Mr. Bloom is retired from tax law consulting, but has written extensively 011 military and naval historical topics over a 40 year period, with some 60 articles in military and naval journals and several encyclopedias. His book on the Roman-Jewish war was published in 2002. He lives in Silver Spring, MD with his wife.
Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, in the science fiction classic Twentv Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (20 Tl), commands a submarine vessel that is quite extraordinary. Not only is NAUTILUS a 21st Century paradigm conceived 130 years before its time. Verne wasn’t merely indulging in creative, unexpectedly accurate speculation. He was quite well versed in the experiments in undersea navigation conducted during the fifty years before the novel’s
creation in the late 1860s. More importantly, it has recently been noted that he collaborated with his friend, the French marine engineer and sub pioneer Gustave Zede, to build an actual model of NAUTILUS. This model was discovered in a private collection in Rumania in 1993 and sold at auction in the United States. It was widely held that Verne had modeled his NAUTILUS on an 1860s sub, LE PLONGEUR.
In 1863, a French team of Charles Brun and Simon Bourgeois launched LE PLONGEUR (The Diver) – 146 feet long, 20 feet wide, displacing 400 tons. It was powered by engines run by 180 psi compressed air stored in tanks throughout the boat. Its method of operation was to fill ballast tanks just enough to achieve neutral buoyancy, and then make adjustments with cylinders that could be run in and out of the hull to vary the volume. This is exactly the visionary mathematician William Bourne’s concept dating from 1578! Nevertheless, the boat was too unstable; the movement of a crew member could send her into radical gyrations. The ballast system consisted of parallel longitudinal tubes which were filled with or emptied of water as necessitated by the desired situation, whether dive, surface or trim while underway. The problem is that the system was very unwieldy and PLUNGER lived up to her name, more often than not plunging towards the seabed notwithstanding the intentions of the OD.
However, the discovery of the 1868 model in which the author apparently collaborated, shows some of Gustav Zede’s preliminary thinking on submarine design, which was not to bear fruit until his GYMNOTE two decades later. According to Jerry Pavano, writing in the Sub Committee Report for December 2000, Zede constructed this interesting little 6-inch model in collaboration with Jules Veme in 1868. If the date, a year before Verne wrote 20TL, is accurate, this model is doubtlessly the prototype for NAUTILUS and there is a direct link to Zede’s GYMNOTE of 1888. Although the actual boat being modelled would be considerably smaller than NAUTILUSabout 120 feet versus the book’s 230 judging from the model’s scale- it has the slender spindle tapered cigar shape, the central diving planes, longboat, wheelhouse, lantern, and deck platform of NAUTILUS. The boat is at the aft end of the platform and the lantern is located on a tower just behind the wheelhouse, a layout that is almost identical to that described in 20TL. The model also has two metal rings on the deck, apparently on the hatch. Aronnax and
his companion castaways clung to just such a ring when NAUTILUS’ deck, was awash as it got underway early in the novel. There are no side windows on the pilot house, as per the Rioux illustration in the novel, nor is there a ram and the keel is very large relative to the hull.
In 1888, some 20 years afterwards, Zede built GYMNOTE for the French Navy-65-foot, battery-powered boat capable of 8 knots on the surface but of very restricted range due to the lack of any method for recharging the batteries while at sea. Her naval service was largely limited to experimentation. However, this would appear to be the fruition of the NAUTILUS concept as worked out with the author in 1868. GYMNOTE bears a striking resemblance to the
Rioux drawings (in the Paris 1870 edition) and the narrative concept of NAUTILUS as does LE PLONGEUR, which Verne observed at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 and about which had penned some commentary, as well as the scale model.
