The history of the first Chilean submarine

On the occasion of the war between Peru and Spain between 1865 and 1866, Chile got involved to defend the interests of the region. In March 1866, Spain bombed Valparaíso, so the government and civil authorities debated how to protect the bay.

Immediately, a series of proposals arose, among them, to manufacture a submarine, an idea of ​​the German engineer Karl Flach. After the approval of the president Jose Joaquin Perez, the engineer began construction of the ship.

Juan Benítez, manager of the Flach submersible rescue project, told Radio Concert that it was an experiment ahead of the time (Twenty thousand leagues of underwater travel of Jules Verne was published four years later), reason why it was considered something ridiculous and even, like a waste of time and money.

But finally, after months of work on Las Torpederas beach, the submarine was ready to dive.

“It is the fifth submarine in the world, the second in South America,” said Benítez.

The ship had a length of 12.5 meters, a beam of 2.5 meters and an estimated weight of 100 tons, reaching a speed of two to three knots with a pedal propulsion system.

Flach «did 3 tests, the first 2 worked fantastic. On his birthday, I think he was half empowered, happy … And he goes out to do a new test, a dive ».

And although he was denied permission due to adverse weather conditions, he decided to do the trial against any recommendation. “Eleven people go up together with Karl Flach’s son,” Benítez explained. However, on this occasion “they disappear, sink and immerse themselves in the history of oblivion of this country.”

Flat 2

After learning the history of this ship, Benítez decided to pursue its detection. He even decided to visit Isabel Ávila, better known as the Mentalist of Chimbarongo.

“I arrived with photos that he asked me,” said the documentary maker. Faced with information that he gave her, she replied “don’t tell me anything, keep quiet, don’t talk to me. Don’t charge me with energy ”. Finally, he “gave exactly the point” where the machine was located.

Flat submarino

Flach Submarine Rescue

Although the submarine was located three days later, it could not be rescued, due to technical limitations at the time. In 2006, when 140 years had passed since the tragedy, a team led by the Chilean Navy, the SEK University and the film director Juan Enrique Benitez, they undertook a new search.

A year later, Benítez confirmed that they had found the remains of the submarine, but lack of resources prevented further investigation.

At the beginning of September 2018, President Sebastián Piñera made the announcement of the future project at the Barón pier, called “Recovery of the Engineer’s Memory and Historical Context Karl Flach and his infernal machine. This includes the design of an interpretation and conservation center for Karl Flach and his work. In addition to the definitive search and rescue of the ship, sunk 152 years ago, a full-scale model will be made.




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