February 17, 1864 - a date that will live in submarine history
This is the only episode of THE GREAT ADVENTURE series that, if shown today, would need an epilogue. That is because of the portion of the show that was unknown in 1963, but is clearly known in 2006.
James McClintock was an engineer of some genius who worked with the backing of a wealthy citizen of New Orleans, Mr. Horace Hunley. The Confederate government had promised a large reward for the design of some weapon that could destroy the Union Blockade of the dwindling number of Confederate ports, and McClintock (with Hunley's backing) designed a series of torpedo boats and an experimental submarine. The experimental submarine would be moved by it's crew who would turn a crank to turn the ship's large rear propeller. Eventually, the submarine (named the "Hunley" after it's backer) was taken from the Gulf of Mexico to Charleston, South Carolina for tests.
It became known as the "parapatetic coffin" after two crews (about 17 men) were lost in two separate sinkings. One of the victims was Horace Hunley, asphyxiated as he tried desperately to relight a candle (the only light inside the totally dark hull) to see if he could clean out the primitive pump on board to regain whatever buoyancy he could for the ship. McClintock still urged that the "Hunley" could work as an underwater submarine against the Northern fleet. He was supported in his demands by Lieutenant Dixon (misnamed Dickson in the teleplay), who offered to command the ship himself. Against his better judgment, General Pierre Beauregard (Confederate Commander of Charleston) agreed.
Dixon (Jackie Cooper in this episode) led a crew of eight men in practice runs, including a test to see how long the ship could stay under water. The activities of the submariners did not go unnoticed in the Northern Fleet. Southern deserters told of some torpedo boat being tested. However, the Northern sailors had images of a current torpedo boat called a "David" that did ram explosives into Northern ships - but the "David" was a surface craft (albeit a trim low board surface craft). So the idea of a total underwater attack was not expected.
On February 17, 1864 Dixon took the "Hunley" out to test it's destructive abilities. A spar on the end of the ship included an explosive that would be rammed into the bottom of the Northern warship and then would explode (by timer) after the "Hunley" pulled out of the enemy ship. It is known that the "Hunley" was spotted by a lookout on the Federal sloop "U.S.S. Housatonic" that night - the sailors started shooting at the "Hunley". It dived and rammed the rammed the "Housatonic". An explosion doomed the sloop which sank within ten minutes. Five of the crew of the sloop were lost.
Those on shore later claimed that they saw the light of a signal lamp that was from the "Hunley" about half an hour after the sinking of the "Housatonic". But the Confederate sub never returned to port. In fact it was never heard from again from 1864 to 2002.
The episode about the first successful war submarine attack on an enemy ship ended with the Confederates (including Beauregard) sadly acknowledging that Dixon and his crew and their nice little submarine was lost forever. As a good brief account of the events leading to the torpedoing it was a pretty accurate account as far as it went. The members of the "Hunley"'s crew (including Gene Evans and Wayne Rogers) played their roles well, never knowing if they would return from each sea trial alive or trapped and doomed like those two crews that preceded them.
The rediscovery of the sunken submarine did not occur until 2002 - after serious efforts were made to seek it from about 1990. Except for a broken window, the "Hunley" was found intact, and raised. It's crew's remains were given a military funeral. The boat is now being preserved carefully, and will be on permanent display in a museum in Charleston. That portion of the story would have required the epilogue.
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