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Clue to Hunley disappearance found - missing forward viewport and glass

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Postby TMSmalley » Wed Dec 28, 2005 9:59 pm


Hunley Team Discovers Clue to Legendary Sub’s Disappearance

(Charleston, SC) – Scientists trying to solve the mystery of the H. L. Hunley's disappearance have stumbled onto yet another mystery. A view port on the left front side of the submarine is completely missing, possibly a catastrophic result of the Hunley’s historic battle with the Housatonic.

Some have speculated sailors on the Housatonic may have shot out the view port, causing the submarine to fill with water. That theory fails to explain why scientists have not found any of the view port’s glass inside the submarine. Mysteriously, they have also found no traces of the port itself. There is just a hole where it once was.

"This view port has always held the promise of being the smoking gun, but it appears the gun is missing," Hunley Commission Chairman Sen. Glenn McConnell said. "Whether this is just damage the Hunley suffered from being lost at sea for more than a century, or it's something else, is a question we hope to answer in the coming months. One clue may come when we take off the concretion on the conning tower. We'll be looking closely for the indention of gunshots in that metal."

Scientists recently made an important discovery that may support this theory while working to remove glass from the Hunley’s view ports: they found not all the windows of the Hunley are alike.

The deadlights running along the top of the submarine had covers that could be closed to block the glow of candle light from emitting through the glass. The conservation team says it appears the forward conning tower’s view ports did not have that capability.

The light shining from the forward conning tower’s view ports may have helped sailors aboard the Housatonic detect the Hunley’s presence. Historical records reveal the Hunley was spotted and fired upon moments before she deployed the explosive torpedo that sent the Housatonic to the bottom of the sea. Since the forward conning tower’s view ports could not be covered, those shooting at the Hunley may have used the illuminated view ports as their bull’s eye target.

The missing view port could have been a result of this gunfire. If the view port were successfully shot at, portions of the glass would have shattered, falling into the Hunley. At this time, no glass associated with this port has been found, but Hunley archaeologist James Hunter says it’s possible some glass could still be buried in the thick concretion covering the bottom of the submarine.

The lack of covers for the forward conning tower’s view port was not a design oversight, but rather a necessity. On the night of the Hunley’s historic mission, crew commander George Dixon placed his head in the forward conning tower and used the view ports to navigate toward his target. The ability to close the view ports simply was not needed because it would have been impossible to steer the submarine blind to the outside world.

Also, the conning tower is only about 15 inches wide, leaving little room for Dixon to quickly close and open the view ports while the submarine approached the enemy. “The Hunley was built to maximize her ability to travel smoothly and quickly beneath the water’s surface. The small conning towers contribute to the Hunley’s overall design as a hydrodynamic underwater weapon,” Hunter said.

Ultimately, scientists will use the clue of the missing view port, along with hundreds of others, to piece together the complex mystery of the Hunley’s disappearance.
Image of the Conning Tower Available Upon Request.
Friends of the Hunley
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight vanished.

Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler's
National Underwater Agency (NUMA). The hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work conserving the vessel and piecing together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

The material included in this press release is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service and the Legacy Resource Management Program.

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Postby Tom Dougherty » Thu Dec 29, 2005 2:06 pm

Thanks, Tim!! One thing that dosen't seem to square with this theory is the fact that the crew were all found at their stations. I believe earlier posts seemed to indicate that it looked as if CO2 may have built up and they lost consciousness, with no signs of a struggle to escape. If the sub started to flood, one would have expected a scramble & possible panic to try to get out of the submarine.
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Postby TMSmalley » Thu Dec 29, 2005 4:28 pm

I agree. I suspect the flange rusted off at some later date and allowed the glass to fall out of the sub, rather than into it.

Here is Brian Hicks' take on it.

A lone shot in the dark?
Hunley porthole might rewrite story of doomed sub's demise

The Post and Courier

For 10 years, the single-bullet theory has been the most compelling explanation for the H.L. Hunley's disappearance - its own lone gunman legend.

A Yankee sailor targets the Confederate sub's forward view port, glowing yellow from interior candlelight, as it approaches the Housatonic. Moments before the Hunley sinks the Union sloop, the sailor hits his mark.

