1945. La Spirotechnique SCUBA

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When Jacques Cousteau and Emil Gagnan conquered the world with their SCUBA equipment they did not only start up a revolution which would become known as ‘sports-diving’, they also entered the market with a diving apparatus which was ‘cheap’ compared to the price of the classic diving equipment with a heavy helmet and air-pump. La Spirotechnique developed a version for professional diving where the diver is wearing a ‘constant-volume’ suit (a dry suit with a hood attached to it) with the Cousteau-Gagnan regulator strapped at his back and the air supplied from the surface by an air-compressor and/or buffer tank. This equipment was called the ‘Vetement Phoque’ and ‘Detendeur Narghile’ and provided a perfect equipment to compete with the old style heavy dress. And due to the price anybody could afford it and perform underwater work at competitive prices. In the nineteen fifties several manufacturers of the classic equipment like Draeger, Heinke, Piel and Siebe Gorman started to develop lightweight helmets and/or SCUBA equipment which was more or less copied from the constant volume suits and regulators from Cousteau and Gagnan.

The second style dry suit by ‘La Spirotechnique’

A first generation ‘Vetement Phoque’ suit which once was used at a shipyard in Harlingen, Holland. The fabric is covered with some aluminium colored stuff, the shiny silver diver must have looked ‘hyper modern’ back in the forties. Photographs David L.Dekker

An advertisement from the diving manual ‘La Plongée en Scaphandre’ written by Tailliez, Dumas, Cousteau, Alinat and Dr Devilla and published by Editions Elzevir in 1950. It shows the second version of the ‘Vetement Phoque’ and a ‘La Spirotechnique’ SCUBA tank of the second version (anodized dark bleu) with a CG45 regulator. The first style suit had cords to pull the mask on the divers face, the version in the advertisement is the second style which has rubber straps to tighten the mask to the divers face.

The Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA)

The first dry suit by ‘La Spirotechnique’

A treasure from the ‘Elie Monnier’

In the nineteen nineties I visited a friend living on the french Cote Azur. This friend had abandoned his former passion of collecting vintage cars and had started collecting diving helmets instead. This not only because a diving helmet has much better looks and value then an old car but also because the cars kept rusting from the sea breeze around his house and the helmets did not. One day he took me to the basement of his house to show me some old stuff that he had found many years ago when he was serving in the french navy. He told me that back then an officer a few colleagues and himself were ordered to clean out a ship which had to be scuttled, all loose items were to be removed from it. The ship was the ‘Elie Monnier’ an old german tugboat which had been given by Germany to France to pay for the debts of war in 1945. The ship was also the ship Jacques Y. Cousteau had used to go diving until he got the Calypso ...

My friend told me that he was sent down into the hold of the ship to look for loose stuff which could be removed, and among the rubble down there he found an old under water camera housing from Cousteau and 2 triple tank sets from the nineteen forties. After having dragged it all up on deck he asked the officer what he should do with it and was answered that he should take it to the scrap heap just like the rest of what came off the ship. He took off with the ‘scrap’ but instead of dumping it with at the scrap-heap he dropped it carefully into the trunk of his own car to take it home. One triple tank set he had given away to a friend so what he showed me in that basement was one triple tank set and the Cousteau camera housing. He told me that the housing was probably used for making the film ‘Par 18 metres de fond’ and he asked me if I was interested in it ... which I obviously was(!) We worked out an exchange with some hard hat equipment for his collection.

The Camera housing was hand made for Jacques Y.Cousteau at the military navy base ‘Arsenal de Toulon’ In the loops at the back end a tank with compressed air was clamped which was connected to the housing. When taking it under water the valve at the tank was opened to provide a steady flow of air into the camera housing. At the back there is a spring operated exhaust-valve like on a divers helmet to allow the air to escape when it exceeds a certain pressure. The idea is that because of the pressure inside the housing no water would be pressed into it when taking deeper under water. Photographs David L.Dekker.

Above: the actual camera housing in use, the photo I scanned from ‘Plongées sans Cable’ by Philippe Tailliez and it shows the camera housing with a light attached on it. The bubbles coming from it show the functioning of the tank attached to it. I am currently looking for a tank which will fit the clamps at the back: I tried several Commeinhes and Mandet tanks but they were all to large in diameter. Also I am looking for information about the type of camera which once was mounted in the housing: it would be great to have the apparatus complete and functioning again ...

