Brandtaucher

Wilhelm Bauer

 

Drawing from pamphlet

Zeichnung aus Hans-Georg Bethge
Der brandtaucher
Ein Tauchboot - von der idee zur Wirklichkeit
Bielefeld und Rostock, 1968

 

Interior of Brandtaucher

Innenansicht nach der Hebung
1887

 

Length 26 feet 5.5 inches
Beam 6 feet 7.5 inches
Displacement 30.5 tons

 

Wilhelm Bauer was a cavalryman during the war between Germany and Denmark. Appalled by the amount of damage done by the Danish fleet blockading the German coast, Bauer set his mind to developing a means of breaking the blockade. A short time later, Bauer left the army to devote himself to the development of a workable submarine vessel capable of attacking a surface ship.

Bauer's first submarine was built at the iron foundry of Schweffel and Howalt in Kiel, Germany. The boat was completed in December 1850 and named the Brandtaucher. It was 26.5 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and drew 8.5 feet when surfaced. Brandtaucher was propelled by two men turning large tread wheels attached to a crude propeller through a simple gear arrangement. The ballast tank was located below the deck. It was filled by opening valves and emptied with handpumps. There was a 500 kg weight which could be moved fore and aft to adjust the longitudinal trim.

Accounts of the trials of Brandtaucher very. According to Cyril Field, the first trial was a surface trip which alarmed the Danes causing the blockading fleet to stay further offshore.1 On the other hand, Richard Compton-hall reports that the Brandtaucher sank alongside the dock during her first trial.2 All accounts of the trial in February 1851 have the Brandtaucher sinking. According to Alan Burgoyne, the submarine was empty at the time,3 but most other reports place Bauer and two others on board when she went down. Again accounts differ. Some accounts have Bauer and the crew sitting on the bottom for five or six hours as the submarine slowly filled with water. When the interior and exterior pressure equalized, the hatch popped open and the men escaped. Other accounts have Bauer convincing the crew that their only hope is to flood the submarine quickly, then opening the hatch and escaping. The facts are clear. Brandtaucher sank in Kiel harbor, and Wilhelm Bauer survived to build another submarine. (Brandtaucher was recovered in 1887 and was on loan to the Shipping Museum in Kiel from the Dresden War Museum in June 2002).

Bauer's financial supporters lost interest after Brandtaucher sank, forcing Bauer to take his designs elsewhere. He pitched his ideas to the government of Prussia, but they were not interested, so he travelled to England where he captured the interest of the Prince Consort. Mutual mistrust hampers progress, and Bauer leaves England for Russia before the submarine is completed.

Bauer's third submarine called Seeteufel, Diable Marin or Sea Devil was built in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1855. She was twice the size of Brandtaucher (53 feet long and 11.5 feet wide). The submarine was moved to Kronstadt the following year. During the coronation of Alexander II on September 6, 1856, Bauer performed his famous experiment in underwater sound. When the gun salute began, musicians on board the submarine began to play the national anthem which was heard by other ships in the harbor. Eventually, Seeteufel also sank, and Wilhelm Bauer was forced to retire for the submarine business.

  1. Field, Lieut.-Col. and Brevet-Col. Cyril, The Story of the Submarine: from the Earliest Ages to the Present Day, (J. B. Lippencott Company, Philadelphia, 1905) Pg. 086.
  2. Compton-Hall, Richard, The Submarine Pioneers, (Sutton Publishing, 1999) Pg. 60.
  3. Burgoyne, Alan, Submarine Navigation: Past and Present, (E. P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1903) Volume I, page 27.

2002, Gary McCue

Gary W. McCue
gwmccue@ct.metrocast.net
http://www.geocities.com/gwmccue

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