1907 Defender Submarine Wreck: Inspired by Verne’s “Nautilus”


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Dart imitates life far more often than art imitates life. Writer Oscar Wilde elaborated on this thesis in an essay in 1889. A project that was created a few years after Wilde’s essay shows that this is certainly not always the case, but it is often the case.

At that time, inventor Simon Lake became aware of a US Navy tender, the new one submarine constructions wanted. The entrepreneur set to work with his Lake Torpedo Boat Company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut – and was inspired by the legendary submarine “Nautilus” from Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (published 1870). Verne’s “Nautilus” was in turn based on a real model of the same name, a mini submarine built in 1800 by the American inventor Robert Fulton.

Simon Lake in 1923

Source: dpa/—

Lake’s design, which was reminiscent of Verne’s literary template in its form, was a 28-meter-long prototype for an underwater vehicle that was completed in 1907 and christened “The Lake”.

But his company was not awarded the contract by the Navy, which relied on a design by Lake’s competitor John Philip Holland. Lake therefore had his design converted into an underwater vehicle for demining and wreck recovery. But the submarine, which has now been renamed “Defender” and repurposed, found no buyers either. For years, the “Defender” sat unused in a dock in New London. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally sank the submarine in 1946, but the exact location was kept secret.

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More than 75 years later, professional diver Richard Simon located the Defender more than 150 feet below in the Long Island Estuary off the coast of Old Saybrook, Connecticut (90 miles from New York City). the sea surface. He sees the discovery as important evidence for the development of submarines in the United States, decades before the first major submarine battles, as he told the US broadcaster NBC News.

US divers find over 100-year-old submarine

Diver Steve Abbate inspects a propeller on the Defender submarine

Source: dpa/Joe Mazraani

The son of a professional diver in Connecticut, Simon grew up hearing about the submarine. Years of research preceded the success of finding the boat in extremely poor visibility. For months, Simon studied underwater charts and government documents to find something that matched the size of the submarine. Eventually, he and a team went in search of the probable resting place.

“It was literally hiding in plain sight,” Simon said. The object was listed on all common maps, but no one knew exactly what it was. When they inspected the boat, Simon and his team were sure it had to be the Defender because of the size and shape of the keel in particular.

For the time being, he does not want to reveal the exact location of his discovery in order to protect it from treasure robbers, said Simon. It is still unclear what will happen next to the boat. The diver wishes that one day the “Defender” would be raised to be exhibited.

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Simon Lake had given his boat wheels that it could use to drive across the ocean floor. There was also a door for divers. The “Defender” came from a time when there was real submarine betting development.

There had been interest in submarines for a long time, as had corresponding ideas and experiments. A submarine design by Leonardo da Vinci has already been preserved. Submersibles were used militarily for the first time in the 1860s. During the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy attacked the superior sea fleets of the Northern States with a hand-propelled construction about twelve meters long. The successes were manageable, the losses large, but the experience with this and other vehicles formed an important basis for the later development of submarines.

Until the second half of the 19th century, developers looked for suitable weapons and navigation options. Engineers in different countries feverishly devised new similar or similar inventions. For example, torpedoes, i.e. mines that move towards their target independently under water, were developed almost simultaneously in Russia and Austria in the mid-1860s.

Submarine designers of different countries experimented

The most difficult problem, however, was a practical drive. Steam boiler systems proved to be unsuitable for underwater use, among other things because of their enormous oxygen requirements. Werner von Siemens discovered the dynamo-electric principle in 1866 and used it for the first time in 1881 to drive electric trams. Submarine designers from different countries then experimented with electric motors.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the inventor Lake relied on a 30 hp petrol engine that sucked in air through a hose when diving. In 1898, his “Argonaut II” made a well-received dive trip across the open sea, during which it also withstood a storm. Jules Vernes then had a text published in the “New York Journal” in which he rated the “Argonaut II” as proof of the reality content of his novels. Verne predicted that the next war would be “a great battle between U-boats”.

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In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, the submarine quickly found its way into large and small fleets in various countries, even if the admiralties were often skeptical about the new type of service at first. Nevertheless, it soon changed naval warfare: In the German Empire, the first operational submarine was put into service in December 1906; eleven years later, the German leadership called the unrestricted U-boat war from the USA to enter the First World War.

Jules Verne’s “Nautilus” remained a source of inspiration for real submarine projects in the decades that followed: the US Navy named a whole series of ships after her, including the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN -571). She was the first submarine to dive under the North Pole.

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