It seems likely that NAUTILUS had been under design and construction for some time prior to the arrival of the three hapless prisoners, Professor Arronax, his servant Conseil, and the Canadian master harpoonist, Ned Land, in 1867. Although Nemo later turns out to be an Indian prince whose vendetta stems from British slaughter of his family in the Indian Mutiny of 1859, NAUTILUS was completed too late to serve in the Mutiny. If this is true,
NAUTILUS was designed to challenge the premier naval power of the world, a w1mdenvaffen which missed the war for which she was built. It’s important to bear in mind that, while Nemo used NAUTILUS primarily as his pennanent home and a deepwater research platfonn, he was also eager to attack British warships wherever encountered and assist those groups revolting against tyrannical foreign oppressors, mainly British. We can imagine the frustrating
delays he encountered during his shakedown cruise, delays that any high technology engineer goes through during sea trials.
It has been claimed that modern nuclear submarines can outperform Verne’s fictional creation. This is a debatable point. Certainly Verne’s NAUTILUS is marginally faster than, and can dive a good deal deeper than SEA WOLF/VIRGINIA class attack submarines, if one trusts published statistics. Of course, modern subs are built for stealth first with speed and depth coming in second. Silence was not a major concern for Nemo, working in an era without hydrophones, sonar, or antisubmarine warfare.
NAUTILUS was cigar shaped, 232 feet long with a maximum width of 26 feet (70.7 and 7.9m, respectively). She has a surface area of 6032 square feet, and submerged displaces 1500 tons. She is of an unusual double hull construction: instead of a lightly constructed outer hull for streamlining and a rigid internal pressure bearing hull,
her outer hull is pressure bearing. Arronax did not make a mistake here, because he described NAUTILUS bouncing a nine pound cannonball. She probably has no more than one and a half decks. The double hull had tapered ends, as Nemo says to Aronnax, “like your cigar”. Nemo mentions the shape had already been adopted in London. This was the time of the Ross Winan cigar shipsexperimental surface steamers which the Baltimore industrialist tried to sell to the US, British and Russian Navies- and, further, there were already some submarines built to this shape, notably LE PLONGEUR and Gustave Zede’s model (built with Verne) of a NAUTILUS prototype, GYMNOTE, discussed above.
As Captain Nemo describes it to his tentative passenger, the French naturalist Professor Pierre Arronax, NAUTILUS has two hulls, one interior, one exterior, and they are joined by iron T-bars, which gives the boat a terrific rigidity. Because of this cellular arrangement, it is claimed to have the resistance of a solid block. The plating can’t yield; it’s self-adhering and not dependent on rivets, though these are used; and the homogeneity of its construction, due to the perfect union of the materials involved, permits it to defy the most violent of seas. Nemo is a bit inconsistent in his description of the hull fabrication: at one point he states it was comprised of flush,
hermetically sealed steel plates resembling a machine rather than a marine animal, whereas elsewhere he mentions that the plates overlapped, which, along with their protruding rivet heads, gave the appearance of the hide of a large reptile.
In terms of length, NAUTILUS most closely approaches the WWII German Type IX ocean-going U-boats and the modern diesel-electric Kilo Class boats, though the Kilos are quite a bit beamier (by about 6 feet) and more voluminous (double the submerged displacement), a feature of the teardrop shape versus NAUTILUS’ spindly cigar configuration.
Verne provides precise data about the forward half of the interior … There was a 7.5-meter(24.75 foot) air reservoir at the very bow. Moving aft, we find Aronnax’s cabin (2.5 meters/8.25 feet long), Nemo’s cabin (five meters/16.5 feet long). Next was the drawing room/salon/museum, ten meters/33 feet long, six ( 19.8 feet) wide, and five ( 16.5 feet) high. This extraordinary room contained an organ, an art collection of great value and very large number of marine specimens. There was also a fountain made from a shell about two meters across. Finally, the salon had two large oval windows protected by sliding panels, shown in the Goff/Disney version as a spirally closing helical shutter. Moving aft, the next room was the library (five meters/16.5 feet long) with 12,000 volumes, followed by the captain’s dining room (also five meters/16.5 feet). Both of these rooms were exquisitely furnished.
There were watertight bulkheads between the dining room and the library and salon and the captain’s cabin.
