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Submarines: The Silent Service

Jeffrey Syken

When the C.S.S. Hunley – a Confederate submersible whose propeller was driven by a manual crank-shaft and armed with a “spar torpedo” (projecting warhead), rammed her explosive load into the hull of the U.S.S. Housatonic and sank her (in an effort to break the Union blockade of Charleston Harbor), naval warfare was changed forever. Submarine warfare had commenced, despite the fact that the Hunley and her eight-man crew were also lost in the attack thus proving the need for a free, self-propelled torpedo. That would come in 1868 when English engineer Robert Whitehead developed a torpedo driven by compressed air. There had been previous attempts to build a submarine dating as far back as 1620. During the Revolutionary War, David Buschnell’s one man “Turtle” tried but failed to sink a British warship and in 1800, Robert Fulton tried unsuccessfully to sell his “Nautilus”(with its towed torpedo) to the French Navy. It would be an expatriate Irishman named John Philip Holland who, ultimately, would design and build the world’s first practical submarine, commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1900: The U.S.S. Holland. Though they were considered “ungentlemanly” by many and referred to disparagingly as “Pigboats,” the submarine proved its worth as a lethal weapon during WWI when German U-Boats ravaged allied shipping. With WWII came advances in tactics (i.e. the “Wolf Pack”) and technology (i.e. the “Snorkel”). The U.S. Navy’s Fleet-Type submarines decimated Japanese merchant and naval shipping in the dark days following Pearl Harbor through to VJ day. With the development of atomic propulsion in the 1950s, the submarine – in reality a submersible boat, became a true submarine able to stay submerged for weeks and/or months at a time. Now the submarine – always a tactical weapon, took on a new role as strategic deterrent with the coming of the Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) Polaris missile program of the 1960s. With rival navies developing similar weapon systems, the hunter-killer submarine plays a critical role in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The “Silent Service,” true to its name and mission, remains on-guard and ever vigilant in all the world’s oceans in the defense of the nation it serves.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials., deaeration, disinfection and ultraviolet irradiation.

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