The Hunley

Learning the answers to what happened:

…it may be that the crew, found at their seats when the sub was raised with no evidence of an attempt to abandon ship, may have been knocked out by the concussion of an explosion so close by, said Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a member of the South Carolina Hunley Commission.

“I think the focus now goes down to the seconds and minutes around the attack on the Housatonic,” he said. “Did the crew get knocked out? Did some of them get knocked out? Did it cause rivets to come loose and the water rush into the hull?”

The final answers will come when scientists begin to remove encrustations from the outer hull, a process that will begin later this year. McConnell said scientists will also arrange to have a computer simulation of the attack created based on the new information. The simulation might be able to tell what effect the explosion would have on the nearby sub.

Maria Jacobsen, the senior archaeologist on the project, said small models might also be used to recreate the attack.

A fascinating archaeological project.

6 thoughts on “The Hunley”

  1. I’ve been fascinated by this story ever since I was a kid and saw:

    “The Great Adventure: Season 1, Episode 1
    The Hunley (27 Sep. 1963) ”

    And it would be nice to know what actually happened.

    So if the Hunley was 20 feet away from the Housatonic when the torpedo lit off, how would the submariners have been knocked out? Heads bashed against the hull in the shock?

    But why wouldn’t the hull have been severely bent in the water shock?

    The theory does seem to fit the fact of a crew in position with no sign of a mad, clawing, attempt to get out.

  2. I’d think you could find evidence of bone trauma if they had been rattled around like that. Quiet repose in their positions suggests oxygen deprivation or carbon monoxide poisoning maybe? What did they use for illumination?

  3. I’m thinking fluid shock extending the lethality of explosive overpressure. It’s believed that people killed in explosions who exhibit no signs of ordinary trauma die from the sudden massive shock wave of the explosion.

    The inside of a submarine is under intense pressure at depth — remember that the syndrome we know as “the bends” was identified after besetting bridgebuilders who worked in caissons to sink pilings for the Brooklyn Bridge. Today we think of it happening to divers, but direct bodily contact with the water isn’t required.

    If a torpedo’s warhead going off 20 feet away on dry land wouldn’t kill or at least knock someone unconscious from overpressure, being underwater would almost certainly add to that range.

    1. The inside of a submarine is under intense pressure at depth

      While I have no direct experience with submarines, I’ve read a fair amount about them and think your statement is incorrect. They don’t pressurize submarines to match the depth, otherwise they’d have to decompress before surfacing. With dives deeper than 100 feet or so, they’d have to start using those helium mixtures like the ones saturation divers use. No, submarines depend on their hulls to withstand the pressure. Internal pressure isn’t much different from normal sea level pressure. At least, that’s my understanding of how they work.

  4. I’m having some difficulty with this. IIRC the signal that they were returning was observed after the attack. That doesn’t square with a crew knocked out by over pressure.

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