Simon Lake’s Defender found?

Simon Lake, the famed mechanical engineer and naval architect, who held hundreds of patents relating to submarine vessels, engines, and other concepts, built his first operational submersible in 1894 at age 28.

Simon Lake and his “Argonaut” submarine in dry dock. Note that it had wheels and was intended to crawl the ocean floor. Via Popular Science 1901

Later, his more mature designs were built for service to the Tsar of Russia, the Kaisers of both Austria and Germany as well as Uncle Sam.

Simon Lake’s O-12 (SS-73) retained his trademark stern and amidships planes (shown folded down in the outboard view). Note the separate flooding ports in the watertight superstructure. Drawing by Jim Christley, text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press. Via Navsource

One of his more peculiar designs was the Newport-built commercial submarine Simon Lake XV, which was later renamed Defender.

Defender at Bridgeport Connecticut. Photo courtesy Submarine Force Museum & Library

Just 92 feet overall, she displaced but 200 tons. Fitted with three torpedo tubes, Lake modified the small boat for diver operations while submerged, a concept he thought would be useful for both mine clearance and salvage work.

The experimental submarine was built in 1902 by Simon Lake, and refitted as a salvage craft, on the ways before launching at Bridgeport, Connecticut, on 1 January 1929. It was taken to New London, Connecticut, to undergo tests of safety and rescue devices with the salvaged submarine S-4. The new escape hatch, slightly open, can be seen in the bow, directly beneath the eye bolt. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69034

Although the inventor tried several times to interest the navy and others with public experiments with Defender, and a failed attempt to salvage gold from the lost British frigate HMS Hussar— which had rested at the bottom of New York City’s East River since the Revolutionary War– with the boat, he never managed to sell it or the design.

Amelia Earhart dressed for deep sea diving off the submarine Defender, off Block Island, Rhode Island, July 1929

Illustration of Defender, with a possible conversion to a Sightseeing Submarine

After Lake passed in 1945, Defender was hauled out to sea and scuttled by the Army Corps of Engineers in Long Island Sound.

Now, a group of divers led by Richard Simon of Shoreline Diving are pretty confident they have found the old boat.

The wreckage was first imaged as part of a bathymetric survey conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a sonar survey of the Long Island Sound conducted by Eastern Search and Survey. Both surveys marked the wreckage as “unidentified.” Simon, who had been researching Defender for years, noticed that the unidentified wreckage was consistent with that of submarine and of Defender’s dimensions. The team conducted further research before diving the target aboard Simon’s vessel R/V Integrity. The dive, research, and surface support team consisted of: Richard Simon, Bob Foster, Jeff Goodreau, Wayne Gordon, Austin Leese, Joe Mazraani, Kurt Mintell, Harold Moyers, Kevin Ridarelli, Jennifer Sellitti, and Eric Simon.
Members of the team attempted to dive the wreck on April 14, 2023, but poor tidal conditions prevented them from diving. The team revisited the site two days later, on April 16, 2023. Simon oversaw deck operations while divers Steve Abbate and Joe Mazraani descended to the wreckage. The pair found an intact submarine. The length, the size, and shape of protrusions on the submarine’s distinct keel, and the shape and location of diving planes characteristic of Lake-built vessels helped identify Defender.
Additionally, the proximity of the wreckage to the mud flats where Defender was beached prior to being scuttled further confirmed the identification.
“It is such a thrill to finally put our hands on this important piece of maritime history,” said Abbate. Abbate, who made the dive the day before his sixtieth birthday, added, “It’s also an incredible birthday present!”


Forward hatch on Defender/Diver Steve Abbate inspects one of Defender’s propellers | Photos courtesy Joe Mazraani 

More here.

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