Thursday, May 3, 2018
CSS H.L. Hunley
H. L. Hunley, often referred to as Hunley, was a submarine of the Confederate States of America that played a small part in the American Civil War. Hunley demonstrated the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare. She was the first combat submarine to sink a warship (USS Housatonic), although Hunley was not completely submerged and, following her successful attack, was lost along with her crew before she could return to base. The Confederacy lost 21 crewmen in three sinkings of Hunley during her short career. She was named for her inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley, shortly after she was taken into government service under the control of the Confederate States Army at Charleston, South Carolina.
Hunley, nearly 40 feet (12 m) long, was built at Mobile, Alabama, and launched in July 1863. She was then shipped by rail on August 12, 1863, to Charleston. Hunley (then referred to as the "fish boat", the "fish torpedo boat", or the "porpoise") sank on August 29, 1863, during a test run, killing five members of her crew. She sank again on October 15, 1863, killing all eight of her second crew, including Horace Hunley himself, who was aboard at the time, even though he was not a member of the Confederate military. Both times Hunley was raised and returned to service.
On February 17, 1864, Hunley attacked and sank the 1,240-displacement ton United States Navy screw sloop-of-war USS Housatonic, which had been on Union blockade-duty in Charleston's outer harbor. The Hunley did not survive the attack and also sank, taking with her all eight members of her third crew, and was lost.
Finally located in 1995, Hunley was raised in 2000 and is on display in North Charleston, South Carolina, at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center on the Cooper River. Examination, in 2012, of recovered Hunley artifacts suggests that the submarine was as close as 20 feet (6 meters) to her target, Housatonic, when her deployed torpedo exploded, which caused the submarine's own loss.
Construction of the Hunley began soon after the loss of the American Diver. At this stage, the Hunley was variously referred to as the "fish boat", the "fish torpedo boat", or the "porpoise". Legend held that the Hunley was made from a cast-off steam boiler — perhaps because a cutaway drawing by William Alexander, who had seen her, showed a short and stubby machine. In fact, the Hunley was designed and built for her role, and the sleek, modern-looking craft shown in R.G. Skerrett's 1902 drawing is an accurate representation. The Hunley was designed for a crew of eight, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. Each end was equipped with ballast tanks that could be flooded by valves or pumped dry by hand pumps. Extra ballast was added through the use of iron weights bolted to the underside of the hull. In the event the submarine needed additional buoyancy to rise in an emergency, the iron weight could be removed by unscrewing the heads of the bolts from inside the vessel.
The Hunley was equipped with two watertight hatches, one forward and one aft, atop two short conning towers equipped with small portholes and slender, triangular cutwaters. The hatches, bigger than original estimates, measure about 16.5 inches wide and nearly 21 long (42 by 53 centimeters), making entrance to and egress from the hull difficult. The height of the ship's hull was 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m).
By July 1863, the Hunley was ready for a demonstration. Supervised by Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the Hunley successfully attacked a coal flatboat in Mobile Bay. Following this, the submarine was shipped by rail to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving on August 12, 1863.
However, the Confederate military seized the submarine from her private builders and owners shortly after arriving, turning her over to the Confederate Army. The Hunley would operate as a Confederate Army vessel from then on, although Horace Hunley and his partners would remain involved in her further testing and operation. While sometimes referred to as the CSS Hunley, she was never officially commissioned into service.
Confederate Navy Lieutenant John A. Payne of CSS Chicora volunteered to be Hunley's captain, and seven men from Chicora and CSS Palmetto State volunteered to operate her. On August 29, 1863, The Hunley's new crew was preparing to make a test dive, when Lieutenant Payne accidentally stepped on the lever controlling the sub's diving planes as she was running on the surface. This caused the Hunley to dive with her hatches still open. Payne and two others escaped, but the other five crewmen drowned.
The Confederate Army took control of the Hunley, with all orders coming directly from General P. G. T. Beauregard, with Lt. George E. Dixon placed in charge. On October 15, 1863, the Hunley failed to surface after a mock attack, killing all eight crewmen. Among these was Hunley himself, who had joined the crew for the exercise and possibly had taken over command from Dixon for the attack maneuver. The Confederate Navy once more salvaged the submarine and returned her to service.
The Hunley was originally intended to attack by using a floating explosive charge with a contact fuse (a torpedo in 19th century terminology) which was towed at the end of a long rope. The Hunley was to approach an enemy ship on the surface, then dive under her, and surface again once beyond her. The torpedo would be drawn against the targeted ship and explode. This plan was discarded as dangerous because of the possibility of the tow line fouling the Hunley's screw or drifting into the submarine herself.
