Weapons of despair: How the first combat submarine sank a US ship in the Civil War The first successful submarine attack in history was carried out 160 years ago 02/17/2024, 08:00

living legend

The world’s first submarine went to war out of desperation, since the Civil War between the Union (“North”) and the Confederacy (“South”) divided the United States into unequal parts. This is believed to be the first military conflict of the industrial age, when factories and technology had a direct impact on what was happening on the battlefield, and industry in the north was much more developed than in the south. The Confederates had better cavalry when they divided their armies, but the Union had the advantage in everything, including the navy.

As a result, according to the Anaconda plan, the ships of the northerners placed the southern ports under a complete naval blockade. The Confederate fleet could not challenge them in direct battle, especially after the Union began to actively use the newest type of ship – battleships. The hope of the Southerners was the construction of submarines that would operate secretly against superior forces and sink the unsuspecting enemy.

This idea has long been put forward by sailors and engineers. According to legend, the first submariner was Alexander the Great, who was launched with a diving bell during the siege of Tire. Historians do not believe this story (although it may have actually taken combat swimmers to enter the sea fort).

The first true submarine was built in 1620 by Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel, who worked in English service. Its body was a wooden frame covered in leather, and later models were driven by oars.

It also carried two devices that were far ahead of their time: a mercury barometer for measuring diving depth and a chemical oxygen source powered by nitrate.

However, despite numerous tests on the River Thames, the Admiralty was not interested in this invention. Only the king and his fellow scientists were impressed by him: for example, the astronomer Johannes Kepler WroteIf Drebbel could make the boat move on its own, it would be the equal of Apollo in his eyes.

Under water and by candlelight

During the American Civil War, Confederate engineer Horace Hunley took on the task of converting a survey ship into a combat unit. The first model of the American Diver was slow and unsuccessful, and sank due to bad weather before entering the war. The next ship, designed with the problems of the first in mind, was named after its creator, HL Hunley.

This boat resembled modern submarines in many ways. Its hull, 12 m long and 1.2 m wide, was made of steel, and immersion was carried out by ballast tanks, which were flooded through valves and emptied by hand pumps. The ship was driven by a propeller behind which was the rudder.

Two questions remained: How would he turn this screw and how would the boat attack the enemy? For the first mission, they initially considered using steam or an old electric engine, but eventually decided to resort to the simplest option. Seven sailor rowers sat sideways along the boat in the direction of travel and rotated the crankshaft with their hands. (crankshaft, i.e. part of a complex shape with journals for connecting connecting rods, through which it receives forces and converts them into torque), going towards the engine. The eighth crew member was the helmsman. Rowers had to sit close together without the opportunity to stand up or change positions.

It was more difficult with weapons. There were two main forms of naval warfare in the 19th century: skirmish and boarding. (combining ships for hand-to-hand combat). Neither one nor the other was suitable for a small submarine, and therefore for Hunley they chose a marginal weapon at that time – a torpedo. In modern times, this is how the naval mine was called, attached to the end of a long beam on which explosives were placed under the enemy ship. A mine with a six-meter beam and a remote-controlled wire fuse was attached to the bow of the Hunley, so that it was supposed to hit the enemy while under water.

It is important to note that the Hunley was in many respects less advanced than Drebbel’s submarine. It was not completely submerged – a small cabin with windows and a ventilation pipe remained above the water, where observation was carried out. Therefore, the boat did not need a device for oxygen regeneration, but it did have a mercury barometer to measure depth. It was lit by a single candle – there were no other light sources on the submarine.

Horace Hanley was not destined to see the success of his invention. She drowned with her crew during military trials on 15 October 1863.

First and last fight

The Confederate Navy repaired the submarine and put it into first action on 17 February 1864. Had to destroy the screw sloop (small warship with 24 guns or fewer) USS Housatonic blockaded the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. She had a displacement of 1,240 tonnes and was armed with twelve 280 mm guns; Thus, if the submarine was detected, it would be destroyed in one hit.

The seven volunteer sailors were commanded by Infantry Lieutenant George Dixon, with whom a romantic legend is associated. His beloved Queenie Bennett gave him a gold coin for good luck and asked him to keep it with him always. At the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862, Dixon was wounded by a gunshot wound to the thigh and walked with a limp for the remainder of his days. However, the doctor who examined the lieutenant noticed that the bullet hit a gold coin in his pocket, that it took most of the impact, and that if it had not been for it, his leg would have had to be amputated.

Hunley’s battle with Housatonic began around 8:45 p.m., as dusk fell. The crew of the sloop still spotted the attackers, but it was too late: the boat was directly under the ship and it was impossible to turn off the main guns. They started shooting at him with small arms, but it didn’t work. Hunley brought the mine under the bottom, disconnected it (according to one version, the mine remained connected) and turned upside down. A few minutes later there was an explosion, the sloop tilted towards the pier and began to sink rapidly. The crew lost five men, the rest were rescued by approaching Union ships.

Hunley did not survive the battle either, but exactly what happened to him remains a mystery. It was initially believed that she had suffered from the explosion of her own torpedo, but many witnesses saw pyrotechnic signals emitted by the ship an hour after the battle. Archaeologists who discovered Hunley in the 1970s could not provide a definitive answer. Experts believe the boat sank either due to damage from the explosion or from small-arms rounds from the Housatonic crew.

But on Dixon’s remains they managed to find a gold coin deformed by a shot, which partially confirmed the legend popular in the south of the United States.

Intensive use of submarines in warfare would begin in World War I and continue until World War II. The main factor that made this possible was the invention of the hybrid propulsion system: The submarine was powered by diesel engines and charged its batteries on the surface, and before the attack it submerged and continued to run on electric motors. In both world wars, Germany relied heavily on its submarine fleet for the same reasons as the Confederates. Their fleet was much weaker than the British, and the only option was to operate covertly and destroy British cargo ships.

However, submarines became truly submarines only with the invention of nuclear reactors, which made it possible not to surface for weeks and months; thus the only limiting factor was the food supply on board.

What are you thinking?

Attempts to build a submarine began in the 17th century, but a real submarine was created only two centuries later. It was designed by Southern engineers during the American Civil War. The submarine, which moved with muscle power and hit the enemy with a mined pole, sank the enemy ship despite its primitiveness. Read in the article from socialbites.ca what the first combat submarine looked like and why it did not return from the war.



Source: Gazeta

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