Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Royal Navy Submarine Museum

HMS Alliance

HMS Alliance

Like so much else in history, the evolution of submarines was powered by the necessity of increasingly sophisticated and efficient warfare. The concept of underwater combat has roots deep in antiquity. There are images of men using hollow sticks to breathe underwater for hunting at the temples at Thebes, but the first known military use occurred during the siege of Syracuse (415 - 413 BC), where divers cleared obstructions, according to the History of the Peloponnesian War. At the siege of Tyre (332 BC), Alexander the Great used divers, according to Aristotle. Later legends from Alexandria, Egypt from the 12th century AD, suggested that Alexander conducted reconnaissance, using a primitive submersible in the form of a diving bell, as depicted in a 16th-century Islamic painting. According to a report attributed to Tahbir al-Tayseer in Opusculum Taisnieri published in 1562: 'two Greeks submerged and surfaced in the river Tagus near the City of Toledo several times in the presence of The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, without getting wet and with the flame they carried in their hands still alight.'


Although there were various plans for submersibles or submarines during the Middle Ages, the Englishman William Bourne designed one of the first prototype submarines in 1578. This was to be a completely enclosed boat that could be submerged and rowed beneath the surface. Comprising an enclosed wooden vessel sheathed in waterproofed leather, it was to be submerged by using hand operated wooden screw thread adjustable plungers pressing against flexible leather bags located at the sides in order to increase or decrease the volume of water to adjust the buoyancy of the craft. The depth adjustment was by means of a crankset projecting above the surface. There was no obvious accommodation for crew. The first submersible to be actually built in modern times was constructed in 1605 by Magnus Pegelius. Its fate was to become buried in mud. In 1596 the Scottish mathematician and theologian John Napier wrote in his Secret Inventions the following: These inventions besides devises of sayling under water with divers, other devises and strategems for harming of the enemyes by the Grace of God and worke of expert Craftsmen I hope to perform. It's unclear whether or not Napier ever carried out his plans. Henry Briggs, who was professor of mathematics at Gresham College, London, and later at Oxford, was a friend of Napier, whom he visited in 1615 and 1616, and was also an acquaintance of Cornelius Jacobszoon Drebbel, a Dutchman in the service of James I of England, who designed and built the first successful submarine in 1620.


Drebbel's submarine was propelled by oars and is thought to have incorporated floats with tubes to allow air down to the rowers. The precise nature of this submarine is unclear, it may be possible that it resembled a bell towed by a boat. Two improved types were tested in the River Thames between 1620 and 1624. Of one of these tests Constantijn Huygens reports in his autobiography of 1651 the following: 'Worth all the rest put together is the little ship, in which he calmly dived under the water, while he kept the king and several thousand Londoners in the greatest suspense. The great majority of these already thought that the man who had very cleverly remained invisible to them - for three hours, as rumour has it - had perished, when he suddenly rose to the surface a considerable distance from where he had dived down, bringing with him the several companions of his dangerous adventure to witness to the fact that they had experienced no trouble or fear under the water, but had sat on the bottom, when they so desired, and had ascended when they wished to do so; that they had sailed whithersoever they had a mind, rising as much nearer the surface or again diving as much deeper as it pleased them to do, without even being deprived of light; yea, even that they had done in the belly of that whale all the things people are used to do in the air, and this without any trouble. From all this it is not hard to imagine what would be the usefulness of this bold invention in time of war, if in this manner (a thing which I have repeatedly heard Drebbel assert) enemy ships lying safely at anchor could be secretly attacked and sunk unexpectedly by means of a battering ram — an instrument of which hideous use is made now- a-days in the capturing of the gates and bridges of towns.' Drebbel was able to measure the depth to which his boat had descended (which was necessary to prevent the boat from sinking) by means of a quicksilver barometer. In order to solve the problem of the absence of oxygen, Drebbel was able to create oxygen out of saltpetre to refresh the air in his submarine.


