The Complete History Of
The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER
Rolex's Conquest Of The OceanA Brief History Of Diving
In the next chapter we will be exploring the modern diving revolution and in order to understand the Aqua Lung and SCUBA diving we must go back to the beginning of diving and explore its origins. We need to develop context–because context gives content its meaning.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, all living land creatures originally came from the ocean. Modern man, of course, has returned to the ocean, but when did this begin? Probably with sponge, coral and mother-of-pearl diving.
Thousands of years ago men dove into the oceans to bring up beautiful pearls.
More than 1500 years ago, Plato wrote about the sponge being used as an object for bathing. Sponges grow on the ocean floor and man first began harvesting them by strapping weights to his body and diving from a boat down to the ocean floor to obtain sponges.
In the year 332 B.C. Alexander The Great in the Tyre harbor (which is now Lebanon) sent divers to eliminate obstacles from the harbor.
As far back as 500 B.C. the Greek historian, Herodotus wrote the story of Scyllis who was a diver in the employ of King Xerxes of Persia who recovered sunken gold and treasure.
It is likely in many ways that man has never really left the water. The only limit to ancient man's bottom time depended upon his lung capacity. In other words, how long he could hold his breath while diving to and from the ocean floor.
Underwater military diving operations have also been going on forever. Navy diving missions have included poking holes in ships to sink them, as well as severing anchor cables in order to set adrift enemy boats and ships.
Tethered "Hard Hat" Surface Supplied Diving
Underwater diving that is not based upon holding your breath was known as Surface Diving or Hard Hat Diving. Surface Diving, also known as Hooka diving was based upon a diver wearing a spherical brass diving helmet with glass windows that was fed breathing gas through a tethered umbilical cord that originated at the ocean surface, typically on-board an anchored ship.
Tethered Surface Supplied Divers typically used lead weights attached to their boots, on a belt around their waist and on their backs to help them sink to the ocean floor and to stay there.
Fourteen years before the famous American author Melville wrote his classic aquatic novel, Moby Dick, and 33 years before French Author Jules Verne wrote his epic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Hard-Hat Diving was revolutionized by the German born engineer August Siebe in 1837 in London, England.
August Siebe invented the Closed Hard-Hat which sealed the hard-hat to the suit, thus creating an impenetrable water-tight seal. In other words, water could not leak through the hard-hat and the diver could not drown by mistake. August was an amazing engineer and went on to invent–among other things–the ice-making machine.
Man And The Machine
As we learned in Chapter 1 of this story, the wrist-watch was born of war–so was tethered surface supplied diving. This was because only military organizations could afford to purchase and maintain such complicated and expensive equipment and machinery.
In the following image from The London News on February 6, 1873 we see an illustration of tethered surface supplied divers preparing for work.
Hard Hat Diving from 1873 On The Cover of The Illustrated London News
The supreme irony with many of these early divers is many of them could not swim!!! They were simply lowered down to the ocean floor where they would complete their work and when they wear done, they would be pulled back up to the boat!!!
The salvage industry grew very large in Great Britain because there were so many sunken ships off the coast that were filled with valuable treasure.
World War I
U.S. Navy Divers From 1914
As we will see in later chapters of this story, the United States Navy divers would end up working closely with "Commander" Cousteau as he was so commonly referred to.
The United States Navy has a long and proud diving history that leads up to the present, which I have been aware of for a long time since my younger brother is a retired U.S. Navy Seal. The U.S. Navy Seals are renowned for being the best trained special forces in the world. Navy "SEAL" stand for Sea, Air & Land–since the modern U.S. Navy combat swimmers are trained to operate in all three environments.
The U.S. Navy has been a leader in the development of diving and underwater operations for many, many years.
The vast U.S. Navy diving program has achieved many national defense aims over the last century including but not limited to underwater demolition, reconnaissance, ordinance disposal, ship maintenance, search and rescue operations, salvage operations as well as tactical combat operations which include sinking submarines and other boats and ships.
