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naval craft capable of operating for an extended period of time underwater. Submarines are almost always warships, although a few are used for scientific, business, or other purposes (see also submersiblesubmersible,
small, mobile undersea research vessel capable of functioning in the ocean depths. Development of a great variety of submersibles during the later 1950s and 1960s came about as a result of improved technology and in response to a demonstrated need for the capability
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Development of the Modern Submarine

The first submarine used in combat (1776) was invented in 1773 by David Bushnell, an American. This vessel was a small, egg-shaped craft constructed of wood and operated by one man who turned a propeller. The vessel was submerged by admitting water, and it was surfaced by forcing out the water with a hand pump. Many of Bushnell's principles were later used by Robert Fulton for the construction of his Nautilus, a submarine successfully operated (1800–1801) on the Seine River and at Le Havre. On one occasion the inventor remained submerged for 6 hr, receiving air through a tube that extended to the surface. Later Fulton devised and used a spherical tank of compressed air to replenish the air in the submarine. This device, horizontal rudders, the screw to keep water out during submerged operation, and other features of Fulton's submersible vessel made it a forerunner of the modern submarine. In the U.S. Civil War the Confederates used several submersible craft fitted with a mine at the end of a spar that protruded from the bow. In 1864 one of these craft, the H. L. Hunley, named posthumously for its inventor, destroyed a Union vessel in Charleston harbor but was itself lost with its crew.

The development of the modern submarine in the United States was advanced considerably by the work of John Holland and Simon Lake. One of Holland's submarines was propelled on the surface by a gasoline engine and by electric motors powered by storage batteries when submerged. The craft was 54 ft (16 m) long and had a top speed of 6 knots and a crew of six. In 1900 it became the U.S. Navy's first submarine. Holland's efforts were especially important in the development of submergence by water ballast and of horizontal rudders for diving. Lake's Argonaut, built in 1897, became the first submarine to navigate extensively in the open sea when it made (1898) a trip through heavy storms from Norfolk, Va., to New York City. However, the Argonaut was not accepted by the U.S. Navy, and it was not until several European governments had made use of Lake's talents that the U.S. government employed him.

The Submarine in the World Wars

In 1912, E-boats, the first U.S. diesel-engine submarines, were launched. They were 135 ft (41 m) long, had a crew of 23, and were the first to cross the Atlantic. Development continued, and in World War I submarines were for the first time used extensively by both sides. The Germans used 200-ton submarines (U-boats), and later they employed 2,100-ton craft armed with as many as 19 torpedoes. To halt the heavy destruction of shipping by these U-boats the Allied powers resorted to depth charges, Q-ships (armed vessels disguised as merchantmen), and escorted convoys. With the crucial additions of sonar (which uses high-frequency sound waves to find submarines through echo tracking) and radarradar,
system or technique for detecting the position, movement, and nature of a remote object by means of radio waves reflected from its surface. Although most radar units use microwave frequencies, the principle of radar is not confined to any particular frequency range.
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-equipped air escorts (often carried on small aircraft carriersaircraft carrier,
ship designed to carry aircraft and to permit takeoff and landing of planes. The carrier's distinctive features are a upper deck (flight deck) that is flat and sometimes sloped to function as a takeoff and landing field, and a main deck (hangar deck) beneath
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) these defenses were also used in World War II.

A typical U.S. Navy submarine in World War II was a 300-ft (91-m) craft of 1,450 tons displacement and had a crew of 55. It ran on diesel engines (while surfaced) at a speed of up to 17 knots and on electric motors (while submerged) at a speed of up to 8 knots. The ship was armed with one 3-in. (7.6-cm) dual-purpose gun, several light automatic weapons, and 10 21-in. (53-cm) torpedo tubes. A periscope is an integral part of every submarine. It extends up through the water and by a mirror arrangement provides the observer below with a view of the surface of the sea. Similar in appearance but totally different in purpose is the snorkel apparatus first employed by the Germans and now in general use. It admits air but not water and, by supplying a flow of fresh air and an outlet for foul air, makes it possible for a submarine to remain submerged for as much as nine tenths of a voyage.

In World War II the Allies and neutrals lost some 4,770 ships to submarines, mostly German U-boats; Axis submarines were a significant strategic threat until late in the war. U.S. submarines sank over 550 Japanese ships. Submarines were also used to insert commandoscommando,
small, elite military raiding and assault unit or soldier. Although the word was coined in the Boer War (1899–1902), the role is as old as battles themselves. In 1940, when the British organized a number of such units, the term came into wide use.
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 in enemy territory and for rescue operations. The Germans and Japanese exchanged military plans, equipment, and precious metals by submarine as well.