Between 1690 and 1692, the French physicist Denis Papin, designed and built two submarines. The first design (1690) was a strong and heavy metallic square box, equipped with an efficient pump that pumped air into the hull to raise the inner pressure. When the air pressure reached the required level, holes were opened to let in some water. This first machine was destroyed by accident. The second design (1692) had an oval shape and worked on similar principles. A water pump controlled the buoyancy of the machine. According to some sources, a spy of German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz called Haes reported that Papin had met with some success with his second design on the River Lahn. By the mid 18th century, over a dozen patents for submarines/submersible boats had been granted in England. In 1747, Nathaniel Symons patented and built the first known working example of the use of a ballast tank for submersion. His design used leather bags that could fill with water to submerge the craft. A mechanism was used to twist the water out of the bags and cause the boat to resurface. In 1749, the Gentlemen's Magazine reported that a similar design had been proposed by Giovanni Borelli in 1680. By this point of development, further improvement in design stagnated for over a century, until new industrial technologies for propulsion and stability could be applied. The first submarine to successfully dive, cruise below the water surface and emerge to the surface again by its own was the Sub Marine Explorer of the German American engineer Julius H. Kroehl (in German, Kröhl), which already comprised many technologies that are still essential to modern submarines. After its public maiden dive in 1866, the Sub Marine Explorer was used for pearl diving off the coast of Panama. Due to its very advanced design, it was capable of diving deeper than 31 meters (103 feet), remarkably deeper than any other submarine built before.


Although the first submersible vehicles were tools for exploring under water, it did not take long for inventors to recognize their military potential. The first military submarine was built in 1720 by carpenter Yefim Nikonov by order of Tsar Peter the Great in Russia. Nikonov armed his submarine with “fire tubes”, weapons akin to flame-throwers. The submarine was designed to approach an enemy vessel, put the ends of the “tubes” out of the water, and blow up the ship with a combustible mixture. In addition, he designed an airlock for aquanauts to come out of the submarine and to destroy the bilge of the ship. With the death of Peter I in January 1725, Nikonov lost his principal patron and the Admiralty withdrew support for the project. The first American military submarine was Turtle in 1776, a hand-powered egg-shaped (or acorn-shaped) device designed by the American David Bushnell, to accommodate a single man. It was the first submarine capable of independent underwater operation and movement, and the first to use screws for propulsion. However, according to British naval historian Richard Compton-Hall, the problems of achieving neutral buoyancy would have rendered the vertical propeller of the Turtle useless. The route the Turtle must take to attack its intended target HMS Eagle was slightly across the tidal stream which would, in all probability, have resulted in Ezra Lee becoming exhausted. There are also no British records of an attack by a submarine during the war. In the face of these and other problems, Compton-Hall suggests that the entire story around the Turtle was fabricated as disinformation and morale-boosting propaganda, and that if Ezra Lee did carry out an attack, it was in a covered rowing boat rather than the Turtle. Replicas of Turtle have been built to test the design. One replica (Acorn), created by Duke Riley and Jesse Bushnell (claiming to be a descendant of David Bushnell), used the tide to get within 200 feet of the RMS Queen Mary 2 in New York City (Acorn was stopped by a police boat for violating a security zone).


In 1800, the French Navy built a human-powered submarine designed by Robert Fulton, the Nautilus. It also had a sail for use on the surface and so was the first known use of dual propulsion on a submarine. It proved capable of using mines to destroy two warships during demonstrations. The French eventually gave up with the experiment in 1804, as did the British, when Fulton later offered them the submarine design. The Submarino Hipopótamo was the first submarine in South America built and tested in Ecuador on September 18, 1837. It was designed by Jose Rodriguez Lavandera, who successfully crossed the Guayas River in Guayaquil accompanied by Jose Quevedo. In 1851, a Bavarian artillery corporal, Wilhelm Bauer, took a submarine designed by him called the Brandtaucher (fire-diver) to sea in Kiel Harbour. This submarine was built by August Howaldt and powered by a treadwheel. It sank, but the crew of three managed to escape. The first submarine that did not rely on human power for propulsion was the French Navy submarine Plongeur, launched in 1863, and equipped with a reciprocating engine using compressed air from 23 tanks at 180 psi. In practice, the submarine was virtually unmanageable underwater, with very poor speed and maneouverability.


