American innovation of the First Submarine in Revolutionary War

Did you know that Americans had started to innovate the military technology prior to the independence ?

David Bushnell (1740-1824) was one such patriot from West brook, Connecticut. He was an inventor and a veteran of the Revolutionary war. He could never come to terms for the English rule in the US. He invented the submarine to take revenge of the English rulers. That was the first combat submarine ever made and he named it “Turtle”. That was a technological wonder of its age. The name was chosen as submarine looked like a turtle.

His idea to use seawater as ballast to submerge or raise the vessel, is still being used in today’s submarines. His concept of the screw to be used as propeller was mind boggling of his times. This was was coupled with his perception  to use gun powder to be used as an explosive under water has revolutionized the advent of  mines. Time bomb was another of his idea to be used.

In the submarine the pilot had to pedal out the water. In that model, he just had enough air for one hour. There was a time bomb fitted outside and was kept ready to use to attack the enemy. The plan was to drill and use a screw to attach the time bomb to the wooden bottom of the enemy ship.

Bushnell had thought of using it in 1776 in Boston. But the British had vacated Boston harbor before. Then Bushnell re-planned to use it in New York against the Royal Navy. He used the Turtle on the 6th November 1776 against the English ship Eagle but the bomb had exploded at the water level and no damage took place. He failed twice after this incident. On 6th October 1776 the British sank the American ship which had aboard the Turtle. The Turtle never returned home, but its use compelled the military leaders of that time to make submarine for the future warfare. This innovation was better for solution that would meet new requirements of that time.

In 1777 Bushnell attempted to use a floating mine to blow up the HMS Cerberus (1758) in Niantic Bay; the mine struck a small boat near the Cerberus and detonated killing four sailors and destroying the vessel, but not the intended target. In 1778 he launched what became lauded as the Battle of the Kegs, in which a series of mines was floated down the Delaware River to attack British ships anchored there, killing two curious young boys and alerting the British. The attack was ineffectual.

Way back in 1785 George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson that he felt it then and also before in 1776 that this effort was from a genius.

At some point after the Revolution, Bushnell was presented a medal by George Washington.

After peace was declared he returned to Connecticut then later traveled to France and then settled in Warrenton, Georgia where he taught at the Warrenton Academy and practiced medicine. He died in Georgia in 1824.


Photograph Source: Wikipedia


Former Sailing Sea Captain at V.Ships, Miami, FL, USA (retired in 2009). Studied BA (Sophomore) at The Principia, now lives in Jaipur, India

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