A submarine is a submersible vessel that moves in three dimensions, on the surface and underwater. Invented for the first time in 1624 by Cornelis Drebbel.
A submarine is a submersible vessel capable of moving on the surface and underwater; it is thus distinguished from other boats and ships which move only on the surface, and from bathyscaphes which move mainly along the vertical axis.
Most submarines are warships. The civilian use of the submarine mainly concerns oceanographic research and oil exploitation; its use for tourism or commercial transport purposes remains anecdotal1. Confronted with the problems of the absence of external air supply during immersion, he saw specific propulsive innovations applied despite their cost; for example nuclear propulsion. These new types of propulsion have allowed unprecedented advances in available power and energy, but they hamper their stealth. Other very important issues make this field very specialized, such as virtually zero reception of visual information (in discrete phases of military operations) and very limited information exchange with an external superior command.
Use and description of the submarine
For civilian and military use, it generally serves as a warship or is used for oceanographic research and oil exploitation. The first was invented by Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch physicist. It was tested in 1620 in the Thames at the request of King James I.
The submarine consists of a strong inner hull in which the personnel are placed. An outer shell promotes its hydrodynamics, that is to say its movements in the water. Between these two hulls, the ballasts, the purges, and the adjusters participate in the vessel’s submersion action.
Operating principle of the submarine
The submarine obeys two main principles: that of Archimedes and that of Pascal. According to Archimedes, the machine floats and goes up. According to Pascal, he dives and remains submerged. Its total weight defines the volume of its ballasts. When it is floating, the submarine has the purges closed. Its ballasts are mostly filled with air. Regulators calculate the water level necessary to print Archimedes’ thrust. When the submarine dives in water, Pascal’s principle is applied: the purges remain open, the ballasts fill, the submarine submerges. When it is totally underwater, the ballasts are fully filled with water. The inner shell, made of steel and cylindrical in shape, supports this pressure. Its degree of elasticity is essential: it must be able to return to its initial shape. Its thickness is calculated based on the maximum expected immersion. For 10 mm of thickness, we gain 100 m of immersion. At the front and at the rear, plate boxes regulate the longitudinal balance. Motorized propulsion and propellers move the submarine forward.
List of submarine incidents since 2000
In August 2000, the Russian Oscar II-class submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea when a leak of high-test peroxide in the forward torpedo room led to the detonation of a torpedo warhead, which in turn triggered the explosion of around half a dozen other warheads about two minutes later. This second explosion was equivalent to about 3–7 tons of TNT and was large enough to register on seismographs across Northern Europe. The explosion and the flooding by high pressure seawater killed the majority of the submarine’s 118 sailors. Twenty-three survived in the stern of the submarine, but despite an international rescue effort, they died several days later either from a flash fire or suffocation due to a lack of oxygen. The Russian Navy was severely criticized in its home country by family members of the deceased crew for failure to accept international help promptly.
Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision
On 9 February 2001, the American submarine USS Greeneville accidentally struck and sank a Japanese high-school fisheries training ship, Ehime-Maru, killing nine of the thirty-five Japanese aboard, including four students, 10 miles (16 km) off the coast of Oahu. The collision occurred while members of the public were on board the submarine observing an emergency surface drill.
A naval inquiry found that the accident was the result of poorly executed sonar sweeps, an ineffective periscope search by the submarine’s captain, Commander Scott Waddle, bad communication among the crew and distractions caused by the presence of the 16 civilian guests aboard the submarine.
The Navy and the command of Greeneville have been criticized for making no immediate attempt to help the Japanese on Ehime Maru that survived the initial collision. Weather conditions were producing 8-to-12-foot (2.4 to 3.7 m) waves and the submarine’s partially surfaced condition prevented the opening of deck hatches. These were cited as reasons for the submarine captain’s choosing to stand off and remain close by. While the U.S. Coast Guard directly responded, survivors resorted to automatically deployed life rafts from Ehime Maru.
USS Dolphin major flooding and fire
In May 2002, the U.S. Navy research submarine USS Dolphin experienced severe flooding and fires off the coast of San Diego, California. The ship was abandoned by the crew and Navy civilian personnel, who were rescued by nearby naval vessels. No one was seriously injured. Although severely damaged, the boat was towed back to San Diego for overhaul.
