For decades, submarines have been patrolling and protecting America’s ships with honor as they operate deep down below the sea’s surface. Functioning as the “Silent Service,” these vessels have come a long way with their vast array of technological advances and undersea stealth.
But the concept goes back as far as the Revolutionary War, though how it got to the level of today’s technology is a wonder given the dangers of plying the ocean’s depths.
The “Drebbel,” the “Turtle,” and the “Nautilus” were all early versions of submarine technology that never quite got underway. But it wouldn’t be until Confederate Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory authorized the construction of the CSS H.L. Hunley to break the blockade of their southern ports that sub-surface warfare really came into its own.
After completion, the Hunley measured 40-feet long, 4-feet high, and 42-inches wide tightly housing a crew of eight men who had to power the vessel by hand cranking the propeller and steer through the ocean’s dark waters.
During its first testing phase in the fall of 1863, the CSS Hunley failed and sunk killing five crew members. The sub was recovered, but sank again and killed all eight crew, including co-inventor Horace Hunley, later that same year.
Although considered a dud, the Hunley’s commanders still believed in its worth and resurrected the sub from the water for the second time.
It wouldn’t be until Feb. 17, 1864, where the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic and soon after plunged toward the ocean’s floor for a third time killing all of its crew — a real death trap.
In 2000, the Hunley was raised from the depths, restored and put on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, South Carolina.
Check out the HISTORY channel’s video for the Hunley’s sub-legendary history and ingenuity.(HISTORY, YouTube)Fun fact: Theodore Roosevelt was the first American president to make an undersea dive in the USS Plunger, in 1905.