In the mid-1800s, Narcís Monturiol (1819-1885) invented and built the world´s first air-independent and combustion-engine-driven submarine.
During the summer of 1859, Monturiol performed over 20 dives off Barcelona in his submarine Ictineo, with his business partner and shipbuilder as crew. Ictineo is considered the first operative civil submarine in history.
An improved version of the submarine, named Ictineo II, was built in 1864 and made her maiden voyage the following year. Monturiol then invented a special mixture that would generate both heat and oxygen when mixed, and put an anaerobic engine into Ictineo II. Ictineo II made her first surface journey powered by the engine in October 1867, and it was followed by a successful test dive in December where Ictineo II ran her anaerobic engine while submerged under water.
In December that same year, Monturiol´s company went bankrupt and could not attract any more funding. It would take until 1940 before any other submarine used an anaerobic propulsion system; the experimental German submarine V-80.
Examples of other inventions by Monturiol
- A cigarette making machine
- A rapid-firing canon
- A system for copying letters
- A continuous printer
- A system to enhance the performance of steam generators
- A stone cutter
- A method for preserving meat
Narcis Monturiol before Ictineo
Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol was born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain in 1819. His father was a cooper.
Monturiol finished high school in Cervera. He earned a law degree in Mostoles in 1845, but never practised law as he instead founded a publishing company in 1846. This was also the year got married, to a woman named Emilia.
Monturiol published a series of journals and pamphlets filled with radical feminism, pacifism and utopian left-wing politics. He founded Spain´s first communist newspaper “La Fraternidad” and the feminist newspaper “La Madre de Familia”.
After the revolutions of 1848, he was forced into a brief exile in France, and the Spanish government curtailed his publishing. Therefore, Monturiol began focusing on science and engineering instead.
While staying in Cadaqués, Monturiol observed the dangeres associated with coral harvesting and began working on plans to make an underwater boat that could be used to harvest corals in a safer manner.
In 1857, he established “Monturiol, Font, Altadill y Cia”, a commercial society for the exploration of submarine navigation. It had a capital of 10,000 pesetas.
The following year, Monturiol presented his plans in the form of a scientific thesis entiled “El Ictineo O Barco-Pez” (The Ictineo Or Fish-Ship).
Ictineo was the name of the submarine he built, and its first successful dive took place in September 1859, in the harbour of Barcelona. During the summer of 1859, Monturiol carried out over 20 dives with Ictineo, with his business partner and shipbuilder as crew. The submarine was 7 metre long, with a beam of 2.5 m and a draft of 3.5 m. True to his original idea, Monturiol had fitted Ictineo with tools for harvesting corals.
Ictineo had good handling, but since she was powered with human muscles, she was not a very fast vessel. Naturally, Monturiol began thinking of ways of using an engine instead.
The success of Ictineo drew a lot of attention, but the government declined to support the project financially. Monturiol therefore wrote a “letter to the nation”, asking the people of Spain for support. This worked well, and nearly 300,000 pesetas arrived from the people in Spain and Cuba.
In January 1862, Ictineo was destroyed in an accident where a cargo vessel ran into her at her berth. At this point, she had completed around 50 dives.
With the money that had come in after the “letter to the nation”, the company La Navegación Submarina was formed to developing a new submarine – Ictineo II.
A replica of the first Ictineo has been created and can be seen in the garden of the Marine Museum in Barcelona, Spain:
The submarine Ictineo II was launched on 2 October, 1864. She made her maiden voyage under human power on 20 May, 1865, and submerged to a depth of 30 metres.
After much experimentation, Monturiol came up with a chemical combination that generated both heat and oxygen when mixed. His plan was to use the heat to drive a small steam engine when the submarine was submerged. (When the submarine was at the surface, the steam engine could be powered by coal like a normal steam engine.)
Monturiol wished to build a new submarine, a metal one with a separate compartment for the engine, but could not afford it. Instead, he got enough funds together to fit an engine into Ictineo II.
- On 22 October, 1867, Ictineo II made her first surface journey powered by a steam engine. She reached a top speed of 4.5 kn and averaged 3.5 kn.
- On 14 December, 1867, Ictineo II submerged and the anaerobic engine was successfully tested underwater. No attempt was made to make the submarine travell anywhere, as Monturiol wanted to know if the anaerobic setup worked before he proceeded.
On 23 December, 1867, the company went bankrupt. The chief creditor called in his debt, and the only asset – Ictineo II – had to be surrendered to the bankruptcy procedures. The creditor sold Ictineo II to a businessman. When this businessman found out he had to pay the normal ship tax on the submarine, he dismantled her and sold her for scrap rather than pay the bill.
A replica of Ictineo II can be seen at the harbour in Barcelona, Spain.
Monturiol returned to political life in 1868 and became a deputy in the Constituent Assembly of the First Spanish Republic in 1873. When he was appointed director of Fabrica Nacional del Timbre (National Stamp Factory) in Madrid, he took the opportunity to implement a process that made it possible to produce adhesive paper quicker than before.
Monturiol died near Barcelona in 1885, aged 65.
Despite Monturiol´s proof-of-concept with Ictineo II, it would take until the year 1940 before any other submarine employed an anaerobic propulsion system. This was during WWII, when the German Navy tested the Walter turbine – a system employing the same principles – on their experimental V-80 submarine. In 1942-1945, seven Type XVII U-boats were built for the German Navy – small coastal submarines using a high-test peroxide propulsion system to achieve air-independent propulsion.
- There are two Monturiol monuments in Spain. One is at Avinguda Diagonal-Carrer Girona in Barcelona and the other one at the end of the Rambla in Figueres, the city where he was born.
- Monturiol was honoured with a Spanish postage stamp in 1987.
- The Spanish Navy named the submarine S-82 Narciso Monturiol after him.
- In 2013, a crewed submersible intended for deep dives was named Ictineu III.