by Chuck Bauer
1/72 CSS H.L. Hunley (Cottage Industries)
Midway through America’s Civil War a submersible vessel was designed by Mr. Horace L. Hunley, of Mobile, Alabama. It’s purpose was to deposit an explosive charge against the side or bottom of a US warship, in particular those that were blockading Confederate harbors.
Using a boiler tube as a pressure vessel was the key point in her design. Power was supplied by eight crewmen who sat with their backs to the inner walls of the submersible, hand cranking a shaft which rotated the Hunley’s propeller. A host of other innovations made it theoretically possible for the vessel to submerge and resurface after depositing its explosive charge, which was called a “torpedo.” In the event, the innovations were imperfect, the design and the plan were flawed, and neither the Hunley nor her crew survived her only combat mission. In addition, many men died during the construction and testing phase--- including Mr. Hunley.
The Hunley’s first and last mission took place during the night of February 17, 1864. Piloted by Lt. George Dixon, the little sub made her way quietly out to the USS Housatonic, a United States Sloop of War enforcing the Union blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. As the Hunley neared the Housatonic, sentries spotted her and fired at her. But the shots were ineffective. Within seconds of the initial sighting, there was a tremendous explosion. The Housatonic sank in minutes; the Hunley did not return. This date marks the first time a surface ship was sunk by a submersible.
For many years the Hunley’s legend included a blue signal light which allegedly was seen after the explosion, indicating to associates on shore that the craft had survived and that the mission had succeeded. Furthermore, it was thought that the Hunley escaped the blast zone of her torpedo and sank from other unknown causes. However, the discovery and recovery of the Hunley wreck in 2009 has changed a lot of this prevailing theory. Many new ideas have emerged. I would encourage readers of this brief article to do their own research and form their own opinions.
The model I have built and presented is a resin and metal kit manufactured by Cottage Industries in Greenwood, South Carolina. The instructions are dated 2013, so the model reflects what was known and also what was under debate at that time. Therefore, the modeler is given two choices for the spar and torpedo-hoisting arrangement. I chose the one I thought most likely to be correct.
When the Hunley was recovered, a copper sheath was discovered surrounding the torpedo spar adjacent to where the torpedo was attached. This was not known to be there before. Photos of the sheath’s remnants are viewable on the internet, so I decided to replicate this feature on the model.
The body of the model is a solid piece of resin which had to be drilled out to create the optional open hatch, and also to attach the spar rigging lines. The inside of the rear hatch was painted off-white to correspond with the appearance of the recovered Hunley wreck.
Two large “cutwaters” were included in the kit, but I could find no evidence that these were installed on the real Hunley, so I left them off.
The two magnetic detonators on the end of the torpedo were not part of the kit. I made them from two pieces of wire.
The figures are slightly oversized in relation to the sub itself, but I included them in my presentation anyway. Their location matches those in the famous W.C. Chapman painting of the Hunley, which was used by Cottage Industries as the box art for this kit.
I chose not to use either of the two bases that come with the model kit, opting instead to scratch build what is visible in the photos.
I was given this kit by a fellow member of the Nautical Research Guild, who wanted me to build something that wasn’t plastic. I received some additional “encouragement” from another NRG friend, who has seen the actual wreck of the Hunley in its new home in South Carolina. They seem to be happy with what was produced here. Hope you enjoy it as well.