The First Russian Submarine


The first submarine in Russia was constructed in 1834 by Carl Schilder, though there had been some attempts, not really successful ones, in the period of Peter’s rule. In 1832 Schilder was engaged in investigation of underwater behavior of galvanic mines to apply them in protection of the Russian ports, and right then he conceived the basic idea of creation a submarine that would be able to move under water, come close to an enemy ship and blow it up with a galvanic mine. 


Having planned the project, Shilder began constructing his submarine on his own expense, and only over some time, after considering the benefits of the project, the government decided to sponsor it and allocated 13,448 rubles to the inventor.

The submarine was made of 5-millimeter thick boiler iron, and its egg-shaped body was 6 meters long, 2.25 meters wide and 1.85 meters high. There were two short towers of 1 meter high and 0.8 meter in diameter for people to get into, and they had firm metal lids, which were very tightly pressed to the top of the towers. In the middle of its body the submarine had a hatch for loading solid ballast and materials – it was locked the way it was with the small towers. Inside the submarine he installed special ballast tanks, which were filled with water and didn’t let the machine get up. Water got inside the tanks through special hydrants and was removed by a displacement pump.

To move the submarine under water the inventor provided it with special oars (paddlers), which were placed outside the body, two of them on each side. The device operated on the same principle as ducks webbed feet – when the submarine was moving backwards they were folded, and when it was pushed forth, they got unfolded.

To drive the submarine in the horizontal plane Schilder designed a vertical fishtail rudder. The stern tower had a look-see, a primitive copper periscope with two reflecting mirrors to observe the skyline. It could get up and down and be totally covered with water.

The machine had portholes in the top so that it wasn’t completely dark inside the body. It could get down under water up to 13 meters deep, and as there was a an extension pipe for getting fresh air when the submarine was just half in water, it was almost impossible for marines inside it to die of suffocation.

The submarine armaments were designed to ruin wooden tall ships of that period. It had a mine to be thrown at the enemy’s vessel and primitive rackets.

Elated by success, the government ordered Shilder to improve his machine, and on the 24, 1838 he presented his new creation, but this “child” failed all tests and so the inventor didn’t get any more money to continue his work. The documentation on the project was labeled top-secret and now we know very little of it. Anyway, Shilder’s submarine was a forerunner of modern ones and gave the basis to its followers. It doesn’t seem possible to find any images of it now, no drafts were kept for public use and of course no photos were made. Still, we can see a picture of the reconstructed version and some photos of submarines made in the late 19the and early 20th centuries in Russia.












Photo credits – all photos

25 thoughts on “The First Russian Submarine”

  1. Reminds me a little bit of the C.S.S. Hunley in terms of armament and operation. Sadly, this too was probably a widow maker if it ever was used in war time. For anyone interested, the first known submarine was a British design made of wood in the 1700’s. It was tested on the Thames river, and I believe it was named the Turtle. It had no armaments and was more a proof of concept than anything. Nevertheless it did prove that such a vessel was possible.

    • Jim Bob the Turtle was an American Sub. It was used in the Revolution to try and sink English ships. It’s propulsion was a screw type propeller cranked by hand. It was only used once because of it’s failure to attach a torpedo to the copper sheathed bottom of the ships. The sub was never completely submerged so the operator could see where he was going.

  2. Russians has long history of building of high quality surface ships and submarines.even today no one can near of Russian superiority in under water warfare.US must learn some lessons from Russian advancement in navel warfare.

    • Yes no-one can beat us except we ourselves. We can build all this stuff more or less but a bicycle that will last or a frying pan that you can use to fry something in, forget it. Etc. Not to mention roads, bridges and apartment buildings. All falling apart all the time.

      • Kirov,you misunderstood my comments.i mean Russian builds so many surfaced and under water “things” but today most of them sunk in the depth of oceans and abandoned military bases! ! ! !.almost every time there was little “technical” failure caused the big, over and under water accident! ! !R.I.P. to all of them who drowned in “minor design” faults! ! ! !.

          • I appreciate the awesome accompishments of Russian armed forces especially during WWII. However, you must be joking me that the Russian Navy vessels are even close to being superior to US Navy. No offense intended but this must be a joke. Ever heard of Los Angeles Class sub, no because it is just a space of silence in the water?

    • Kirov battlecruiser is the most powerful surface ship in the world. We do have issues with maintaining Soviet era vessles. Too many electrical fires and mishaps for my taste, but they are still deadly none-the-less.

    • If I read correctly, Simon Lake actully built some (maybe most by contract) of Russia’s first sub fleet. He sold them the Protector class then Russia renamed it the Osetr class. Some of those pictures look like they were build by Lake-Holland company. So the first early subs were buit by Americans, but Russia made some good advancements in the WWII- Cold war period. I think the Kilo Improved Class was a nice boat, along with the Akula.

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