Near the middle of the boat the description becomes vaguer. Apparently there was a centrally located staircase giving access to the deck platform and to the upper passage to the wheelhouse. There was also a ladder to the longboat, and near this was the divers’ airlock used for adaptation and egress. The central section had at
least one and possibly two watertight bulkheads. The size of this central section is not given. Moving aft there was a small cabin which Ned Land and Conseil will share (two meters/6.6 feet long). and the galley (three meters/IO feet) located between storerooms. Nearby was a bathroom with hot and cold taps. Next was the crew’s berth room (five meters/16.5 feet). There was one more watertight bulkhead and then the engine room, described as at least 20 meters 66 feet long. It had a front part devoted to generating electricity and a rear part with machinery to tum the propeller.
Adding all the figures given accounts for 65 meters/214.5 feet of the boat’s total 70-meter/232 foot length perhaps allowing five meters/16.5 feet for the central section enclosing the stairway to the deck.
She has a cruising speed of 30 knots and flank speed of around 45 knots (56 and 83 kph). She refuels once during the book, so her cruising range is probably in excess of 60,000 miles. By way of comparison, the VII CU-boat of World War II had a cruising range of 9000 miles and the SURCOUF submarine cruiser of 1935 could go 10,000 miles between refuelings. Of course the modem SSNs have an unlimited cruising radius, the only constraints being the
need to replenish food, water and ammunition not to mention the morale of the crew. Typical patrols run to 90 days.
In the course of the book, NAUTILUS dives to an implausible five miles, although Nemo admits this is an extreme strain he does not care to subject her to for very long. This is about twenty times deeper than modem military subs are designed to reach. Most of the ocean floor is between one and two and a half miles deep; the Mariana Trench is between six and seven miles. Modern deep submersible vessels (DSV s) can reach a depth of over 16,500 feet but these are specially constructed contrivances holding only 3-4 crew members, can stay submerged for only 5-7 hours and need to travel only as far as the nearby mother ship.
NAUTILUS uses ballast tanks. These tanks are emptied by pumps: not pressurized air or the constant volume pumps used by modern subs, but extremely powerful brute strength pressure pumps which would do credit to a fire department. These pumps can be used as water cannon and in fact were the weapon of choice in disabling the pursuing American frigate ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Let’s take a closer look at the techniques for submerging and surfacing. Similar to the approach adopted by subsequent submarine pioneers Simon Lake and Thorsten Nordenfeldt, the basic technique described for submerging NAUTILUS and maintaining a desired operating depth is to flood ballast tanks to establish net neutral buoyancy at the corresponding water density. The main ballast tanks are sized to bring the boat just under the surface when completely filled. For deeper submergence, additional water is introduced into supplementary tanks, which can increase the weight of the submarine by as much as I 00 metric tons to match the increasing weight of its displacement with depth. As John Holland later established in his first successful submarine designs, a much more efficient depthcontrol technique is to establish slightly positive buoyancy and
maintain depth using the dynamic forces generated by the boat’s forward speed. In fact, with a view to saving [his] engines, Captain Nemo also exploits dynamic forces, but only when he wants to take NAUTILUS below 2,000 meters. At that depth, two horizontal hydroplanes mounted at the center of flotation (that is, amidships) are used to angle the boat downward in response to the thrust of the propeller. Within a few decades of the appearance of 20TL, it had also been realized that stern planes are much more efficient for controlling depth dynamically, but NAUTILUS has no stern planes. In any event, Verne claims extreme depth capabilities for NAUTILUS- Aronnax reports reaching a depth of 16,000 meters (52,500 feet) in the South Atlantic- reflecting a time when it was not yet known that the world ocean reaches a maximum depth of nearly 36,000 feet in the Challenger Deep.
To regain the surface, the ballast tanks are emptied- not by compressed air, but rather by using powerful electric pumps, supposedly capable of working against even the highest backpressure at the prodigious depths envisioned by Verne . ..