USS Oklahoma City collision with tanker
On 13 November 2002, USS Oklahoma City collided with the Leif Hoegh liquefied natural gas tanker Norman Lady, east of the Strait of Gibraltar. No one on either vessel was hurt, and there were no leaks of oil from fuel tanks and no threat to the environment, but the submarine sustained damage to her periscope and sail area, and put into La Maddalena, Sardinia, for repairs. Her commanding officer, Commander Richard Voter, was relieved of his command on 30 November. One other officer and two enlisted crew members were also disciplined for dereliction of duty.
In November 2002, the Royal Navy’s Trafalgar-class submarine, HMS Trafalgar, ran aground close to Skye, causing £5 million worth of damage to her hull and injuring three sailors. It was travelling 50 metres (160 ft) below the surface at more than 14 knots (26 km/h) when Lieutenant-Commander Tim Green, a student in the Submarine Command Course, ordered a course change that took her onto the rocks at Fladda-chùain, a small but well-charted islet.
A report issued in May 2008 stated that tracing paper (used to protect navigational charts) had obscured vital data during a training exercise. Furthermore, the officer in charge of the training exercise had not been tracking the submarine’s position using all the available equipment. Commanders Robert Fancy and Ian McGhie were court martialled and reprimanded over the incident
HMAS Dechaineux flooding
On 12 February 2003, HMAS Dechaineux, a Collins-class submarine of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was operating near her maximum safe diving depth off the coast of Western Australia when a seawater pipe burst. The high-pressure seawater flooded the lower engine room before the hose was sealed off. It was estimated that if the inflow had continued for another twenty seconds, the weight of the water would have prevented Dechaineux from returning to the surface. The Navy recalled all of the Collins-class submarines to the submarine base HMAS Stirling after this potentially catastrophic event, and after naval engineers were unable to find any flaws in the pipes that could have caused the burst, they commanded that the maximum safe depth of these submarines be reduced.
Ming 361 accident
In May 2003, China announced that the entire ship’s crew (70 people) had been killed aboard the Ming-class submarine 361 due to a mechanical malfunction. The accident took place off the coast of Liaoning province in northeast China. The vessel was recovered and towed to an unidentified port, where the cause of the accident was identified. When the battery was running low, the submarine surfaced with a vent opening for oxygen, which was consumed heavily by the charging diesel engines. At the same time, a sea wave surged, and seawater started to flow into the opening vent that automatically closed to prevent flooding. There was no single device on the submarine to detect low oxygen level and the crew suffocated due to the diesel engines consuming all the oxygen present within the submarine. As a consequence, the Commander and the Political Commissar of the People’s Liberation Army Navy were dismissed from service, as well as the Commander, Political Commissar and Chief of Staff of the Northern Fleet.
In August 2003, the Russian November-class submarine K-159 sank in the Barents Sea. This submarine had been decommissioned, and she was being towed away for scrapping. Of her skeleton crew of ten sailors, nine were killed.
USS Hartford grounding
On 25 October 2003, the American Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hartford ran aground in the harbor of La Maddalena, Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea. This grounding caused about nine million dollars’ worth of damage to Hartford.
HMCS Chicoutimi fire
On 5 October 2004, the Canadian submarine HMCS Chicoutimi suffered from two fires after leaving Faslane harbour for Halifax harbour. One officer, Canadian Forces Lieutenant (Navy) Chris Saunders, died the following day while he was being flown via helicopter to a hospital in Ireland. Canadian Forces investigators concluded that poor insulation of some power cables caused the fires. The following board of inquiry found that the fire was caused by a series of events that caused electrical arcing at cable joints from seawater penetration at the joints.
USS San Francisco collision with undersea terrain
On 8 January 2005, the Los Angeles-class submarine USS San Francisco, while underway and submerged, collided with an undersea seamount about 350 miles (560 km) south of Guam in the Marianas Islands. One of her sailors, Machinist mate 2nd Class (MM2(SS)) Joseph Allen Ashley, of Akron, Ohio, died from the injuries he suffered in the collision. This happened while San Francisco was on a high-speed voyage to visit Brisbane, Australia.
An additional 97 sailors were injured in this accident, including two with dislocated shoulders. The collision with the seamount was so severe that San Francisco nearly sank. Accounts from the scene related a desperate struggle for positive buoyancy after her forward ballast tanks had been ruptured. Several news web sites stated that the boat had hit an “uncharted sea mount” at a high speed. The captain of the submarine, Commander Kevin Mooney, was later relieved of his command after an investigation revealed that he had been using inadequate methods of ocean voyage planning.
