The snorkel was invented in 1938 in Holland, as a device to allow submarines [V] to take in air that would allow diesel engines to operate while submerged. When Germany invaded Holland in 1940, they acquired the device and gave it the name schnorkel or schnorchel. In English the term has usually been spelled snorkel.
At first the Germans had little use for the system, but in 1943 they began applying it on the VIIC and IXC classes of submarines. The first was installed on U-58,which experimented with the equipment in the Baltic Sea in the summer of 1943. Operational installations were made in early 1944, and by June 1944 about half of the German submarines based in France had snorkel installations.
The advantage was that the system allowed the submarine to remain submerged, whereas previously, the time submerged had been limited
because the submarine operated on electric motors and batteries while underwater, usually surfacing at night to operate the diesels to recharge the batteries. The snorkel air-breathing connection required a large pipe to the surface with a closing mechanism at the top that would seal when a wave hit the opening. With the pipe raised, the speed of the submarine was reduced to about 6 knots underwater. Other disadvantages included the fact that when the snorkel closed, the diesel engines would suck in air from the atmosphere in the submarine, causing a great drop in air pressure and damage to the sailors’ eardrums. Furthermore, although the submarine could remain submerged for days, garbage would accumulate, making living conditions in the cramped quarters even worse. The German type XXI and XXIII submarines, constructed in the last months of the war, were designed to take full advantage of the snorkel. In the first applications on the type VII and type IX, the mast containing the snorkel folded down along the side of the submarine. In the type XXI and XXIII submarines, the snorkel was mounted on a telescoping air mast that rose vertically through the conning tower, next to the periscope.
With the development of improved radar, submarines lost the ability to evade detection by surfacing at night for battery recharging; hence the German use of the snorkel. In the postwar period the U.S. Navy experimented with fitting snorkels to existing submarines, and at the same time the navy sought other means to achieve long submergence periods to evade radar. Among the most promising techniques was the use of nuclear reactors for underwater propulsion.
Meanwhile, with the development of the aqualung and the increased popularity of diving and undersea exploration, simple air-closure mechanisms called snorkels were developed to attach to face masks for sports diving. By the 1960s, snorkeling had become a popular sport.