Aronnax even describes what we would call today an emergency surface below:
NAUTILUS rose with terrific speed, like a balloon shooting into the sky. Vibrating sonorously. it knifed up
through those waters. We could see nothing at all. In four minutes we traveled those four leagues between the bottom and the surface. After emerging into the air like a flying fish, NAUTILUS falls back into the water. making it leap like a fountain to a prodigious height.
The projected speed of this emergency ascent is an incredible 120 miles per hour …. Quite impossible even today.
She can remain submerged for 24 hours comfortably, and can extend this by 48 hours with reserve tanks. Electrolysis of oxygen from sea water is mentioned, but is not used because NAUTILUS does not have scrubbers to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
NAUTILUS’ crew wear heavy sweaters and sealskin caps: it’s probably cold aboard, and her heaters don’t do a very good job at keeping out the chill of the depths. Arronax doesn’t mention feeling unusually cold, nor does he describe condensation on the metal walls. Wannth is all relative in the epoch before forced air home furnaces and it is likely that the boat was no chillier than a comfortable Victorian manor house. It goes without saying that there was no air-conditioning, but presumably there was adequate ventilation to keep the air circulating in the crew and passenger spaces.
Arronax doesn’t mention sonar or periscopes. Instead, NAUTILUS has a dorsal mounted searchlight and pilot box, which are retracted into the hull when she is planning to attack. At battle stations, NAUTILUS is blind. She must have utilized some primitive form of directional hydrophones so a target ship can be rammed, though Verne is vague here ..
Arronax specifies her diving planes are amidships, where we would now consider the worst possible place. Clearly, NAUTILUS was intended to maintain a constant trim even while diving or surfacing. This position for the diving planes has long been believed to be contrary to the proper placement of these planes, in accordance with the modem science of fluid dynamics as applied to submarine design. However, note that modem attack subs have reverted to
placing the diving planes near the longitudinal center line, either on the conning tower/sail, or the hull.
The clutter described in her 12,000 volume library wouldn’t survive many extreme attitude changes, or a ram. The library must be kept in bookcases or shelves with bars to lock the volumes in place. His art must be securely fastened to the walls. Loose books or maps would become projectiles in bad weather. The lavish Victorian
furnishings must be fastened down to prevent careening across the decks.
NAUTILUS as described would have a tendency to pitch while submerged and roll while surfaced. Sharklike, she would have to maintain a fairly high speed to keep any control at all. She probably has trim cells in the extreme bow and stem. Of course, she was a high technology prototype and major design flaws are credible. On the surface NAUTILUS remained 90% underwater so that its platform was 0.8 meter, or roughly 2 feet, 8 inches, above the water. The platform had a structure of medium height with inclined sides, at each end.
NAUTILUS carries a pinnace, a large sailboat encased in a depression in the hull, with a telegraph wire connecting her to NAUTILUS. This wire would break if stretched too far. Its length is not mentioned, but it is likely Yz to l mile- more would be cumbersome and that length would suffice for shore excursions or investigations of phenomena on the high seas. When Nemo is out on the pinnace and wishes to board NAUTILUS, he signals the sub to come
to him. The pinnace is entered from below by means of an airlock; thus it can be utilized while NAUTILUS is submerged as it is a little submarine in its own right. The narrative indicates that it is solely oar-powered.
Despite some fanciful modem explanations of her power plant, Verne’s NAUTILUS was not nuclear; this was not on the horizon as a possibility in the 1860s. When Nemo was asked about her engines, he replied they were electric: this is obvious obscuration on his part. Electricity is a means by which energy can be transmitted, not generated.
Nemo never did describe NAUTILUS ‘s engines in detail, but he may have let the secret slip accidentally. At one point during M. Arronax’s stay, NAUTILUS refuels with sodium. If sodium mixes with water, it generates heat, and then decomposes the water into oxygen and hydrogen, which recombine violently. The reaction does not require atmospheric oxygen, and could theoretically be used to power a submarine.
