Warship Wednesday Aug 24, 2016: 100-feet of Turkish Surprise

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Aug 24, 2016: 100-feet of Turkish Surprise


Here we see the steam-powered Nordenfelt-type submarine Abdülhamid of the Ottoman sultan’s fleet (Osmanlı Donanması) as she was completed in 1886.

The Ottoman Navy dates back to the 14th Century and was hardened in centuries of warfare with the Greeks, Russians, Venetians, Spaniards, Mamelukes, and Portuguese and ventured as far as the English Colonies in North America and the Indian Ocean by the 17th Century. However, the fleet peaked around 1708 and fell into steady decline, being annihilated first by the Tsar’s navy at Chesma in 1770 and then again by the Brits at Navarino in 1827. This led to a building and modernization spree under the reign of first Sultan Mahmud II, then Abdülaziz.

While the Ottoman Navy was largely inactive during the Crimean War, by 1876 the fleet was again the focus of attention as the country loomed to yet another war with Imperial Russia.

And, after getting another licking at the hands of the neighbors to the North, new Sultan Abdülhamid II had on his hands 13 ironclads including the British made Mesudiye (formerly HMS Superb) as well as a number of dated wooden vessels and river gunboats. Further, the Ottomans had been introduced to the bad end of a new weapon when Russian torpedo boats carrying surfaced launched torpedoes in 1878 sank the Turkish ship Intibah.

Unable to afford to go bigger, the Sultan needed to stretch his funds and innovate.

Enter Swedish industrialist Thorsten Nordenfelt.

With the help of British inventor George Garrett, who had crafted two small steam-powered submersibles in England, in 1885 the Swede living in the British Isles paid to build a 64-foot steam-powered submarine of some 56-tons, which he dubbed unimaginatively the Nordenfelt I.

The Greeks, fearing the Sultan’s ironclads and taking a cue from the Russian use of torpedoes in the late great regional hate, promptly purchased the tiny submarine– though they never used her. Further, and most ominous for the Turks, the Russians were looking at Nordenfelt’s designs as well.

Nordenfelt I in trials in Landskrona, Sweden just before she was handed over to the Greeks. (September 1885)

Nordenfelt I in trials in Landskrona, Sweden just before she was handed over to the Greeks. (September 1885)

With the writing on the wall and already falling behind in the submarine arms race, the Ottomans doubled down and bought two improved Swedish steamboat subs.

Ordered 23 January 1886, the Turkish vessels were longer, some 100-feet overall, and as such topped 100-tons on the surface (160 submerged). Powered by a Lamm locomotive type engine and boiler fed by up to 8-tons of coal, they could make 6 knots on the surface by steam, then did the unusual and shut down the engine to dive and carry on underwater until the pressure on the boiler dropped– usually just a few minutes or so.

Armament was a pair of 14-inch torpedo tubes forward and outside of the pressure hull. An initial stockpile of Schwarzkopf torpedoes (Whiteheads made in Germany) were acquired, each capable of carrying a guncotton warhead some 600 yards. These fish were popular with navies of the time, being purchased by the Chinese and Japanese as well as both the Spanish and Americans on the eve of their dust up in 1898.

For surface action, Mr. Nordenfelt offered a pair of double-barreled 35mm heavy machine guns of his own design. Good guy Thorsten.

Nordenfelt two-barreled 25mm gun on naval mounting. The guns sold to the Turks were the same, except in a larger caliber. (Courtesy: Royal Armouries)

Nordenfelt two-barreled 25mm gun on naval mounting. The guns sold to the Turks were the same, except in a larger caliber. (Courtesy: Royal Armouries)

Barrow Shipyard in England built the two submarines under contract by Nordenfeld in 1886. The first sub, Nordenfeld-2 was dubbed Abdülhamid and was launched 9 June 1886 after the sections were assembled at the Tersane-i Amire shipyards in Constantinople.


The second vessel, built as Nordenfeld-3 in sections, was commissioned at Tersane-i Amire as Abdülmecid on 4 August 1887 (though she never had her torpedo tubes fitted).

Library of Congress's Abdul Hamid II Collection https://www.loc.gov/collections/abdul-hamid-ii/?sp=1

Library of Congress’s Abdul Hamid II Collection

The Sultan paid some £22,000 for the two ships and their gear all told, which was quite an inflation from the £1,200 that the Greeks paid for their Nordenfeld boat.

The Ottomans were also forced to establish an entire infrastructure to support their fledgling submarine arm.

Turkish torpedo factory. Library of Congress's Abdul Hamid II Collection

Turkish torpedo factory. Library of Congress’s Abdul Hamid II Collection

Turkish made torps. Library of Congress's Abdul Hamid II Collection

Turkish assembled torps. Library of Congress’s Abdul Hamid II Collection

Divers at the Imperial Naval Arsenal, 1893. Library of Congress's Abdul Hamid II Collection

Divers at the Imperial Naval Arsenal, 1893. Library of Congress’s Abdul Hamid II Collection

Battalion divers at the Imperial Naval Arsenal. Library of Congress's Abdul Hamid II Collection

Battalion divers at the Imperial Naval Arsenal. Library of Congress’s Abdul Hamid II Collection

After trials in the Golden Horn and Bosporus in late 1887, the two submarines sailed together with a tender for the Bay of Izmit in 1888 and the wheels fell off. They suffered from stability problems and super easy to swamp on the surface in any sort of sea state. The longest leg of the trip completed without the assistance from their tender was just 10 miles.


Due to their lack of reliable propulsion while submerged, they were static when awash and, being very primitive indeed, their raw crews (no such thing as experienced submariners in 1888) were unwilling to submerge very deep, though they were thought capable of 160-feet submergence.

Still, that spring, Abdülhamid made history by firing a Schwarzkopf while submerged in the general direction of a target barge– the first such submarine to do so.

Like the Greeks, the Turks soon had their fill of their tricky Nordenfelds and the vessels were docked after the Izmit tests and scrapped in 1914 when it was found they were in condemned condition.

As for Nordenfelt, he had similar luck. Getting out of the U-boat biz after his fourth submarine sank while en route to the Russians, he was forced out of his machine gun company by a fellow named Hiram Maxim in 1890, which he fought in the courts for years without success. Bankrupt, he retired in 1903.


Displacement: 100 tons surfaced (160 submerged)
Length: 30.5 m (100 ft.)
Beam: 6 m (20 ft.)
Propulsion: Coal-fired 250 hp Lamm steam engine, 1 boiler, 1 screw
Bunkers: 8 tons of coal
Crew: 2 gunners, 2 firemen, 1 coxswain, 1 engineer, 1 officer (7)
6 kn (11 km/h) surfaced (10 on trials)
4 kn (7.4 km/h)
Test depth: 160 ft (49 m)
Two 356 mm torpedo tubes, Schwarzkopf torpedoes
Two 35mm Nordenfelt twin machine guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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