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The interest of the Russian society in knowledge of the sea  depths  can  be  traced  far  into  the  historical  past.   No specific  date  marking  the  start  of such  interest  can  be indicated, although during the century and a half before 1900 more than  150  proposals  related  to  the  design  of various  types  of submarines were submitted to the Naval Department and to royal persons.  Among the authors of these projects were merchants and peasants, engineers and pupils from gymnasiums, cavalrymen and specialists in mechanics,  landlords and officers,  Russian people and foreigners.  Several projects came even from faraway USA. There were several talented engineers and inventors among the authors:  N.K. Shilder, I.F. Aleksandrovskiy, S.K. Dzhevetskiy. Fifty  submarines  accommodating  one  person  and  intended  for fortress defense were even built according to S.K. Dzhevetskiy’s design.  But all the attempts to develop combat submarines could not bring any positive results in the 19th century because of two major reasons-there were no engines for underwater and surface running and no efficient underwater weapons.

The situation changed by the end of the 19th century-an internal combustion engine was invented, manufacturing of electric motors and batteries mastered, and torpedo production was organized .

France, USA, Italy and Germany appreciated submarines as a significant component of the state defense and might be even of attack, therefore a large number of engineers were involved in submarine design.

The most successful design works were carried by the firm of John Holland in USA (now it is Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics) which was ahead of other firms. When Chief Inspector on Shipbuilding of Russia, N. Kuteinikov visited USA, he discussed the possibility of building submarines for Russia by this firm. Feeling real interest from Russia, Holland’s firm decided to sharply increase the price and the deal failed.

On due consideration of articles in American magazines and being confident in the experience of Russian shipbuilding engineers, the Marine Department on 19 December 1900 established a Commission for submarine design which included Senior Shipbuilding Assistant Ivan Grirorievich Bubnov, Senior Engineer-Mechanic Specialist Ivan Semyonovich Gorynov, and Lieutenant Mikhail Nikolaevich Beldemishev.

The Commission started its work in a separate secret room situated in the premises of the Model Test tank and on 3 May 1901 it produced the project of a torpedo boar No. I I 3. There was no submarine class registered in the Russian Navy as yet. The project was approved on July 5 and several days later Baltic Shipbuilding and Engine Works in St. Petersburg received the order for construction. I.G. Bubnov was assigned the Senior Builder of torpedo boar No. 113.

The submarine was developed based on the following assumptions:

  1. The principle of the least possible cost; proceeding from this the submarine displacement had to be minimal .
  1. The submarine surface speed had to be sufficient for attacking either passing ships or ships anchored or in motion at slow speed at the entrance to the harbor.

Working drawings had to be prepared by the Design Bureau of the Baltic Shipbuilding and Engine Works under the guidance of the Commission; later the bureau was transformed into the Underwater Department (Podpla). Having changed several names and undergone numerous transformations, this eldest underwater design bureau still exists. It is the Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering Rubin according to which designs about 900 Russian submarines of various classes were built, from DELFIN to TYPHOON.

Company Putilovsky Zavod supplied sheet and profile steel, Obukhovsky steel making plant-air bottles, and major ship’s equipment was manufactured by Baltic Works itself. The gasoline engine of Lutskoy’s design was ordered from the firm Daimler where Lutskoy worked as chief engineer though he was Russian by origin. It was with his assistance that M. N. Beklemisbev managed to visit one of the Holland submarines in USA. Storage batteries and the electric motor were ordered in France.

The riveted hull was of circular shape along its entire length. It was stiffened with 32 external frames and 8 internal stringers along the seams. External frames were made of two halves connected by forge welding strengthened with a riveted plate. No waterproof bulkheads and compartments were provided.

Externally, the pressure bull was coated with larch-tree boards, a conning tower of cylindrical shape, provided with an access hatch and cover, was riveted in the midships area, and in the forward portion there was a rectangular hatch provided for storage battery and other equipment loading.

Main ballast tanks were located at the submarine extremities. The steering gear included one vertical rudder and three pairs of planes, middle planes being used for residual buoyancy elimination and were usually tilted to some constant angle. The armament was comprised of two external Dzhevetskiy drop-collar type torpedo tubes and two 1898 model torpedoes,

It was supposed that after the submarine trials, the possibility of increasing the number of Dzhevetskiy torpedo tubes to four was to be considered.

The first Russian combat submarine had the following tactical and technical parameters:

View full article for table data

This submarine was launched in May 1903 and in October that year sea trials were accomplished. The date of final tests, October 14, 1903, is considered the date of birth of Russian submarine forces.      The   Commanding  Officer  of  the  submarine  M.N. Beklemishev reported:

  • The possibility for underwater run at 5 knot speed is provided with the accuracy of up to 1 foot.
  • The surface speed of 8.5 knots can be increased by the installation of a propeller with adjustable blades.
  • Practically, the range under electric motor was 60 miles at 5 .2 knot speed and during four days meals were cooked, ventilation and lighting was provided.
  • The possibility to charge batteries from the engine was checked several times in practice.
  • Not only the crew but also several workers who worked on the submarine feel well during the sailing.

