The first submarine attack


Historum Emeritas
Jun 2006
Jacksonville, FL
September 7th 1776: World's first submarine attack

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 HMS Eagle 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 frigate Cereberus 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.
Aug 2006
Hmmm interesting facts on the turtle .... I thought it died on its own thing, like the drill got stuck and the bomb blew both up. Guess i was wrong.
Jun 2006
Earthquake Central
I thought it was interesting on how they solved the light issue.

The Turtle was made of wood and was going to be submerged. You can't have a candle in there because it will 1) use up valuable air and 2) could fall burn the submarine.

I think it was Ben Franklin who suggested the use of phospheresence from algae which i've heard worked extremely well. It's too bad the Turtle wasn't as effective.
Jul 2006
The 1st confirmed sinking of a ship was in the American civil war when CSS "Hunley" sinks USS Housatonic.
"Unfortunately the Hunley sinks after the blast and the 7 member crew dies.
Before some years they discovered the wreck of Hunley abd honored this brave men.


Historum Emeritas
Jun 2006
Members, I just came back from a local reenactment, and the organizers invited a man who has built an actual size hunley with all the gizmos in it. What's even more interesting is this guy was the first one inside the sub after it was pulled out of Charleston Harbor. I only have one picture. My mother took them, and when I told her to you know go over and look around it and take it in I guess she didn't get the hint. I had to run to an officer's meeting.

Anyway, I'll get the one up for everyone to see and see if I can find some more of it. It's wickedly awesome and an engineering marvel.
Jul 2006
Of course, of the things that makes a submarine truly a submarine is that it comes back up again. Which the Hunley had the bad habit of not doing.

It wouldn't be until 1914 that the submarine would become a key weapon of maritime warfare. If anything could've brought Britain to her knees during the Great War, it was the U-Boats.


PS: the emoticon really serves no purpose other than I thought it was neat


Historum Emeritas
Aug 2006
Yea along with the Hunley killing her crew after they sunk the Housatonic it also got stuck in the riverbeds a few times. It was powered by men turning a crank, think if the Hunley was expected to travel at all, those men would have enormous arms, like block layers.
Jul 2006
Now then, you want to talk about weapons that could've done some real damage to the US Navy if mass produced, look at the Confederate semi-submersible "Davids"