The bullet leaves a hole in the port that allows seawater to pour in, eventually sending the Hunley to the bottom of the ocean.

This theory, based primarily on a fist-sized hole in the tower, offers a plausible explanation for why the Hunley vanished shortly after it sank the Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864.

But scientists say the evidence - or rather, the lack thereof - shows that it probably didn't happen that way.

Hunley conservators have began work on the forward conning tower, removing glass from view ports in this relatively unexplored area of the sub. Scientists still don't know how the hatch latched, or the exact purpose of the five ports in it - one on each side, two in the front, one on the hatch.

But they have found that only the tiniest sliver of a flange remains for the port side forward viewing port - the one that figures into the single-bullet theory.

It appears the port wasn't shot, it's just missing.

"Had we found the glass from that port inside the sub, perhaps we would have had the smoking gun," Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the Hunley Commission, said Wednesday. "But it appears the smoking gun is missing."

Historical accounts from Housatonic survivors describe the sight of the Hunley's deadlights and ports glowing yellow - it was the only part of the sub they could really see that night. They shot at the sub, but didn't think they had hit it. The hole in the tower found 136 years after the battle suggested otherwise.

Paul Mardikian, the Hunley's senior conservator, tackled the tower with a few questions in mind.

"Is there a way to kill the lights?" he asked. "Are these the same as the other ports?"

The answers, which support the single-bullet theory, are no and no. The deadlights along the sub's top had shutters that allowed them to hide the light and seal leaks if the glass were shot. The tower's ports, barely 2.5 inches wide, didn't come with that option.

The sub had two round forward viewing ports on the tower, and it is the left - or port side - port that is missing. And no trace of it was found in the sub. If it had been shot that night, the glass would have exploded into the tower and littered the Hunley's floor.

But there has been no glass found. There is still some concretion on the Hunley's floor, and Mardikian said the glass could be embedded there. But there is certainly no guarantee.

"There's still the possibility, but I don't think so," McConnell said. "I think we'll find that damage happened later."

The single-bullet theory has been around for years, based on the Housatonic sailors' accounts of shooting at the Hunley. When Clive Cussler's NUMA team found and photographed the sub - including the hole in the conning tower - in 1995, that cemented the theory in some people's minds.

At the time, a crab that Cussler's guys named Horace (after Horace Hunley) was living in the hole. The sub was filled with sand almost all the way up to the lip of that hole.

So where does that hole come from? It could have happened years later, an errant anchor drop, or perhaps some 19th century treasure hunter even broke it off.

More answers could come when the conservators move their work to the aft conning tower. That tower, which might be made from the same cast as the forward tower turned around backward, could provide a few answers. Mardikian hopes to begin exploring that tower in the coming weeks.

Barring some new find, the single-bullet theory likely has been laid to rest. That leaves behind several slightly less dramatic theories. Either the crew ran out of air, the sub was hit by another ship and damaged, or the crew submerged to wait on the incoming tide and passed out, succumbing to anoxia - a lack of oxygen to the brain.

McConnell said as scientists explore the final corners of the Hunley, and the discoveries of this five-year-old project are examined, the answer might be around the corner.

"I would like to think we are months, no more than a year, away from solving the ultimate mystery," McConnell said.

Edited By TMSmalley on 1135888234
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Postby Robert » Sat Jan 07, 2006 2:31 pm

I'm thinking it was anoxia. After launching the torpedo and coming under fire they would be, as we say, "stoked" and burning a lot more oxygen than they might anticipate. I could see them getting to a certain point and passing out one by one, with the final people struggling to make up for the loss of horsepower as the others passed out.

I've experienced CO2 poisoning sort of. In college I helped transport a cubic foot of dry ice in the back of a very small car/wagon, with the windows rolled up. After a while I noticed I was becoming lightheaded and that, despite my lungs moving as expected, I could not 'breath'. Fortunately we figured it out and rolled the windows down before the driver was overcome.
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Postby TMSmalley » Sat Jan 07, 2006 2:40 pm

There is a great Yahoo Hunleygroup you should check out if you are interested in the HLH. .

Many of us, as you, believe exactly that. That is all that would account for most of the bodies being found sitting at their cranking posts not all piled beneath the hatches. They may have set down on the bottom to wait for the tide to change and died at their posts.
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