Made for warfare, exploration and sometimes for sheer national pride (let's see who's got the bigger boomer) submarines can be both a technological wonder and an ultimate nemesis (when stuffed with nuclear weapons capable of destroying Earth 10 times over). Here are some of the most interesting sub concepts in history:
Old Underwater Diving Suits
Next best thing to steam robots in Victorian technology and a clear inspiration behind Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". This one is from the Museé Marin, Paris (The Carmagnolle brothers' atmospheric diving suit from 1882 with rolling convolute joints, more info) -
Rather more antique is the "Turtle" - an invention by Ezra Bushnell from 1752:
Last year New York artist Philip "Duke" Riley created a replica of it - and proceeded to test it around Rhode Island. It did descend to 200 meters, but the adventurers later were stopped by police for doing it without authorization at the Red Hook Brooklyn cruise ship terminal.
World War II sub curiosities
We will start with rarely-seen and interestingly shaped Nazi U-Boats. Yes, one of them looks like a shoe, but who cared about that as long as its specs were great?
UPDATE: "This is the rarely known VS-5, an experimental prototype of a mostly-submerged vessel. It could not dive, but was to test an experimental hydrodynamic hull shape. Possible applications would have been as a motor torpedo boat, but the German navy wasn't even interested in the prototype." (thanks, JGCR)
World War II spawned even stranger ideas in military submarine technology. Here is the legendary I-400...
Japanese Sub Plane Launcher:
These were the giant submarine aircraft carriers, complete with a launching catapult and three planes, plus a good deal of torpedoes. It had enough fuel to go around the world 1.5 times... and it was the biggest underwater boat ever made (before the advent of nuclear submarines).
Russian Subs Lurking in Deep Waters
Huge, dark, bloated shapes were swimming in the minds of Soviet sub boat designers during Stalin's era. Look at some of the concepts below - they seem to illustrate the very spirit of the times: deadly menace lurking under the universal cover of secrecy. Truly, Stalin should've entered the submarine design business instead of killing millions - maybe it could have proved therapeutic to his dark soul.
The dream of crossing the North pole beneath the Arctic ice cap was first realized in 1958. K-19 was the first Soviet nuclear submarine, and the first Soviet sub to reach the North Pole (earning a nickname of "Hiroshima", or "Widowmaker" because of the frequent fire and radiation leak accidents)
As recent as July 2007, a Russian nuclear sub planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole, effectively saying to the world "the Arctic is Russian". Read the full story here.
Here is a historical line-up of Russian / Soviet Navy Fleet submarines, starting from the World War I "Bars"-class (1915) and ending with the first nuclear sub series (more info) -
(image credit: N. Rozhoi, TM)
First Russian ballistic missiles nuclear submarines were called Hotel-class:
As the Cold war progressed they were getting bigger and deadlier:
The newest Borei-class submarine "Yury Dolgoruki" was recently launched in Russia - equipped with 16 Bulava ballistic missiles. Two more boats of this class are on the way:
(images credit: RIA Novosti)
Giant Futuristic Submarines
Frank Herbert (highly-praised author of "Dune" and also of the top-notch submarine thriller "Under Pressure" - see review) would have loved this one:
In terms of sheer size, this concept from Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corp. (from the 40s) clearly wins:
"The Iron Whale" (1933) - a monster child of pre-war German engineer Herr Schiff. The Star Wars-kind of sea monster even comes equipped with electric eyes in front and a flexible tail... -
This puzzle was offered inside a vintage issue of Modern Mechanics: "Would you say that this queer-looking contraption was a jet-propelled life raft, a plane fuselage flying without wings, or some other super-secret, odd invention just released for public view?"
Yep. Just turn it upside down and you'll see that it's a submarine's conning tower.
And we finish with the stuff of nightmares:
A Submarine-Land Dreadnaught (1924)
Eight hundred foot high... longer than the perspective itself could reveal... Luckily this did not go beyond the painting on the cover of Hugo Gernsback's groundbreaking "Science & Invention" magazine. But Hayao Miyazaki probably had a similar dream / nightmare, bringing a few steam Goliaths to the big screen. Even today this picture has power to intimidate. Just lose the antenna and upgrade the house to some nice Californian suburb.
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