Nuclear Submarines and Other Developments

With the advent of atomic power, the submarine underwent major changes in propulsion and striking power. In the nuclear-powered submarine an atomic reactor generates heat that drives a high-speed turbine engine. The first nuclear-powered submarine was the U.S. Nautilus, completed in 1954. Such submarines, with underwater speeds of above 30 knots, can remain submerged for almost unlimited periods of time and have circumnavigated the globe without surfacing. In 1960 the U.S.S. George Washington was the first submarine to fire a missile from a submerged position; the same year the U.S.S. Triton became the first vessel to circumnavigate the world while submerged. The development of nuclear-powered submarines capable of launching missiles without surfacing has greatly expanded the role of the submarine; its mission is no longer restricted to the destruction of ships (including other submarines), but it now also has the role of firing guided missilesguided missile,
self-propelled, unmanned space or air vehicle carrying an explosive warhead. Its path can be adjusted during flight, either by automatic self-contained controls or remote human control. Guided missiles are powered either by rocket engines or by jet propulsion.
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 (nuclear or conventional) at land targets deep inside an enemy's borders, as U.S. submarines did during the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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. In the 1990s South Anerican drug cartels began using diesel-powered submarinelike vessels to smuggle illegal drugs. Now built largely of fiberglass, these vessels either travel at the surface, with most of the vessel, except for a conning tower, submerged or, in some cases, are capable of traveling fully submerged on batteries, coming to the surface at night to recharge using diesel engines.


See F. W. Lipscomb, The British Submarine (1954); A. R. Hezlet, The Submarine and Sea Power (1967); E. P. Stafford, The Far and the Deep (1967); A. Roland, Underwater Warfare in the Age of Sail (1978); D. Carpenter, Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1986); E. P. Hoyt, The Death of the U-Boats (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a vessel adapted for traveling and performing strategic, operational-tactical, and other missions underwater or on the surface. In the Soviet Navy and the navies of the leading sea powers, submarines form a combat arm.

Submarines have a metal teardrop- or cigar-shaped hull capable of withstanding water pressure at the depths of submersion. To achieve submergence, the submarine’s ballast tanks are filled with water. Change in depth and surfacing are carried out by means of horizontal rudders, or diving planes, and subsequent expulsion of the water out of the ballast tanks by compressed air or gas. When the submarine is cruising on the surface, nuclear or diesel power is used. When underwater, nuclear power or electrical batteries are used. At shallow depths a submarine may also use diesel power plants with appropriate telescopic air intake devices.

Depending on the designation, modern submarines are armed with ballistic and winged missiles, torpedoes, or mines and have sonar, radar, or other radio-electronic equipment. Submarines are designated as strategic or operational-tactical depending on the main weapons. The principal weapon of the strategic submarine is the long-range ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. Such submarines ordinarily use nuclear power to enable them to spend a long time at sea. Operational-tactical submarines are armed with winged missiles and torpedoes to fight enemy surface vessels, as well as deep-water homing torpedoes to combat submarines. Submarine minelayers are armed with various types of mines and have torpedoes for self-defense.

Submarines were first constructed in the 17th century. The first submarines were built in London by the Dutch scientist C. van Drebbel in 1620, in Russia by the self-educated inventor Efim Nikonov in 1724, in North America by D. Bushnell in 1776, in France by R. Fulton in 1801, and in Germany by W. Bauer in 1850. The submarines had copper or iron hulls, tanks for taking on water, and oars or screw propellers that were manually operated. They were armed with mines, which were attached to the hull of an enemy ship by means of special devices and delivered by a pole or harpoon. The first use in combat of a submarine, or a “David” as they were then called, occurred during the American Civil War of 1861–65. The H. L. Hunley, built by the Southerner Hunley, was 10.6 m long, about 2 m wide, and about 2 m high; it had a crew of nine and was armed with a pole mine with a charge of 45 kg of powder. The submarine was propelled by manually turning a screw propeller. The H. L. Hunley sank the Northern armor-clad Housatonic and perished together with it.

In Russia in 1866 the world’s first submarine with a mechanical engine was built according to a design by I. F. Aleksandrov-skii. In 1879 the engineer S. K. Dzhevetskii built a submarine with an electrical battery, equipment for air regeneration, a periscope, and devices to maintain depth while traveling underwater. By the early 20th century virtually all maritime nations were building combat submarines. In Russia in 1902, I. G. Bubnov built the Del’fin (surface displacement 113 tons, underwater displacement 135.5 tons, depth of submersion 50 m, surface cruising range 4,500 km [2,500 miles], underwater cruising range 110 km [60 miles], and traveling speed 6 knots). Submarines of this type were used in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 and performed patrol duty on the approaches to Vladivostok. In 1912 the submarine Bars (surface displacement 650 tons, underwater displacement 782 tons, and 12 torpedo launchers) was built according to a plan by Bubnov. The submarine Krab, which was the world’s first underwater minelayer, was built according to a design by M. P. Naletov.