“You see, ” said the Captain, “I use Bunsen’s contrivances, not Ruhmkorff’s. Those would not have been powerful
enough. Bunsen ‘s are fewer in number, but strong and large, which experience proves to be the best. The electricity produced passes forward, where it works, by electro-magnets of great size, on a system of levers and cog-wheels that transmit the movement lo the axle of the screw. This one, the diameter of which is nineteen feet, and the thread twentythree feet, performs about I 20 revolutions in a second. “And what do you get then? “A speed of fifty miles an hour.”
What did these contrivances consist of! Oddly enough, Verne eschewed the rotary electric devices of his time. Already, in 1825, English scientist Michael Faraday had established the principle of the rotating motor, and an American blacksmith, Thomas Davenport, had patented a direct-current (DC) motor with all its essentialsrotating coils, a commutator, and brushes- in 1837. Yet, despite the fact that several motor-driven electric vehicles had been demonstrated in both Europe and America by the 1850s, Verne’s theoretical pattern for the prime mover on NAUTILUS turns out to be the electrical analog of a reciprocating steam engine, where large electromagnets actuate a system of levers and gears that transmit the power to the propeller shaft. So, in spite of the fact that only a rotating motor could transmit the projected high torque required to twirl the massive propeller at a sufficient speed to shoot the boat along at 45 knots, the main engine seems to be mechanically equivalent to a steam engine with large electromagnets replacing conventional pistons. This is an option that seems peculiarly conservative in light of Verne’s technological erudition.
In contrast, the breakthrough that enables Nemo to generate virtually unlimited electrical power extrapolates electrical science so far into the future that only the willing suspension of disbelief keeps technically-astute readers onboard. Thus, although, as noted above, some impulsive commentators have mistakenly represented NAUTILUS as nuclear-powered, the actual source of her vast reserves of electricity is described as a hugely scaled-up amplification of a wellknown 19th century primary battery, the Bunsen cell. Invented in 1841 by German physicist Robert Bunsen- better known for devising the Bunsen burner- the Bunsen cell uses a carbon cathode in nitric acid and a zinc anode in dilute sulfuric acid, with a porous separator between the liquids. The device generates a potential of 1.89 volts, and later versions added potassium dichromate as a deplarizer. Here is Captain Nemo describing his fundamental modification:
Mixed with mercury, sodium forms an amalgam that takes the place of zinc in Bunsen batteries. The mercury’ is never
consumed, only tire sodium is used up, and the sea resupplies me with that. Moreover, I can tell you, sodium batteries are more powe1ful. Their electric motive [sic] force is twice that of zinc batteries.
Had this actually been tried, the reaction of metallic sodium with sulfuric acid would have been terrifying to behold. Despite some ambiguity in Verne’s description, it also appears that the relatively low voltage of the Bunsen cells is augmented to a more useful intensity using a double-wound variant of the induction (i.e., spark) coil invented in Paris by another German, Heinrich Ruhmkorff around 1850. This same combination of a sodium-based
Bunsen cell, probably some kind of periodic interrupter, and a Ruhmkorff coil is described later in the novel as a high-voltage power source for portable undersea lights. Ultimately, Nemo replenishes his sodium supply by distilling seawater and separating out its mineral components at a secret operating base located inside the crater of a volcanic island near the Canary Islands. The energy for this process is derived by burning sea coal, which he and his men mine from the ocean bottom.
A French Verne enthusiast, Jean-Pierre Bouvet, has some very intriguing and convincing descriptions of the likely propulsion machinery employed by NAUTILUS. He has kindly allowed me to make use of his explanations and his diagrams of the engine room from his web site as reproduced by Michael Crisafulli’s excellent
web pages detailing all aspects of likely and conjectural NAUTILUS renderings.
Jene-Pierre depicted two different stylizations of the Nautilus engine.
