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The First Barrow Submarines

Nordenfelt 1886

Nordenfelt submarine under construction at Barrow
Nordenfelt submarine under construction at Barrow

This steam-driven boat was 100 feet long and displaced 160 tons. She was an improved version of an earlier submarine built in Stockholm in 1882 and based on the Resurgam, a submarine designed and developed by an Englishman, The Rev. William Garrett of Liverpool.

Nordenfelt submarine schematic
Nordenfelt submarine schematic

In 1887, another Nordenfelt was built at Barrow. This vessel was 125ft long, displaced 230 tons, had a hull form more like that of a conventional ship, and achieved a speed of 14 knots.

The Nordenfelt's were not particularly successful. When operating near the surface they were fast and manageable, but when completely submerged they lacked longitudinal stability.

They were ultimately sold to the Ottoman Empire and Russia. The submarine for Russia never reached her customer, foundering on the Jutland (Danish) coast on her delivery voyage.

The Turkish boat became the Abdul Hamid, which was dismantled for delivery by ship and re-assembled at Taskizak Naval Shipyard along the Golden Horn in Constantinople under the supervision of its English designer, George William Garrett.

Abdul Hamid was first launched in Turkey on September 6, 1886 in front of many international dignitaries lined along Golden Horn. First diving tests were carried out in February 1887. Three dives were attempted successfully, 20 seconds each, with only the hemispherical navigator cockpit remaining above the water. On another test run in early 1888, the submarine was able to navigate through the strong currents around the Seraglio Point, making up to 10 knots of speed and successfully sank an old target ship with a single torpedo. The first submarine in history to fire a torpedo while submerged. After more tests and trials at Izmit naval base, Abdul Hamid officially joined the Ottoman Navy in a flag ceremony on 24 March 1888.

When the advent of nuclear power put steam propulsion back into submarines, Vickers could surely reflect: 'So what's new? We did it in 1886.'



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