battle of Mobile Bay , a question

May 2017
51
florida
#1
When reading about the Battle of Mobile Bay the books always say that the Confederates exploded a mine [ torpedo ] under the leading ships . How did they control the explosion , did they have electric detonators back then ?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,083
Dispargum
#2
I'm not finding any references to electrical detonators. Instead, I think it's an anomaly of language. Military writing can be prone to take or assign credit that is not really deserved. The Confederates placed the mines in the water. One Union ship, the Tecumseh, hit a mine and sank, and I'm sure the Confederate officer who placed the mines took credit for the sinking, but that sinking did require the Tecumseh to hit the mine and trip the contact detonator.

Actually, the Confederates at Mobile Bay did not really expect to sink any ships with mines. They placed the mines but also clearly marked the minefield with warning buoys. The intended purpose of the mines was to force the Union ships to sail away from the minefield and closer to one of the forts in hopes that the fort's guns would sink a Union ship or two. The Confederates were lucky that the Tecumseh sailed into a known minefield and hit one. The mines were not well constructed. That day, other Union ships sailed into the minefield, but all of the other mines failed to detonate.
 
Oct 2015
840
Virginia
#3
Electrical detonators for mines (torpedoes) did exist in the Civil War, but it probably was a contact mine that sank USS Tecumseh. None of the Confederate reports of the battle claim anyone detonated it. If they had, someone would surely have claimed credit.(?!) In fact, the Confederates don't seem to have been sure what sank her at the time. The US and Confederate reports from the Official Records are reproduced at www.history.navy.mil.
 
Jun 2013
495
Connecticut
#4
There probably wasn't 100 feet of waterproof electrical wire in the entire Confederacy for the entire war.

The two examples below are contact mines. The most reliable torpedoes were contact mines working with some sort of trip wire. The ship would go over the trip wire and detoate an artillery friction primer. The ship pulled the trip wire taut so that the mine was next to the keel. All the while the fuse was running. The mine did not have to touch the ship. The blast in the water was powerful enough to rip it apart.
MOST if the mines DID NOT work. After months, years, the natural elements took its toll. At Mobile Bay, one worked well.

IMG_20190611_0001.jpg IMG_20190611_0002.jpg
 
Jun 2019
67
Chicago Suburbs
#5
There probably wasn't 100 feet of waterproof electrical wire in the entire Confederacy for the entire war.

The two examples below are contact mines. The most reliable torpedoes were contact mines working with some sort of trip wire. The ship would go over the trip wire and detoate an artillery friction primer. The ship pulled the trip wire taut so that the mine was next to the keel. All the while the fuse was running. The mine did not have to touch the ship. The blast in the water was powerful enough to rip it apart.
MOST if the mines DID NOT work. After months, years, the natural elements took its toll. At Mobile Bay, one worked well.

View attachment 20605 View attachment 20606
What is labeled as dynamite in the images above would have been gunpowder - dynamite did not yet exist.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,716
Sydney
#6
the term torpedo is a misnomer they were underwater mines ,
various obstacles had restricted the channel
there also was large bunches off fibers set in the water to snag the paddles and propellers and make them ineffective
being stalled under the cannon fire of the batteries was not a good thing
a single asthmatic ironclad gave battle , with great elan
the elderly commander gave it everything he had , fighting his old friend and roommate from their naval academy days
both survived and were quite pleased with the fight
 

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