Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: May 29, 1915

Some of the articles on military subjects in Scientific American lack specific details, pointing to a decision made somewhere to curtail the journalist’s access to the people in the know or places or things of military importance. This week’s article was illustrated and written by an American civilian, who was apparently allowed to go into a submarine and draw a picture of the mechanical areas of the torpedo room and describe the crew at work. The result is on the cover of this week’s issue. The article is well-timed: there was much interest in submarines in general, and particularly after the Lusitania had been sunk by one. The article, though, is devoid of particulars that might be “of interest” to hostile parties: there is no detail about what kind of submarine it was, or any of its measurements, when the artist visited, or indeed what navy it belonged to. It is merely described as a “typical” submarine. On the other hand, there is a detailed description of loading and firing the torpedo:

“Our front page engraving shows the front end of a typical submarine, which is provided with four torpedo tubes, grouped in the nose of the boat and parallel to its longitudinal axis. The tube, or gun, consists of a stout and strong bronze cylinder, into which the torpedo fits with a contact sufficiently close to prevent the escape past the torpedo of the charge of compressed air with which the torpedo is fired, and insure its being forcibly ejected from the tube. The torpedo, of which the latest submarines will carry from eight to twelve, is picked up by a chain hoist and swung in front of the breech on the, tube, and then pushed home by the crew. The hinged door at the breech ... is then swung to and locked by turning the hand-wheel shown in the engraving. Another hinged door at the muzzle of the tube outside the submarine is lifted, and a charge of compressed air introduced at the back of the torpedo serves to fire it.... The tube being fixed firmly in the hull of the submarine, it is necessary to train the submarine itself directly on its object, or somewhat ahead of it, as the case may be. This is a difficult maneuver and calls for quick work with the rudder. Sighting is done by means of the periscope.”

The description of the firing procedure seems authentic, and the machinery as depicted seems fairly close, if somewhat simplified, to the submarines of 1915 or earlier. I have not been able to determine exactly which submarine it is, but if any of our readers have such expertise, please pass on the information.

The artist and writer is Neal Truslow, formerly of the Student’s Art League of New York, who went to France in May or June 1915 to see if he could report on the war for a charity called the War Relief Clearing House “to show what has been done and what is being doing with the money and material sent by the American people.” Truslow seems to have spent two years in France, ending up driving an ambulance at or near Verdun before appendicitis curtailed his military career. (This background information about Truslow comes from transcriptions of a series of letters that he wrote, which have been most helpfully posted on the blog sites.google.com/site/fasterthanhorses/). There are several images and articles by Mr. Truslow in Scientific American in upcoming months in 1915 and 1916 (fortunately he seems to have improved his artistic skills as time went on); you will of course see the most interesting of them covered in this blog.

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Our full archive of the war, called Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, has many articles from 1914–1918 on submarines, naval weapons and warfare. It is available for purchase at www.scientificamerican.com/products/world-war-i/