For a very long time, mankind has been interested in building devices that would move underwater. A legend says that, Alexander the Great dived into the Mediterranean Sea with a diving bell he had had built. Great genius Leonardo da Vinci, too, has designed underwater ships.
However the most useful results were obtained in the 19th century when the science and technical progress enabled inventors with sophisticated designs. These designs were more successful than their predecessors.
In 1885, a 33-year-old English engineer, named George William Garret, designed the first torpedo-firing submarine that was suitable for naval warfare. This submarine was named as Nordenfelt #1 after the owner of the yard where she was built.
In August 1885 the trials for this submarine were held in Landskrone in Sweden. The Ottoman naval officer attending these trials wrote in his report, after exchanging thoughts with other nations' officers, that the submarine was not suitable for naval operation in her current state.
Later the Greek government bought this first Nordenfelt submarine for 9,000 pounds. Sultan Abdülhamid, who was afraid of the tensions between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, ordered the Naval Ministry to buy two submarines from Nordenfelt, 11,000 pounds each, capable of firing 3 torpedoes. The submarines were to be delivered in 2.5 months.
According to the contract signed on 26 August 1886, the submarines were to be built in England in 2.5 months. Later, they were to be taken apart, put into cradles and to be shipped to İstanbul. The final assembly of the submarines was to be done in Taşkızak shipyard on the Golden Horn.
Although the manufacturing of the submarines in England ran according to the contract, there were some problems during the transport of the parts to İstanbul and during the final assembly in Taşkızak shipyard. Mr. G.W. Garret had to travel many times to İstanbul in order to supervise the progress.
The first submarine was launched on 6 September 1886. Her first trial was done on 5 February 1887. As the results of the trials were not satisfying, this submarine, named after the ruling Ottoman Sultan as ABDÜLHAMİD, returned to the shipyard. The second submarine ABDÜLMECİD was launched on 4 August 1887.
After a series of trials held in Golden Horn and Bosphorus, the two submarines sailed on 13 January 1888 by their own steam to the Bay of İzmit. The submarines made a maximum of 10 miles during this voyage. All efforts to dive them or to steam them submerged failed repeatedly. But the submarines were able to fire torpedoes to target ships successfully. Thus the Ottoman Navy became the first Navy to fire a torpedo to a target from a submarine.
After these trials, both submarines returned to the Naval Yard at Golden Horn. They were left to rust.
Until 1910 there were no other serious efforts the in Ottoman Navy about operating submarines. In 1910, naval officers were sent to various European countries to investigate about the use of submarines. Two submarines were ordered to France in 1914, but the French Navy kept them as the First World War had begun.
During the war, various groups of naval officers were sent to Germany to attend the submariner courses held by the German Navy. However as the Ottoman Navy did not possess any submarines at that time their knowledge was not used.
On 17 September 1917, during the height of the Gallipoli Campaign, the French submarine TURQUOISE managed to get through the defenses into the Sea of Marmara. On her passage back to her base, she ran aground at Aksaz in Dardanelles. Sighted by the Turkish defense, she come under fire. TURQUOISE was hit by the conning tower as she accidentally surfaced. Unable to dive, she was captured and towed to İstanbul. She was commissioned into the Ottoman Navy as MÜSTECİP ONBAŞI named after the soldier whose shot hit the submarine. Her only use during the war however was to charge the batteries of the German submarines.