The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley is credited as the first successful submarine, in that it was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat. New findings, however, might cause some to reconsider this “success.” The Hunley may have been sunk by the force of its own explosive mine.
The H.L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic on the night of February 17, 1864 at the entrance to Charleston, South Carolina harbor. The Hunley never returned from the attack on the Union ship. The Hunley carried a single 135 pound gunpowder explosive on a 16′ spar on its bow. It was long thought that the Hunley hooked the explosive on the Housatonic with a grappling hook then backed away before the explosive detonated. Recent analysis of the spar, however, suggests that the explosive was bolted to the end of the spar itself and that the detonation took place with the Hunley less than 20 feet from its target. The explosion, at that close range, could have also knocked the crew of the Hunley unconscious, leading to their deaths by suffocation.
The Hunley turned out to be a killing machine, but it killed mostly Confederates. In training and on its one mission, the submarine killed 21 Confederate officers and sailors, including its namesake, H.L. Hunley. In the attack on the Housatonic, a total of five Union officers and sailors died. Thanks to Phil Leon for contributing to this post.
Experts: Confederate sub near target at sinking (See also our previous post - Civil War Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley Unveiled.)