The first air independent and combustion powered submarine was the Ictineo II, designed by Narcís Monturiol. Originally launched in 1864 as a human-powered vessel, propelled by 16 men, it was converted to peroxide propulsion and steam in 1867. The 14 meters (46 feet) craft was designed for a crew of two, could dive to 30 metres (98 feet), and demonstrated dives of two hours. On the surface, it ran on a steam engine, but underwater such an engine would quickly consume the submarine's oxygen. To solve this problem, Monturiol invented an air-independent propulsion system. As the air-independent power system drove the screw, the chemical process driving it also released oxygen into the hull for the crew and an auxiliary steam engine. Apart from being mechanically powered, Monturiol's pioneering double hulled vessels also solved pressure, buoyancy, stability, diving and ascending problems that had bedeviled earlier designs. The submarine became a potentially viable weapon with the development of the first practical self-propelled torpedoes. The Whitehead torpedo was the first such weapon, and was designed in 1866 by British engineer Robert Whitehead. His 'mine ship' was an 11-foot long, 14-inch diameter torpedo propelled by compressed air and carried an explosive warhead. The device had a speed of 7 knots (13 km/h) and could hit a target 700 yards away. Many naval services procured the Whitehead torpedo during the 1870s and it first proved itself in combat during the Russo-Turkish War when, on January 16, 1878, the Turkish ship Intibah was sunk by Russian torpedo boats carrying Whiteheads.


During the 1870s and 1880s, the basic contours of the modern submarine began to emerge, through the inventions of the English inventor and curate, George Garrett, and his industrialist financier Thorsten Nordenfelt, and the Irish inventor John Philip Holland. In 1878, Garrett built a 14-foot long hand-cranked submarine of about 4.5 tons, which he named the Resurgam. This was followed by the second (and more famous) Resurgam of 1879, built by Cohran & Co. at Birkenhead, England. The construction was of iron plates fastened to iron frames, with the central section of the vessel clad with wood secured by iron straps. As built, it was 45 feet long by 10 feet in diameter, weighed 30 long tons, and had a crew of 3. Resurgam was powered by a closed cycle steam engine, which provided enough steam to turn the single propeller for up to 4 hours. It was designed to have positive buoyancy, and diving was controlled by a pair of hydroplanes amidships. At the time it cost £1,538. Although his design was not very practical - the steam boiler generated intense heat in the cramped confines of the vessel, and it lacked longitudinal stability - it caught the attention of the Swedish industrialist Thorsten Nordenfelt. Discussions between the two led to the first practical steam-powered submarines, armed with torpedoes and ready for military use.


The first such boat was the Nordenfelt I, a 56 tonne, 19.5 metres (64 feet) vessel similar to Garret's ill-fated Resurgam, with a range of 240 kilometres (150 miles; 130 nautical miles), armed with a single torpedo, in 1885. Like Resurgam, Nordenfelt I operated on the surface by steam, then shut down its engine to dive. While submerged the submarine released pressure generated when the engine was running on the surface to provide propulsion for some distance underwater. Greece, fearful of the return of the Ottomans, purchased it. Nordenfelt commissioned the Barrow Shipyard in England in 1886 to build Nordenfelt II (Abdül Hamid) and Nordenfelt III (Abdül Mecid) in 1887. They were powered by a coal-fired 250 hp Lamm steam engine turning a single screw, and carried two 356mm torpedo tubes and two 35mm machine guns. They were loaded with a total of 8 tons of coal as fuel and could dive to a depth of 160 feet. It was 30.5m long and 6m wide, and weighed 100 tons. It carried a normal crew of 7. It had a maximum surface speed of 6 knots, and a maximum speed of 4 knots while submerged. Abdülhamid became the first submarine in history to fire a torpedo submerged. Nordenfelt's efforts culminated in 1887 with Nordenfelt IV, which had twin motors and twin torpedoes. It was sold to the Russians, but soon ran aground and was scrapped. Garrett and Nordenfelt made significant advances in constructing the first modern, militarily capable submarines and fired up military and popular interest around the world for this new technology. However, the solution to fundamental technical problems, such as propulsion, quick submergence, and the maintenance of balance underwater was still lacking, and would only be solved in the 1890s.


