Page last modified: September 18, 2003

Submarines and Jules Verne

Various representations of Jules Verne's Nautilus
According to the Simon Lake website, the following is the text of a telegram that Jules Verne sent to inventor Simon Lake:
Sent from Amiens, France - 1898
     "While my book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is entirely a work of imagination, my conviction is that all I said in it will come to pass. A thousand mile voyage in the Baltimore submarine boat (The Argonaut) is evidence of this. This conspicuous success of submarine navigation in the United States will push on under-water navigation all over the world. If such a successful test had come a few months earlier it might have played a great part in the war just closed. The next great war may be largely a contest between submarine boats. I think that electricity rather than compressed air will be the motive power in such vessels for the sea is full of this element. It is waiting to be harnessed as steam has been. It will then not be necessary to go to the land for fuel any more than for provisions. The sea will supply food for man and power without limit.
     Submarine navigation is now ahead of aerial navigation and will advance much faster from now on. Before the United States gains her full development she is likely to have mighty navies not only on the bosom of the Atlantic and Pacific, but in the upper air and beneath the water's surface.
 -- JULES VERNE -- "

The following is the the text from a Popular Mechanics article which had the by-line "Jules Verne".
When this article was rediscovered, in the 1970's, there was speculation that it may have been written by Jules Verne's son Michel.
Since then, the pendulum has swung back and the current thought is that it may indeed have been written by Jules Verne.

Popular Mechanics, June 1904

Future of the Submarine

Author of the Nautilus Says
Its Use Will Be Confined to War
and It Will Bring Peace

By Jules Verne

For some inexplicable reason many people insist upon regarding me as the inventor, or the imaginer, of the submarine. I am not in any way the inventor of submarine navigation, and reference to the authorities will show that many years -- fully fifty, I should say, before I wrote about the Nautilus -- the Italians were at work upon submarine war vessels, and other nations were busied with them, too. All that I did was to avail myself of the great privileges of the fiction writer, spring over every scientific difficulty with fancy's seven-leagued boots, and create on paper what other men were planning out in steel and other metals.

The future of the submarine, as I regard it -- and let me here disclaim all gift of prophecy -- is to be wholly a war future. The Nautilus, as I have written of it, will never be, I think, an actual fact, and I do not believe that under-sea ships will be built in future years to carry traffic across the ocean's bed to America and to Australia. Even if the air difficulty were successfully encountered (and I have my grave doubts as to the possibility of that", what would be gained by any such sub-ocean traffic except freedom from sea-sickness? No submarine would ever cross the bed of the Atlantic faster than a ship upon the waves would traverse it, and surely freedom from that bugbear is not a sufficient incentive for the creation of a Cunard line beneath the sea.

I am an old man now, and working, as well as my deficient eyesight will allow me, upon my one hundred and second volume of boys' stories and as I look back on the years which have passed since I first wrote the life-story of the Nautilus, and of its owner, I see no progress in the submarine which makes me hope for its use as a commercial medium. It has been wonderfully improved, I grant you -- miraculously improved almost -- but the improvements have all tended to one point -- its efficacy as a war weapon; and that will be its one use in the future, I believe. I even think that in the distant future the submarine may be the cause of bringing battle to a stoppage altogether, for fleets will become useless, and as other war material continues to improve, war will become impossible. As time goes on, each nation will acquire a large and very rapid fleet of submarines. Each little vessel (I am inclined to think that in the future they will be smaller than they are today, and manned by one of two men only) will be absolutely in control, and will be able with scientific accuracy to place torpedoes underneath the greatest vessels, and to blow those vessels up. I do not think that any apparatus will be found to counteract the intense rapidity and certainty of the submarine, and eventually, when every nation has its fleet of hundreds of these little vessels, what is to war with them? They may be able even to blow up huge tracts of country, and retreat unseen, some day; who knows?

Of course, before these things can be, improvements in the submarine will have to be manifold, and almost as wonderfully ingenious as the beginnings of this greatest wonder of man's science; but these things will, I think, be possible.

I followed very carefully the experiments made lately during the French maneuvers in the Mediterranean, and during the maneuvers of the English fleet, and I was very much struck by the accuracy with which the submarines of both fleets managed to slip in, strike, and get away in safety.

Imagine hundreds of these vessels with their deadly freight. Can you suggest that any means would counteract their deadly power? I do not think so. The refraction of the water, the depths to which the submarine can sink, its freedom from all observation -- all these things make it the deadliest of war inventions, and in future years, when I myself am under ground, these powers will be enhanced. I do not think that apparatus will be found to render them more harmless. The sea is hard to pierce, and I can think of nothing, even upon paper, which will enable men on board the supermare vessels to trace the tracks of their deadly little foes beneath the waves.

But as a commercial item in the world's civilization, I do not think that submarines have any future. Air may be found for them, but even so it will never be found plentifully enough to make it possible for a large number of passengers to travel for a length of time in comfort. Electricity for their propulsion may, one day, be gathered from the sea itself, but I have doubts of it; and even if these things were done, the pressure of the sea at any depth would crush a submarine to fragments unless some hitherto unheard-of metal were discovered which would withstand the pressure. Think of the size a trans-Atlantic submarine would have to be, and think how slowly it must travel, owing to the pressure of the waters round it, and tell me if you think a Majestic will ever be made to travel to New York upon the sea bottom.

I doubt it -- doubt it very gravely; and, as I have said, I do not see that there is any need for submarine trans-ocean vessels. But submarine fleets are in the near future and they will, I believe, prove the thin end of the beneficent wedge which will cause war to cease between the nations, owing to their very deadliness. Unfortunately their work will not be done in my time. I am a man of peace and should have loved to see it, but it seems that my fading eyes are destined to behold sickening carnage in the unequal contest of the improved submarine machine with the heavy battleship, whose days are numbered.

- the above is the article, previously published in 1904 in Popular Mechanics magazine - 

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