Moonshine smuggling sub, 1920s, Mississippi
Since time immemorial people have sought to smuggle illicit goods for financial gain. This includes particularly clever people who construct specialized boats or submarines. These contraptions are, by their nature, fascinating irrespective of the contraband involved. Often the line between engineering genius and suicidal nut job is very close. So these craft have a few design surprises in store. Today this is the Narco Sub phenomenon; during the 1920-33 prohibition era cunning individuals devised contraptions to smuggle 'moonshine' whisky from their illicit distilleries to the big cities. Some of these were ‘moonshine submarines’.
Today only one example survives, preserved at the Grand Gulf Military Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Like most ‘narco-submarines’ today this was not a true submarine. Instead it was a low profile boat (LPV), designed to be small and ride low in the water so that the government agents from the Bureau of Prohibition wouldn’t detect it.
Much of the insides have been long-since been removed, and it’s lost its roof and hydroplanes. But by pouring over photographs, (no small thanks to several people who have helped me with close-up photos and observations) I have been able to reverse-engineer it on paper. The attached cutaway is a reasonable guess of how it would have looked, and how it was laid out inside. Some aspects are imprecise. Any corrections welcome.
THE book on Special Forces subs Covert Shores 2nd Edition. A world history of naval Special Forces, their missions and their specialist vehicles. SEALs, SBS, COMSUBIN, Sh-13, Spetsnaz, Kampfschwimmers, Commando Hubert, 4RR and many more.
Check it out on Amazon
Other sneaky waterborne bootlegers from the prohibition era
Most bootleggers, when they did use boats, kept it simple. Speedboats were used, particularly across the Great Lakes from Canada. One trick was to use a small dingy with a plug at the bottom so that it could be sunk when the Federal agents arrived. The payload would later be salvaged by free diving.
Another trick was to tow containers under or behind a host vessel, very like today’s narco-torpedoes. These could be supplied with compressed air from the towing ship to control their buoyancy. And they could be marked by a piece of wood floating on the surface if they had to be cut loose. Similar 'torpedoes' were employed in an underwater conveyor belt system, across the water border from Canada.
Related articles (Full index of popular Covert Shores articles)
Armored Stealth Boat used for car smuggling by Chinese organized crime. w/Cutaway
Narco Subs 101. w/Cutaway
The Escape of Bernd Boettger from East Germany
Nautilus 2020 Luxury Private Submarine. w/Cutaway
Cutaway of Jules Verne’s Nautilus. w/Cutaway
Turbinia, the first steam turbine boat (1894)
LTTE Sea Tigers' sneak craft and midget subs
World Submarine Museum proposal
Porpoise submarine concept (/Fredrik Granholm)
Unofficial USN Diesel Submarine concept. w/Cutaway
Future Submarine Concept