Published Resources Details Book Section

Brown, D. K.
Steam torpedo boats of the Royal Navy
Warship 2005
Jordan, J.
Conway Maritime Press Ltd., London, 2005, pp. 73-96

Accession No.1994


Young naval architects are taught that to sink a ship, it is necessary to let in water. In classical times and, much later, with early steamships, this was accomplished by the use of the ram. The power of explosives was recognised but the only explosive available was gunpowder, which had to be kept dry - difficult under water. Bushnell in 1775 devised a submarine, the Turtle, which in 1775 attacked the British battleship Eagle. Though unsuccessful, this attack may be seen as the beginning of underwater warfare.

Another American, Robert Fulton, developed small submarines, first in France where he sank a small sloop in 1801 and, after a move to England, sank the brig Dorothea with a charge of 170 lbs of gunpowder in 1805. There were later attempts, probably initiated by Fulton, to attack British ships during the war of 1812.

During the Crimean War the Russians laid considerable numbers of mines (then described as 'torpedoes'), mainly in the Baltic. Some were remote controlled from a shore station (designed by Jacobi) but most were contact mines (designed by Nobel of Peace Prize fame). Both sides attempted to build submarines but none was complete when the war ended.

The American Civil War saw many attempts at underwater warfare. Most were variants of the spar torpedo boat, often semi submerged such as the Davids and occasionally a true submarine such as the Hunley, which sank the USS Housatonic. There was also extensive use of mines.