Today we are familiar with vehicle snorkels and their use in enabling 4WD vehicles to wade through deep water, to protect the vehicle engine from dust, and also to increase engine performance. But who invented the vehicle snorkel, how long has it been around, and what was the origin of the vehicle snorkel?

The first vehicle snorkels were used on submarines. The invention of the submarine snorkel is often ascribed to Germany during world war II. However an early submarine snorkel was developed in Scotland as early as 1916 (by James Richardson, an Assistant Manager at Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company).

A tank wading with a snorkel

Though this snorkel was never used by any navy. In 1926 Italian captain Pericle Ferretti of the technical corps of the Italian Navy invented a successful design for a snorkel system which also never made it onto any navy vehicles.In 1940 when Germany defeated the Netherlands, Germany captured the 0-25 and 0-26 submarines, which were both fitted with a device named a snuiver (sniffer) a simple snorkel system that enabled diesel propulsion at periscope depth, and also allowed for simultaneous charging of the batteries.

Initially the German Kriegsmarine saw snorkels solely as a means of providing fresh air into the boats, however with increasing submarine losses decided to install snorkels onto their U boats, this was tested in 1943 on U-58 and during 1944 about half of the U-boats stationed in France had snorkels fitted.

At the same time snorkels also began to be fitted to other types of military vehicles including tanks, troop carrier and trucks and jeeps. Deep wading British Churchill tanks used snorkels during Allied assaults on German occupied France during 1942. Tanks generally had watertight crew compartments and so the vehicle could be fully submersed with the maximum depth for a tank being determined by the height of the snorkel. In the case of WWII amphibious jeeps, all of the engine openings and electrics were sealed and the depth of the vehicle was determined by  the height of its occupants heads above the water, as crew areas were not watertight.

Photo:Nicolas Genoud -Geko Expeditions

Today, lots of military vehicles use snorkels or are designed for snorkels to be fitted over the air intake, to allow the vehicles to wade through deep water, limited by the height of the snorkel (and for vehicles with unsealed crew compartments, the height of the occupants heads).
If any water is drawn into the snorkel than this water will also be drawn into the engine, causing it to cut out.

A modern vehicle wading in deep water using a snorkel photo: Nicolas Genoud -Geko Expeditions

Design of vehicle snorkels has continued to evolve over time and as overland enthusiasts, we are all very familiar with the sight of vehicle snorkels attached to overland vehicles. Apart from the ability to enable vehicles to wade , modern snorkel systems also provide other benefits, such as keeping dust and sand out of the engine filter and thus improving engine durability and also of increasing airflow and air intake to the engine and thereby improving engine performance.

Learn more about some top quality modern vehicle snorkels available from Bravo Snorkel below: