French submarine Plongeur

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The French submarine Plongeur, 1863.
Civil and Naval Ensign of France.svgFrance
Operator: French Navy
Ordered: 1859
Builder: Arsenal de Rochefort
Laid down: 1 June 1860
Launched: 16 April 1863
Struck: 2 February 1872
General characteristics
Displacement: 381 t (420 tons) in displacement
Length: 45 m (146 ft) [1]
Beam: 3.7 m (12 ft)
Propulsion: Compressed air engine with 53 m³ (1,872 ft³) of compressed air at 12.5  bar (1.25  MPa, 180  psi).
Speed: 4  kn (7.2 km/h)
Range: 5  nmi (9 km)
Test depth: 10 metres
Complement: 12
Armament: Spar torpedo

Plongeur (French for "Diver") was a French submarine launched on 16 April 1863. She was the first submarine in the world to be propelled by mechanical (rather than human) power.


Captain Siméon Bourgeois, who made the plans, and naval constructor Charles Brun began working on the design in 1859 at Rochefort.

Charles Brun was a 1st class engineer of the French Navy stationed at Rochefort, France.

Rochefort, Charente-Maritime Subprefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Rochefort is a commune in southwestern France, a port on the Charente estuary. It is a sub-prefecture of the Charente-Maritime department.


Model of Plongeur at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, showing the lifeboat detached. Le Plongeur Munich.jpg
Model of Plongeur at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, showing the lifeboat detached.
Drawings for Plongeur. Le Plongeur plan.jpg
Drawings for Plongeur.

In 1859 the Conseil des Travaux called naval engineers for designs for a submarine and reviewed three, choosing that submitted by Siméon Bourgeois (later Admiral) and Charles Brun, naming the project Plongeur [2] with the code name Q00.

The submarine used a compressed-air engine, propelled by stored compressed air powering a reciprocating engine. [3] The air was contained in 23 tanks holding air at 12.5  bar (1.25  MPa, 180  psi), taking up a huge amount of space (153 m³/5,403 ft³), and requiring the submarine to be of unprecedented size. The engine had a power of 60 kW (80 hp), and could propel the submarine for 5  nmi (9 km), at a speed of 4  kn (7.2 km/h).

Compressed air is air kept under a pressure that is greater than atmospheric pressure. Compressed air is an important medium for transfer of energy in industrial processes. Compressed air is used for power tools such as air hammers, drills, wrenches and others. Compressed air is used to atomize paint, to operate air cylinders for automation, and can also be used to propel vehicles. Brakes applied by compressed air made large railway trains safer and more efficient to operate. Compressed air brakes are also found on large highway vehicles.

Reciprocating engine heat engine that uses one or more reciprocating pistons to convert pressure into a rotating motion

A reciprocating engine, also often known as a piston engine, is typically a heat engine that uses one or more reciprocating pistons to convert pressure into a rotating motion. This article describes the common features of all types. The main types are: the internal combustion engine, used extensively in motor vehicles; the steam engine, the mainstay of the Industrial Revolution; and the niche application Stirling engine. Internal combustion engines are further classified in two ways: either a spark-ignition (SI) engine, where the spark plug initiates the combustion; or a compression-ignition (CI) engine, where the air within the cylinder is compressed, thus heating it, so that the heated air ignites fuel that is injected then or earlier.

Bar (unit) non-SI unit of pressure

The bar is a metric unit of pressure, but is not approved as part of the International System of Units (SI). It is defined as exactly equal to 100,000 Pa, which is slightly less than the current average atmospheric pressure on Earth at sea level.

Compressed air was also used to empty its ballast tanks, which had a volume of 53 m³ (1,872 ft³). Ballast was 212  t (234  tons), including a security ballast of 34 t (37 tons).

Ballast is used in ships to provide moment to resist the lateral forces on the hull. Insufficiently ballasted boats tend to tip or heel excessively in high winds. Too much heel may result in the boat/ship capsizing. If a sailing vessel should need to voyage without cargo then ballast of little or no value would be loaded to keep the vessel upright. Some or all of this ballast would then be discarded when cargo was loaded.

Tonne metric unit of mass

The tonne, commonly referred to as the metric ton in the United States and Canada, is a non-SI metric unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms or one megagram. It is equivalent to approximately 2,204.6 pounds, 1.102 short tons (US) or 0.984 long tons (UK). Although not part of the SI, the tonne is accepted for use with SI units and prefixes by the International Committee for Weights and Measures.

Long ton, also known as the imperial ton or displacement ton, is the name for the unit called the "ton" in the avoirdupois system of weights or Imperial system of measurements. It was standardised in the thirteenth century and is used in the United Kingdom and several other British Commonwealth of Nations countries alongside the mass-based metric tonne defined in 1799.

