Confederate Sailors on HL Hunley Killed by Their Own Weapon
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Confederate Sailors on HL Hunley Killed by Their Own Weapon

In 1864 the Confederacy wanted to use the
submarine HL Hunley to sink the USS Housatonic, a Union ship off the coast of Charleston,
South Carolina. The Hunley had 135 pounds of black powder
attached just a few feet off its bow, but when it set off its charge, the blast wave
from the charge transmitted through the hull of the ship and into the crew compartment,
causing fatal lung and brain injuries to the crew inside. 3, 2, 1 … The Hunley is the first successful combat
submarine because it was the first submarine ever to actually sink an enemy ship during
combat. The Hunley’s weapon was a black powder torpedo. It was 135 pounds of black powder, which is
about the size of a keg, and it was attached to a long spar that was on the bow of the
Hunley. The Hunley attacked with its torpedo by approaching
the side of an enemy ship. If using the spar, it jabbed the torpedo into
the side of the enemy hull and then triggered the blast. The spar was only 16 feet long so they were
actually very close to the 135-pound charge. The Housatonic was the Hunley’s target. It was hit by its torpedo and it destroyed
most of the stern of the vessel. The entire ship sank in about five minutes. For almost 150 years, nobody actually knew
what happened to the Hunley after it set off its charge. It was lost to the ocean. And then in 1995 it was found and in the year
2000 it was raised. Since then, it’s been under conservation by
archaeologists at Clemson University. When the Hunley was recovered, she was found
to be in surprisingly good condition. The condition of the ship suggests that there
was no damage from the actual blast itself and the conning towers and the bilge pump
suggest that the crew didn’t take action to escape. My research indicates that the crew of the
Hunley actually died from the effects of their own torpedo. I concluded that blast injury killed the crew
after doing a series of research experiments using a scale model, the CSS Tiny. I used this model for experiments both here
at the Duke reclaimed water pond and in a test site off campus with live explosives. 3, 2, 1… That was beautiful. The inside of the sub has pressure gauges
in addition to the pressure gauges outside the sub and we showed that the blast forces
propagated through the hull into the crew compartment. So the types of injuries from the crew of
the Hunley would have actually been completely different from what we would expect from people
in a Humvee hitting an IED. In that case, you’re concerned with something
called underbody blast, which means there are shrapnel effects and effects from the
damage to the vehicle that cause broken bones and other injuries, whereas with the crew
of the Hunley, there was no shrapnel. It was just the blast wave itself that propagated
into the vessel. So their injuries would have been purely in
the soft tissues, in the lungs and in the brain, and that’s actually really consistent
with what the archaeologists at Clemson found, meaning that there were no broken bones. Fatal blast traumas occur because the blast
wave hits the human body. As it hits a gas containing space like the
lungs, it slows down and that is what causes trauma to those organs. It’s also very likely that the men would have
experienced traumatic brain injuries.


  • CNT

    Easy instant death then a hot female chick goes through your bones 100 years later measuring sizes – not the worst way to die. I wish my wife was into submarines and explosions, ah, we could talk to hours about fatal blast traumas…

  • Nefarious Cookie

    The force of the explosion radiated inside the sub and causing internal trauma to the ear and hollow areas inside the body.

  • Harry Hudson

    I was in Charleston at the Hunley exhibit on August 20th 2017 and after seeing how short the spar was, I said out loud that there was no way these men could have survived the blast in that steel drum/coffin.

  • commonman80

    BULLSHIT… The Water at 16 Feet would have suppressed The Sound Blast, and The Blast of The Explosion… Which was the reason there was no signs of Shrapnel hitting the Hunley.. In an Explosion? You have (1) Light, (2) Particles (3) Sound…

    Meaning? First There's Light From The Explosion.. Second, The Particles of The Explosion are Expelled. Third, The Sound is Heard. Which is why If you Hear A Gunshot and don't Feel the pressure of The Round? It missed you… Elaboration: If The Particles DID NOT HIT THE HUNLEY And Do Any Damage? Neither would The Sound…


  • Joe Holt

    The Navy already ran these tests with a great deal more information, computer modeling and manpower, they discarded the possibility that the black powder charge wounded the crew with anything more than, and I quote "bumps and bruises."

  • Erik Bodeau

    Wrong. Correct or Remove this. They ran out of air. If they had been destroyed by the blast they're would not be remains intact, under water after 150+ years. Simple miscalculations. Sad thing is, with all the Confederate history complaints. But they also invented the sub, the torpedo, and the mine, amongst other things. Which all helped make us the strongest navy in the world. All Confederate is American History. Period.

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