1911. Drägerwerk, Lübeck: ‘first under water tests with a rebreather’

The Draeger Company was established as ‘Draeger & Gerling’ on the first of January 1889 by ‘Johann Heinrich Draeger’ (1847-1917) and ‘Carl Gerling’ (1853-1890). In 1902 Heinrich Draeger’s son, ‘Bernhard Draeger’ (1870-1928) joined the company and the company name was changed to ‘Draegerwerk, Heinr. & Bernh. Dräger’. Bernhard Draeger had two sons: ‘Bernhard Draeger Jr.’ (1904-1989) and ‘Heinrich Draeger Jr.’ (1898-1986).

Have a look above at the first photo ever taken of a diver wearing ‘Dräger diving apparatus. Two years ago a retired German diver gave me an interesting gift: an old glass photo-negative showing three men standing in a small rowing boat. I knew about this photograph from several old Dräger publications and according to what was written underneath the photograph in some of the publications, it was taken in 1911. This was when the first tests were carried out using a Dräger rebreather breathing apparatus underwater. The three men in the photograph are as follows: in a black suit on the right is Dr. Bernard Dräger Sr. (son of the company’s founder, Heinrich Dräger Sr.). On the left, the man who appears to be watching the girls swimming in the water behind the boat is Herman Stelzner, the director in charge of diving business at Drägerwerk from 1906 until his death in 1942. And lastly, the diver in the middle is Arnold Gottlebsen, a ‘Tauchmeister’ (‘Master Diver’) who worked for Drägerwerk. The mask being used here by Gottlebsen is originally a ‘smoke helmet’. Similar to the experiments carried out by the Englishman ‘Deane’ and the Frenchman ‘Denayrouze’, a breathing apparatus which was originally constructed for use in smoke and gas polluted environments is about to be tried out as a diving helmet for underwater use. This gas mask originated from apparatus named ‘Halbstundengerät Dräger Modell 1910’ (an improved version of the Modell 1904/09). Since this must have been a test dive, and since the first ‘Tauchretter’ (rebreather diving apparatus) was introduced by Dräger in 1910, then this picture also probably dates from 1910 (the year that both this mask and the first divers rebreather was introduced by Drägerwerk; and not from 1911 as the literature suggests.

Drägerwerk started their diving tests in 1910 using the brass smoke helmet shown above. The results must have been worthwhile because in the same year a ‘Tauchretter’ was introduced. The ‘Tauchretter’ was an underwater breathing apparatus which was meant for use in submarines: when the submarine could not make it back to the surface the crew could escape from it while breathing using the ‘Tauchretter’. During 1910/1911 Drägerwerk also bought several diving helmets of the Denayrouze design that were made in Germany. These helmets were probably supplied by the ‘Hanseatische Apparatenbau Gesellschaft’ which was a company that had bought the ‘Ludwig von Bremen’ Company (see HDiBank.com for further information). Ludwig von Bremen had worked under license from Denayrouze of France (see chapter: ‘1860 Denayrouze’). Ludwig von Bremen initially manufactured and sold his 3-bolt helmet design in Germany. Drägerwerk built attachments for the helmet which enabled it to be connected to rebreather apparatus. Through the cooperation with the ‘Sauerstofffabrik Berlin’, Bernard Dräger developed an injector system which made it possible to breathe from the rebreather apparatus inside a helmet without the use of a mouthpiece. This resulted in the development and introduction of the ‘Dräger Taucher Apparat Modell 1912’, see the illustrations below.

The photographs below show a Dräger mask ‘Modell 1904/09’ which I discovered several years ago. Photographs, David L.Dekker

This first variation of the ‘Modell 1912’ shown above appears to have had a ‘lock’ system to connect the helmet to the breastplate. This slightly resembles the Denayrouze Charles Petit system of 1889 (see the ‘1860 Denayrouze’ chapter). However within a short time, Draegerwerk adopted the French 3-bolt system which was already being produced by German diving apparatus manufacturers (see photographs below).

I bought the ‘bonnet’ in 2002 from a collector living in the South of Germany who in turn had purchased it in Northern Germany. By a stroke of luck, In 2006 I bought the matching breastplate for this helmet in the North of Germany only 20 km’s from where the bonnet was found. This helmet has also been modified from a rebreather helmet into a ‘ventilated’ (free flow) helmet. The original rebreather system attachments have been removed and patched. The ‘Modell 1912’ helmet was manufactured by Drägerwerk for only 3 years, and then in 1915 the helmet ‘Modell 1915’ was introduced. Photographs, David L.Dekker

The helmet ‘Modell 1912’ was manufactured by Drägerwerk for only three years, then in 1915 the helmet ‘Modell 1915’ was introduced. Due to the angle in the back of the helmet this new design became famous known as the ‘Bubikopf’ helmet.

