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Exploding Chelonia

So we ended August with a ship…we begin September with something else naval…

On 6/7 September 1776 HMS Eagle, a British Ship of the Line was moored at Bedloe’s island (now Liberty Island), or possibly Govenors Island, since historians seem helpfully disagreeable on this. Then she was attacked. Well sort of. The attack managed to make something of an explosion in the water and a mess of wood, but did not damage the ship, and strangely this attack is not recorded in British records. The weapon? The first submarine to be used in combat.

The Turtle 

The Turtle was not particularly as we think of submarines today. There was only enough space for one man inside, and the electronics free device did not make any intermittent high pitched pop noises, and though not recorded it was probably not yellow…

Turtle plans

It was funded and built by American Patriots, with the planned use of attaching explosives to British ships. The designer David Bushnell experimented with exploding gunpowder underwater and making time bombs whilst he was a student at Yale (takes the concept of blowing up the chemistry lab a bit too far…)

Inside the Turtle

The turtle itself was 10ft long, 6ft tall and 3ft wide. Which given the amount of equipment inside, suggests that Ezra Lee who piloted it for the attack on HMS Eagle was probably not an especially large man. The descent into the water was enabled by taking water into a tank at the bottom of the vessel, and it rose again by hand pumping the water out again. There was air for thirty minutes of submersion. The lighting once submerged was provided in a very environmentally friendly way, using fungi power. Some fungi when on rotting woods, or in this case on cork, will be luminescent in the dark. However, fungi are sensitive little chaps and come the colder months they (like so many of us) refuse to do anything, let alone glow in the dark.  The design was in part based on previous non combat submersibles by Nathaniel Simons and Giovanni Borelli.

Borelli’s submarine

Unfortunately the Turtle didn’t deliver what the designers hoped. All the attempts to mount bombs on ships failed for various reasons, and in winter the fungus wouldn’t activate so there was no light once underwater. Though the turtle did not work some of Bushnell’s other experiments, floating mines, were more successful and the man himself has no less than two United states Navy Submarines have been named USS Bushnell.

USS Bushnell AS-15

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