History of Scuba  Diving

A weapon of War

The first recorded history of scuba diving being used in war goes back several centuries BC.  Carving made at the time show Assyrian solders crossing rivers use a sort of inflated float made of goatskins.  Ancient Greek and Roman times recorded many instances of men diving or swimming to combat, they had to hold their breath or use hollowed out plant reeds that were used like snorkels. In about 500BC a naval campaign the Greek Scyllis was taken aboard ship as a prisoner by the Persian King Xerxes I.

Scyillis had learned that Xerxes planed an attack on a Greek flotilla, he seized a knife from a guard, jumping overboard and escaping. The Persians presumed he had drowned because they couldn’t find him in the water after searching for hours. He had in fact stayed underwater breathing with the aid of a hollowed out plant reed. Scyillis then surfaced when it became dark and swam his way to all the ships in Xerxes’s fleet, cutting each ship loose from the moorings, again using the hollowed out reed to stay unobserved.  He then swam nine miles (15 kilometers) to rejoin the Greeks off Cape Artemisium.

In the late 1800’s E. K. Gauzen, a Russian naval technician of the Kronshtadt naval base offers a “diving machine”.  The “machine” was an air-pumped metallic helmet strapped to a leather suit. The bottom of the helmet is open. The helmet is then strapped to the leather suit by metallic tape.
The diving suit and all its modifications were used by the Russian Navy until 1880, it was known as “three bolt equipment”. This made it easier to silently move underwater unknown to the enemy or to rescue trapped sailors in shipwrecks.

In 1860 a mining engineer, Benoit Rouquayrol designed a self-contained breathing set with a backpack cylindrical air tank that supplied air through the first demand regulator.  This was first designed to help miners avoid drowning in flooded mines. Then in 1864 Rouquayrol met a navy officer, Auguste Denayrouze. With Denayrouze initiative the two of them adapted Rouquayrol’s invention to diving. This regulator was then patented “Rouquayrol-Denayrouze diving apparatus”.

The diver still walked the seabed and did not swim.  Air pressure tanks made with the technology of the time could only hold 30 atmospheres, allowing the divers 30 minutes at no more than ten meter deep.  August 28, 1865 the French Navy Minster orders the first Rouquayrol-Denayrouze diving apparatus. This diving apparatus was the first to be massed produced.

In1900 John P. Holland builds the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, Holland.

Over the next 30 years scuba diving equipment continues to improve. Everything changes for the diver, making it easier to move and safer for the diver. The diver can stay down longer and diving tables were developed and made available for the diver showing the depth the diver could go without showing symptoms of decompression sickness.  In 1937 the US Navy published its own revised diving tables based on the work of O.D. Yarbrough.

In 1914 Modern swim fins were invented by a Frenchman named Louis de Corlieu, a Lieutenant Commander in the French Navy De Corlieu made a practical demonstration of his first prototype for a group of navy officers. In  April 1933 Louis de Corlieu registers a new patent which in addition to two fins for the feet included two spoon shaped fins for the hands which he names “swimming and rescue impulse device”.

Between 1940-1944 Christian J. Lambertsen of the United States designed a Breathing apparatus for the US Navy, it was a rebreather.

In 1941 The Italian Navy’s Decima Flottiglia MAS using oxygen rebreathers and manned torpedoes, attack the British fleet in Alexandria harbor.

1942 Emile Gagnan, an engineer obtains in Paris, a Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus. He miniaturizes and adapts it to gas generators. Henri Melchior introduces Gagnan to Jacques-Yves Cousteau, his son in law. Cousteau has been looking for an automatic and efficient demand regulator. They met in Paris in December 1942 and adapt Gagnan’s regulator to a diving cylinder. 1943 fines Gagnan and Cousteau fixing some technical problems with the regulator, then patenting the first modern demand regulator.

In 1944 American UDT and British COPP frogmen used the “Churchill Fins” which led to the Normandy landings.

The French company Air Liquide builds two more aqualungs meaning there are now three, owned by Cousteau but also being used by Cousteau’s first two diving companions, Frederic Dumas and Taillez. The three divers use them to dive and shoot the first underwater film, Epaves (Shipwrecks). This film was shot by the divers using scuba sets.

Different various nations have frogmen using scuba diving suits with rebreathers for some of the best known and most spectacular war actions. They were known as Human Torpedo’s.

Hans Hass states that during WWII the German diving gear firm Drager offered him an open-circuit scuba set with a demand regulator. It is unknown if it were two separate inventions or copied from captured Commeinhes-type set.

1950’s show the newest scuba  diving suits called wetsuits. Diving equipment improvements continue to show on the public market but some were used during the war by different countries. After the supply of war-surplus frogman dry -suits ran out, free swimming were not available to the public so many scuba divers dived with bare skin except for swimming trunks. This where the term skin-diving came from.

The movie “The Frogman” came to public theaters. This movie is set in the Pacific Ocean in WWII. The Frogman has the public’s attention and scuba diving has become popular.

1952 Cousteau-type aqualungs go on sale in Canada. Also UC Berkeley and UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography Physicist Hugh Brander invent the modern wetsuit.

Ted Eldred in Melbourne, Australia start making for public sale the make of scuba gear called Porpoise. Making Porpoise the first scuba gear commercially available single-hose scuba unit and the forerunner of the sport SCUBA equipment produced today.

In 1933 National Geographic Magazine has an article about Cousteau’s underwater archaeology at Grand Congloue Island near Marseille. This article started a massive public demand for aqualungs and diving gear in France and America.

There is a new life out there called underwater sea life and people want to see it. But also there are new jobs in the world of diving. The armed forces of the world need underwater divers. We continue to discover all sorts of wonders underwater. The technology continues to improve. Did wars have anything to do with the progression of scuba diving and the equipment used? Yes, because of necessity more was invented and produced in the world of underwater diving because of war. The public is benefiting from all the technology developed during the wars of the world, from the first plant reed to the scuba diving suits and tanks used today.