America's First Submarine
By James "Ski" Schuffino Post 18
The seas were calm as the nation’s first submarine left port at 11pm and headed across the harbor. The night was clear, but virtually moonless. The stars sparkled brightly. The dark hull of the sub’s intended target was silhouetted by the lights of the city behind it. It gave Sergeant Lee an excellent target toward which to row. He began to work a hand crank which turned the paddle located in the front of the submarine. The sub made its way slowly across the bay. Its mission was to attach a torpedo (bomb) to the hull of an enemy warship. To accomplish the task there was another screw to which the torpedo was attached. The screw and torpedo would be drilled into the hull. Then the sub would back away and escape as the torpedo exploded, thus sinking the ship. The sub was heralded by the American historian of technology, Brooke Hindle, as “the greatest of the wartime inventions.”
As the mission progressed the sub finally arrived at the ship’s side. It submerged and attempted to plant the bomb. The operator had some difficulty attaching the torpedo. By now much of Sergeant Lee’s oxygen supply inside the sub was running low. He surfaced to replenish his air. In fear of discovery and capture he released the torpedo and began to crank his way back to shore. The torpedo exploded. The submarine was unable to complete its mission. The ship never sank and subsequently the sub itself sank. Right now, many history buffs are probably thinking, wait a minute, there is something wrong vhere. The CSA Hunley did sink the ship. It was the USS Housatonic. They would be correct, somewhat. The error with that line of thought is that the submarine described above was named The Turtle. The time was the Revolutionary War and its object was HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship. The harbor was New York and the operator of the sub was Sergeant Ezra Lee. The Turtle was actually the very first submarine to be used in warfare.
Right now, many history buffs are probably thinking, wait a minute, there is something wrong here. The CSA Hunley did sink the ship. It was the USS Housatonic. They would be correct, somewhat. The error with that line of thought is that the submarine described above was named The Turtle. The time was the Revolutionary War and its object was HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship. The harbor was New York and the operator of the sub was Sergeant Ezra Lee. The Turtle was actually the very first submarine to be used in warfare.
The Turtle came to life in 1775 through the inspiration of American inventor David Bushnell. In 1776 it became the first ever submersible in the world to be used in combat. The Turtle was essentially a barrel, a very large one, and it was operated by a hand crank to turn an Archimedean screw to propel it through the water and another to help it rise and sink while under water. It was an ungainly machine and difficult for one man to operate. It took Sgt. Lee several hours to maneuver the Turtle across the harbor to the Eagle. By that time Sgt. Lee was suffering from both fatigue and a lack of fresh air. His attempt to attach the bomb to the underside of the vessel was unsuccessful. He aborted the mission. But his adventure had aroused the suspicion of several sailors, on watch, who boarded a boat and rowed toward the strange object in the water.
To affect his escape and avoid capture, Sgt. Lee released the torpedo and allowed it to float toward the oncoming sailors. Recognizing the dangers of a floating charge they hastily began to row away. Sgt. Lee reported that the charge drifted into the East River, where it exploded “with tremendous violence, throwing large columns of water and pieces of wood high into the air.” The startled sailors doubled their efforts to row away from the explosion allowing the Turtle to escape. Several days later the British attacked and sank the Turtle’s tender. The Turtle was aboard being refurbished and it foundered along with the ship.
Which brings us to the Civil War. It was 1 November 1861 when America’s first “modern” submarine was conceived. The ship was to be about 47 feet long, with a beam of 4 feet 8 inches and height of 5 feet 6 inches. It was made of iron, with the upper part having small circular plates of glass for light and inside were several water-tight compartments. For propulsion she was to be equipped with sixteen hand-powered paddles protruding from the sides operated by eight oarsmen. But the design was altered on 3 July 1862. The paddles were replaced by a hand-cranked propeller, which improved its speed to about four knots.
The unique craft was launched on 1 May 1862. The crew was 12, including an officer, two divers, one helmsman and eight oarsmen, each manning the crankshaft for the propeller. The Union submersible was armed with two limpet mines. They were designed to