The photo below is of a U.S. Navy diver in 1914 suiting up and preparing to put on his hard-hat. Notice the diver is wearing a headset so he can communicate to the ship above from the ocean floor. Also notice the lead weights on his belt.
I also can't help but notice his diving suit pictured below looks remarkably like a very primitive Apollo Astronaut Moonsuit. Astronaut/Aquanaut!?! They both kind of float around in a zero gravity environment. Hmmmmm!?!
In this next photo we see a U.S. Navy diver on the deck of the USS Walke Destroyer in 1914 wearing his hard hat diving suit. The USS Walke was named after U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Henry A. Walke who was an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War.
Hard hat diving was somewhat confining as you see with the U.S. Navy diver in the photo below. It was kind of like being a marionette or puppet dangling on a string.
The USS Walke was a Paulding-class destroyer that spent part of its time during World War I patrolling the western approaches from the southeastern coast of Ireland to England and France hunting German U-boats as well as escorting British and French convoys. In 1917 when the USS Walke first arrived in the European theater in Gironde, France, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a 7 year old boy.
Hard Hat divers completed all kinds of missions including salvage, underwater construction and even treasure hunting. Another irony is that as I mentioned in chapter 1 of this series, the wrist-watch was born during World War I, but it could not be worn underwater.
For more than a hundred years, hard hat diving remained a primarily military undertaking.
It is interesting to note a hard-hat diving system was very heavy. The helmet and breast-plate alone typically weighted more than 50 pounds and as you see in the photo above and below, the bottom of the shoes worn with the Mark 5 have huge lead weights in the soles of the shoes. All this extra weight helped the diver stay upright in the water. By the time the diver put all the additional lead weight on his belt and back he typically weighed 192 pounds more.
This diving system known as the Mark 5 system consists of a canvas suit, a breast plate and a helmet which are all separable from one another. As you can see in the photo below, the canvas suit does not have the breast plate attached to it. First the diver puts on the suit, then the breast plate is bolted on to the canvas suit. Then the helmet is bolted on to the breast plate to form an air-tight seal.
Cave Diving Equipment From 1935
Notice the Cave Diving Equipment photo above from 1935. This is of special historical significance because as we saw in Chapter 3, Panerai came to Rolex in 1935 in search of a professional diving wrist watch, and at the time the equipment below was considered to be state-of-the-art.
Despite the fact Hard Hat Diving was clumsy and not very elegant it went on almost unchanged until the early 1940s.
The Aqua Lung
I must begin this section of this chapter by first expressing my supreme thanks to the world renowned diver and aquatic engineer Dr. Phil Nuytten. We will be exploring Dr. Nuytten's amazing career achievements in detail in Chapter 12 of this series.
Dr. Nuytten is also a renowned diving historian and wrote a detailed monograph on Emile Gagnan and the development of the Aqua Lung which he was kind enough to share with me so I could cover this topic as thoroughly and intelligently as possible.
Tethered hard-hat diving was clumsy as we see in the photo above.
The ultimate dream of mankind and the early diving communities was to one day be able to fly freely and unencumbered through the water like a fish or like superman. If mankind could just get free of the tethered hose that would be a huge achievement–wouldn't it?
In 1900, inventor and underwater photographer, Louis Bouton developed a remarkable high-pressure self-contained underwater breathing system that freed man from the tethered hose (pictured below). This self-contained system added a high-pressure cylindrical tank that held air at 3,000 pounds per square inch.
This system looked like the hard-hat diver had a canister vacuum cleaner he was wearing around his waist.
During World War I a French Navy Officer named Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur (1885-1963) invented the airplane-mounted Le Prieur solid-fuel rocket launcher that was designed to bring down observation balloons.
In 1924 Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur invented and patented a hand-controlled self-contained underwater breathing system that sent compressed air carried from a tank into a full face mask.
