Wilhelm Bauer
Wilhelm Bauer was the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 inventor and engineer
An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality,...

, who built several hand-powered submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...



Wilhelm Bauer was born in Dillingen, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. His father was a sergeant of a Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 regiment. Because of this, Wilhelm Bauer, after an apprenticeship as a wood turner, joined the military as well. Working as an artillery engineer he witnessed the German/Danish war for Schleswig-Holstein
First War of Schleswig
The First Schleswig War or Three Years' War was the first round of military conflict in southern Denmark and northern Germany rooted in the Schleswig-Holstein Question, contesting the issue of who should control the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The war, which lasted from 1848–1851,...


Seeing how the German northern coast lay under the blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...

 by the Danish navy, Bauer quickly developed a plan to build a new kind of ship to help break the blockade.

To accomplish that, Bauer began studying hydraulics
Hydraulics is a topic in applied science and engineering dealing with the mechanical properties of liquids. Fluid mechanics provides the theoretical foundation for hydraulics, which focuses on the engineering uses of fluid properties. In fluid power, hydraulics is used for the generation, control,...

 and ship construction
Shipbuilding is the construction of ships and floating vessels. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history.Shipbuilding and ship repairs, both...

. But before his studies could bear any fruit the troops of the German Confederation
German Confederation
The German Confederation was the loose association of Central European states created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries. It acted as a buffer between the powerful states of Austria and Prussia...

 decided to withdraw and surrender Schleswig-Holstein
Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost of the sixteen states of Germany, comprising most of the historical duchy of Holstein and the southern part of the former Duchy of Schleswig...

 to the Danish. Bauer, however, was determined to realize his plan at any cost and left service in the German army to join the forces of Schleswig-Holstein.

It proved very hard for Bauer, who had a low military rank, to bring his plan through the various instances of the military administration and to gain fundings to build his craft. He finally succeeded with the help of Werner von Siemens and others and was granted a small sum of money to build a model of his submarine.

The Brandtaucher ("Incendiary Diver") Submarine

Incendiary ships
Fire ship
A fire ship, used in the days of wooden rowed or sailing ships, was a ship filled with combustibles, deliberately set on fire and steered into an enemy fleet, in order to destroy ships, or to create panic and make the enemy break formation. Ships used as fire ships were usually old and worn out or...

 were a well known concept in blockade-breaking. A ship was loaded with explosives and set free to drift into the enemy fleet, exploding at contact. The incendiary diver was planned to work on a similar principle: It would dive under an enemy vessel, fix an electrically triggered mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

 to its hull and escape, igniting the mine from a safe distance. The more or less same technique was employed by all military submarine designs of that time, like Julius Kröhl
Julius H. Kroehl
Julius Hermann Kröhl was a German-born American inventor and engineer. He built the submarine, Sub Marine Explorer, technically advanced for its era, but destined to failure, because of decompression sickness, which may not have been well understood at that time by Kroehl and others...

’s Explorer
Sub Marine Explorer
The Sub Marine Explorer is a submersible built between 1863 and 1866 by Julius H. Kroehl and Ariel Patterson in Brooklyn, New York for the Pacific Pearl Company. It was hand powered and had an interconnected system of a high-pressure air chamber or compartment, a pressurized working chamber for...

, the U.S.S. Alligator
USS Alligator (1862)
The fourth United States Navy ship called Alligator is the first known U.S. Navy submarine, and was active during the American Civil War. The first American submarine, built in the Revolutionary War era, was the Turtle; however, this craft never served in the U.S...

by Brutus de Villeroi
Brutus de Villeroi
Brutus de Villeroi was a French engineer of the 19th century, born as Brutus Villeroi in the city of Tours and soon moved to Nantes, who developed some of the first operational submarines, and the first submarine of the United States Navy, the Alligator in 1862.-Villeroi's first submarine :In...

 and the famous Hunley
H. L. Hunley (submarine)
H. L. Hunley was a submarine of the Confederate States of America that played a small part in the American Civil War, but a large role in the history of naval warfare. The Hunley demonstrated both the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare...

, which became the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel.

After the model of the submarine, built by Bauer himself, proved to be working, he was granted enough money to build a full scale submarine. But the military authorities still were largely against Bauer’s plan and forced Bauer to change his designs in order to reduce costs.

The finished Brandtaucher, built by August Howaldt
August Howaldt
August Ferdinand Howaldt was a German engineer and ship builder.-Biography:Born in Braunschweig, the son of the silversmith David Ferdinand Howaldt, with whom he got his first practice working in metal, Howaldt made an apprenticeship in Hamburg and became a practical mechanicus.In 1838 he moved to...

 of the later Howaldtswerke
Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft is a German shipbuilding company, headquartered in Kiel. In 2009 it was the largest shipyard in Germany and has more than 2,400 employees. It has been part of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems owned by ThyssenKrupp, since 2005...

 was 28 feet long, weighing about 70,000 pounds. As at that time no suitable mechanical power system was available the submarine was powered by two sailors turning a big tread wheel with their hands and feet. The third crew member, the captain, was positioned at the stern of the submarine. His job was to operate the rudders and other controls. Having arrived under the target ship the captain would reach out through a gutta percha (rubber) glove fixed to an opening of the hull, grab the mine located within reach on the hull of the submarine and fix it on the target.

Had the Brandtaucher been built according to Bauer’s original designs, it would have achieved submersion by filling several tanks with sea water. But in the changed version the vessel itself was to be partly flooded with water, thus rendering the submarine dangerously unstable. Also the thickness of the hull and the dimensions of the pumps had to be greatly reduced.