San Francisco underwent a rapid deceleration from more than 25 knots (46 km/h) to a standstill, causing a section of her bow to collapse (including her sonar system) and everything not tied down to fly forward in the boat. San Francisco returned to her base at Guam, where emergency repairs were carried out. Next, she steamed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for more permanent repairs. The bow section of San Francisco was replaced with that of her sister ship, USS Honolulu, which had already been removed from service because of years of wear and tear. This replacement of the bow of San Francisco was successful, and the vessel returned to active service in the Pacific Fleet, based at San Diego.
On 5 August 2005, the Russian Priz-class deep-submergence rescue vehicle AS-28, while operating off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, became entangled in a fishing net, or possibly by cables belonging to an underwater antenna assembly, at a depth of 190 meters (600 ft). Unable to free itself, the submarine was stuck with a depleting air supply.
After a multi-national effort, a Royal Navy team using a Scorpio ROV was able to free the submarine from the entanglement, allowing it to return to the surface. All seven crew members were rescued safely.
USS Philadelphia collision with MV Yasa Aysen
On 5 September 2005, USS Philadelphia was in the Persian Gulf about 30 nautical miles (60 km) northeast of Bahrain when she collided with the Turkish merchant ship MV Yasa Aysen. No injuries were reported on either vessel. The damage to the submarine was described as “superficial.” The Turkish ship suffered minor damage to its hull just above her waterline, but the United States Coast Guard inspected the ship and found her to be still seaworthy. The commanding officer of Philadelphia, Commander Steven M. Oxholm, was relieved of his command following this collision.
Daniil Moskovsky fire
On 6 September 2006 the Russian Victor III-class submarine Daniil Moskovsky suffered a fire which resulted in the deaths of two crewmen (a warrant officer and a sailor). At the time of the incident the submarine was anchored off the Rybachiy peninsula, on Russia’s north coast near the border with Norway. The fire was extinguished with no damage to the reactor (which had been scrammed as a precaution) and the submarine was towed to a base at Vidyayevo. The incident was reported as being caused by an electrical fire in the vessel’s wiring.
USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul incident
Four crew members were washed overboard from USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul by heavy waves on 29 December 2006 in Plymouth Sound, England. This resulted in the deaths of Senior Chief Thomas Higgins (chief of the boat) and Sonar Technician 2nd Class Michael Holtz. After the preliminary investigation, Commander Edwin Ruff received a punitive letter of reprimand, stating that the accident was avoidable, and he was reassigned to a shore-based post in Norfolk, Virginia.
USS Newport News collision with Japanese tanker Mogamigawa
On 8 January 2007, USS Newport News was transiting submerged in the Straits of Hormuz when she hit the Japanese tanker Mogamigawa. She had been operating as part of Carrier Strike Group 8 (CSG-8), organized around the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and dispatched to the Indian Ocean to help support operations in Somalia.
On 21 March 2007 two crew members of the Royal Navy’s Trafalgar-class submarine, HMS Tireless were killed in an explosion caused by air-purification equipment in the forward section of the submarine. The submarine was in service in the Arctic Ocean and had to make an emergency surface through the pack ice. A third crewmember who suffered “non-life-threatening” injuries was airlifted to a military hospital at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska. According to the Royal Navy, the accident did not affect the ship’s nuclear reactor, and the ship sustained only superficial damage.
On 26 May 2008, the Royal Navy’s Swiftsure-class submarine, HMS Superb hit an underwater rock pinnacle in the northern Red Sea, 80 miles (130 km) south of Suez, causing damage to sonar equipment. The submarine was decommissioned slightly earlier than planned as a result of the damage.
Russian K-152 Nerpa gas leak
Main article: 2008 Russian submarine accident
On 8 November 2008, at least 20 men died of asphyxiation from a gas leak on board the Russian nuclear submarine K-152 Nerpa, during trials in the Sea of Japan. The submarine was leased to the Indian Navy in 2011 and was formally commissioned into service as INS Chakra in 2012.
HMS Vanguard and Triomphant collision
Main article: HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant submarine collision
Two nuclear submarines, the Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard and the French Navy’s Triomphant, collided in February 2009. They were operating in the Atlantic Ocean at the time. No injuries or radiation leaks were reported.
USS Hartford and USS New Orleans collision
USS Hartford collided with USS New Orleans on 20 March 2009 in the Strait of Hormuz.
