Saturday, August 11, 2018


11 August 2018: We have posted here about the so-called "first successful" submarine, CSS Hunley, the final iteration of a Confederate undersea craft which actually succeeded in sinking another ship, in this case the Charleston SC Union Blockade vessel, USS Housatonic. Unfortunately, Hunley itself sank immediately following the attack. It was recovered in 2000 by Clive Cussler's NUMA group and preservation began. It sits today in North Charleston at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center where work continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding the vessel. One of those mysteries is determining why Hunley sank, and countless theories have been put forth by experts and lay persons alike, each varyingly plausible depending on the source. Now a new theory has surfaced about why the submarine did not. (sorry, couldn't resist that one!)

Following is from the Daily Mail and AP:
Hunley almost free of concretion


The first submarine to down an enemy ship was sunk itself after its crew failed to release an emergency weight to help it resurface. 
Crew aboard the Confederate vessel HL Hunley did not disconnect the 1,000lb keel blocks to help it rapidly resurface, resulting in the sub being trapped underwater and the men dying from lack of oxygen.
Scientists who removed the corrosion, silt and shells from the boat found the levers all locked in their regular position, solving a mystery dating back to 1864.  
one of three keel weights being lifted from vessel

The blocks would typically keep the sub upright, but also could be released with three levers. That would allow it to surface rapidly, archaeologist Michael Scafuri, who has worked on the submarine for 18 years, said. 
'It's more evidence there wasn't much of a panic on board,' Scafuri said.

The Hunley and its eight crewmembers disappeared in February 1864 in Charleston Harbor shortly after signaling it had placed explosives on the hull of the Union ship the USS Housatonic. 
keel block ready to go on display

The Hunley had delivered a blast from 135 pounds of black powder below the waterline at the stern of the Housatonic, sinking the Union ship in less than five minutes.
diagram of Hunley's "torpedo" system

Housatonic lost five seamen, but came to rest upright in 30 feet of water, which allowed the remaining crew to be rescued after climbing the rigging and deploying lifeboats.
Ever since the Hunley was raised from the ocean floor in 2000, scientists have worked to determine why the sub never returned to the surface. 

The keel blocks don't give a definitive answer, but do provide clues that either the crew didn't think it needed to surface quickly or never realized they were in danger.
The crew moved the submarine through the ocean with a hand crank, and one theory is they were resting on the ocean floor 4 miles from shore waiting for the tide to turn to make their journey back to land easier and ran out of oxygen or got stuck.
But there are other theories, such as the Housatonic explosion knocking out the Hunley's crew or a ship that sped to help save some of the crew on the Union ship clipping the Confederate sub and crippling it as it tried to dive. 

Those theories can't be ruled out - at least not yet and maybe never, said Scafuri, who planned to work on the Hunley mystery for a year or two as a graduate student in 2000 and is now entering his 18th year helping conserve and study the submarine which is stored in chilled, fresh water in a 75,000-gallon tank in North Charleston.
Hunley being further preserved
Over 18 years, Scafuri said they have uncovered nearly a dozen artifacts, reconstructed the faces of the crew members and gained more knowledge about the science behind the submarine, which was built in Mobile, Alabama.
'We keep seeing parts that no one has seen in 150 years. All of them add into the mix of what happened and how this sub was operated,' Scafuri said. 'After all, we don't have the blueprints.'

Definitive? Hardly. Plausible? Absolutely. Will we ever know what happened? I doubt it; but theories will continue to appear and either be viable or crazy, depending on the source and the audience!

Until next time, 
                                        Fair Winds, 
                                                 Old Salt

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