The H. L. Hunley
The world's first combat effective submarine began its short military career with something of an identity crisis. At first it was dubbed the "Fish Boat", then "Porpoise" and then again the "Fish Torpedo Boat". Ultimately however this revolutionary warship set sail into the pages history as the H. L. Hunley, named after its chief designer and construction sponsor Horace Lawson Hunley.
The H.L. Hunley was a small, hand-powered submarine privately constructed in Mobile, Alabama in 1863 based on plans furnished by Hunley and co-designers James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson.
The purpose of the ship was to sail beneath silently the waves with a towed charge that would detonate upon contact with the hulls of Federal ships to combat the Union blockade of Southern Ports.
The Hunley's was design was sleek, constructed of bolted plates and equipped with watertight hatches both forward and aft placed atop two conning towers. The ship had a hull height of four feet 3 inches and measured nearly 40 feet in length.
The design called for a crew of eight, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the ship. Ballast tanks were installed both forward and aft which could be flooded by valves or emptied by hand pumps. Extra ballast was added via iron weights bolted to the underside of the hull that could be dropped by unscrewing the heads of bolts from inside the ship.
Field trials for the H.L. Hunley seemed promising, but her initial runs proved both disappointing and disastrous. The Hunley was transported by rail to Charleston, South Carolina in 1863 to defend that city's port. However on August 29th disaster struck. One version is while moored to a steamer the submarine was accidentally pulled over on its side, another that a crew member accidentally tripped a hatch cover open, either way the Hunley sunk drowning five members of her crew.
Following salvage by the Confederate Navy the Hunley was outfitted with a new crew and began a series of tests during which on October 15th she failed to surface. Horace Lawson Hunley, who was directing her operation, and the seven man crew drowned.
H.L. Hunley was raised once more, repaired and assigned a third crew under orders to only operate on the surface. The Hunley's primary weapon was also changed. The intended towed charged was discarded in fear that the tow line could be fouled in Hunley's screw pulling the charge into Hunley herself.
The replacement was a spar torpedo, a 90 pound cask of gunpowder attached to a 22-foot long wooden spar.
The spar torpedo had a barbed point intended to be stuck in the target vessel's hull by ramming. The explosive charged would then be detonated with either a mechanical trigger or a battery induced electric spark.
On the night of February 17, 1864 the H.L. Hunley set off for her first attack against a Union Ship. The target was the USS Housatonic, a 12-gun steam-powered sloop-of-war stationed at the entrance to Charleston, South Carolina harbor. Lieutenant George E. Dixon and a crew of seven volunteers successfully rammed home the Hunley's barbed spar torpedo into the Housatonic's hull. As the Hunley backed off torpedo was detonated and the Housatonic sunk to the bottom in less than five minutes taking five of her crew with her.
Then, apparently just moments after signaling shore of the successful attack, the H.L. Hunley also sank. Although theories abound as to why a definitive reason remains unknown
The wreck of the Hunley was discovered in May of 1995 and following years of planning and extensive preliminary work, raised back to the surface on August 8th, 2000, and is currently undergoing preservation.
Her eight man crew, recovered from her hull, were laid to rest with full military honors.