Wilhelm Bauer and the Sea Devil


Wilhelm Bauer United States Public Domain

Wilhelm Bauer
United States Public Domain

Wilhelm Bauer – never heard of him huh? This man “…had more time sitting on the can at test depth than …” oops, never mind – an old submarine expression often spoken with feigned disgust at new kids onboard. But, as I was saying, by 1860 Wilhelm Bauer had more dives on a submarine than everyone. He may have even had more dives on a submarine until the 20th century, and if someone in the 1800s did get in more dives than Wilhelm, it would have been John Holland or Simon Lake. I’ll get to John & Simon later.

Wilhelm was German, but he is not the father of German submarines. He was, however a pioneer in the field of submarine and construction. The impetuous for Wilhelm’s first submarine was the German Danish War of 1848 to 1851. He named his creation Brandtaucher (Incendiary Diver). An often used technique for breaking blockades was to load a ship with explosives (or to light it on fire) and then set it adrift with the currents to be sent into the blockading ships wreaking havoc on the enemy fleet. These ships were known as incendiary ships. Wilhelm’s idea was for his submarine to attach an explosive to the underside of Danish blockading ships and break the blockade through their destruction.

The Brandtaucher was about 28 feet long and 35 tons. It was powered by two sailors on a treadmill. The third crew member operated the submarine. The first public demonstration (1 Feb 1851) almost ended in disaster. The submarine began to leak and settled on the bottom of Kiel harbor.  For six hours Bauer and his two sailors waited for enough water to leak into the submarine to equalize the pressure so they could open the hatch. In 1887, the submarine was raised and is now on display at the Museum of Military History Dresden, Germany.

Immediately Bauer began to plan his next submarine, but the government of Schleswig-Holstein would not fund another submarine. He tried to get the support of other European countries and finally in 1855 he signed a contract to build his submarine for Russia. This submarine, named Seeteufel (Sea Devil), was twice as large and designed with a lockout chamber and had a crew of twelve. This submarine was a very good design. On the 134th dive the submarine became stuck in the sand. The crew managed to raise the hatch above the water and escape. But, the submarine sank back down to the sea floor.

This was Bauer’s last submarine. He realized he would not be able to get the support he needed from another country and turned to his other interests.

Drawing of the Brandtaucher - 1851 United States Public Domain

Drawing of the Brandtaucher – 1851
United States Public Domain

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