David Bushnell, The Turtle- First Submarine Attack

A thirty-three years old Connecticut native, Yale graduate David Bushnell built the first submarine (1776) to actually make an attack on an enemy warship. Named the Turtle for its resemblance to a sea turtle floating vertically in the water, the craft was operated by one Sergeant Ezra Lee during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

 The plan was for Lee to be towed close to an enemy ship, open a foot-operated valve to let in enough water to sink, close the valve, and move in under the target. He would do so by cranking two propellers, one for forward and the other for vertical movement, by using a foot treadle `like a spinning wheel.` He would then drill into the hull to attach a 75 Kg’ keg of gunpowder with a clockwork detonator, crank to get away, and operate a foot pump to get the water out of the hull and re-surface.
Respiration was made through a pair of brass tubs, equipped with float valves to keep water from entering. The tubes were also fitted with internal check valves incase the float valves fail. Bushnell clearly understood the effect of pressure-his boat had internal bracing to keep the sides from collapsing. He understood both dynamic and static ballast. A foot operated valve let water into the hull, which could be expelled by two foot operated pumps, and a droppable 100 Kg’ lead weight under the keel provided an emergency ascent.

In early-morning darkness on September 7, 1776, Turtle made an attack on a British ship in New York harbor, probably HMS Eagle. The drill may have hit an iron strap, for it failed to penetrate the hull. (Contrary to most reports, the Eagle of 1776 did not have a copper-sheathed bottom.) Lee became disoriented and soon bobbed to the surface. Though a lookout spotted him, he managed to get away.
It was the first truly submarine in the history of all mankind, and the first submarine ever designed for offensive warfare. In addition it was equipped with the first mines (later to be come torpedoes) ever used in underwater warfare.

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Image Country Year Description
Bhutan 1989 Submarine Turtle 1776
Palau 2000 Turtle, 1776 David Bushnell builds a wooden submarine to attack British ships
Congo, Rep. 2006 Jules verne & Bushnell`s submarine Turtle of 1776, the Nautilus in margin (souvenir sheet)
Congo, Rep. 2006 20,000 Leagues under the sea, Jules Verne & Bushnell`s submarine Turtle of 1776
Comoros 2008 Turtle 1776- First battle used submarine (David Bushnell, USA) (souvenir sheet)
Saint Thomas 2009 Submarine designed be David Bushnell, Turtle (1775)
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