Instead, a spar torpedo -- a copper cylinder containing 135 pounds (61 kilograms) of black powder -- was attached to a 22-foot (6.7 m)-long wooden spar, as seen in illustrations made at this time. Mounted on the Hunley's bow, the spar was to be used when the submarine was 6 feet (1.8 m) or more below the surface. Previous spar torpedoes had been designed with a barbed point: the spar torpedo would be jammed in the target's side by ramming, and then detonated by a mechanical trigger attached to the submarine by a line, so that as she backed away from her target, the torpedo would set off. However, archaeologists working on Hunley discovered evidence, including a spool of copper wire and components of a battery, that it may actually have been electrically detonated. In the configuration used in the attack on the Housatonic, it appears the Hunley's torpedo had no barbs, and was designed to explode on contact as it was pushed against an enemy vessel at close range. After Horace Hunley's death, General Beauregard ordered that the submarine should no longer be used to attack underwater. An iron pipe was then attached to her bow, angled downwards so the explosive charge would be delivered sufficiently under water to make it effective. This was the same method developed for the earlier "David" surface attack craft used successfully against the USS New Ironsides. The Confederate Veteran of 1902 printed a reminiscence authored by an engineer stationed at Battery Marshall who, with another engineer, made adjustments to the iron pipe mechanism before the Hunley left on her last fatal mission on February 17, 1864. A drawing of the iron pipe spar, confirming her "David" type configuration, was published in early histories of submarine warfare.
The Hunley made her only attack against an enemy target on the night of February 17, 1864. The target was the USS Housatonic, a 1,240 long tons (1,260 t) wooden-hulled steam-powered sloop-of-war with 12 large cannons, which was stationed at the entrance to Charleston, about 5 miles (8.0 kilometres) offshore. Desperate to break the naval blockade of the city, Lieutenant George E. Dixon and a crew of seven volunteers successfully attacked the Housatonic, ramming the Hunley's only spar torpedo against the enemy's hull. The torpedo was detonated, sending the Housatonic to the bottom in five minutes, along with five of her crewmen.
Years later, when the area around the wreck of the Housatonic was surveyed, the sunken Hunley was found on the seaward side of the sloop, where no one had considered looking before. This later indicated that the ocean current was going out following the attack on the Housatonic, taking the Hunley with her to where she was eventually found and later recovered.
After the attack, the H.L. Hunley failed to return to her base. At one point there appeared to be evidence that Hunley survived as long as one hour following the attack at about 8:45 p.m. The day after the attack, the commander of "Battery Marshall" reported that he had received "the signals" from the submarine indicating she was returning to her base. The report did not say what the signals were. A postwar correspondent wrote that "two blue lights" were the prearranged signals, and a lookout on the Housatonic reported he saw a "blue light" on the water after his ship sank."Blue light" in 1864 referred to a pyrotechnic signal in long use by the U.S. Navy. It has been falsely represented in published works as a blue lantern; the lantern eventually found on the recovered H.L. Hunley had a clear, not a blue, lens. Pyrotechnic "blue light" could be seen easily over the four-mile distance between Battery Marshall and the site of the Hunley's attack on the Housatonic.
After signaling, Dixon's plan would have been to take his submarine underwater to make a return to Sullivan's Island. Although at one point the finders of the Hunley suggested she was unintentionally rammed by USS Canandaigua when that warship was going to rescue the crew of Housatonic, no such damage was found when she was raised from the bottom of the harbor. Instead, all evidence and analysis eventually pointed to the instantaneous death of the Hunley's entire crew at the moment of the spar torpedo's contact with the hull of the Housatonic from the explosion's shock wave which destroyed their lungs and brain tissue in milliseconds. In October 2008, scientists reported they had found that the crew of Hunley had not set her pump to remove water from the crew's compartment, and this might indicate she was not being flooded. In January 2013, it was announced that conservator Paul Mardikian had found evidence of a copper sleeve at the end of the Hunley's spar. This indicated the torpedo had been attached directly to the spar, meaning the submarine may have been less than 20 feet from Housatonic when the torpedo exploded. The short distance involved has led some researchers to theorize that Hunley's crew was killed by the resulting blast, though their conclusion has been disputed by US Navy and Naval History and Heritage Command researchers.