In which American war were submarines first used?

Answer: The Revolutionary War

That’s right, George Washington knew what a submarine was. In fact, he called the initial project “an effort of genius”. In September 1776, an American submarine, or submersible craft, named “Turtle” attempted to attach a bomb to a British ship in the New York harbor. Designed by Connecticut resident and Yale science graduate, David Bushnell, the craft was meant to serve as a vehicle to transport underwater mines he had invented in the years leading up to the War. Made out of wood, with a lead ballast that kept the craft balanced, the submarine was only eight feet long, which allowed only one person to manually control the underwater apparatus. 



David Bushnell's "Turtle" submarine reconstructed. Click to see video. 

David Bushnell's "Turtle" submarine reconstructed. Click to see video. 

Too old to use the invention himself, Bushnell donated his masterpiece to the rebel cause. As mentioned, the submarine saw action in one attempt to secure a bomb to the hull of the HMS Eagle, a British ship stationed in the New York harbor. While the unsuspecting British never noticed the submarine slowly approaching the boat just below the surface of the water, the attempt to strap the Eagle with a time bomb was fruitless, as the operator failed to penetrate a layer of iron sheathing. Forced to abandon the mission the submarine retreated causing the bomb to explode nearby. While neither the submarine nor the HMS Eagle was harmed, it certainly wasn't the result the colonists were hoping for. 



Although the concept of the "Turtle" was groundbreaking, especially as it relates to wartime combat, the craft never launched any successful attacks. Operator error (the machine was entirely hand-powered) and lack of skill led to disappointing attempts time and time again. Ultimately, during the battle of Fort Lee, the "Turtle" was lost when an American ship transporting it was sunk by the British. David Bushnell was recognized by George Washington, however, and he was commissioned as an Army engineer. Bushnell's submarine may not have sunk any ships but his invention of mines helped the Patriots wreak havoc on British ships during the war that gave birth to our country. 


Old Glory