The first one is crab-like and was inspired by a little electric engine Jean-Pierre saw in the Arts et Metiers museum in the 1980’s. He fashioned a little cartoon of its principle of operation. The
animation demonstrates only about one quarter of the whole engine described by Verne. As the artist/creator describes it:
On the main axis there is a second three armed wheel in phase opposition to the first. Each wheel is moved by a pair of crab hooks, each pair moved by two pairs of electromagnets, switched by an electric inverter inspired by the tiroir of steam engines.
The second version appears more like the steam engines of the period, and is easier to grasp. Again, here is M. Bouvet:
The upper part is inspired by the “electromoteur a coin a aimantsfixes de Dumoulin-Froment” [Square electric motor
with corners havingfixed Dumoulin-Froment magnets, circa 1847}. The lower part, my own, uses clochvork cog-wheels
just as in the Rioicc engraving. Each tooth of the wheels, slightly advanced, matches the maximum power of attraction of each pair of electromagnets. The lateral flywheels smooth the motion through the 1111-powered part of the stroke.
At 1500 tons, NAUTILUS was a large and comfortable vessel; she probably had a crew of about twenty- the maximum number observed by Arronax at any one time. Twenty seems adequate to the task of running the sub, being as there are no sophisticated armaments requiring anyone dedicated to that assignment and the engine room and navigational tasks could easily be handled by a score of men, working in three eight-hour watches. The allotted crew space, which presumably includes a mess, as there is no mention of crew sharing Nemo’s sumptuous dining room, would be quite cramped if the crew were much above 20. Jean-Pierre Bouvet has sketched a convincing plan view of the likely crew quarters … the four-stackrack arrangement, similar to LOS ANGELES and SEA WOLF SSNs, eliminates the need for hot-bunking and also permits a mess table in the center of the compartment,
How does NAUTILUS function as a warship? After all, Nemo is intent upon attacking the warships of the civilized world especially those of his bete noir, Great Britain. In its role as a combatant, NAUTILUS functions primarily as a high-speed ram, (contemporary practice revived this relic of the Greco-Roman trireme) and for this purpose, its bow narrows finely to a reinforced steel point, triangular in cross section. In one harrowing chapter, near the end of the adventure, Professor Aronnax describes its effectiveness in destroying a warship-presumably British. Verne traces the action from initial detection and sparring for position, through clearing/or action by retracting the pilothouse and searchlight to produce a smooth, projectile-like shape, diving the boat, running up to speed on a broadside collision course; and passing right through the victim like a sailmaker ‘s needle through canvas! None of the ill fated British crew survive the attack.
There is some inconsistency in describing the method of attack for in some instances, reported at the beginning of the novel, notablythe attack on SCOTIA, it appears that merely the steel spar at the bow was used to puncture the ship, (rather than the entire vessel) the submarine withdrawing to extract this large harpoon, leaving a
triangular puncture about two meters wide. Some have proposed a spar that retracts within the hull to avoid the need to reverse engines, but this would take up valuable space inside the sub. From its encounter with USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, we can also infer that the submarine’s powerful ballast pumps can also be used as water cannon when 11011-/etlia/force is called for, but except for a substantial arsenal of unique small arms, NAUTILUS carries no other weapons. Nemo and his crew use highly advanced air rifles for hunting and self-defense both on land and underwater. These versatile guns are charged from portable compressed air tanks but instead of shooting conventional solid bullets, they launch small glass capsules, which are sheathed in steel and weighted with lead.
They are veritable little Leyden jars charged with high-voltage
electricity. At the slightest impact they discharge, and the animal, no matter how large or strong, falls dead.
Unfortunately, this novel technique of shooting what amounts to charged capacitors as bullets falls short in NAUTILUS’s celebrated encounter with a school of giant squid, because the projectiles pass right through the animals’ soft bodies without activating. Thus, Nemo’s crew and their passengers are reduced to hand-to-hand combat with the monsters, but that only makes for a more exciting story in which Ned Land can exhibit his prowess with the harpoon. In order to repel boarders, in the form of some inquisitive, and apparently hostile, natives of a South Seas island, Nemo resorts to sending a strong, but non-lethal electric charge through the hull plating.
The pilot-house is said to retract, and this is presumably for the purpose of streamlining while the sub is punching its way through the hull of its surface victims. Verne may have been aware of some experimental periscopes of his day, but none of these were adapted to maritime ventures and it apparently did not occur to him to use
this device in lieu of the raised wheel-house prism-like viewports. Oddly, this method would have made no sense while operating submerged as there was really little Nemo needed to see under the waves that might collide with NAUTILUS or at least cause it any harm. Only a sense of direction, speed and angle of inclination would be required to navigate underwater and the instruments available in 1870 would be sufficient for this purpose.
NAUTILUS was so far ahead of its time, that even the World War II heyday of the U-boat and the US fleet subs of the GATO class were far inferior … .they were really simply diving boats being compelled to spend most of their time on the surface, and limited to submerged operations only during the attack phase- towards the end with some snorkelling capability. We have to await the onset of SSN NAUTILUS in 1955 to arrive at the true submarine boat capable of sustained undersea long-range cruising, the duration only being limited by the need to replenish food and water supplies …. not to mention to avoid crew mutiny. But the nuke subs weren’t to approach Nemo ‘s NAUTILUS in performance until the advent of the SSN SEA WOLF/VIRGINIA class attack subs from the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. These boats, in contrast to NAUTILUS slender tapered cigar, have a blunter, more tear-drop shape, adopted to maximize stability and smooth passage at depth.
SEA WOLF’s submerged flank speed of 35+ knots matches that of NAUTILUS as does her surface speed of 25 knots. Note that unlike NAUTILUS, which did not have to contend with underwater detection devices or other submarines, SEA WOLF /VIRGINIA class must be stealthy- that is silent- which tends to reduce maximum tactical speed.
Of course the modem US subs are quite a bit larger, at 350 x 40 feet and 7,500 tons submerged displacement, than the 230 x 26 foot, 1500 ton NAUTILUS, but the length/beam ratios at roughly 8.8 are almost identical. However the bulkier silhouette of SEA WOLFs allow for a greater interior volume, which is quite necessary given the large weapons array and navigational equipment, something that NAUTILUS didn’t have to worry about, even allowing for her
elaborately plush Victorian furnishings and sumptuous accommodations. SEA WOLF’s 133 officers and men were allotted roughly the same space as NAUTILUS crew had. However, SEA WOLF’s officers’ quarters and wardroom, while roomier than the four-stack berths in three man bays of the crew, fall far short of NAUTILUS salon, library, dining room as wet I as her captain’s and guest cabins.
The maximum depth allotted to NAUTILUS, at an impossible 56,000 feet, was rarely and perilously achieved in the novel. It seems the actual maximum operational depth was more like 6000 feet. Given the steel shipbuilding capabilities of Verne’s period, and the proven record of nearly contemporary subs, 200 feet would be more
likely. Nonetheless, the 6,000 feet has only been exceeded today by deep submergence vessels, such as US ALVIN, the French NAUTILE, the Russian MIR and the Japanese SHINKAI 6500. These vessels are not built to journey underwater, only to dive, operating from a mother ship and limited to about three or four navigators/researchers for periods of three to six hours. SEA WOLF/VIRGINIA can be operated at depths very much like NAUTILUS nominal maximum depth, allowing Verne some slack. While the steelmaking and structural capabilities of his day were not
up to the task, Verne’s description of the hull plate arrangement indicates that some analogue to the modern flexible high tensile steel shell is possible. In 1898, upon learning of the unprecedented open ocean voyage
of some 500 miles (Norfolk, VA to Sandy Hook, NJ) of Simon Lake’s ARGONAUT II, Verne cabled his congratulations. His cablegram portended a prophecy fulfilled for the commanders of the new SEA WOLF and VIRGINIA subs a century later,
“While my book, Twentv Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is entirely a work of imagination, my conviction is that all I said in it will come to pass. A thousand miles (Verne exaggerated the distance by 100%) in the Baltimore submarine boat is evidence of this. This conspicuous success of submarine navigation in the United States will push on zmdenvater navigation all over the world. If such a successful test had come a few months earlier, it might have played a great part in the war just closed (The Spanish-American War;). The next Great War may largely be a contest between submarine boats. I think that electricity rather than compressed air will be the motive power in such vessels for the sea is field of this element. It is waiting to be harnessed, as steam has been. It will then
not be necessary to go to the land for file any more than for provisions. The sea will supply food for man and power without limit. Submarine navigation is now ahead of aerial navigation and will advance much faster from now on. Before the United States gains herfit! I development she is likely to have mighty navies not only 011 the bosom of the Atlantic and Pacific, but in the upper air and beneath the water’s surface.”