First trials of the submarine took place in December 1850. Although Bauer wanted to make several improvements of the submarine, the military ordered a public show on the 1st of February, 1851.

This public demonstration almost ended in a disaster. After reaching a depth of 30 ft the craft began to lay down by the stern. As the submarine sank down the thin walls could not take the water pressure any more and started to crack. The water pressure proved too much for the weak pumps and the propeller wheel was damaged when the vessel began to keel over. The submarine slowly sank to the ground of the Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

For six hours Bauer and his sailors had to wait inside the sunken craft, until enough water had seeped in. This increased the air pressure inside the submarine and finally allowed the men to open the blocked hatchway. As the submarine stayed buried on the ground of the sea, its crew came to the surface unharmed. This was the first submarine escape to be witnessed and reported.

The sunken submarine was raised in 1887 and can now be visited at the museum of military history at Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, Germany (Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr Military History Museum is the military museum of the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, and one of the major military history museums in Germany. The museum is under the technical and administrative chain of command of the German Armed Forces Military History Research Office. It...


The Seeteufel ("Sea Devil") Submarine

After the sinking of the Brandtaucher, Bauer instantly began to make plans for an improved, larger submarine. But the government of Schleswig-Holstein refused to support Bauer after their bad experience with Bauer’s first submarine.

So Bauer left Schleswig-Holstein. In the following years he tried to obtain support for his invention in several countries, like the Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

, the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 or France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Finally, in 1855, Bauer made a contract with the grand prince
Grand Prince
The title grand prince or great prince ranked in honour below emperor and tsar and above a sovereign prince .Grand duke is the usual and established, though not literal, translation of these terms in English and Romance languages, which do not normally use separate words for a "prince" who reigns...

 of St. Petersburg (Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

).During that year Bauer built his second submarine, the Seeteufel (Sea Devil) in St. Petersburg.

Much less information is known about this submarine than of the Brandtaucher. However, it is said to have been twice as long as its predecessor, its iron walls 1/2' thick with 21 windows in them. It had three big cylinders to hold water as diving ballast and was designed for a crew of 12.

Having learned from his first boat’s disaster, Bauer provided the Sea Devil with a newly invented rescue device: the diver’s chamber. Through this chamber, which worked like an airlock
An airlock is a device which permits the passage of people and objects between a pressure vessel and its surroundings while minimizing the change of pressure in the vessel and loss of air from it...

, divers could leave and enter the submerged vessel.

The Sea Devil proved to be a very good design. It made 133 successful diving runs within four months. But during the 134th dive, the submarine got stuck in the sand of the seafloor. By emptying the water cylinders with the pumps, the crew managed to raise the submarine high enough so that the hatchway was above the waterline. The whole crew (including Bauer) was saved, but unfortunately, the submarine sank back to the bottom of the sea.


After the end of the sea devil Bauer soon left Russia. When he realized he would not find support for another submarine he took to other projects. In 1863 Bauer managed to raise a sunken ship by means of inflatable balloons made of canvas. But all his more ambitious plans failed because of a complete lack of funding.
Disappointed by this Bauer died in 1875 in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...


It would be wrong to claim that the German submarine fleet of the world war
World war
A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters....

s was directly descended from Wilhelm Bauer’s prototypes. The modern submarine began its history with the inventions of Simon Lake
Simon Lake
Simon Lake was a Quaker American mechanical engineer and naval architect who obtained over two hundred patents for advances in naval design and competed with John Philip Holland to build the first submarines for the United States Navy.Born in Pleasantville, New Jersey, Lake joined his father's...

 and John Philip Holland
John Philip Holland
John Philip Holland was an Irish engineer who developed the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S...

. The submarine pioneers of the 19th century however - de Villeroi, Monturiol
Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol
Narcís Monturiol Estarriol was a Spanish Catalan intellectual, artist and engineer. He was the inventor of the first combustion engine-driven submarine, which was propelled by an early form of air-independent propulsion....

, Hunley
Horace Lawson Hunley
Horace Lawson Hunley , was a Confederate marine engineer during the American Civil War. He developed early hand-powered submarines, the most famous of which was posthumously named for him, H. L...

 and others - were well aware of Bauer’s invention and derived inspiration and many ideas from it. And without these men, we would not have the technically advanced submarines we have today.

In 1960 the German navy Bundesmarine renamed a Type XXI submarine Wilhelm Bauer

Film about Bauer

The filmmaker from Kiel Zoran Simic described in his film “Submarine
Ingenieur”, the life and work of Wilhelm Bauer, and also the principles upon which
he built the “Incendiary diver”. In many 3D graphics sequences he
illustrates the functioning of the submarine. On the 3rd of February 2008 the
57-minute version of the film “Submarine Ingenieur” was shown in the local cinema, in the event centre KoKi, in Kiel.

In 1941 German director Herbert Selpin
Herbert Selpin
Herbert Selpin was a German film director and screenplay author.-Biography:Herbert Selpin was born on May 29, 1902 in Berlin. After his medical studies in the same city, Selpin worked as a dancer, boxer, librarian, and art seller before he obtained, in the mid-1920s, an internship at the Ufa film...

 realized a biopic about Bauer with the title Geheimakte W.B.1 (Secret file W.B.1; W.B = Wilhelm Bauer)), which was released in 1942. It was a propaganda movie to further the submarine war. The plot was built on the novel Der Eiserne Seehund (The iron seal) from Hans Arthur Thies, published in 1941.

External links

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