In March 1902, torpedo boat No. 113 was entered into the Navy lists as torpedo boat No. 150. Until March 1904, submarines in Russia were designated as torpedo boats. On 31 March 1904, all Russian submarines by His Highness’s command were designated by names and torpedo boat No. 150 became at last submarine DELFIN.

Justice should be done to the thoroughness with which Beklemishev selected people for DELFIN’s crew. He chose “persons with technical knowledge, of strong build, good behavior, non-smokers” and those who wished to serve on this submarine. Getting ahead of our story, we should do justice to Ivan Gregorievich Bubnov, the designer of 32 built submarines, 4 not completely constructed, and 10 planned for building submarines after the competition of 1916. He can be considered the chief or general designer of Russian submarine forces before the Revolution, and to Mikhail Nikolaevich Beldemishev, the educator of first generations of Russian submariners. The contribution of these two persons into the development of Russian submarine forces is really invaluable.

But let’s return to the fate of submarine DELFIN. This first, and the only one till the Fall of 1904, Russian submarine became a school which taught officers and sailors who wished to serve at submarines.

On 16 June 1904, regular training took place at the western quay of Baltic Works. Lieutenant Cherkasov, who temporarily executed the role of the commanding officer, 2 officers and 33 sailors of the crew had to stay at the depth of 22 feet for three hours .

After the command “fill the tanks”, the cover of the conning tower hatch was closed with some delay and water gushed into the submarine. One of the sailors in fright ran to the half-closed hatch trying to get out, got stuck in it and thus increased the water flow. An attempt to blow tanks did not result in surfacing as the submarine was almost completely flooded with water. Two officers and 10 sailors managed to open the hatch and swim out of the submarine. Lieutenant Cherkasov and 23 sailors perished. On June 19 a lifting crane was brought to the sunken submarine and it was raised. After repairs, on 15 November 1904 DELFIN was transferred to Vladivostok to participate in the Russo-Japan War. The first sail to sea (because of the delay with torpedo delivery) took place on 28 February 1905. DELFIN went several times to sea but did not meet Japanese ships.

On 5 May 1905 there was a serious emergency with DELFIN. It was required to open aft gasoline tank manholes in order to make some repair work for the vertical rudder. People were removed from the submarine and it was ventilated with portable fans. The ventilation continued during the foJiowing day under the supervision of two watchmen. An acquaintance of the watchman (a fellow villager) from a destroyer came to them and asked for permission to go around the submarine. The miner on watch and the fellow villager went down and after that there was an explo-sion; the heavily burned watchman managed to jump out of the submarine but his fellow villager remained inside the submarine. There was the second explosion and the submarine sank (later it was discovered that in the area of aft gasoline tanks 29 rivets of the pressure hull were drawn out). A probable cause of the explosion could be a spark from the switched-on breaker for lighting the submarine.

There was an explosion of detonating gas while the submarine was raised. The submarine was sunk awash, but during the subsequent attempts to raise it explosions occurred five more times. Finally, capital repairs were finished only at the end of 1905, i.e. after the conclusion of hostilities against Japan.

There was one more explosion in the submarine DELFIN on 9 December 1914 during charging the batteries from the transport ship KSENIA. The cause of the explosion was supposed to be a spark that appeared between a bulb and a socket when an electrician touched the bulb with his cap.

Until May 1916 the submarine was with the submarine unit of the Siberian flotilla (this was the name of Russian marine forces in the Far East at that time).

In 1916, to defend the Kola peninsular, it was decided to organize in Aleksandrovsk (now Murmansk) a division of submarines for special purposes. This unit had to include submarine No. 1 and No. 21, as well as DELFIN and ST.GEORGE.

On May 23 DELFIN was sent from Vladivostok to Vologda by railway. In Vologda it was reloaded to a barge and delivered to Arkhangelsk, from there it was towed to Aleksandrovsk.

On the night of 26 April 1917 DELFIN, which was moored close to submarine No. 1, was heavily damaged by a storm. The mooring lines were slackened, the service was careless, therefore due to blows against submarine No. 1, rudder glands became loose; submarine No. 1 sank and large amounts of water entered DELFIN.

Taking into account the technical condition of both the damaged submarines, Naval Staff on 8 August 1917 decided not to restore them and to transfer them to port authorities, the decision was fulfilled on August 10 that year.

Exactly 90 years after the first submarine joined the Russian fleet on 20 December 1993 in St. Petersburg, in the House of Scientists, an anniversary All-Russia, military and scientific conference, Russian Submarine ForcesPast, Present, Future, was held where scientists, shipbuilders, naval officers and historians participated. They appraised at its true worth the role of submarine DELFIN in the development of the Russian subma-rine fleet and who did justice to the glorious 90 year history of submarine forces of Russia.

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