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Turtle, first military submersible

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On this day in 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the American submersible craft Turtle attempts to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe's flagship Eagle in New York Harbor. It was the first use of a submarine in warfare.

Submarines were first built by Dutch inventor Cornelius van Drebel in the early 17th century, but it was not until 150 years later that they were first used in naval combat. David Bushnell, an American inventor, began building underwater mines while a student at Yale University. Deciding that a submarine would be the best means of delivering his mines in warfare, he built an eight-foot-long wooden submersible that was christened the Turtle for its shape. Large enough to accommodate one operator, the submarine was entirely hand-powered. Lead ballast kept the craft balanced.

Donated to the Patriot cause after the outbreak of war with Britain in 1775, Ezra Lee piloted the craft unnoticed out to the 64-gun HMSEagle in New York Harbor on September 7, 1776. As Lee worked to anchor a time bomb to the hull, he could see British seamen on the deck above, but they failed to notice the strange craft below the surface. Lee had almost secured the bomb when his boring tools failed to penetrate a layer of iron sheathing. He retreated, and the bomb exploded nearby, causing no harm to either the Eagle or the Turtle.

During the next week, the Turtle made several more attempts to sink British ships on the Hudson River, but each time it failed, owing to the operator's lack of skill. Only Bushnell was really able to competently execute the submarine's complicated functions, but because of his physical frailty he was unable to pilot the Turtle in any of its combat missions. During the Battle of Fort Lee, the Turtle was lost when the American sloop transporting it was sunk by the British.

Despite the failures of the Turtle, General George Washington gave Bushnell a commission as an Army engineer, and the drifting mines he constructed destroyed the British frigateCereberus and wreaked havoc against other British ships. After the war, he became commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed at West Point.








George Washington to Thomas Jefferson

Mount Vernon 26th Septr. 1785


I am sorry I cannot give you full information respecting Captn. Bushnals projects for the destruction of shipping. - No interesting experiment having been made, and my memory being treacherous, I may, in some measure, be mistaken in what I am about to relate.


Bushnel is a man of great Mechanical powers - fertile of invention - and a master in execution - He came to me in 1776 recommended by Governor Trumbull (now dead) and other respectable characters who were proselites to his plan. - Although I wanted faith myself, I furnished him with money, and other aids to carry it into execution. - He laboured for sometime ineffectually, & though the advocates for his scheme continued sanguine he never did succeed - One accident or another was always intervening. - I then thought, and still think, that it was an effort of genius; but that a combination of too many things were requisite, to expect much success from the enterprise against an enemy, who are always upon guard. - That he had a machine which was so contrived as to carry a man under water at any depth he chose, and for a considerable time & distance, with an apparatus charged with Powder which he could fasten to a ships bottom or side & give fire to in any given time (sufft. for him to retire) by means whereof a ship could be blown up, or sunk, are facts which I believe admit of little doubt - but then, where it was to operate against an enemy, it is no easy matter to get a person hardy enough to encounter the variety of dangers to which he must be exposed. 1 from the novelty 2 from the difficulty of conducting the machine, and governing it under water on acct. of the Currents &ca. 3 the consequent uncertainty of hitting the object of destination, without rising frequently above water for fresh observation, wch., when near the Vessel, would expose the adventurer to a discovery, & almost to certain death - To these causes I always ascribed the non-performance of his plan, as he wanted nothing that I could furnish to secure the success of it. - This to the best of my recollection is a true state of the case - But Humphreys, if I mistake not, being one of the proselites, will be able to give you a more perfect acct. of it than I have done ....

Edited by Entombet
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{lang:macro__view_post}Smederevac94, on 13 January 2014 - 09:45 AM, said:

+1 mate


+2 ;)


thanks for this lovely article

+3 I guess it would have been neat if 500 of those were coming at you :trollface:

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