The idea of having a boat that can submerge in water and can cruise below the enemy has fascinated every military leader since forever. There is also a legend that says that Alexander the Great put himself into a primitive form of the submersible boat to carry out underwater reconnaissance. Among the early concepts of underwater rowing boats, one was given by an Englishman named William Bourne in 1578. The boat was attached with tubes to bring air from the surface for the crew.
He wrote about the invention saying that this ‘bold invention’ can be used at the times of war by attacking the enemy by sinking their ships. Like Huygens, many others also understood the submarine’s potential and importance in warfare. Even though, it took another hundred years to build a military submarine. The Tsar invited Nikonov to Saint-Petersburg and asked him to get down with the construction.
It was armed with fire tubes. The submarine was supposed to reach an enemy’s ship, take its fire tubes out and blow up the enemy ship with some combustible mixture. Along with that, he also designed an airlock for aquanauts to come out of the submarine and destroy the ship. The first test of the submarine was conducted in 1724.
The test was a disaster since the submarine sank, hit the bottom and broke the bilge. Nikonov himself and four other people of the crew were inside. Surprisingly, all of them managed to survive. In 1725, the second test failed and later a third one in 1727.
After three consecutive failures, the Imperial Russian Navy charged Nikonov with abuse of public funds, and reduced him to the status of a common carpenter and send him to work at another shipyard on the Volga River. The first successful use of a military submarine during a combat happened during the American Revolutionary War in 1775. The submarine was designed by an American inventor David Bushnell and was named Turtle. It was an egg-shaped device that could accommodate only one person and was hand-powered.
The Turtle dived into the water by allowing some water into a bilge tank at the bottom of the vessel. It ascended by pushing water out through a hand pump. Hand-cranked propellers provided a verticle and horizontal movement with a speed of 4.8km/h. The vessel contained enough that was enough to carry out thirty minutes of operation.
During the American Revolutionary War, The Turtle was operated by Sgt. The replica models of the Turtle are now on display at several museums across the United States as well as the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport, England.