On may 13th 1924 the Neufeldt & Kuhnke company of Kiel, Germany celebrated its 25 years existence. A dinner was organized and together with the menu ( which was specially printed for this event ) also booklet was distributed among the attendants, this booklet was put together by the higher positioned workers of the company who each had provided a contribution. Some wrote a letter, others a poem some made cartoon drawings, all was related to the company and its workers. All texts were printed as the original hand written documents provided by the contributors which makes it very hard to read, but quite ‘authentic’. With the kind help of an Austrian girlfriend who studied literature in Graz I was able to read a poem called ‘1899’, the year Neufeldt & Kuhnke was established.

Neufeldt & Kuhnke, Kiel


Zwei Herren hatten ein Werk gegründet,

Das beide Herren noch heute in Freundschaft verbindet,

Doch wie es oftmals auf Erden ist,

dass Kleinigkeit den Frieden vergisst,

So wollte auch hier die Eintracht der beiden

Die Zwistigkeit die Freunde scheiden.

- Kühnke + Neufeldt heist unser Zeichen,

Das als Fabrikgrüß die Welt soll erreichen.-

Neufeldt & Kuhnke klinkt viel besser,

Sprach drauf Herr Neufeldt scharf wie ein Messer.

Den Neufeldt & Kuhnke ist ein Gedicht,

Kuhnke & Neufeldt klingt rythmisch nicht.-

Um endlich das Schild in Auftrag zu geben

Müßte das Streichholz den Zank beheben

,,Lang" war der Sieger, ,,Kürz" der Geschlagene,

Versteht Ihr jetzt das Vorgetragene?

- ,,Neufeldt & Kuhnke" blieb ein Gedicht,

Umrahmt vom goldenen Sonnenlicht"-

                                             K. Schrodt

I don’t know who K. Schrodt was nor what exactly he did with Neufeldt & Kuhnke but he probably recited his poem during the dinner ...

25 years earlier, in 1899 Hans Neufeldt, a civil engineer and Carl Kuhnke, (13.5.1870 – 11.10.1938) a businessman, founded the company ‘Neufeldt & Kuhnke’. Initially they concentrated on the development of electrical installations but in 1905 they started a joint venture with Germany’s first diving apparatus manufacturer ‘Ludwig von Bremen’ and together they founded the ‘Hanseatische Apparatebau Gesellschaft vormals L. von Bremen’ This constellation of companies is rather complex so instead of putting all in one chapter there are independent chapters on both ‘Ludwig von Bremen’, the ‘Hanseatische Apparatebau Gesellschaft’ ( and on the later ‘HAGENUK’ as well ) This chapter only contains the story on the diving department within the ‘Neufeldt and Kuhnke’ ( N&K ) company.

1899 Neufeldt & Kuhnke, Kiel founded

The first steps were taken by an engineer called Fr. Gall. This mr. Gal had invented the basic concept of an ‘Armored Diving Suit’ (ADS) and had found himself support from both ‘Prince von Hohenlohe-Langenburg’ and the ‘Kgl. Württ. Zentralstelle für Gewerbe und handel’. When the time had come to build a prototype of the ADS the ‘know how’ and experience of the ‘Ludwig von Bremen’ company was an important advantage for N&K and that is why they were appointed to further develop Gall’s armored diving suit. Later Gall became an employee with N&K. The invention was initially called ‘Dem Gallschen Tauchapparat’, then ‘Der Tiefseetaucher’ but would later become famous as the ‘Panzertauchgerät’. The project started with the idea to have the apparatus designed by Gall and built by N&K but for its exploration a new company would be founded. In 1911 Admiral z. D. Marwede was involved in the project. Marwede had been following all developments with divers and diving as an Imperial Navy officer and had published a ‘brochure’ after having made a 2 years study of divers and diving. In 1914 a business-plan was made and published. Obviously the new invention could be of use for civil and military engineering but an other important option for its use was seen for pearl and sponge diving. The richest pearl banks and sponges could be found at depths which were to deep for the then common diving equipments ( with a copper helmet ) This would be no problem for the ADS ...

