By Shawn Shallow, Special for USDR
The Yankee experimental submarine, code named Turtle, was launched against the British warship, HMS Eagle, on September 6, 1776. In the attack, the submarine attempted to attach an underwater bomb, but was forced to withdraw when the corkscrew tethered to the explosive wouldn’t penetrate the warship’s hull. The submarine made a similar attempt later against the HMS Phoenix with the same results. In the end, however, success was achieved when a standalone torpedo, perfected in the secret program, was used by Colonial commandos to sink a British sloop.
Details of the submarine’s development were uncovered by examining letters from the inventor, David Bushnell, and correspondence between Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklinand George Washington. You can read about the clandestine program along with British attempts to foil the submarine in a recently published book, “Washington’s Undersea War,” by Shawn Shallow, Gatekeeper Press.
The process began when a brilliant Yale student, David Bushnell, designed the rudimentary submarine before recruiting his brother Ezra and a local craftsman Isaac Doolittle for actual construction. Working in secret, they produced a working submarine, round and almost six feet in height, with a brass head containing eight small glass windows. Early attempts to operate the machine underwater met with multiple problems including total darkness for the operator. Rumors of the invention reached George Washington who arranged for funds to perfect the underwater machine and train a military pilot, Ezra Lee.
On the evening of September 6, 1776; Washington launched the Turtle in an attack of the HMS Eagle. When unable to attach the underwater bomb, the Turtle was forced to return to the surface where it was spotted by British guards on Governor’s Island New York who gave chase in a rowboat. In response, the pilot Ezra Lee, detonated the torpedo between himself and his pursuers to affect his escape. A second attempt followed against the H.M.S. Phoenix with similar results.
Details of the submarine’s development are available in the recent book, “Washington’s Undersea War,” available through book retailers including: https://www.amazon.com/Washingtons-Undersea-War-development-Revolution-ebook/dp/B01C36OHXE#navbar
SOURCE Shawn Shallow