The first American
submarine is as old as the United States itself.
David Bushnell, a Yale graduate, designed and built
the submarine in 1776 and named it Turtle. Turtle was the first American submarine.
Her purpose was to break the British
naval blockade of New York harbor during the
one-man vessel submerged by admitting water into the
hull and surfaced by pumping it out with a hand
pump. Turtle was
powered by a hand-driven propeller. The operator
would submerge under the target. Using a screw
projecting from the top, he would
attach a clock-detonated explosive charge.
On the night of September 7,
1776, Turtle conducted an attack on the British ship
HMS Eagle. However, the boring device failed to
penetrate the target vessel's hull. It is likely
that the wooden hull was too hard to penetrate or
the boring device hit a bolt or iron brace. When
Turtle was shifted to another position beneath the
hull, it lost contact with the target vessel and
ultimately was forced to abandon the torpedo.
Although the torpedo was never attached to the
target, the clockwork timer detonated it about an
hour after it was released. The result was a
powerful explosion that forced the British to move
their ships further out in the harbor.
gave Revolutionary Americans high hopes for a secret
weapon - a weapon that could destroy the British
warships anchored in New York Harbor.