Little Bits of History

September 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 14, 2017

1914: AE1 goes out for patrol. Formally known today as HMAS AE1, she was an E-class submarine used by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Laid down on November 14, 1911 and launched on May 22, 1913, the sub was built by Vickers Armstrong, a British shipbuilding concern. These were the class of submarines used as the backbone of the navies throughout the British Commonwealth. AE1 was part of the group 1 boats and cost £101,900 per hull. The subs went through several modifications as time went on and as more improvements were made, the price per boat increased as well. Most of the subs were built prior to World War I even starting and they were all taken out of commission by 1922.

The biggest improvement over the D-class subs was the additional broadside torpedo tubes. AE1 was 181 feet overall and had a beam of 22.5 feet with a draft of 12.5 feet. This class of submarine was designed to have a diving depth of 100 feet but because of the way they were built with watertight bulkhead which strengthened the hull, they were able to dive up to depths of 200 feet. They were powered by two diesel engines, each operating its own propeller and had an electric motor to supply breaking power. Top speed was 17 mph on the surface and 12 mph submerged. They could carry 40 long tons of fuel giving them a range of 3,500 miles. A full crew was 34 officers and enlisted men.

When World War I broke out, AE1 was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Thomas Besant. The sub was part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. AE1 and AE2 were the two subs included in the mission to take German controlled New Guinea. This was the site of wireless radio operations in the Pacific and harming German communications was a priority. The Force was able to take control of Rabaul on September 13, 1914. The next day, AE1 left Blanche Bay, Rabaul along with SMAS Parramatta around 7 AM. They were to patrol off Cape Gazelle. By 8 PM, when they had not yet returned, several ships were sent out to look for them. No trace of the sub was ever found and they were assumed to be lost as sea with all hands.

The probable cause of the disappearance was a wreck on a reef or other submerged object. It was Australia’s first major loss of World War I. As the war raged on, no further searches were carried out until the 1970s when a RAN officer, John Foster, learned of the loss and wanted to find the submarine. Over the years, many tries have been made, but all potential sites are either other wrecks in the area, and they are many, or natural landscape features. Find AE1Limited announced, 101 years after the disappearance, a plan to make another attempt to find the sub. So far, AE1 remains elusive and despite all the attempts to find her, remains hidden away in the deep.

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea. – H. G. Wells

In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine. – J. William Fulbright

I think a submarine is a very worthwhile weapon. I believe we can defend ourselves with submarines and all our troops back at home. This whole idea that we have to be in 130 countries and 900 bases… is an old-fashioned idea. – Ron Paul

Some ships are designed to sink… others require our assistance. – Nathan Zelk, stationed on USS Montpelier



April 7

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 7, 2017

1989: K-278 Komsomolets sinks. It was the only Project 685 Plavnik (fin) nuclear-powered attack submarine of the Soviet Navy. It’s NATO reporting name was “Mike class” and it was part of the fourth generation of nuclear subs built by the USSR. She was laid down on April 22, 1978 and launched on June 3, 1983 with commission coming on December 28 of that year. The 385 foot long submarine had a top speed of 14 knots or 16 mph while surfaced and 30 knots or 35 mph while submerged. A fully staffed ship would have 33 officers, 21 warrant or petty officers, and 15 enlisted men aboard.

The sub was designed by Rubin Design Bureau for Project 685 in order to craft a submersible capable of carrying a mix of torpedoes and cruise missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads. The call for designs was issued in 1966 and it was completed in 1974. The double hulled Komsomolets was able to dive deeper than the best American subs because of the titanium inner hull. The pressure hull had seven compartments with stronger forward and aft bulkheads which created a safety zone in case of emergency. Also included in the design was an escape capsule filled into the sail above the stronger compartments which would allow the crew to abandon ship in an underwater emergency. There were many automated systems included which allowed for fewer crewmembers than would be expected for a submarine of that size.

On August 4, 1984 Komsomolets was recorded at a submergence of 3,350 feet in the Norwegian Sea. This proved she was able to withstand the pressure for which the ship was designed. On this day, under the command of Captain 1st Rank Evgeny Vanin, the ship was cruising at a depth of 1,099 feet and had traveled about 100 nautical miles southwest of Bear Island, Norway. A fire broke out in the engine room due to a short circuit. The watertight doors were shut, but the fire spread along the bulkhead cable penetrations and soon propulsion was lost. As the cables burned, more electrical problems emerged and control was threatened. An emergency ballast tank blow was done so the ship could surface eleven minutes after the fire broke out. Distress calls were sent and most of the crew abandoned ship.

Komsomolets was able to remain on the surface for several hours as the fire continued to burn, fed by compressed air. The ship was unable to be saved and at 3.15 PM local time, it sank into 5,510 feet of water. The captain and four others still on board were able to enter the escape capsule and make their way to the surface but only one of the five escaped the capsule before it sank in the rough waters. Rescue aircraft arrived and dropped small rafts but many of the men had already died of hypothermia. In all 42 of the 69 crew died, including the captain. Four died in the fire and 34 froze or drowned in the bitterly cold water awaiting a slow to arrive rescue. The ship with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads remains a mile underwater.

The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim. – Edsger Dijkstra

In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine. – J. William Fulbright

I’ve been to the Titanic in a yellow submarine and the North Pole in a Russian nuclear ice breaker. – Buzz Aldrin

My own grandfathers were a submarine commander and a ‘desert rats’ tank operator in the Second World War. – Benedict Cumberbatch

“Swede” Momsen

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 25, 2010

The Momsen lung in use during sea trials

May 25, 1967: Charles Bowers Momsen, the man who pioneered submarine rescues, dies of cancer. Momsen entered the US Naval Academy in 1914, flunked out, got another appointment, and graduated in 1919. He served on a battleship, went on to submariners school, and then took command of O-15 (SS-76), an aging sub. Proving himself capable, he was given command of S-1(SS-105), the newest Navy designed sub.

On September 25, 1925, a sister sub collided with a cargo ship and went down. Momsen was ordered to search for the ship, found the oil slick from the accident, but was unable to help rescue the trapped men. Sonar, not yet invented, meant there was no way to find the ship on the seabed. Even if found, there was no way to get men trapped at that depth to the surface.

Momsen was transferred to a desk job and from there, created the way to save trapped men. First he invented the Momsen lung which consisted of a bag with soda lime that removed CO2 and replenished it with oxygen and with tubes to breathe through. This method of moving in deep water without getting the bends solved one problem. Still more work needed to be done. Momsen had tried designs for a diving bell with some success. A superior officer liked the idea, made minor revisions, and the Momsen rescue chamber became marketed as the McCann Rescue Chamber.

In May 1939, the submarine Squalus, while on test dives, suffered an accident and foundered in 243 feet of water, a certain death sentence in prior times. Momsen led the rescue efforts and after 39 terrible hours, saved the 33 surviving crewman on board using the Momsen lung and diving bell. He then directed the 113 day mission to bring the Squalus into port.

Momsen went on to serve with distinction during WWII. When torpedoes fired from submarines were having a high failure rate, he found the design flaw by firing torpedoes in shallow water and risking his own life to examine an unexploded torpedo. The flaw was fixed.

“The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability.” – Henry Ford

“Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.” – Kahlil Gibran

“The best part of one’s life is the working part, the creative part. Believe me, I love to succeed …. However, the real spiritual and emotional excitement is in the doing.” – Garson Kanin

“The secret of success is constancy of purpose.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Also on this day:
In 1953, the
US bombed Nevada – a test nuclear explosion.
In 240 BC, the
comet known as Halley’s was first written about.

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