Early History Of The Marine Diesel Engine And Application

Published: 27th June 2009
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The first mention of a fast running marine diesel is in 1903 on the Marne-Rhine canal when a French built canal barge named "Petit Pierre" sailed, producing 25bhp at 360 rpm.

In 1904 two marine diesel engines combined were being used in a French submarine 'Z' 120bhp.Then in 1905 another French diesel submarine the 'Aigrette' with a more conventional 4 stroke engine produced 200 bhp was launched.

The first sea going application in a commercial venture is when Swedish engine firm A.B. Motorer delivered the 120 bhp, 300 rpm reversible engines for the 350 dwt cargo ships "Rapp" and "Schnapp" that were commissioned in 1908. The vessels operated as coasters sailing in the Baltic and the North Sea.

Russia also built the Caspian Sea tanker "Djelo" of 4000 dwt in 1908. It was powered by two 500 bhp, 150 rpm engines. In 1909 two slightly larger tankers were built with even bigger diesel engines.

Sailing ships with auxiliary engines were also being built. In 1910 an A.B. Diesel Motorer engine was installed in Amundsen's "Fram". In the same year the Italians built the 1000 t cargo vessel "Romagna" It had a 2-stroke Sulzer engine of 380 bhp at 250 rpm.

An early mention of an engine built for a yacht is the building in 1910 of a light weight V-8 diesel engine a 200 bhp, 600 rpm engine weighing only 10 kg/bhp. The engine was intended for Emanuel Nobel's yacht "Intermezzo".

In 1910 the "Vulcanus" a small tanker 1216 dwt (2047 ton displacement) with a 6-cylinder reversible engine producing 450 bhp at 180 rpm went to sea. It was ocean going mainly sailing in the Far East between Borneo and Singapore. When compared to a similar steam driven tanker the diesel powered "Vulcanus" consumed 2 tons of oil versus 11 tons of coal for the steamship and the crew was reduced to 16 instead of 30.

On November 4, 1911 the "Selandia" the first of a series of three cargo ships, was launched in Denmark. She was a 7400 dwt (10000 ton displacement) twin propellers and driven by a Burmeister & Wain 8 cylinder, 4-stroke engine of 1050 bhp at 140 rpm. The ship's maiden voyage took place in early February 1912. At the time the ship certainly was the largest commercial diesel powered ship and it served until 1942.

The Danish built "Selandia" whilst not the first marine diesel engine ship was the largest ocean going ship of the early marine diesel vessels.


D. Stapersma, 'Vulcanus versus Selandia' july 1996, Voorburg, The Netherlands.

C. Lyle Cummins, Diesel's engine, CarnotPress, Oregon 1993

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