Tuesday, October 28, 2014

150th Anniversary of the sinking of CSS Albemarle

"This Day in History"

October 27, 1864

In April 1862, the Confederate Navy Department enthusiastically sought to replicate the victory of their first ironclad, CSS Virginia, against the Union’s wooden hulled blockaders. This was finalized with the Confederate ram, CSS Albemarle. Constructed to assist in the North Carolina sounds, this ram was armored with eight 30-degree angled sides, and included two 6.4 inch Brooke pivot rifles stationed in three different fixed positions. These cannons were protected by six iron shutters, mounted on all sides. The ram was propelled by 3-bladed screw propellers that were powered by steam engines. Albemarle was constructed throughout 1863-4 and was commissioned in April 1864.

Albemarle was a powerful tool used by the Confederacy, and a terror to the Union Navy. Two plans were submitted by Lt. William B. Cushing in an attempt to destroy Albemarie. Locating two small steam launches, Cushing fitted each of them with spar torpedoes. Spar torpedoes consisted of a bomb that was placed on the end of a long pole, or spar, and then attached to a boat. The goal was to run the bomb into an enemy ship. Some spar torpedoes were equipped with a barbed spear in the end, so it could stick to wooden hulls, and then a fuse would be lighted to detonate.

The night of October 27, 1864, Cushing took his small steam launches upriver towards Albemarle, who was anchored up the Roanoke River at Plymouth, Virginia. Under the cover of darkness, they were able to sneak past the guarding boats undetected to surprise Albemarle and ride up to place the spar torpedoes against the hull of the ironclad. The explosion was detonated and she sank immediately.

The spar torpedoes were the latest invention in submarine evolution. The torpedoes are the next evolution of technology for submersibles to destroy an enemy. Unfortunately, with budgetary constraints prevalent by World War II, many boats were equipped with under-performing torpedoes that would either not detonate, or could not be controlled to hit an enemy boat. It was evident after World War II that new technology for torpedoes needed to be developed to keep up with the newer boats and ships of the time.

USS Razorback, located at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas, also saw the evolution of technology development in torpedoes. Razorback started with the unreliable World War II torpedoes, the Mark 14, and was soon after introduced to the Mark 37 torpedo. The Mark 37 used electrical propulsion rather than pressurized air to launch from its tubes, and was guided with a gyroscope, a passive sonar homing system and a Doppler-enabled active sonar homing. Like Albermarle, without this superior technology, the results during war could have been drastically different.

Author: Nicolette Lloyd


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