Submarine Sunday: Narval Q4 (France)

You have probably heard of nuclear powered submarines. They are called that not because they carry nuclear missiles (some do and some do not). They are called that because their propulsion is supplied by a nuclear reactor. But to be perfectly honest they are actually steam submarines. The nuclear reactor provides the heat to create steam to drive a turbine which powers the submarine (though there are several types of drive trains which can be used with a nuclear reactor).

The first nuclear powered ship in the world was the American submarine Nautilus SSN-571, commissioned 30 September 1954. But the Nautilus was not the first steam powered submarine. You need to go back 54 years to find the first steam powered naval submarine. The French submarine Narval Q4 was commissioned 26 June 1900.

The Narval did not use a steam turbine though, it used one triple expansion reciprocating steam engine. You will remember the Titanic had two triple expansion steam engines the size of a three story house. The Narval’s engine was no where near as large. The steam power was not the only innovation of the Narval. It was one of the first submarines to have a duel propulsion plant (steam on the surface and electric motors submerged. It was also one of the first submarine to have a double hull. An inner hull which was pressurized and an outer hull that was not pressurized but housed air banks, fuel tanks, ballast tanks and an area open to the sea. This outer hull was streamlined and made the Narval handle much better on the surface.

The Narval was a prototype, there was only one. The Narval was taken out of service 9 March 1909. However the French built many more steam powered submarines using the lessons they learned from the Narval.

French Narval Submarine, 1900.

French Narval Submarine, 1900.



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2 responses to “Submarine Sunday: Narval Q4 (France)

  1. Mike

    Hi Joe,
    Yes the French submarine Q4 was very advance in technology of the day and would set the standard for future subs. What was surprising, the British, American and German Navies could see no future in sub warfare at the time? Boy did that all change in the first world war with the German U-boats.
    What was the next surprise in the second World war, Hitler could see no future in sub warfare too! He thought the future laid in big battle ships. As for Carls Demerit in charge of the U-boat operation thought very different and consider big battle ships were a waste of money. But could not say that in public. As for the same amount of money he see a fleet of U-boats could do 100 times more damage. Thank god for us German had an idiot of a leader in charge Adolf Hitler. We only got to see the amount of damage they do and if Demerit got his way in the first place at the start of the war, boy we would been in big trouble. Just matter of interest my father was in coastal command for the Royal Air force flying Wellingtons and Liberators planes looking for the deadly U-boats to sink. Some of the stories he came up with were quite hair raising stuff!

  2. Mike

    Hi Joe,
    Yes I agree with you the French submarine Narval Q4 was a great sub and was years ahead of any other sub around at the time and would set the standard for future subs to be built. It was amazing to think at the time the British Navy, American Navy and German Navy all thought there was no future in sub war fair! The wake up call would came in the first world war with the German U boats on how much damage they could do and certainly shock the British Navy who would become very weary of them. Even in the second world war Hitler did not believe in them and thought the big battle ships was the way forward. As for Carls Demerit the man in charged of the U boats fleet thought very different and was quick to think the big battle ships were a waste of money as for the same money 100 U boats could do at lest 10 times more damage. But could not say that in public. Thank god there was an idoit in charge he thought he was a 5 star General but was no more than 1 star General! Mr Adolf Hitler. As if Demerit was in charged things would of be very different there would of been many more millions killed.
    The sad story of the French sub Naval Q4 it would land up on the scrap heap in 1928. Now if had been under America or British control it would of had a very chance landing up in a Museum some were?