[Part 1 was published earlier this week on Commander Ellsberg’s birthday. Read more after the break.]
In 1925, Ellsberg was still living in the shipyard. He had the job of dismantling two nearly completed 45000 ton battleships – under the terms of the Geneva Conference, the United States had agreed to scrap construction of ships for the next 10 years.
“I always awakened at a certain time to have breakfast, to dress and to go to work. But one morning I awakened at 5 a.m., couldn’t get back to sleep and went out to walk for a while. It had never happened before. I stood on a dock and watched a Navy diving ship, the Falcon, hurriedly loading equipment on board. There was a frantic urgency about the activities. The captain appeared on deck and I called to him. A submarine — the S-51 — had sunk off Block Island. No one aboard the Falcon was knowledgeable.”
He got aboard the Falcon and went out with the rescuers. They stayed out three days. The crew had died, but the Navy wanted to recover the submarine. When he went back, he proposed that he could raise the ship. The Navy was about to sign a contract to get commercial divers to salvage the submarine, but the commander of the Brooklyn Ship Yard convinced them that the Navy could do the job on its own.
No salvage of this nature, from a depth of twenty two fathoms (one hundred and thirty two feet) had been attempted before. No tool existed to cut steel and iron; existing welding torches would not work under water. No problem. Ellsberg invented, and patented, a welding torch for the job. It worked by supplying air under pressure to the torch in such a manner that it formed an envelope around the flame.
|Lt. Commander Edward Ellsberg with his invention – the underwater welding torch c. 1926
(Source: Popular Science, June, 1926)