Illustration to the left: the first ‘Bubikopf’ helmet in a 1915 edition of the ‘Drägerhefte’ (David L.Dekker collection). Again, this helmet has a different locking system which uses a 2-bolt neck-ring. Even though 2-bolt helmets are illustrated in many Dräger publications, only a few have ever been made. The only 2-bolt Dräger helmet known to exist was displayed for several years in the exhibition at the ‘Deutsches Museum’ in München, Germany (unfortunately the protective grill of the top-light is missing from that particular helmet: see photograph above).

Illustration: scan from ‘Drägerhefte’, David L.Dekker collection. Helmet right: ‘Deutsches Museum’, München. Photograph, David L.Dekker

Illustration: scanned from ‘Draegerhefte’ collection David L.Dekker

The ‘Modell 1915’ helmet shown above was completed with a breastplate from a more recent helmet for the purpose of these photographs. The original breastplate would have had a rectangular badge soldered onto it which looks almost identical to the badge on the helmet with ‘serial number: 1’ (shown previously in helmet ‘Modell 1915’ in this chapter) and not a triangular badge as shown here. If anybody knows of a Dräger helmet for sale that has a breastplate with a rectangular badge soldered onto it, or just the single breastplate, then please contact me.

Illustration: ‘Tauchertechnik’ by Herman Stelzner, 1943. David L.Dekker collection

A Dräger ‘Schlauchversorgter Helm’ in a very nice original condition: never polished or touched. The rear view clearly shows one communications connection (left) and a single connection for an air hose (right). There are no rebreather connections.                                                                                                                                                                 Photographs, David L.Dekker

The apparatus shown in the photo images below is the rarest of all Dräger rebreathers and is known as the ‘Pionier-Tauchergerät’ (‘Engineers Diving Apparatus’).

The 2-bolt ‘Bubikopf’ shown above is a rare exception because nearly all ‘Bubikopf’ helmets have the standard 3-bolt neck-rings. The ‘Modell 1915’ helmet in the photographs below was refurbished by Drägerwerk sometime between the 1960s and 1970s and painted white inside which was the normal finish at that time. Usually the earlier ‘Bubikopfs’ are tinned inside.

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1912’ Draegerwerk Lübeck, helmet with ‘lock system’

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1912’ Drägerwerk Lübeck, modified to a 3-bolt flange helmet.

The photographs above show a helmet that I bought several years ago. It was dredged up from the bottom of the harbor in Hamburg during the 1990s. This helmet was built as a ‘Modell 1912’ using the complicated ‘lock’ mechanism, but later it was re-built as a 3-bolt helmet. Also the rebreather attachments, telephone connection and old style spit-cock have been removed sometime in the past and the helmet was entirely rebuilt for use as a ‘ventilated’ (free flow) helmet. The position where the original fittings were have all been patched, so the new parts enabled the helmet to be used with the ‘ventilated’ (free flow) apparatus that were manufactured either by the ‘Hanseatische Apparatebau Gesellschaft’ or by ‘Franz Clouth’. They are not genuine Dräger parts. The fact that the helmet has no serial number stamped in the 3-bolt neck-ring indicates that this was originally a helmet with a locking system. It must have ended up in the harbor perhaps after one of the bombing raids on Hamburg during WW2, or just discarded. Photographs, David L.Dekker

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1912’ Drägerwerk, Lübeck. Helmet with 3 bolt flange

The helmet shown in the photographs below is a more recent ‘Modell 1912’ helmet which was factory built with a 3-bolt neck-ring system of the Denayrouze design. This helmet is the very first helmet made by Drägerwerk with ‘serial number: 1’...

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1915’ Drägerwerk’ Lübeck. Helmet with 2-bolt flange

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1915’ Drägerwerk, Lübeck. Helmet with 3-bolt flange

Free flow diving apparatus ‘Modell 1922’ Drägerwerk, Lübeck. ( ‘Schlauchversorgter Drägerhelm’ )

Combined ‘free flow’ / rebreather diving apparatus Drägerwerk, Lübeck ( Pionier-Tauchergerät version )

This apparatus is called the ‘Pionier-Tauchgerät’ which is only because of the version of the rebreather back-pack which is a rare version with only one oxygen tank. It was designed for underwater work within the fire brigades and army engineers. For some ( unknown ) reason they decided that instead of 2 tanks with oxygen ( which usually last for up to 3 hours ) 1 tank was enough ( which last for about 1 hour and a bit ). The same apparatus but with two blue oxygen tanks is called the Dräger ‘DM 20’ apparatus. See up above in this chapter.   Photographs, David L.Dekker

Dräger Rebreather Back-Packs DM 20 and DM 40

As early as 1915 Dräger started to manufacture helmets that could be used without a rebreather ‘back-pack’. These helmets were officially called ‘Dräger-Schlauch-Tauchgerät’ and were rather experimental. Not until 1922 the Schlauchtachergerät was officially introduced in the Dräger literature. They were almost identical to other ‘Bubikopf’ helmets except there were no attachments to use them with a rebreather back-pack. Instead they could only be used with an air-hose from an air-pump at the surface. Following on from this, helmets were made which had both options of rebreather back-pack and surface supplied air. Several older helmets of the ‘Modell 1915’ were modified to be used with a surface air supply.