1911 Neufeldt & Kuhnke, Kiel appointed to build ‘Der Tiefseetaucher’

In 1914 the first Tiefseetaucher was built by ‘Neufeldt & Kuhnke’ with ‘Siemens-Marlin-Steel’ and ‘Fundir-Alluminium’ and in July 1914 the first test dives were made in the ‘Plöner See’. The outcome was surprisingly good even though small assembly mistakes had to be taken care off. Both inventor Gall and his assistant Hahn first dived the new apparatus to 45 meters, later a second dive of one hour to 65 meters was made by each of them, this was the deepest place of the lake.

1914 Test-diving the ‘Tiefseetaucher’ in the Plöner See

On September 29 1916, 2 days later, Gall and his assistant each dive the apparatus in presence of ‘Seiner Exzellenz Staatsrat Freiherr von Gemmingen-Guttenberg’ for 20 minutes to 77 meters. The ‘suit’ is dry and is approved by the divers.

October 6 1916 Gall dived for 40 minutes to 82 meters, the ‘suit’ was dry and approved by the diver. Attempts to find and bring up an object which was sank for the trials was impossible due to lack of light. More test-dives followed that same day to test ‘walking’ and ‘working’ with the apparatus at depths of 62, 59 and 58 meters for 40 to 45 minutes per dive. At shallower depths more tests were done with work on objects under water: picking up boxes with a hook, untying knots in ropes etc. These tests took 30 to 62 minutes each, the suit was dry and the diver approved it. Then some more tests at 66 meters were done but now with the help of an underwater lamp. These took 20 to 57 minutes and were approved.

1916 Test-diving the ‘Tiefseetaucher’ in the Bodensee

On September 27 1916 the improved version of the test-Tiefseetaucher ( baptized ‘Type 1916’ ) was taken to the much deeper ‘Bodensee’. To test its resistance to pressure the apparatus was dived to depths of 93, 142, 111, 75 and 116 meters but without a diver inside: they used some weights equal to a diver instead. Each dive the Tiefseetaucher stayed at the bottom for 1 hours to 1,5 hour. Only a few repairs had been made and after that the apparatus proved dry and reliable. Then inventor Fr. Gall climbed into the apparatus in presence of 2 employees of the finance office. He dived for 53 minutes, and stayed for 32 minutes at a depth of 114 meters. It took only 1,3/4 minute to bring him back to the surface. The ‘suit’ had proven to be dry and was approved by the diver, even under the water pressure at the max. depth the arms and legs moved without a problem.

1924 ‘Panzertaucher neueste Bauart’ test-diving in Walchensee, Oberbayern

On July 18 1924 a new version of the apparatus was tested in the artificial lake of the hydro power-plant at Walchensee in Oberbayern, Germany. This version was different from both the ‘Type 1916’ and the model which directly follows because the diver did not enter the suit from above but he stepped in the legs instead, and then the whole body and arms were placed over him: the opening was at waist level. To test this version diver Heidenreich descended to a depth of 112 meters to see if he could move his arms and legs, which appeared no problem at all. On July 19, 1924 diver Heidenreich descended once more but now to 140 meters to see if he still could move his arms and legs, it was possible even though more difficult when compared to a dive one day before ( when they stopped at a depth of 112 meters ) 50 minutes later he returned to the surface in 4 minutes and 36 seconds.

Two days later on July 21, 1924 diver Heineck descended in 10 minutes to a depth of 160 meters. At this depth there was no light at all but the diver made a walk at the bottom of the Walchensee without any difficulty and then went back to the surface making several stops . At a depth of 120 meters he could see 1,5 meters and move the arms and legs easily.  