The scan above comes from the 1955 french navy diving manual ‘INSTRUCTION sur la PLONGEE EN SCAPHANDRE A L’AIR’ The name ‘reserve en bas’ (reserve down) is explained in the drawing on the left: the reserve in the valve on top of the tank is operated from the knob at the bottom of the tank. It is attached to a rod which goes all through the tank to the valve on the top side. The ‘reserve en bas’ tanks are being referred to as the ‘ANCIEN MODELE’ (old model) The valve at the right in the illustration shows the ‘new model’ with a reserve mechanism operated by a pull rod.

1946 - 1950 The ‘La Spirotechnique’ SCUBA tanks with ‘reserve en bas’

1945 The ‘La Spirotechnique’ SCUBA regulator CG45

The CG45 (Cousteau Gagnan 1945) regulator can be compared with the regulator from Benoit Rouquayrol (see chapter 1860 Rouquayrol Denayrouze) The only difference is that the actual valve is of a different design due to the higher pressure which is used. But the main system is identical: it also is a tank with air with an air-chamber on top of it, with a valve between the tank and the air-chamber. And when the diver demands air (inhales) a rubber diafragm descends and this opens the valve. Also the ‘bec de canard’ (duck valve) is still used as the exhaust-valve in the system. The Cousteau Gagnan regulator is almost entirely based on the technique of the Rouquayrol regulator.

The ‘Tri-Acier’, the SCUBA tank exclusively made for the french navy

The triple navy tanks are made of steel and known in France as the ‘Tri-Acier’. All SCUBA tanks sold to the civil market were made of aluminium in the early days, only the military got steel ones. When these military tanks did not pass tests or were just declared obsolete they were always scrapped. That is why only very few have survived. As soon as I had the triple tanks I was eager to get a regulator to complete it with. For years and years I have been searching for one, the right type of regulator for these sets was the CG45 ( Cousteau Gagnan 1945 ) regulator. They seemed very very rare ...  Photograph David L.Dekker

PS: The tank set shown here above originally was supplied to the military with a CG45 regulator that had  a much larger badge on it. This ‘large badge CG45’ I have not been able to find: do you have or know one for sale then pls. let me know.

The ‘Bi-Alu’, the SCUBA tank made for the recreational and professional diver, the painted bleu version of 1946

The photo above shows the very first version of the single and double aluminium Spirotechnique tanks. Originally these tanks had been painted blue but most of the paint on these tanks is lost. Both tanks are dated 1946 and the regulator is one of the first ones too because the company name is followed by SARL (Société à Responsabilité Limitée) a ‘private limited liability corporate’ or ‘Ltd’ which was changed  in 1947 to SA (Société Anonyme) a ‘public limited company’ (UK) or ‘joined stock company’ (US)

In the nineteen nineties I visited a friend living on one of the islands north of Holland. Out in his garden he had a life size plastic cow  standing and much to my surprise it was standing on divers fins and had an aluminium 1946 SCUBA tank set with the complete housing of a CG45 regulator strapped to its back! ( the twin set and regulator at the picture above ) When my friend saw my amazement he laughed and said that another tank should be laying somewhere else in the garden too. And that he had the rest of the regulator and the suit at his attic.  He told me that a few years before the live size plastic cow had represented his diving club in some contest among the northern islands and thats why it was ‘dressed as a diver’ with fins at its hoofs and the scuba set at its back. They had baptized it ‘Koesteau’ which was painted at the back of it ( Koe is dutch for cow and its pronounced the same way as Cou from Cousteau ... ) He had been given the equipment by an old shipyard in Harlingen, there the equipment was once used for underwater work on ships. We worked out an exchange for other diving equipment, the rare equipment was saved from a life out in the rain and my SCUBA collection had tripled. Photograph David L.Dekker

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During the first years La Spirothechnique kept changing the CG45 regulator and the air tanks. The changes are minor but they can well be seen in the manuals which were supplied with the equipments:

NOTICE du Scaphandre Autonome Cousteau Gagnan, first edition of 1946

This first edition manual has the company name on the cover of which says La Spirotechnique S.A.R.L. The illustration inside shows the bleu painted scuba tanks with a rather complicated system of straps which crosses the divers chest. The harness is without a jockstrap. The badge at the regulator is not shown at any of the illustrations. The long box at the lower left contained the single tank in the middle of the picture. With my 1946 tanks I got just the cover of the box ( shown here below )  Manual David L.Dekker collection