In 1899 Bernhardt Dräger applied an injector of the ‘Körting Prinzip’ into an existing prototype developed by the Berliner Sauerstofffabrik ‘Elkan’. This cooperation lead to the developement of the first practical injector operated breather apparatus to be manufactured in important numbers. The patent was registered under the name of both the managing director of the Berliner Sauerstofffabrik and Bernhardt Dräger. Until then a rebreather apparatus was operated with the force of the human lung, but when this new invention was built into the unit, the ‘injector’ provided an automatic flow within the breathing system (see illustration below). The cooperation between Dräger and the Sauerstoffabrik was ended fairly soon: in 1902.

The Dräger injector system is shown on the left: the ‘injector’ creates a pressure in one side of the system and a vacuum in the other side of the system, causing the breathing gas to automatically flow around and also pass through a filter. On the right: a competitor’s rebreather system which operates by the force of human lungs only.

This ‘injector’ system has the advantage of enabling a person to breathe freely inside a mask without the need for a mouthpiece. The invention was a huge success and Dräger sold large numbers of rebreathers all over the world. Their injector rebreather was a much better apparatus than the old style ‘Tissot’ apparatus (French built) or the ‘Proto’ apparatus of Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd. (England). Unfortunately the success of Dräger lead to competition with Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd. and this became known as the ‘Injector - War’ (see chapter: ‘1912 England vs. Drägerwerk’).

1899. Bernhard Dräger applies the ‘Injector’ into a breathing apparatus

The invention of the ‘injector’ by Bernard Dräger in 1895 made it possible to use a rebreather without the need to have a mouthpiece and this was particularly useful when used with diving helmets. The first rebreathers Dräger developed were oxygen rebreathers and having tested them with helmets in a diving tank, the maximum safe depth for their use was set at 20 meters. Diving on pure oxygen to 20 meters depth can be fatal but due to the fact that the suit and helmet were filled with normal air, the partial pressure of the oxygen in the equipment was at a safe level. But there was still a risk: the Dräger apparatus was equipped with a ‘bailout’ set that was incorporated inside the front-weight. In the early years the front-weight for the DM 20 apparatus were filled with pure oxygen. Sometimes, when a diver was at his maximum depth, too much oxygen could be consumed from the front-weight bottle with the result that the partial pressure of the oxygen would pass the safe working limit. That is why the oxygen filled ‘bailout’ set was eventually abandoned and replaced by a ‘bailout’ set using compressed air instead, which was identical in size to the ‘bailout’ front-weight of the surface supplied equipment.

Left hand image: The DM 20 used only pure oxygen and it had two blue tanks on the rebreather, both containing pure oxygen. Right hand image: The DM 40 is basically identical to the DM 20 except that the backpack is slightly larger and uses mixed gas. It has one grey tank with air and the other blue tank contains oxygen. The system could be used to a maximum depth of 40 meters. Photographs, David L.Dekker

Combined ‘free flow’ / rebreather diving helmet Drägerwerk, Lübeck

The above photographs illustrates the helmet type that incorporates attachments for both a rebreather back-pack unit and for an air-hose, therefore it can be used by either method. The ‘Bubikopf’ helmets were manufactured until 1942 and the highest serial number is somewhere around 1150. Photographs, David L.Dekker

I am endeavoring to create a database to help date various Dräger helmets and to establish when certain changes in their design occurred. If you have a Dräger helmet and you would like to know its approximate age, please send me a few photographs of your helmet.

The Dräger rebreather DM 20 / DM 40

1- Oxygen tank

2- Oxygen tank (DM 20) or air tank (DM 40)

3- Bail-out set in frontweight

4- Frontweight

5- Hose from rebreather to helmet

6- Hose from helmet to rebreather

7- Filter

8- Pressure gauge

9- Reducer

10- Injector

11- Pressure equilibration tube

Drawing: ‘Taucher Lehr Buch’ Antäus Verlag Lübeck, 1974 ed.

Diving apparatus ‘Modell 1917’ Drägerwerk, Lübeck. Helmet without a serial-number

The helmet ‘Modell 1917’ at the photographs above has the second style rectangular badge at its breastplate. For unknown reason the helmet has no serial-numbers. Photographs by David L.Dekker

1889 Draegerwerk Lübeck


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