The submarine was armed with a ram to break holes in the hull of enemy ships, and an electrically fired spar torpedo, fixed at the end of a pole [4] though later, Admiral Bourgeois who was, after 1871, chairman of the Commission on Submarine Defences opposed to the use of torpedoes as the primary weapon in commerce warfare. [5]

Naval ram underwater prolongation (usually 2–4 m) of the bow of a ship that can be driven into an enemy ship to sink or disable it

A ram was a weapon carried by varied types of ships, dating back to antiquity. The weapon comprised an underwater prolongation of the bow of the ship to form an armoured beak, usually between six and 12 feet in length. This would be driven into the hull of an enemy ship in order to puncture it and thus sink, or at least disable, the ship.

Hull (watercraft) watertight body of a ship or boat

A hull is the watertight body of a ship or boat. The hull may open at the top, or it may be fully or partially covered with a deck. Atop the deck may be a deckhouse and other superstructures, such as a funnel, derrick, or mast. The line where the hull meets the water surface is called the waterline.

Spar torpedo

A spar torpedo is a weapon consisting of a bomb placed at the end of a long pole, or spar, and attached to a boat. The weapon is used by running the end of the spar into the enemy ship. Spar torpedoes were often equipped with a barbed spear at the end, so it would stick to wooden hulls. A fuse could then be used to detonate it.

The submarine was 43 m (140 ft) long and 381 t (420 tons) in displacement.

A support ship, the Cachalot, followed her in order to resupply the compressed air necessary to her propulsion.

A small lifeboat (8 × 1.7 m; 26 × 5.6 ft) was provided for the escape of the 12-man complement.

Internal construction of Le Plongeur. Le Plongeur internals.jpg
Internal construction of Le Plongeur.

Operational history

Submarine Plongeur under tow by La Vigie. PlongeurUnderTug.jpg
Submarine Plongeur under tow by La Vigie.

The submarine was commanded by Lieutenant de Vaisseau Marie-Joseph-Camille Doré, native of La Rochelle.

On 6 October 1863, Plongeur made her first trials by sailing down the Charente river, towards the harbour of the Cabane Carrée.

On 2 November 1863, Plongeur was towed towards Port de Barques where her first underwater trials were planned. Because of poor weather conditions, the submarine was eventually towed to La Pallice and then to the harbour of La Rochelle (Bassin à flot).

On 14 February 1864, during trials in the Bassin à flot, the engine raced due to an excessive admission of compressed air, and the submarine bumped into the quay. Trials were stopped.

On 18 February 1864, Plongeur was towed to La Pallice and dived to 9 m (30 ft).

Stability problems due to its length limited the submarine to dives to a maximum depth of 10 m (33 ft). The front of the submarine would tend to dive first, hitting the bottom, so that the submarine would glide forward. Pumps were installed to compensate for the tilt, but proved too slow to be effective. The installation of longitudinal rudders would have improved stability as later demonstrated by the Gymnote and Gustave Zédé submarines.

A model of Plongeur was displayed at the 1867 Exposition Universelle, where it was studied by Jules Verne, [6] who used it as an inspiration [7] [8] and 3 years later published his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea . [9]

After various experiments, the French Navy struck the ship on 2 February 1872.


Submarine Plongeur in use as a water tanker in the early 20th century. PlongeurWaterTanker.jpg
Submarine Plongeur in use as a water tanker in the early 20th century.

The submarine was reactivated as an automotive water tanker, equipped with a compound 2-cylinder steam engine of 90 kW (120 hp), on 1 January 1873. She was assigned to the harbour of Rochefort. She was equipped with a new engine in 1898, transferred from a torpedo boat (Torpilleur No 74).

In 1927, upon the closure of the arsenal at Rochefort, she was transferred to the Mediterranean at Toulon, where she was used to supply the 1st and 3rd squadrons with water.

She was decommissioned on 25 December 1935, and sold for 25,143 francs to a M. Negai on 26 May 1937.[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. Farnham Bishop. The Story of the Submarine. p. 57.
  2. Le Masson, H. (1969) Du Nautilus (1800) au Redoubtable (Histoire critique du sous-marin dans la marine française), Paris pp.55–59
  3. Kohnen, W. (2009). Human exploration of the deep seas: fifty years and the inspiration continues. Marine Technology Society Journal, 43(5), 42-62.
  4. Swinfield, J. (2014). Sea Devils: Pioneer Submariners. The History Press.
  5. Røksund, A. (2007). The jeune ecole: the strategy of the weak. Brill.
  6. Payen, J. (1989). De l'anticipation à l'innovation. Jules Verne et le problème de la locomotion mécanique.
  7. Compère, D. (2006). Jules Verne: bilan d'un anniversaire. Romantisme, (1), 87-97.
  8. Seelhorst, Mary (2003) 'Jules Verne. (PM People)'. In Popular Mechanics. 180.7 (July 2003): p36. Hearst Communications.
  9. Notice at the Musée de la Marine, Rochefort

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