The company name on the cover of this second edition manual of 1946 still says La Spirotechnique S.A.R.L. The illustration inside also shows the bleu painted scuba tanks with a rather complicated harness, but the straps do no longer cross the divers chest. The harness is still without a jockstrap. The CG45 regulator is shown with its early style large company badge. The long box at the lower left from the illustration in the first edition of this manual has been removed and in its place is now a triple tank set.  Manual David L.Dekker collection

NOTICE du Scaphandre Autonome Cousteau Gagnan, second edition of 1946

The photo above shows the second style single and twin aluminium Spirotechnique tanks which were no longer painted but anodized in bleu. It is also the last style of tanks with ‘reserve en bas’. The single tank is dated 1947 and I found it in Holland. The twin set I found in France and it is dated 1949. La Spirotechnique stopped making tanks with the ‘reserve en bas’ in 1950. The regulator is the later style CG45 because the company name is followed by SA ( Société Anonyme ) Photograph David L.Dekker.

The ‘Bi-Alu’, the SCUBA tank made for the recreational and professional diver, the bleu anodized version of 1947.

The company name on the cover of this third edition manual of 1947 is now La Spirotechnique S.A. The illustration inside should now show the bleu anodized scuba tanks but due to both the quality of the pictures and printing this is hard to see. The tanks are equipped with again another harness which now has a jockstrap. The CG45 regulator is shown here with the small size company badge. Manual David L.Dekker collection

NOTICE des Scaphandres Autonome Cousteau Gagnan, third edition 1947-1950

1950 - 1970’s The La Spirotechnique ‘CG45’ regulator ‘sans plaque’ (without badge)

The photo above shows a younger lightweight version of the‘Bi-Alu’ twin tank set which was made of aluminium but enforced by a steel wire which was wound around the tank. The tanks are dated early nineteen sixties. The regulator which is mounted on it is the La Spirotechnique ‘CG45’ regulator without a company badge. Why there are CG45’s around without a company badge is a bit of a mystery,  when anybody knows why then please let me know. The CG45 without a company badge is also shown in the fourth edition of the CG45 Diving Manual of 1950 - 1955 ( shown below ) The CG45 was officially used by the government services into the nineteen seventies and then all got destroyed, as a result nowadays it is one of the rarest regulators. The twin tanks here above I bought on a flea market in France from an old man who had taken them home as a souvenir when he left the military diving school of St Mandriez in the nineteen sixties. Photograph David L.Dekker.

The company name on the cover of this fourth edition manual of 1950 is La Spirotechnique S.A. The illustration inside now shows the new model scuba tanks which no longer have the ‘reserve en bas’. The tanks are equipped with a harness which resembles the last version of the harness of the tanks with the ‘reserve en bas’ but due to the different shape of the lower end of the tank the construction has slightly changed. The CG45 regulator is shown here without a company badge, this version of a regulator is shown on a younger set of ‘Bi-Alu’ tanks above, this because I do not have this first style of ‘Bi-Alu’ tanks without a ‘reserve en bas’ in my collection. Manual David L.Dekker collection

NOTICE des Scaphandres Autonome Cousteau Gagnan, fourth edition 1950-1955

An illustration of a complete diver with the new style ‘Bi-Alu’ tank with CG45 regulator as illustrated in the fourth edition of the CG45 diving manual of 1950 - 1955. The harness is an earlier version then the harness at the twin set shown at the photo above.

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Chronology of Diving in Holland:

1605. Jan Adriaansz.Leeghwater

1832. Hugh Morton

1836. Deane

1839. Augustus Siebe

1839. Augustus Siebe (2)

1839. Augustus Siebe (3)

1841. Bikkers Rotterdam

1844. Heinke

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze (2)

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze (3)

1890. Friedrich Flohr

1899. Drägerwerk

1912. Drägerwerk (2)

1942. Drägerwerk (3)

1945. La Spirotechnique

1945. La Spirotechnique (2)

1945. La Spirotechnique (3)

1945. Zock, Dordrecht

1955. E.P.L. de Hoog, Alkmaar

1983. Jan van Leest

1984. Pommec

1992. Henk Oostenveld

2002. Kees de Jonge

2004. Krul en Dekker

Alphabetical International Index:

The DiveScrap INDEX

2004. Krul en Dekker (2)

2004. Krul en Dekker (3)

2004. Krul en Dekker (4)

2012. Henk-Jan Vijn


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