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Leonardo daVinci is credited with inventing the first submarine. His innovative submarine designs were tested and used during the next four centuries in both Britain and Europe. What makes the H.L. Hunley one of a kind is that it is first submarine in history to successfully sink a ship in battle.
The CSS Hunley was built in Mobile, Alabama in 1863. It was designed and constructed by Baxter Watson and James R. McClintock. These gentlemen were very knowledgeable about current engine technology due to their backgrounds as manufacturers of steam gauges and other parts for steam engines. The duo soon teamed up with sugar broker and Deputy Collector of Customs at New Orleans, Horace L. Hunley. In late 1861 and early 1862 prior to building the H.L. Hunley they had designed a submarine they christened the Pioneer.
The designers were forced to scuttle the Pioneer when the invading Union army occupied the city thereby making further Confederate research and design efforts altogether unwise. Watson, McClintock and Hunley fled the city and continued their research in Mobile, Alabama at the Park and Lyons machine shop. The hardworking trio soon produced two more designs, the American Diver (a.k.a. Pioneer II) and H.L. Hunley. The American Diver was financed totally by Hunley. The inventors experimented with a variety of ways to power the submarine. They tirelessly researched various propulsion systems and considered both electromagnet motor and steam propulsion. After much trial and error they finally decided on hand cranking. Sadly before they were able to fully test the American Diver it sank in Mobile Bay.
Researchers believe that the Hunley was made of a 1/4-inch puddled wrought iron boiler with cast iron end caps and the hull was between 35-40 feet long. The H.L. Hunley also had two snorkels, two hatches, fore and aft, dive planes, glass view ports, and a 4-foot beam. It was able to carry a full crew of nine men and was propelled the through the water by an eight-position hand crank that turned a three-bladed propeller. Under optimal conditions the vessel was capable of reaching a maximum speed of 4 knots. The craft was equipped with a deadly spar-torpedo delivery system enabling the torpedo to be implanted into the side of an enemy ship and detonated either by contact or manually. This incredible submarine cost a whopping $15,000 to manufacture, and was funded by Horace Hunley who chipped in $5,000 and members of the Singer Submarine Corps, E.C. Singer, R.W. Dunn and J.D. Breaman, who financed the rest.
During the Civil War The Confederates weren't the only ones working feverishly to design a submarine. The Union had plans of its own with a submersible known as the 'Intelligent Whale', this cumbersome vessel is thought to be patterned after James McClintock's Pioneer, was also an iron submarine. Unlike the H.L. Hunley, the intelligent Whale was never used in action. Christopher F. Amer states " While the Hunley itself was not much of a factor in the course of the naval aspects of the War, the idea of a "Hunley", stealthily approaching a ship and delivering death from below was daunting to the enemy. Had a fleet of Hunley's been built, things might have been different. Recall that during the first half of this century a fleet of these stealth devices almost brought Britain to its knees during two world wars.
photographs courtesy of The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and the Photographs Division, Library of Congress