By the start of World War I the submarines of the warring countries had surface displacements of up to 670 tons, underwater displacement of up to 860 tons, submersion depths of as much as 50 m, surface traveling speeds of up to 18 knots, underwater speeds of 9–10 knots, cruising ranges of 5,700–7,200 km (3,000–4,000 miles), and up to six torpedo launchers. Some submarines had one or two guns of a caliber of 76–88 mm. Submarines were designed for reconnaissance and base defense. In the Russian Navy they were also used for laying mines in enemy bases and on the approaches to them.

In 1914, Germany was already making extensive use of submarines in combat. During September and October 1914, German submarines sank six British cruisers and one submarine and undertook aggressive actions against sea transports on sea- and ocean-lanes. The effectiveness of submarines led to intensive submarine construction in all the navies of the warring countries. It was most extensive in Germany, which by November 1918 had built 334 submarines and had 226 more in production.

During the war, submarines were significantly improved. They were armed with artillery guns with calibers of up to 150 mm, although torpedoes continued to be the principal weapon. By the end of the war, the submarines of all navies had sunk a total of 192 warships and 5,755 transports, with a total displacement of more than 14 million tons. Losses totaled 265 submarines. Submarines had become one of the chief combat arms of the navies.

After the war, the submarines most commonly built were long-range submarines with torpedo weaponry. They were usually classified as large (ocean) and medium-sized (sea) ships. The large submarines had displacements of up to 2,000 tons, submersion depths of 100 m, surface traveling speeds of up to 39 km/hr (21 knots; Japan), cruising ranges of up to 14,500 km (8,000 miles) and up to 33,000 km (18,000 miles) for certain submarines, up to 14 torpedo launchers, and up to 36 torpedoes with calibers increased from 450–500 to 533–550 mm. The caliber of artillery guns reached 100 and 130–150 mm.

In the Soviet Navy, submarine building began in 1927 with the introduction of Dekabrist-type submarines. Also developed at this time were plans for submarines of the “L” and “Shch” class, followed by the M- VI, which was later named Maliutka. In the late 1930’s experimental submarines with the same engine for surface and underwater travel were built.

Before the start of World War II, the USA had 111 submarines, Great Britain 58, France 77, Italy 115, Japan 63, Germany 57, and the USSR 218. A large number of submarines were built during the war, especially in Germany. They were used with best results in combat on sea-lanes. In all, the submarines of the warring countries (excluding the USSR) sank about 5,000 different vessels and warships, with a total displacement of more than 22 million tons. During the same time 1,123 submarines were lost.

The submarines of the Soviet Navy operated aggressively on the Barents, Baltic, Black, and Japanese seas and during the war sank 87 enemy warships and 322 enemy transports, with a total displacement of 938,000 tons.

After the war, the navies of all countries directed attention to increasing the depth of submersion, the cruising speed, and the maximum duration of underwater travel for submarines. In the 1950’s, submarines with nuclear power plants were built in the United States and the USSR and later in Great Britain and France. Such power plants made it possible to greatly increase the duration of an uninterrupted trip underwater and the underwater traveling speed, which brought about fundamental changes in the methods of applying submarines in combat.

The striking force of the Soviet Navy is based on nuclear submarines of different classes. They have great autonomy, a virtually unlimited underwater cruising range, high traveling speed, great depth of submersion, and diverse weaponry.


Droblenkov, F. F., and V. I. Gerasimov. Ugroza iz giubiny. Moscow, 1966.
Sherr, S. A. Korabli morskikh glubin. Moscow, 1964.
Trusov, G. M. Podvodnye lodki v russkom i sovetskom flote, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a submarine?

A submarine can be a symbol for male sexuality. Alternatively, dreaming about a submarine could represent exploring one’s emotions or unconscious mind. Also, to get someone “submarined” is slang for getting someone overly inebriated.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(naval architecture)
A ship that can operate both on the surface of the water and completely submerged.
Being or functioning in the sea.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


All vehicles appear to symbolize the way that we maneuver, or get through, a segment of our life’s journey. A submarine is a powerful moving machine that travels through deep waters. Deep waters represent our emotions and our unconscious. A submarine could represent the way in which we are navigating through our emotional waters and deal with the materials that are coming up from our unconscious. A submarine can have negative or positive connotations. It could suggest that you are feeling strong and are prepared to aggressively deal with whatever issues and emotional concerns arise in your life. On the other hand, the submarine as a dream symbol could be suggesting that you are overly guarded and defensive and are currently not open to airing personal issues.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.