Thursday, 18 June 2009

(1886-1901) Nordenfelt I

Not many know that Greece was among the first nations that acquired a submarine, as early as 1886. Nordenfelt I in trials in Landskrona, Sweden (September 1885). The flag is the swedish one.Thorsten Nordenfelt, a Swedish inventor and industrialist that had become rich with his machine gun design, headhunted English submarine pioneer George Garrett to build Nordenfelt I. This quickly proved an unsatisfactory design, difficult to control and unable to stay underwater for more than five minutes. It was fitted with one whitehead torpedo that was held in an external tube. Surprisingly, it was the first time that a submarine was fitted with the very successful whitehead torpedo. However, there is no record of a torpedo being fired by Nordenfelt I, not even in trials. It was received with mixed feelings when it was officially demonstrated in 1885 and would possibly have remained unsold if Nordenfelt's agent in the Balkans wasn't that shady character, (later Sir) Basil Zacharoff, a Greek-French arms dealer and financier. He convinced the Greek government to pay £9,000 for this submarine that would give them the edge against the Turks. Zacharoff parodied as Bazarov in TintinThen, he convinced the Turks that they should buy two of these (Nordenfelt II and III) because the Greeks already had one, and finally he convinced the Russians to buy another two, because the Turks had two. Basil ZacharoffIn practice, the Greek Nordenfelt I was a complete waste of money that was left to rot for 15 years before it was scrapped. The Turkish and Russian Nordenfelts were not more successful. One of the Turkish ones sank when it attempted to fire a torpedo and one of the Russian ones sank on the way to Russia when it was purchased. From then on, the Greek government was very cautious with submarines and did not try to buy another one until 1911. Bazarov in Tintin ('Broken Ear')Zacharoff, on the other hand, had started his arms-dealing career that made him a multi-millionaire. In 1890 he was hired by Russian machine gun producer Maxim, and was buying shares of the company until he was able to tell his boss that he had become an equal shareholder. Later, he became the director of Vickers Munitions, one of the most successful companies in World War I, and also bought the Monte-Carlo casino. Zacharoff is often seen in popular culture. For example, in Tintin he is parodied as the weapons trader Basil Bazarov, who sells to both parties of a single conflict that he helps provoke.

Below, a page from The London Illustrated News showing a Greek squadron entering the Bay of Salamis in 1886. At the bottom right of the image, one can see the submarine.

Operational History
1882 - Laid down in Stockholm.Nordenfelt I in official demonstration in front of foreign dignitaries (September 1885, Landskrona, Sweden).
Sep. 1885 - Undergoes trials at Landskrona and later in the same month gives surface and submerged demonstrations in front of 39 dignitaries from the navies of several European powers, Japan and Mexico. Reports mention the Prince of Wales, the King and Queen of Denmark, and the Czarina among them.
1886 - Bought by Greece for £9,000 and renamed "Piraeus". It undergoes trials in Greece.
1901 - Stricken without having been used by the navy at all

SpecificationsThe steam engine of Nordenfelt I. Arranged according to the fireless locomotive principle
Nordenfelt I submarine "Piraeus"
Width: 3.66 m
Height: 3.35 m
Displacement: 60 tons
Crew: 3
Max. Depth: 50 ft (15 m)
Engine: 100 HP steam engine
Speed: (Surfaced) 9 knots. It would shut down its engine to submerge
Armament: 25.4 mm Nordenfelt cannon and one Whitehead torpedo

For gamers and game designers
The Nordefelt submarine is considered a complete failure. The Greeks never used it in action, possibly only as a training platform. While reasonably balanced when surfaced, it was extremely unstable when submerged. There is no record of Nordenfelt I firing a torpedo, but when one of the later Turkish Nordenfelts attempted to do so, it sank.

For modellers
A profile of the submarine:
Profile of Submarine I
The actual patent awarded to Nordenfelt for the submarine in 1882:
Patent page 1 Patent page 2 Patent page 3 Patent page 4 Patent page 5 Patent page 6


  1. "....and industrialist that had become rich...." "....had started his dealing career that made him a multi-millionaire" being a rich multi-millionaire didn't made him a human being!

  2. Turkish Nordenfelt Abdülhamit is the first submarine to fire a torpido underwater succesfully. She did not sunk as claimed in this article.