A reliable means of propulsion for the submerged vessel was only made possible in the 1880s with the advent of the necessary electric battery technology. The first electrically powered boats were built by Stefan Drzewiecki in Russia, James Franklin Waddington and the team of James Ash and Andrew Campbell in England, Dupuy de Lôme and Gustave Zédé in France and Isaac Peral in Spain. In 1884, Polish-Russian naval engineer Stefan Drzewiecki converted 2 mechanical submarines, installed on each an 1 hp engine with the new, at the time, source of energy - batteries. On tests submarine went under the water against the flow of the Neva River at a rate of 4 knots. It was the first submarine in the world with electric propulsion. Ash and Campbell constructed their craft, the Nautilus, in 1886. It was 60 feet long with a 9.7 kW (13 hp) engine powered by 52 batteries. It was an advanced design for the time, but became stuck in the mud during trials and was discontinued. Waddington's Porpoise vessel showed more promise. Waddington had formerly worked in the shipyard in which Garrett had been active. Waddignton's vessel was similar in size to the Resurgam and its propulsion system used 45 accumulator cells with a capacity of 660 ampere hours each. These were coupled in series to a motor driving a propeller at about 750 rpm, giving the ship a sustained speed of 13 km/h (8 mph) for at least 8 hours. The boat was armed with two externally mounted torpedoes as well as a mine torpedo that could be detonated electronically. Although the boat performed well at trials, Waddington was unable to attract further contracts and went bankrupt.


In France, early electric boats Goubet I and Goubet II were built by the civil engineer, Claude Goubet. These boats were also unsuccessful, but they inspired the renowned naval architect Dupuy de Lôme to begin work on his submarine – an advanced electric-powered submarine almost 20 metres long. He didn't live to see his design constructed, but the craft was completed by Gustave Zédé in 1888 and named the Gymnote. It was one of the first truly successful electrically powered submarines, and was equipped with an early periscope and an electric gyrocompass for navigation. It completed over 2,000 successful dives using a 204-cell battery. Although the Gymnote was scrapped for its limited range, its side hydroplanes became the standard for future submarine designs. The Peral Submarine, constructed by Isaac Peral, was launched by the Spanish Navy in the same year, 1888. It had three Schwarzkopf torpedoes 14 in (360 mm) and one torpedo tube in bow, new air systems, hull shape, propeller, and cruciform external controls anticipating much later designs. Peral was an all-electrical powered submarine. After two years of trials the project was scrapped by naval officialdom who cited, among other reasons, concerns over the range permitted by its batteries. Many more designs were built at this time by various inventors, but submarines were not put into service by navies until the turn of the 20th century.


The turn of century marked a pivotal time in the development of submarines, with a number of important technologies making their debut, as well as the widespread adoption and fielding of submarines by a number of nations. Diesel Electric propulsion would become the dominant power system and instruments such as the periscope would become standardized. Batteries were used for running underwater and gasoline (petrol) or diesel engines were used on the surface and to recharge the batteries. Early boats used gasoline, but quickly gave way to kerosene, then diesel, because of reduced flammability. Effective tactics and weaponry were refined in the early part of the century, and the submarine would have a large impact on 20th century warfare. John Philip Holland was born in Ireland in 1841. He emigrated to America where his first successful submarine design was paid for by Irish nationalists seeking Ireland's liberation from Britain. Holland's first experimental submarine convinced his backers to pay for a bigger vessel, which was launched in 1878 and named the Fenian Ram. In 1900 after decades of struggle and disappointment the US Navy accepted Holland's Type 6 design which one US newspaper described as "Uncle Sam's Devil of the Deep". The Holland Type 6 was the culmination of decades of research and design. The father of the submarine John P. Holland had triumphed at last.