A U.S. Navy investigation into the collision found that Hartford was solely to blame for the accident. According to the Navy, the accident was caused by poor, lax leadership on the submarine and a failure to adequately prepare for and conduct the crossing of the Hormuz Strait by the crew. As a result, the captain and several other officers and sailors were removed or disciplined.
INS Sindhurakshak fire
In February 2010, a faulty battery valve that leaked hydrogen gas resulted in a fire which caused an explosion in INS Sindhurakshak’s battery compartment, killing one and injuring two sailors.
INS Shankush incident
On 30 August 2010, INS Shankush, a Shishumar-class submarine of the Indian Navy developed technical difficulties while on a planned exercise off Mumbai. While effecting repairs, the submarine’s maintenance team was washed overboard due to rough sea state. A team of five officers and sailors, led by the submarine’s executive officer (XO), Lt Cdr Firdaus D Moghal, successfully recovered all members of the crew. However, the officer himself was washed overboard subsequently in rough sea conditions and sustained heavy injuries on his forehead. He was rescued by a helicopter dispatched from Naval Air Station INS Shikra but died en route to shore.
HMS Astute grounding
Astute aground with the emergency tow vessel Anglian Prince
On 22 October 2010, HMS Astute ran aground on a sand bank off the coast of the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
HMCS Corner Brook grounding
HMCS Corner Brook ran aground in Nootka Sound off the coast of Vancouver Island on 4 June 2011, while conducting SOCT. Minor injuries were sustained by two crew members and the submarine returned to CFB Esquimalt after the incident without escort or further incident. A board of inquiry into the incident deemed commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Paul Sutherland, had responsibility for safe navigation of the submarine and was relieved of his command.
USS Miami arson
On 23 May 2012, during a scheduled maintenance overhaul, USS Miami suffered extensive damage from a fire, which was later determined to have been part of a series of fires started deliberately by a civilian shipyard worker who was seeking time off from work. The Navy determined it would be uneconomical to repair the submarine and decided to decommission and scrap her instead.
USS Montpelier collision with USS San Jacinto
USS Montpelier and the Aegis cruiser USS San Jacinto collided off the coast of north-eastern Florida on 13 October 2012 during an exercise while the submarine was submerged at periscope depth. There were no injuries aboard either ship. The initial assessment of damage was that there was a complete depressurization of the sonar dome aboard San Jacinto. The investigation revealed that the principal cause of the collision was human error, poor teamwork by Montpelier watch team, and the commanding officer’s failure to follow established procedures for submarines operating at periscope depth. Additionally, the investigation revealed contributing factors threaded among the various command and control headquarters that provide training and operational oversight within Fleet Forces Command.
INS Sindhurakshak explosion and sinking
On 14 August 2013, the Indian Navy’s INS Sindhurakshak Kilo-class Type 877EKM submarine sank after explosions caused by a fire took place on board when the submarine was berthed at Mumbai. The fire, followed by a series of ordnance blasts on the armed submarine, occurred shortly after midnight. The fire was put out within two hours. Due to damage from the explosions, the submarine sank at its berth with only a portion visible above the water surface. Sailors on board reportedly jumped off to safety. The vessel was salvaged later and bodies of 18 dead personnel were recovered
Due to the explosion, the front section of the submarine was twisted, bent and crumpled, and water had entered the forward compartment. Another submarine, INS Sindhuratna, also sustained minor damage when the fire on Sindhurakshak caused its torpedoes to explode. An enquiry into the incident found the cause of the incident to be violation of Standard Operating Procedures during torpedo loading. This resulted in the explosion of two torpedoes during the incident while the remaining 14 torpedoes disintegrated.
Official sources said it was “highly unlikely” the submarine could be returned to service.
Russian K-150 Tomsk fire
On 16 September 2013, fifteen seamen were hospitalized after a fire on the Oscar-class submarine. The fire started during welding activity, as the sub was being repaired at the Zvezda shipyard near Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. The fire was put out after five hours. A federal Investigative Committee said the fire had “caused damage to the health of 15 servicemen” and they remained in hospital. It gave no details about their condition.
USS Jacksonville collision
On 10 January 2013, USS Jacksonville struck an unidentified vessel in the Persian Gulf and lost one of its periscopes. The ship’s commanding and executive officers were relieved for cause following the incident.
The ship was later identified as a fishing trawler.
