest recycling bin?

Nope, it's one of the world's first submarines. It's the Brandtaucher (“Incendiary Diver”), built in 1850 by the Germans to stop the Danish Navy from blockading German ports. It's as big and clunky as it looks, measuring 26 ft. 6 in. (8 meters) in length, with a beam of 6 ft. 8 in. (2 meters) and a height of 8 ft. 8 in. (2.6 meters).

Below is a sketch from an 1896 book showing how it operated. The crew walked on a treadmill to turn the propeller, while ballast came from letting water into the space below them. This made the sub heavier than the surrounding water and let it submerge. The water could then be pumped out, reducing the weight and making the submarine go to the surface.

One fault of the design was not having sealed ballast tanks. Instead the water sloshed around at the bottom of the interior, causing the sub to become unstable. This is what probably made it sink before it could attack any ships. The crew was able to escape and swim to safety by opening the hatch. This caused water to rush in, increasing the air pressure and shooting them out of the hatch, from where they could swim to the surface. The sub was raised in 1887 and has been on display ever since.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is clunky. I'd be nervous in a sub filled with water.

Sean McLachlan said...

It is a wee bit counter intuitive, isn't it?

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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