In June, 1904, less than a year prior to Verne’s death, there appeared in Popular Mechanics an article signed by Verne, which was at first attributed to his son, but more recent scholarship believes that the senior Verne wrote it himself. In the article Verne predicted how the submarine would be used in the future. By that time Verne was known and loved worldwide as the author offuturistic adventure stories filled with technical details that made them seem possible. His 20 inspired a number of submarine pioneers, notably Simon
Lake and John Holland.
In Verne’s imagination, the submarine served as a comfortable home, a research lab and a deadly war machine all in one. And since many of his books had accurately foreshadowed later technical
developments, it’s no wonder PM turned to Verne to write Future of the Submarine. Undersea vessels were a topic of great interest at the dawn of the 20th century. Though more frail than today’s vessels, a torpedoequipped submarine was a real threat to surface ships by the late 1890s. By 1900, the Navies of several nations had ordered them.
By the time Verne’s article appeared in PM, submarines were seeing combat duty in the Russo-Japanese war. And the British had developed some cumbersome but occasionally effective countermeasures- basically just weighted nets, hung from booms around a ship-that could intercept the relatively feeble torpedoes. Verne noted the submarine’s capabilities to cripple and sink surface vessels revealed in the British and French fleet maneuvers of 1902 and 1903.
In his article, Verne predicted the submarine would be used purely as an instrument of war. The future of the submarine, as I regard it … is to be wholly a war future, he wrote. I do not believe that under-sea ships will be built in future years to carry traffic across the ocean’s bed to America and to Australia. He dismissed the possibility of an underwater ocean liner for several reasons. Among them were the problems of carrying enough air for a large number of passengers, the generation of sufficient electricity, and the difficulty of constructing a vessel that could withstand pressure at a significant depth.
Despite his prediction that it would be used wholly for war, Verne hoped the submarine would eventually lead to the end of war. Fleets will become useless, and as other war material continues to improve, war will become impossible, he wrote. While Verne’s predictions in PM may have seemed possible at the time, it is easy today to see where he was on, and slightly off, target.
In the future they will be smaller than they are today, and manned by one or two men only,” Verne wrote. He surmised that submarines “will be able with scientific accuracy to place torpedoes underneath the greatest vessels, and lo blow those vessels up.
One has only to take a look at the secretive development and recent energetic marketing of mini-subs to Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Gennany and Russia lead the field in developing the minis, the Russian PIRANHA most notable among them.
What about future submarine countenneasures? Here, even Verne’s great imagination floundered. The sea is hard to pierce, and I can think of nothing … which will enable men 011 board the supermare vessels to trace the tracks of their deadly little foes beneath the waves.
Like most of his contemporaries, he didn’t foresee the rise of radar and other means of detection. Nor could he anticipate the eventual use of nuclear power, which gave submarines much greater range and capability- although, as discussed above, Verne did hint at a new kind of power. As Capt. Nemo said, “My electricity isn’t like everyone else’s.” And neither was the electricity generated by America’s first nuclear submarine, USS NAUTILUS of 1955,
specifically named after Verne’s prophetic original.