HMS Talent collision
In early 2015 Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Talent entered Devonport Naval base in Plymouth with significant damage to its fin. It had been deployed in the Arctic to track Russian submarines. Official reports stated the boat had struck ice.
Sinking of unknown North Korean submarine
On March 11 2016 CNN and the U.S. Naval Institute News reported that unnamed US officials believed a North Korean submarine had been lost at sea in the Sea of Japan. According to reports, the U.S. military had been observing the submarine when it “stopped” before the North Korean navy was observed searching the area by American satellites, aircraft and ships.
HMS Ambush collision
On 20 July 2016, while operating at periscope depth on a training exercise in the Strait of Gibraltar, HMS Ambush collided with a merchant ship, sustaining significant damage to the top of her conning tower. The merchant vessel did not sustain any damage. It was reported that no crew members were injured during the collision and that the submarine’s nuclear reactor section remained completely undamaged.
UC3 Nautilus sinking
On 11 August 2017, the privately owned midget submarine UC3 Nautilus sank off the coast of Denmark. Danish authorities believe its owner Peter Madsen allegedly scuttled the submarine to hide evidence in the murder of journalist Kim Wall. In October 2017, Madsen admitted to dismembering Wall during their submarine trip and was later convicted of her murder.
ARA San Juan
On the night of 16 November 2017, the Argentine Navy submarine ARA San Juan and her crew of 44 was reported missing in the San Jorge Gulf region. Ships and long-range patrol aircraft from several nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, were dispatched in a search and rescue mission. Rescue submersibles and parachute rescuers were deployed. On 30 November, hopes of rescuing the crew alive were abandoned.
On 16 November 2018, the company Ocean Infinity had located San Juan through a remote submersible. The wreck was 460 kilometres (290 mi) southeast of Comodoro Rivadavia at a depth of 907 metres (2,976 ft). The submarine’s imploded wreckage was strewn up to 70 metres (230 ft) from the hull. All 44 crew members were lost with the submarine.
On 1 July 2019, a fire on what it described as a Russian deep-water research submarine surveying the seabed near the Arctic killed 14 sailors. Russian officials faced accusations of trying to cover up the full details of the accident, and some Russian media criticized what they said was a lack of transparency, and drew parallels with the dearth of official information during the meltdown of a Soviet nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986. One day later, the Russian government officially disclosed the incident on the submarine Losharik and acknowledged that the vessel had a nuclear reactor on board.
Hoegh London collision with South Korean Navy submarine
On July 15, 2020 05:00 UTC, Norwegian merchant ship Hoegh London (IMO 9342205) and South Korean Navy’s Jang Bogo-class submarine collided near Gadeokdo island, Busan, South Korea.
KRI Nanggala (402) goes missing
On 21 April 2021, Indonesian Navy spokesperson First Admiral Julius Widjojono announced that KRI Nanggala had failed to report for a post-maneuver brief following a torpedo live fire exercise in the Bali Sea off the coast of Surabaya, about 95 km (51 nautical miles) north of Bali, in an area where the water is 700 meters (2,300 ft) deep. The submarine declared sank on April 24, 2021 18:00 (GMT+7) by Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces Hadi Tjahjanto.
Nanggala was declared missing on 21 April 2021, hours after losing contact with surface personnel while it was underwater. It was in the middle of a torpedo drill in waters north of Bali and had fired a live SUT torpedo before it went missing. The navy estimated that the submarine’s oxygen supply would last for about three days, and multiple domestic and international vessels were sent to search for the vessel.
Three days later, on 24 April, debris from the submarine was found on the surface, and the navy declared Nanggala sunk. Navy chief Yudo Margono reported that a scan appeared to show the submarine resting at a depth of 850 m (2,800 ft). The presumed loss of 53 people constitutes the largest reported loss of life aboard a submarine since the Chinese submarine Changcheng 361 malfunctioned in April 2003.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo explanations: German submarine Wilhelm Bauer. (originally designated U-2540) is a Type XXI U-boat of Nazi Germany’s navy (Kriegsmarine), completed shortly before the end of World War II. It was scuttled at the end of the war, having never gone on patrol. In 1957, it was raised from the seabed off Flensburg Firth, refurbished and recommissioned for use by the West-German Bundesmarine in 1960. Finally retired fully in 1983, it is the only floating example of a Type XXI U-boat. It has been modified to appear in wartime configuration and exhibited at the Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany.