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The Saga of the Submarine
From the early years to the beginning of nuclear power - the history of the submarine.

H. L. Hunley and submarineDuring the American Civil War, Confederate inventor Horace L. Hunley converted a steam boiler into a submarine. This Confederate submarine could be propelled at four knots by a hand-driven screw. Unfortunately, the submarine sank twice during trials in Charleston, South Carolina. These accidental sinkings in Charleston harbor cost the lives of two crews. In the second accident the submarine was stranded on the bottom and Hunley himself was asphyxiated with eight other crewmembers. Subsequently, the submarine was raised and renamed Hunley. In 1864, armed with a 90-pound charge of powder on a long pole, Hunley attacked and sank a new Federal steam sloop, USS Housatonic, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. After her successful attack on Housatonic, Hunley disappeared and her fate remained unknown for 131 years. In 1995 the wreck of the Hunley was located four miles off Sullivans Island, South Carolina. Plans are being made to raise Hunley for preservation and exhibition in Charleston. Even though she sank, Hunley proved that the submarine could be a valuable weapon in time of war.

In 1862 the Federal navy tested a prototype submarine called Alligator. The Federal submarine was intended for operations in the James River below Richmond, Virginia. However, Alligator proved too large for diving in the river's shallow waters. Alligator sank at sea while it was being towed to the Charleston operating area. In 1872, the Navy unsuccessfully tested Intelligent Whale, another hand crank-powered submarine. Subsequent to the Intelligent Whale's failure, inventors realized that until a propulsion method better than manpower could be developed for underwater use, submarines were not going to be worth the effort.

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Information and Images Provided by The United States Navy




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