In September 1902 the First Submarine Flotilla, commanded by Captain Reginald Bacon arrived in Portsmouth. It consisted of two completed Holland boats and the gunboat H.M.S. Hazard that served as a floating submarine base. Captain Bacon recognized how dangerous the new submarines could be and proceeded cautiously with training his small band of volunteer officers and men. There were accidents and disappointments but just a few months later Captain Bacon reported that : "Even these Little Boats would be a terror to any ship attempting to remain or pass near a harbour holding them". Not that they were easy to crew ".....the ingenious designer in New York evidently did not realize that the average Naval Officer has only two eyes and two hands: the little conning tower was simply plastered with wheels, levers and gauges with which some superman was to fire torpedoes, dive and steer and do everything else at the same time..." From the 1902 diary of Lt. Arnold Fosters Royal Navy's first submarine commander. The museum has a Holland 1 submarine, the Royal Navy's first, on display.


Also at the museum is HMS Alliance. Built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers-Armstrong and launched in 1945, HMS Alliance was one of fourteen ‘A’ class submarines built for service in the Far East during World War 2. Commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1947 Alliance had a long and distinguished career of over 28 years that took her all over the world. Alliance is the centrepiece of the Museum and is the official memorial to the courageous men who fought in similar boats for the freedom we enjoy today. The submarine experience is brought to life by a guided tour enhanced by the first hand experiences of retired submariners, many of whom served in this class of boat.


The forty-minute tour takes the visitor from the forward torpedo compartment, through the accommodation section to the control room, where visitors learn something of navigation, diving and surfacing. The tour then moves to domestic services, including the heads and the galley. Visitors are then led through the heart of the engine room to finish up in the after torpedo compartment where the guide explains how to escape from a submarine. The guided tour helps to recreate the atmosphere, smell, conditions, and sounds on-board a submarine of the Second World War. The Royal Navy entered World War 2 with 100 submarines similar to HMS Alliance, and many campaigns were fought and won thanks to the contribution they made, but at a tremendous cost and sacrifice. The chance of not returning from patrol during the latter part of the War in a boat similar to HMS Alliance was 65%. Nine Victoria Crosses were won by brave submariners. When HMS Alliance was first commissioned she had a low conning tower, anti-aircraft guns and a 4”gun mounted at the front of the conning tower. All these features were typical for a submarine of this period. However, the role of the submarine changed in the post war period: the main purpose of submarines became hunting other enemy submarines. In order to carry out this role submarines were designed to be faster and quieter when under-water. In 1958 Alliance underwent modernisation work which saw the conning tower and guns replaced by a fin that completely covered her periscopes when dived. Both these alterations made Alliance more streamlined and better equipped for submarine warfare in the Cold War era..


The midget submarine, HMS X24, is the only remaining example of a British X-craft that saw service during World War 2. She is a jewel in the nation's maritime heritage crown, and a permanent reminder of the extraordinary courage and sacrifice of earlier generations of submariners. Following the success of other midget submarine raids in World War 2, X24 took part in two operations to penetrate Bergen harbour; the most heavily defended occupied Norwegian port. The target was the Laksevaag floating dock, which was highly important because it was widely used by U-boats for repairs. She weighs 27 tons and is 51 foot long. She has a beam of 5 feet, 9 inchs. The purpose of the submarine was to penetrate harbours where full size submarines could not go. X-24 had a diving depth of 300 feet and could travel at a speed of 6 knots on the surface or 5 underwater. She had an endurance of 82 miles. A full size submarine would tow her to the area of operation. The crew had primitive cooking facilities – they carried enough food and water for ten days at sea. The submarine was powered by the same diesel engine as a London bus and used an electric motor when submerged. X-24 had a crew of four who performed the following tasks: Commanding Officer – navigation, attack, command; 2nd Lieutenant – navigation, hydroplanes; Diver – diving outside the boat and helm (steering); Engine Room Artificer - maintaining the engine and helm.


