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Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol
Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol

Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol (September 28, 1819 - September 6, 1885) was the inventor of the mechanically driven submarine.



This engineer, artist and intellectual was born in Spain, in the Catalan city of Figueres, as the son of a cooper. Monturiol went to high school in Cervera and got a law degree in Barcelona in 1845 although he would never work as a lawyer.

His friendship with Abdó Terrades brought him to join the Republican Party and to sympathize with the socialist ideas of Étienne Cabet. He supported the Catalan participation in the utopist community Icaria and New Icaria and he had to exile in France in 1848 because of his political ideas.

Upon his return he learned the job of typesetter and set up a print where he edited La madre de familia (1846) and La Fraternidad (1847-48) which was the first communist newspaper of Spain.

His stay in Cadaqués allowed him to observe the dangerous job of coral harvesters where he even witnessed the death of a man who drowned while performing this job. This prompted him to think of submarine navigation and in September 1857 he went back to Barcelona and organized the first commercial society in Spain dedicated to the exploration of submarine navigation with the name of Monturiol, Font, Altadill y Cia. and a capital of 10,000 pesetas.

In 1858 presented his project in a scientific thesis titled The Ictineo or fish-ship. The first dive of his first submarine, Ictineo I, took place on September 1859 in the harbour of Barcelona.

Ictineo I

The Ictineo I had a length of 7 meters, a beam of 2.5 meters and 3.5 meters depth and its intended use was to ease the harvest of coral. The interior most resistant wooden hull was spherical and had 7 m³ capacity whereas the external hull was a fish-shaped cylinder with elliptical section inspired by the prototype Brandtaucher of Wilhelm Bauer that had already sailed in 1851; the Brandtaucher is now in the German Military History Museum in Dresden. Between the two hulls there were flotation tanks, a tank that supplied oxygen for breathing and illumination and an hydrogen tank that supplied and oxhidric lamp for illuminating the water depths. The Ictineo I employed a flat fin propeller powered by a crew of four men.

Immersion was achieved by means of an horizontal helix that could turn in both senses and pumps of density and air for the purposes of ensuring stability and flotation. The prow was equipped with a set of tools suited to the harvest of coral since this was the original purpose of the submersible.

The partial success of this dive brought popular enthusiasm but no support from the government. As a result, Monturiol wrote a letter to the nation and encouraged a popular subscription which raised 300,000 pesetas from citizens of mainland Spain and Cuba.

With the money obtained, the company La Navegación Submarina was formed with the objective of developing the Ictineo II.

Ictineo II

Ictíneo II. 1 - Internal hull;  2 - External hull; 3 - Tank; 4 - Portholes; 5 - Hutch lock; 6 - Gas exhaust; 7 - Stern compartment; 8 - Tail shaft; 9 - Propellers; 10 - Helm; 11 - Gear; 12 - Propulsion engine; 13 - Ballast; 14 - Chimney; 15 - Steam boiler; 16 - Conning tower; 17 - Prow compartment.
Ictíneo II. 1 - Internal hull; 2 - External hull; 3 - Tank; 4 - Portholes; 5 - Hutch lock; 6 - Gas exhaust; 7 - Stern compartment; 8 - Tail shaft; 9 - Propellers; 10 - Helm; 11 - Gear; 12 - Propulsion engine; 13 - Ballast; 14 - Chimney; 15 - Steam boiler; 16 - Conning tower; 17 - Prow compartment.

The Ictineo II was the first mechanically powered steam driven submarine launched the 2nd of October 1864. It had 14 meters length, 2 meters beam and 3 meters depth with 46 tones of displacement and 29 m³ capacity. It was built with olive tree wood with oak reinforcements and a 2 millimeter tick copper layer. On its upper side it had a deck of 1'30 meters wide and a hutch with three portholes with glasses of 10cm thick and 20cm diameter. From the conning tower the helm could be steered by means of an endless screw gear. Four sealed compartments of 8 m³ were symmetrically located on each side and guaranteed buoyancy when they where empty. These compartments could be inundated at will to submerge. Surfacing was achieved injecting air into the compartments with a pump. A weight could be displaced longitudinally following a rail in order to ensure horizontality while diving. This weight was remotely controlled by the engine driver. The submarine also had an escape mechanism that allowed to lose ballast and surface in case of emergency.

The most important invention of Monturiol was the anaerobic engine of Ictineo II together with the solution to the problem of oxygen renovation in an hermetic container. The engine employed a chemical mix of magnesium peroxide, zinc and potassium chlorate that reacted generating the temperature needed for the production of steam and gave as a gas product oxygen which, was collected in exhaust tanks and was used afterwards for breathing and illumination purposes.

Ictineo II replica at the harbour of Barcelona.
Ictineo II replica at the harbour of Barcelona.

Due to financial problems, the Ictineo II was sold as scrap in 1868. A replica of the Ictineo II can be seen at the harbour of Barcelona.

No other submarine employed an anaerobic propulsion system until 1940 when the German Navy tested a system employing the same principles, the Walter turbine, on the experimental V.80 submarine and later on the naval U.791 submarines. The problem of anaerobic propulsion was finally solved with the invention of the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus.

Other inventions from Monturiol include a process to speed up the manufacturing of adhesive paper which he used when he was named director of the National Stamp Factory in Madrid.

Monturiol died on September 6, 1885.


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