Early Submarine Found

COVENTRY, Connecticut Richard Simon, a commercial diver and something of an historian, has been fascinated by ship wrecks for most of his life. For Simon Northeast coast of the United States provides ample opportunity to discover wrecks with more than 1,500 estimated on the floor of the Atlantic between Cape May New Jersey and Rhode Island.

The closest known wreck to Simon’s location was of the U 853, a German U boat resting just off Block Island. Surprisingly, Simon discovered a submarine wreck practically in his own backyard, sitting 170 feet below the surface, he found a submarine from the early 1900s. Long known to have been somewhere in Long Island Sound, the exact location remained a mystery. Unflagging research bought Simon’s team to the final resting place of a submarine called the Defender.

An experimental Submarine, Defender was built in 1907 by Simon Lake, a competitor of John P. Holland. Constructed in Lake’s ‘Torpedo Boat Company’ of Bridgeport, just down the coast from Holland’s New London shipyard. The millionaire builder had high hopes for his revolutionary design which included, among other innovations, an airlock which divers could use to exit the boat. He believed it was exactly what the Navy needed. Lake was certain it would win a Navy Contract. the Navy thought otherwise.

Essentially abandoned, the Defender sat idle at the pier for years. Eventually it was abandoned, grounded on a mud flat near Old Saybrook. Thought a potential hazard, it was towed off and scuttled by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1946. However, the Corps never disclosed the location of the Defender.

Richard Simon said it was hiding in plain site; that’s a bit modest, true, it was on the charts, but it still took a lengthy bit of research and underwater mapping to find the historic submarine. Although the position is now known Simon has not released the exact spot, however he has contacted the Navy to see if it is interested in preserving the wreck.

Postscript – the Navy didn’t purchase any of Lake’s submarines until 1912 and sales from Holland’s Electric Boat shipyard far outpaced the ‘Torpedo Boat Company’. However, Lake did find a degree of success in marketing his designs to European Navies. Later the US Navy recognized Lake’s contribution to submarine development when it named the AS 33 submarine tender the USS Simon Lake which served from 1964 to 1999.

© Gregg Smith – Hawkbill Base Senior Vice Commander