History of the first Russian submarine
Submarines became an integral part of the armed forces of the world’s major countries in the early 20th century. Russia, however, had the opportunity to create a fleet of submarines more than 200 years earlier.
In the early 18th century, Efim Níkonov, a shipyard carpenter with no technical training, came up with the idea of a new ship capable of “secretly navigating the water and pulling warships out of the water.” Níkonov could not read or write, but he had great skill in shipbuilding.
The carpenter sent Emperor Peter I (Peter the Great) several proposals to build a submarine, written with the help of literate people, and said that he was willing to pay for a failure with his own head.
In 1719, the monarch paid attention to the project and invited Níkonov for a face-to-face conversation. Although the idea of Níkonov was not entirely new (the Dutch engineer Cornelius Drebbel tested the world’s first submarine in 1620), the emperor liked it and was inspired by the idea of Níkonov, whom they named “master of hidden ships”, he won a workshop in St. Petersburg and the possibility of choosing attendees.
In 1720, the first small Russian submarine prototype was tested on the Neva River in St. Petersburg. The ship plunged into the middle of the river and emerged on the other side. The second test, however, was not so successful: the ship could not emerge. The emperor personally participated in lifting the ship to the surface with ropes and, despite the failure, ordered the construction of a full-scale model.
Nikonov’s “hidden ship”, which was given the name “Morel”, was completed in 1724.
The first Russian submarine was in the shape of a large wooden barrel six meters long and two meters high, it was tied with iron wheels and lined with leather.
The hull featured 10 sheets of tin with minimum diameter through holes for outside water to enter the leather bags, which, as ballast water, contributed to the submergence of the ship. During the emergency, water was pumped with the help of a copper piston pump.
The submarine, with a crew of five, rowed.
A flamethrower would be the main weapon of the “Morel”. Also, according to the project, a diver could get out of the submarine to damage the enemy ship’s hull with special instruments.
In the spring of 1724, the “secret ship” was tested on the Neva River in the presence of the tsar and the officers of the fleet. The “Morel” successfully dived to a depth of 3 or 4 meters, but suddenly reached the bottom of the river. The tightness of the ship was broken and the crew had to be rescued urgently.However, even with the new failure, Pedro I was not disappointed with either the ship or the captain, and ordered “not to blame him for the shame.”
With the death of the emperor in 1725 he put an end to the ambitious project. Without a patron, Níkonov stopped receiving funds, materials and personnel. The last test of the “failed hidden ship” was carried out in 1727.
As a result, Russia had to wait another two centuries to obtain its own fleet of submarines.