French Navy Commandant Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur is pictured above and below in 1934 demonstrating his Scaphandre Autonome in the Trocadero Aquarium. The great challenge of this system is the diver had to manually control the amount of constant air that flowed out of the pressurized canister which lacked any kind of demand regulator.
In 1936 Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur started the world's first SCUBA Diving organization known as The Club Of Divers And Underwater Life.
In 1933 a French inventor named Louis de Corlieu invented modern diving/swimming fins [also known as swimming propellors] which once again completely changed the game. By 1935 fins became available to consumers.
In 1938 Alexadre Kramarenko brought the modern diving mask to market and in the same year, Maxime Forjot patented the simple snorkel tube.
The decade of the 1930's began the underwater revolution with the introduction of face-masks, fins and snorkels which all became very popular.
Dr. Christian Labmersten
The Father Of The U.S. Navy Frogmen & Developer of SCUBA
In 1939 Dr. Christian James Lambertsen (pictured below) designed a top-secret U.S. Army diving system code named "SCUBA." SCUBA was the acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Oxygen Breathing Apparatus. Lambertsen's SCUBA system originally only worked for shallow water diving and could not go deep since divers would experience oxygen toxicity.
Dr. Lambertsen was responsible for developing the U.S. Military and Coast Gaurd Frogmen's rebreathers during World War II for underwater warfare.
The photo below is of a U.S. Navy Diver wearing a Lambertsen Unit Face Mask taken in 1944.
The photo below is of Lieutenant John Booth who was a diver in the United States OSS (Office Of Strategic Services which was the precursor to the CIA) as well as a United States Coast Guard diver. Lieutenant Booth was the Commanding Officer of the Operational Swimmer Group 2 and is pictured below in the LARU Pool in 1944.
The photo below is also of Lieutenant John Booth diving in the ocean. Don't these dudes look like they are out of a Star Wars movie?
The photo below is a side view of the Lamberstsen Unit with the Frogman diver wearing Swim Fins.
The cover of the comic book below titled "The Frogmen" depicts a U.S. Navy Frogman attaching a limpet mine to the bottom of a Japanese World War II Submarine.
In 1943 a Frenchman named Georges Commeinhes would take another huge step forward into making diving history. Georges Commeinhes family owned a manufacturing company that made valves for the mining industry.
Georges Commeinhes utilized his engineering skills and significantly improved upon Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur's diving system by inventing the Commeinhes GC42 Amphibie Dive System. GC stood for Georges Commeinhes initials and 42 was for the year of its introduction which was 1942. In the photo below we see Georges Commeinhes wearing his dive system with the GC initials on the back of the tank.
Georges Commeinhes system strategically attached the compressed air tank to the diver's back, but the innovation did not stop there. Georges Commeinhes system replaced constant free-flow system designed by Yves Paul Gaston Le Prieur with a demand valve that was positioned between the shoulders of the diver. This revolutionary positioning and breathing system once again turned the ceiling into the new floor.
Georges Commeinhes system was adopted and incorporated into the French Navy and Georges Commenhes dove down to a depth of 53 Meters (150 feet) of the coast of Marseilles in the South Of France. Georges Commeinhes was killed during World War II on November 23, 1944 during the liberation of Strasbourg.
Georges Commeinhes diving system made an invaluable contribution to the world of diving. Georges Commeinhes system design incorporated a full-length face mask which was fed by a single corrugated hose as seen below. There is no telling how the aqua-lung would have evolved if Georges Commeinhes had not died at such a young age. Georges father continued to market the system as we see from the 1947 photo below.
Table Of Contents
• Chapter 9: The First SEA-DWELLER's: Doctor Bond. U.S. Navy Project Genesis and Jacques Cousteau & Project Conshelf.
• Chapter 16: Dr. Robert Ballard: The Ultimate U.S. Navy DEEP-SEA Discovery Of The 20th Century–Finding The Titanic
• Chapter 17: Ralph White [Explorer and National Geographic Cameraman] Discovering and Exploring The Titanic