Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

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1776 Submarine Attack

Posted by elainemcooper on September 7, 2012

Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper

Replica of the Turtle

On this date in 1776, the United States launched its first submarine attack.

Wait a minute, you say. This blogger must have typed the wrong date.

No, indeed. It was not a slip of the fingers, but an amazing piece of Revolutionary War history that still makes me shake my head in amazement.

It all began with a Yale undergrad named David Bushnell. Weak in body yet strong in mind, Bushnell began building underwater mines. He took it one step further by building a method to deliver the mines: an eight-foot-long submersible that was christened the Turtle for its shape. The odd-looking device could only be operated by one person who had to drive and navigate the hand-powered craft, while delivering the mine to its intended target. It was not an easy task.

Bushnell donated the Turtle to the patriot cause after war with Britain broke out in 1775. His physical frailty rendered him unable to operate the submarine, so Ezra Lee became the pilot. He steered the Turtle craft, completely unnoticed, to the 64-gun HMS Eagle sitting in New York harbor on September 7, 1776. Lee observed British seamen on the deck but the sub went undetected. The plan called for Lee to attach the mine to the hull of the British ship and would have, except for one problem: His boring tools could not penetrate the layer of iron sheathing. Lee retreated in his secret craft, but the bomb exploded nearby, causing no damage to either the Turtle or the Eagle.

The mission failed, but the patriot cause decided to try again, this time against British ships on the Hudson River. Each attempt was unsuccessful, largely owing to the lack of skill of each operator. Bushnell was the most knowledgeable, but couldn’t take command. During the Battle of Fort Lee, the ship transporting the submarine was sunk by the British. The Turtle was recovered but its final fate remains a mystery, according to the Navy Department Library.

Though the primitive sub never carried out a mission to completion, George Washington was so impressed by Bushnell’s creative skills, that the Army General gave him a commission as Army engineer. Bushnell’s genius then devised drifting mines that actually did damage to British ships, including the destruction of the British frigate, Cereberus. Bushnell became commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers after the war.

The Turtle was a revolutionary development, but its success was partly thwarted by the expectation that one man could carry out the many and diverse functions of the complex invention.

George Washington, in 1785, wrote to Thomas Jefferson about the Turtle: “I then thought, and still think, that it was an effort of genius.”

* * *

As fascinating as the story of David Bushnell and the Turtle is, I find the reason this first submarine failed the most intriguing of all: the boring tools could not penetrate the iron sheathing of the British ship.

It draws me immediately to a spiritual application in putting on the armor of God to withstand against the enemy. Ephesians 6 always reminds me to protect myself from the secret wiles of the evil one—unexpected attacks that seem to come out of nowhere:

“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)

May the Lord strengthen us all to withstand attacks from the enemy with a shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, “which is the word of God.”

4 Responses to “1776 Submarine Attack”

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

    It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard of the Turtle… so long that I forgot when it was launched and in what war. Great spiritual analogy too. Would that the Devil so easily outsmarted and overreached himself.

  2. lynettewillows said

    This was wonderful. Our books in our Sons of Liberty series are all set during the Revolutionary War. I am going to have to do further research on this. Thanks very much for this post, Elaine. That was very enjoyable reading.

    • So glad you liked it, Lynette! It is a fascinating piece of history. I’m not sure what age range you are looking for or if you want non-fiction vs. fiction, but there are many wonderful books out there that are well-researched fiction about the Revolutionary War. My Deer Run Saga is fiction for teens and adults, starting in 1777. If you want to check out my books, they are at http://DeerRunBooks.com and available at several outlets. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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