Russia's first experimental submersible craft was built at the Baltic Shipyard back in 1866. It was designed by Ivan Alexandrovsky, a photographer by trade who became obsessed with the idea of making a weapon that would provide Russia with a much-needed edge over the powerful British navy.
The project was approved by Emperor Alexander II himself; however, sea trials revealed numerous defects, and in 1871 the submarine sank during one of the tests, although thankfully all of its crew managed to successfully abandon ship.
Following this disaster, Alexandrovsky fell out of favor with the Russian Admiralty Council and ended up dying in poverty, his projects forgotten.
In 1900, the Russian Navy formed a special committee tasked with developing military submersible craft. The membership of this committee included senior shipbuilder’s assistant Ivan Bubnov, senior mechanical engineer Ivan Goryunov and Lt. Mikhail Beklemishev – the three men who ended up designing virtually all of the Russian submarines of that time.
The first Russian combat-capable submarine, Delfin (Dolphin), was commissioned in 1901.
Despite the fact that the vessel sank during a test in 1904 due to a main hatch malfunction, resulting in the death of its captain and 23 crewmembers, the naval command remained resolved to see the project through. The submarine was recovered, repaired and later was officially named as the "destroyer 150" of the Imperial Russian Navy.
Delfin was deployed in the Pacific during the Russo-Japanese War, though its participation in the conflict was limited due to another incident that resulted in the loss of the ship. Once recovered and repaired, Delfin was eventually transported to Murmansk in 1917, formally decommissioned in 1917 and completely scrapped in 1920s.
Another successful creation of the committee was the Morzh-class submarines. The three vessels – Morzh (Walrus), Tyulen (Seal) and Nerpa (Baikal seal) – were commissioned in 1911 and were specifically designed for combat in the Black Sea.
All three submarines saw action during World War I and became among of the most successful and efficient combat submersibles of the Russian Empire.
One of the Morzh-class submarine's distinct (and extremely unsafe) features was its lack of internal bulkheads, so that the ship’s officers could see what’s going on in all of the vessel’s compartments without leaving their posts.
But it was the Bars-class submarines that became the most numerous type of military submersible craft in Imperial Russia.
While generally similar to Morzh submarine in terms of design, the Bars (Snow leopard) featured a longer hull and was equipped with more powerful engines. These submarines also saw action during WWI and even during the Russian Civil War.