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Submarines - Fulton and the Turtle

(Edited somewhat)

Sorry to report that your site has some errors.

You might check and associated links-- give you some info you might be able to use. I don't want to critique your whole site- don't have time- but two quick examples. re: Bushnell's Turtle. The illustration you use shows 1) an archimedes screw for propulsion, when Bushnell himself described it as being " like the arms of a windmill " and 2) there were no ballast tanks.

And on Fulton- you don't note that he actually built Nautilus for the French and was commissioned a Rear Admiral in the French Navy to make a legal attack on the British ( in which he failed )

There are some other errors- although most of what I see is correct.

Just want the info out there for all to see, to be correct.

Captain Brayton Harris,
USN ( Retired )
Author, the Navy Times Book of Submarines: A Political, Social, and Military History. 

Captain Harris,

Thank you for your comments, I am always pleased to learn, and never claim my site to be perfect. There are more than one version around depicting Buchnell's Turtle, The University of Houston College of Engineering site carries a citation by you about the Bush-Buchnell story. Immediately below your piece,  is a drawing of the Turtle, exactly the same as the one I used, the close proximity of your piece and the drawing gives the appearance of your endorsement thereof.

The Connecticut River Museum in Essex CT state that" They have the only full scale working model of David Buchnell's 1776 invention, the American Turtle" I concede the propellor is different, and I will change my drawing. But, their diagram clearly shows a ballast tank, and I attach a copy of their drawing.

The Military Journal of Dr James Thacher dated February 10, 1778, describes ballasting the Turtle thus: "including an apartment at the bottom, with its valve to admit water for the purpose of descending, and two brass forcing pumps to eject water."

That sounds like a ballast facility to me.

Now, about Robert Fulton, he seemed to me, to be an American gun for hire, first in France, then in England. My description of his working in France is quite accurate, my general source being a reproduction copy of his own work: Torpedo War and Submarine Explosions, published by Swallow Press Inc of Chicago in 1971, and I own a copy.

My general study of Fulton indicated he had been commissioned as a French Rear Admiral, really to give him some legal standing for his proposed attack on England, as I said earlier a hired gun.

I decided not to use that information, my choice.

My interest in Submarine development stems from spending 18 months at sea during the Battle of the Atlantic, in 1940/1941, before your country became involved after Pearl Harbor. Post War, I qualified as a Torpedo Anti-Submarine Specialist Officer in UK schools for the Royal Australian Navy.

As only a very small amount of my site is devoted to the History of the Submarine.  The site is produced essentially for my own family, a few friends, and anyone who cares to visit.


Why, thank you. sir!   On website errors -- I may have sounded too critical; didn't mean to, just wish that the 1967 All Hands article would disappear (they did an update, corrected, in 2000). (On errors of a different sort -- there are a few in my book, Hitler's birthday is wrong, as I recall, and there are some misspelled words. The copy editor must have been dozing.)

On the Turtle illustration -- I used the same as you -- because it is the most familiar, and 100 years closer to the actual craft than any of those drawn recently -- and because I was dealing with history, and this was the first ever attempt at a Turtle illustration. However, used with a caveat, about the propellers and the ballast system. Neither Bushnell or his contemporaries ever referred to a separate "tank" although the descriptions are at times imprecise. They wrote of a valve to let water in, and a forcing pump to get it out. (These are all collected in "Naval Documents of the American Revolution," published in eight massive volumes some years ago by the Office of Naval History.

Fulton is quite a study, the ultimate mercenary. After working with the French against the English, and then the English against the French, he came "home" to America and pitched his schemes against the English. But, throughout, he was basically more interested in the "torpedo" -- his coinage, but what we would call a mine today -- and in his efforts to sell to Britain, used torpedos towed by rowboats to sink a ship.


You note that the Connecticut River Museum claims to have the only full-size working model of Turtle.  Not sure what  "working" means, in this context -- did someone actually take it out and submerge? -- but I suspect they are in error, a bit.  The British Submarine Museum at Groton (not CT, but across the harbor from Portsmouth, England) has a full-scale model, as accurate, I should think, as anyone could devise some 250 years after the original, with no suriving pix and only fragmentary written descriptions.



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