Author Topic: The Hunley  (Read 948 times)


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The Hunley
« on: July 16, 2016, 11:15:28 AM »
The H. L. Hunley ‘submersible craft’ of the Confederate States of America may have played a small part in the American Civil War - but its role in the history of naval warfare was something considerably more important. Many will argue its contribution to Confederate naval operations was less than hoped for but on three short voyages, the 'Hunley' demonstrated both the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare. It was the first combat submarine to sink an enemy warship. Although the 'Hunley' was not completely submerged at the time and sank at some point following, her successful attack was a considerable achievement. In all however, twenty one crewmen died in three, separate incidents and sinking’s of the 'Hunley' during her short career.

The submarine was named after her inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley; but her origins were due to group of private citizens in New Orleans, including James McClintock, Baxter Watson and Horace Hunley, who together financed and designed a submersible torpedo boat. The 'Hunley' was actually their third attempt for a working design. The first, 'Pioneer' was completed but scuttled in Lake Pontchartrain soon the fall of the city in 1862.

These enterprising engineers were forced to move to Mobile where they built a second vessel, 'The American Diver'. For this, Mclintock experimented with different means of motive power, including steam and battery power but in the end, faced with material shortages and financial shortfalls, opted for a hand cranked drive. On its first trial voyage however, 'The American Diver' was swamped and subsequently lost while under tow outside of Mobile Bay. Its location remains a mystery to this day.

Some months later, with additional investors contributing a further $15,000, the team built their third submarine. This would later become known as the 'Hunley'. Once again it was designed to be ‘hand-cranked’ by seven members of the crew of eight and using hand-pumped ballast tanks, fore and aft, to submerge and surface. Additional ballast consisted of several, cast-iron weights bolted firmly to the underside of the hull. In the event the submarine needed additional buoyancy or surface in any emergency, these in theory could be unscrewed from within the vessel.

Legend long held 'Hunley' was made from a redundant steam boiler but in fact it was a purpose-built design for her intended role; and as soon as construction was complete, the new vessel was tested for various offensive possibilities. Everything was ready for a full demonstration by July 1863. Supervised by Confederate Admiral, Franklin Buchanan, the 'Hunley' successfully demonstrated an attack against a dummy target, using a towed-contact torpedo. On this evidence alone, the Confederate authorities, aware of its on-going development, quickly approved 'Hunley’s' use and loaded the vessel on a train to Charleston.

The 'Hunley' measured a fraction less than forty feet in length, was equipped with two narrow, watertight hatches fore and aft. Additionally, two, low profile conning towers fitted with small portholes and a single, triangular breakwater, provided limited ‘sighting’ for the crew. The restricted size of these hatches made any entrance or egress from the hull very difficult. Therefore, in an emergency the likelihood of escape would be almost none. By the time the military took command, a redesign was out of the question.

'Hunley' arrived in Charleston on August 12th 1863. Returned to her natural environment, she was commanded by McClintock with Gus Whitney as the first officer and the civilian crew from Mobile. Their base of operations was the cove, a small inlet behind Sullivan's Island. McClintock would take his vessel out daily but on no occasion, did they engage the enemy.

On the night of August 21st 1863, the ‘Swamp Angel’, a secretly constructed federal battery built in the marshes behind Folly Island, began shelling downtown Charleston - the gunners used the steeple of St. Michael's church to target their fire. Two days later the confederate military, frustrated by 'Hunley's' lack of results, seized the sub and turned it over to Lt. John Payne and a volunteer crew from the ironclad CSS Chicora. The new crew immediately commenced training for several days until, when on August 29th, disaster struck.

'Hunley' was being towed away from Fort Johnson by the gunboat ‘Ettawan’ with the full crew of eight men on board. Lt. Payne, standing in the open forward hatch, was seemingly struggling with the tow line (?) when he accidentally kicked the diving plane tiller into the down position. Due to the forward motion from the tow boat, 'Hunley' went into an immediate dive with both hatches open. Payne and three other crew escaped but Charles Hasker was caught in the forward hatch and carried to the bottom, forty feet deep.

By September 1st, efforts to raise the boat were underway- a process that would take eleven days. The sub's future at this point was uncertain until Horace Hunley wrote the military on the 19th, requesting that he and the original civilian crew (who demonstrated the boat in Mobile) be given the project. The military reluctantly agreed but put a Lt. George Dixon in command. In early October, the civilian crew was reassembled and training resumed. On October 5th the CSS David successfully attacked the federal gunboat ‘New Ironsides’ and soon after, Hunley resumed nightly sorties outside the mouth of the harbour.
It is worth mentioning that although many reference list the 'Hunley' as the CSS Hunley, the submarine was never actually commissioned into Confederate Navy service. The reasons for this anomaly have never been fully explained but the constant involvement of civilian personnel may have had some bearing on that decision.

On the October 15th, Horace Hunley insisted he command the sub for a morning demonstration dive under the CSS Indian Chief (records don't explain where Dixon was at the time). The sub dived according to plan but never resurfaced. Three days later, divers located the sub in fifty six feet of water. The 'Hunley' was at a severe angle; bow down, stuck firmly in the silt at the bottom. She was raised after several days and following her salvage, it was discovered the forward sea cock was open allowing the forward ballast tank to fill and overflow. The rear tank was still closed and full of air. The hatches were unbolted but remained shut through the sinking due to the pressure of the water. While trying to push open the hatches, Hunley and the first officer were asphyxiated standing in the conning towers where all the trapped air remained. The rest of the crew drowned. Horace Hunley, manning the forward position is assumed to be most likely responsible for the actual sinking.

Through the month of November 1863, the 'Hunley' was refurbished on a wharf in Mt. Pleasant. Conrad and a new military crew assembled with volunteers from the CSS Indian Chief. Training resumed the following month and by end-December, 'Hunley' was running under cover of night outside the harbour limits. To give the crew some respite and maximise their strength during operations and their return voyage, the CSS David was once more employed as a tow-boat, taking the 'Hunley' as far out as possible.

For almost two months the 'Hunley' and her crew rehearsed running attacks using a new torpedo mounted on a seventeen foot pole, fixed to the bow of the vessel. During this period, sometime in early February, a lone federal sloop-of-war, USS Housatonic, began anchoring closer to the Sullivan's Island beach each night in an effort to intercept those blockade runners that followed the shoreline in their efforts to slip past the Federal fleet.

On the February 17th orders were given for the 'Hunley' to engage the 'USS Housatonic'. Approaching the blockading vessel on the surface, 'Housatonic's' crew spotted her and opened fire with small arms, but failed to stop the attack. In desperation, the Captain of the Federal vessel, slipped anchor and reversed her propeller in an effort to avoid the 'Hunley's' obvious intent - but to no avail. 'Hunley' rammed her torpedo into the Federal ship about eight feet below the waterline before backing off, leaving the torpedo embedded in the USS Housitonic's wooden side. As several hundred feet of cord spooling out from 'Hunley', eventually became taut, the trigger detonated the explosive charge and possibly the entire 'Housatonic's' magazine. Whatever happened, the warship went down in less than five minutes, settling upright in thirty feet of water with her rigging still high above the sea. Despite the suddenness of her sinking, all but five of 'Housatonic's' crew survived.

After the attack, witnesses record that 'Hunley' gave a prearranged signal (with a blue lantern) to sentries on shore, who ignited a large fire on the beach at Breach Inlet to guide the submarine home; but the 'Hunley' and her gallant crew were never was seen again.

An underwater archaeological investigation and excavation culminated with the raising of Hunley on August 8, 2000. A large team of professionals from the Naval Historical Center's Underwater Archaeology Branch, National Park Service, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and various other individuals investigated the vessel, measuring and documenting it prior to removal. Once safely on her transporting barge, Hunley was shipped back to Charleston. The removal operation concluded when the submarine was secured inside the Warren Lasch Conservation Centre, at the former Charleston Navy Yard in North Charleston, in a specially designed tank of fresh water to await conservation. The submarine is a perfect time capsule of everything inside but for almost 15 years the sub sat in a 90,000-gallon tank of fresh water to leech salt out of its iron hull.

In May 2014 it was finally ready to be bathed in a solution of sodium hydroxide to loosen the encrustation and four months later scientists, using small air-powered chisels and dental tools, began the laborious job of removing the coating. Surprisingly the vessel turns out to be a more sophisticated feat of engineering than historians had thought. There were previous submarines but the Hunley, designed to sail in the open ocean and built for warfare employed cutting-edge technology at the time. It was always assumed that little ships do not sink big ships but the Hunley turned that theory upside down.

There are few models of the Hunley – most being issued by somewhat expensive ‘Cottage Industry’ sources in the form of resin or metal parts to a plethora of scales. Outside the US these were hard to find. Now a 1/35 H.L. Hunley is available from Mikromir from their growing range of esoteric submersibles.

The kit is finely moulded in 27 parts and recreates the feel and look of what the original looked like. Rivetting and panel lines seem well to scale and two very clear dome hatches/windows are provided along with small PE additions and a pleasing stand: A dry-run indicates the fit will be good but it is a kit that just begs a scratch built interior…. Panel line and rivet detail has also been continued on the interior of the hull, leading your scribe to wonder if Mikromir have it in mind to do a 'clear' version of the kit, as they did with their model of the Delfin. Either way, the grey cells are already trying to work out whether a scratch built interior is a goer! Deadlights in the top of the hull and in the twin conning towers will need to be drilled out and can either be filled using the parts provided on the clear sprue or filled with Clear Cote or some such product. The hatches for the conning towers are to be found on the clear spru and will obviously need their deadlights masking off before finishing takes place.

It is clear from examination of some of the finer injection parts of the kit that they will best be replaced with brass rod and tubing, especially if the completed model is to travel to shows. Also best replaced are the propeller and the propeller guard. These are to be found on the etched fret.

The instructions would have the modeller twist the propeller blades to shape and then butt joining them to a small plastic boss. The assembly will have no strength and the blades be too thin. I did a quick surf on the net and discovered that Cornwall Model Boats do some cheap, bronzed plastic propellers of the correct (20mm) diameter an I will probably go down that route. The propeller guard is to be found as two parts on the etched fret and it will probably be easier to construct a replacement from a single strip of plastic card... Time will tell if I'm right?
« Last Edit: July 16, 2016, 01:38:58 PM by Pen-Pusher »