The invention of the submarine has opened up the mysterious ocean depths for exploration. The previously unseen depths of the ocean are now available to us for study and investigation. Since the first submarine was launched more than 100 years ago, our knowledge of our planet, and especially of our oceans, has increased dramatically. With the ability to dive to depths of 9000 metres, the most sophisticated submarines can withstand water pressures that could crush even the deepest-diving whales. Slowly but surely, submarines are helping to held light on the mysterious underwater world.

Submarine(127189)Credit: Wikimedia

The First Submarine

The first submarine was created in the 1620s and launched in the River Thames in London. The crude vessel was just an enclosed rowing boat that was covered in a coating of greased leather. Pipes led up to the surface which the crew breathed through, and moved the submarine by pulling oars that protruded out of the submarine through flexible leather seals. Pigskin bladders were attached to the breathing pipes and were used to raise the sub to the surface by filling them with air. The submarine was such a success that King James I travelled aboard it.

The Mechanics of Submarines

How do Submarines Sink and Rise?

Submarines have an outer and inner hull between which water can be pumped in and out. When water is pumped into this section between the two hulls, the submarine become denser than the water around it, and sinks. When the water is pumped out, the submarine becomes lighter, and floats back up to the surface of the water. When diving, values at the top of the submarine are opened, releasing the air in between the two hulls and is replaces by water, allowing the submarine to submerge. To resurface, compressed air is pumped into the space between the two hulls, forcing the sea water out of the opening at the bottom of the submarine. As the air replaces the water, the submarine become buoyant and floats up to the surface. Hydroplanes on the side of the submarine are used like aeroplane wings to control and navigate the submarine’s direction while travelling through the deep water.

Periscopes on Submarines

Periscopes allow the crew of a submarine to scan the surface of the ocean while remaining hidden beneath the surface. A simple periscope consists of two mirrors at opposites ends of a tube. The mirrors are angled at 45 degrees, allowing light to reflect from the top to the bottom of the tube. Nowadays, modern naval submarines are equipped with periscopes that use digital cameras, night vision and infrared technology.

Submarine Facts

In 1958 the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, successfully travelled under the North Pole. Unlike Antarctica, which is a solid land mass, the North Pole and Arctic region is a giant floating mass of ice. It took the Nautilus 96 hours and travelled close to 3000 kilometres under the ice, finally surfacing in the Greenland Sea.

In 1960 the U.S.S. George Washington was the first submarine to fire a missile from a submerged position and in the same year the U.S.S. Triton became the first vessel to circumnavigate the world while submerged.

The first submarine used in combat was invented in 1773 by David Bushnell, an American. This vessel was small and egg-shaped, made out of wood and was operated by one man who turned a propeller. The submarine was able to submerge by admitting water, and then it would surface  by forcing out the water with a hand pump.

Artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci developed plans for an underwater warship but kept them secret, fearing that it would make wars even more terrible.

The CSS Hunley was the first submarine to sink another vessel in combat. 

People who work aboard submarines are called Submariners, and are the most heavily cross-trained personnel in the entire US military. That is because if there is an emergency on board the submarine, everyone must know how to do everyone else's job. That means that a nuclear-reactor operator has to also know how to fire a missile, send a radio message, navigate and control the submarine, or contain a leak or fix an electrical problem.  

Becoming a Submariner is always voluntary, and potential candidates are assessed for any claustrophobic tendencies or fears, and have to undergo extensive psychological testing and analysis to see if they are suited to living in close accommodations underwater for what could be long periods of time.

Submarines are painted black because underwater it acts as a camouflage. Underwater, a black submarine will bend into the darkness, which helps to avoid being detected by the enemy.

Today the US submarines are all nuclear powered and can hold more that 100 crew members. They can also travel to more than 244 metres (800 feet) below the surface of the water, but the precise depth range of each submarine is unknown due to it being classified information.