During World War 2 the German Navy developed several different types of midget submarine. The Biber (or Beaver) is a one-man submarine that carried two torpedoes attached to each side of the hull. It is powered by a petrol engine on the surface and an electric motor when underwater. Bibers were used for attacking shipping off the coasts of Belgium and Holland. Bibers were also sent to Norway as part of a daring but unsuccessful attack on the Russian battleship Arkhangelsk. Despite hundreds of operations the Bibers only succeeded in sinking a single ship. Losses were heavy. Between January and April 1945, 109 Bibers were sent on operations and only 32 survived. n 2003 as part of the Channel Four programme "Salvage Squad" the Biber was restored and tested in the one of the docks of Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.


The Museum tells the story of the Royal Navy Submarine Service from its earliest days at the start of the 20th Century through to the modern nuclear powered fleet. Three submarines – HMS Alliance, Holland I and X24 – form the core of this Museum’s unique collection. There are many other items including photographs, documents, ship plans and artefacts to supplement these vessels and also tell the broader story of the service. These submarines may be viewed on site: HMS Alliance, a full-sized hunter-killer post-war submarine now raised out of the water on stilts; Holland 1 – the Royal Navy's first submarine; X24 – the only X-craft to see service in World War II and survive. Biber (No.105) – German World War II midget submarine. It was restored to working condition by apprentices from Fleet Support Limited in 2003 under the guidance of Ian Clark. LR3 – a deep-sea survey and rescue submersible. Maiale – An Italian human torpedo. JIM suit – atmospheric diving suit. Cutlet – an early ROV. Turtle – a replica of the first submarine ever used in combat (maybe).


Wheelchair access to all areas of the Museum. Guide Dogs, hearing dogs and assistance dogs are welcome in all of the galleries, however they are not allowed on HMS Alliance at busy times due to the nature of the submarine. Hearing loops are installed in the ticket reception, shop, lecture space, cinema and Miers Room. All toilets are at ground floor level. There are three disabled toilets on the site. Wheelchairs are available in the main reception area, please contact a member of staff for use. Free parking. Disabled parking bays next to entrance. HMS Alliance: There are no hatches or ladders to climb inside HMS Alliance. She has been restored as a walk through submarine to ease access. New lift for wheelchair users and people with disabilities to the after end compartment. The guided tour is led by an ex-submariner. Visually impaired visitors are welcome to experience the tour by touch. Holland 1 Gallery: Ramped access to submarine.. No wheelchair access inside Holland 1. Mind your head as you enter Holland 1 – it is a low entrance! Video inside the submarine showing how Holland 1 would have looked. John Fieldhouse Building (X24, Interactive Gallery and History Galleries): Lift, Induction loop, Hands-on interactives and sensory experiences in the Submarines and Science Gallery, Tactile objects in the children's exhibition & dressing up area of the Pioneers to Pirates Gallery (first floor History Gallery). Sound post at the ‘Launch of HMS Dreadnought' painting. Periscopes – the attack periscope is lower than the search periscope, and may be more suitable for those in a wheelchair.


Location : The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Haslar Jetty Road, Gosport, Hampshire PO12 2AS

Transport : Portsmouth Harbour (National Rail) then Gosport Ferry + 10 minutes. Bus Routes : Portsmouth Harbour Waterbus.

Opening Times : April to October Daily 10:00 to 17:30;  November to March open Wednesday to Sunday 10:00 to 16:30 + Monday and Tuesday during school holidays.

Tickets : Adults £14.00;   Children (5 - 15) £10.00;   Seniors / Disabled £12.60

Museum include in All Attraction Ticket

Tel. : 023 9251 0354