These tests led to the conclusion that this new version of the apparatus was fully approved. The publications where these tests are described first mention the name ‘Panzertaucher’

As mentioned in the story here above, the Tiefseetaucher tested in the Bodensee was baptized ‘Type 1916’. This apparatus caught a lot of attention world wide and can be seen in hundreds of books and magazine articles. But its success did not stop the engineers of Neufeldt & Kuhnke from further developing the apparatus, in later publications from the years after these first dives different versions of the apparatus show up.

This early but later version then the ‘Type 1916’ was displayed in the ‘Deutsche Museum’ in München. I am not sure if it still is: last time I visited it ( summer 2012 ) most of the diving equipment was skipped to make place for a new emergency exit ... Even though different from the suit called ‘Type 1916’ officially this version seems to be reckoned to be the ‘first version’ of the N&K ADS  ‘Tiefseetaucher‘                                                                                                                                                                                     ( photograph David L.Dekker )

1913 Patent D.R.P. 297016

The first version of the ‘Tiefseetaucher’ had a ‘tail’ ... This ‘tail’ was incorporated into the design to be able to adjust the buoyancy of the suit. By blowing up this telescopic device with the help of compressed air the volume of the suits increased so its buoyancy increased too. I never found another illustration apart from this drawing so maybe it just remained an idea. The later versions of the suit had water filled ballast tanks which could be filled with air instead in order to create buoyancy.

1927 The ‘Panzertaucher’ re-designed

The next variation of the N&K ‘Panzertaucher’ shows us that the designers came back to the initial concept where the diver enters the suit from above. But now the shapes of the arms and legs have been simplified, the ball shapes have became ‘tubes’ instead.

At the photograph here above this suit is shown with the complete set of accessories ready for expedition: it comes with winches, cables, lights, leg extensions ( in case of a taller diver! ) scrubber cartridges, oxygen tanks, communications systems, a special standard to store the suit, tools,  spare parts, etc. etc. A complete set as shown here above weighed over 2 tons.

1935? The ‘Panzertaucher’ re-designed

In 1937 Neufeldt & Kuhnke and the Hanseatische Aparatebau Gesellschaft merged into 1 new company called HAGENUK. Hagenuk stands for ‘Hanseatische Apparatebau GEsellschaft Neufeldt Und Kuhnke’ At the drawing stamped HAGENUK here above the last version of the ‘Panzertaucher’ is shown. As you can see the designers went back to the older design for the arms and legs which are now no longer tube shaped but built up from ( stronger ) ball shapes. In the left border of this drawing is written that on January 1, 1937 the quick release system ‘R’ has been redesigned.

With the set of drawings of this version of the ‘Panzertaucher’ also came a drawing of the suits’ ‘hands’ ( aka ‘end effectors’ ) This drawing is dated January 12, 1935 which is the earliest date I could find on these drawings. I don’t know when the production of these ‘Panzertauchers’ ended but rumors go that they were built into the late nineteen fifties.

With Special thanks for their help with this chapter to: Deutsche Museum München, Mikael Jung, Rob Krul, Phil Nuytten, Björn Kahr, Gary L.Harris, Hermann Stelzner and Anna O.

Since the N&K at the Russian navy base which I almost bought I only found myself a pair of shoes from one. What happened to the rest of this suit??? Do you have parts, drawings or other documentation of a Panzertaucher which you would like to sell then please allow me to make you an offer ...

A ‘Panzertaucher’ is now a very desirable object for the collector of vintage diving equipment. The one shown here above I found in Russia in the nineteen nineties. Just when I was trying to work out a deal with the people who had informed me about it, the suit ‘disappeared’ from the concrete platform at the navy base where it had been standing for decades ( outside in the rain ... ) My contacts later found out that a museum had confiscated it ... The suit finally disappeared in the museums basement where it probably still stands today, collecting dust ...

                                                                                                                 Do you know an ADS for sale? Please let me know ...


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