The first submarine attack

The Submarine warfare of the Second World War is very well known.  Countless movies have been depicting it. However, the first successful act of submarine warfare was during the American Civil War, 75 years before the First World War would get started.

During the Civil War, the Northern States (Union) were fighting the Southern states (Confederacy). In 1861, the US Navy (controlled by the Union) created USS Alligator, the first known submarine in North America.  Naturally, the Confederates wanted to keep up. An engineer by the name of HL Hunley (1823-1863) hence created a small man-powered submarine. It was eventually named after him posthumously.

The HL Hunley was 12 meters (39.5ft) long and needed 12 men to operate. It killed several men (including Hunley himself) before it was used on 17 February 1864 on the 62 meter (205ft) USS Housatonic. The HL Huntley was never fully submerged and was spotted several minutes before it touched the boats hull. The crew of the HL Huntley then embedded a torpedo into the hull of their target and started retreating. The USS Housatonic’s crew had plenty of time to evacuate. Only a couple of people were hurt on their side. Meanwhile, the HL Huntley retreated. Before the submarine could return to its base it also sank and took its sailors with it. Although it was the first successful sinking of an enemy ship by a submarine, more people perished on the attacking vessel. Quite the irony.


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Conrad Wise Chapman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons