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E B Hunt's "Sea Miner" Rocket Torpedo

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by Specster, Apr 25, 2016.

  1. Specster

    Specster First Sergeant

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    EB Hunt was an officer stationed at Key West in 1861. After the battle of Head of Passes Hunt witnessed the Richmond limping back into harbor. Accounmts from sailors informed him that a new class of vessels needed to be contended with - the iron clads, the damage in this battle being done by the Confederate ram Manassas. Hunt was by all accounts brilliant. He soon devised a rocket propelled torpedo which was intended to hit an iron clad four or more feet below the water line where there was no iron protection.

    Thanks to very intelligent and high placed friends, he got the ear of the secretary of the navy, who basically gave Hunt the green light to develop the weapon. The torpedo was extremely secret and Hunt took pains to keep it that way. Unfortuantely, virtually no original data survives to this day.

    Rockets had been used in Europe and Asia for over 100 years at that time. Hunts invention was thought to be revolutionary because it is very difficult to maintain speed going from air to water and just going through water. Further, others had tried to spin air rockets so they would act like a rifled projectile - but had little success. Rockets were erratic - some military applications actually made the unpredictability desirable, but Hunt needed the torpedo to be accurate. He allegedly carved grooves into the sides of the torpedo so when it was propelled forward it would spin. The rocket was believed to be capable of reaching a speed of 1500km/hr and could travel for more than 10 miles (but not underwater).

    Hunt died working on the torpedo before it could be deployed. Few people knew of the rockets existence and fewer knew how it all worked. When he died the project died as well. Yet, no one would better him in terms of a design for over 80 years.

    Its unfortunate that so little is know of this weapon.

    There is a book "Sea Miner" by Chuck Velt and Civil War Radio's Podcast interviews the author in episode 1221
     

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  3. Chuck Veit

    Chuck Veit Cadet

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    My thanks to Specster for posting about Sea Miner, which I spent the past five years researching. The one fact I'd amend is that the torpedo was designed primarily as a horizontal launch underwater weapon, and the speed and range are for underwater performance. While probably capable of flying significant distance in the air, the evidence suggests such flights were intended to be high trajectory and short range, (i.e., plunging fire against ships close to shore). Also, there is no question about the four grooves that were cut into the housing of the torpedo; a single schematic (drawn w/o the secretive inventor's knowledge) survives, and it clearly shows the grooves which made the projectile spin as it ripped through the water.

    I've researched a number of "almost-lost" episodes in Civil War Navy history, and discovered some that were entirely forgotten, but Sea Miner is the most incredible thing I've ever come across. I don't know what's more surprising: that something so advanced could be made in the 1860s or that, after so much study, the program remained a total secret for over 150 years. If you want to read something entirely out of place, see chuckveitbooks[dot]com.
     
  4. Specster

    Specster First Sergeant

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    The thanks all go to you for your fine work. Yet, Im a little confused. The torpedo was capable of high speed and long ranges while under waster? I thought the drag would have made that near impossible. I believe you stated a speed of 1500 km/hr. I dont think anything like that is possible today. I must be missing something. Was it just the plunging torpedos, like the one Hunt died while launching, the ones that could achieve that speed?
     
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  5. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    I heard the interview and was fascinated. This book is definitely on my list.
     
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  6. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    This rocket torpedo is a very interesting topic.

    Your book, A Dog Before Soldier has been on my "to buy" list for awhile.
    Welcome to Civil War Talk.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2016
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  7. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    That's 810 knots, or 932 mph. The modern Russian VA-111 Shkval is reported to be capable of possibly 200 to 300 knots, with a short range of around 7,500 yards (i.e., under 4 nautical miles).
     
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  8. Chuck Veit

    Chuck Veit Cadet

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    S: The apparent beauty of this torpedo was that there was very little drag as far as I can see. As is detailed in the book, Hunt's projectile had both perfect balance (even as fuel was exhausted) and perfect displacement at launch (meaning it weighed exactly what the water that would otherwise fill the spot the missile occupied). That displacement would drop by 14.5 lbs as the fuel was spent, but that was only about 10 seconds later. The water it passed through was not forced out of the way, but shunted around the nose and down the helical grooves, making the rocket spin. In effect, it sort of screwed its way along. Data for speed was derived from a variety of sources. The thing to keep in mind is that, because nobody else managed to make a rocket torpedo that worked consistently, there is almost no performance data as there is for surface artillery. My figure for that incredible speed came from a Royal Navy officer's evaluation of rocket torps in the 1880s, where he provided a simple factor for calculating speed based on what was called Indicated Horse Power (IHP). This factor held true for all sizes of the then-cutting edge Whitehead torpedo. The IHP of a rocket torpedo was know, so using the same factor resulted in that incredible speed. Range was then calculated based on how long a certain quantity of fuel ("rocket composition," RC) would burn; this was well known from Congreve, Hale, &c. Knowing how much RC was in Hunt's rocket told me how long it would burn--and how much gas it would generate. Again, "greased lightning" was the answer. Aerial launch of the torpedo was not intended for long range, but high-angle so as to deliver plunging fire. The key to figuring that out was the sliding lead balance that is part of the rocket design: for horizontal fire, it works only when moved all the way to the stern--so why would the Navy not make it fixed? Sliding it forward makes the rocket nose heavy--which is just what is wanted to for high trajectory shots. The more you move it forward, the sooner it plunges. We've experimented with rocket torpedoes several times since the 1860s, but no one else solved it like Major E.B. Hunt, and all have ended in failure due to the inability to control the enormous power. Yeh, first question I was asked after the first time I gave this talk, was, "Does the Navy know you're talking about this?"
     
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  9. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    It's on my shelf; it's worth moving it from your "to buy" to "bought and enjoyed." :thumbsup:
     
  10. Specster

    Specster First Sergeant

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    Hello Chuck,

    I had just finished a book about WW2 in the Pacific and was awken to the fact that the army, navy and marines would go at each other on shore leave like they were the enemy. I guess its good to keep a fighting edge but these guys were doing some damage to each other. Thank you for your illumination on this issue during the ACW. I did not read the book yet and the Sea Miner peaks my interest more.

    Thanks again for your fine work.

    Spec
     
  11. Dilandu

    Dilandu Sergeant

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    Seems that extraordinary 1500 km/h were taken from too bold extrapolation...

    http://www.navyhistory.org/2016/06/...e-b-hunts-civil-war-rocket-torpedo-1862-1863/

    The first test of Sea Miner ended in failure and the end of the project – an oversight led to an explosion and Hunt’s death. But would it have worked anyway? I believe Veit mistakenly extrapolates from data for early Whitehead torpedoes to obtain a very misleading estimate of the range, speed, and penetrating power of Hunt’s rocket torpedo. “If we apply the simple ratio of one horsepower to two knots from the Whitehead to Hunt’s final 12-inch torpedo, the result is an incredible 1,520 knots (1748 mph) – a number that beggars belief.” But if I (another amateur) am correct, doesn’t surface friction drag rise exponentially, at the square of the velocity, and so speed and range would be much less?
     
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  12. Specster

    Specster First Sergeant

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    I was thinking the same thing. I assumed the extraordinary speeds claimed were while the rocket was in the air. When Veit indicated they were in the water, I thought that couldnt not be right, that we cannot even come close to that today
     
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  13. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    In a marine engineering setting, calculating horsepower is a VERY slippery thing. There are multiple ways of calculating it, with widely varying results. Simply put, one cannot take Whitehead's screw-driven torpedo performance and apply that as a "simple ratio" to an entirely different sort of propulsion.

    I simply cannot credit Hunt with a rocket torpedo that in practice would be three times faster than the fastest rocket torpedo known today.
     
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  14. Story

    Story Sergeant

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  15. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Wow, the Gorton's Fisherman has really let himself go.
     
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  16. Story

    Story Sergeant

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    That's Special Agent Gorton.

    (I crack myself up. I really do).
     
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  17. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    Well today is the last day of my Company of Military Historians convention. If I want either of Chuck Veil's books I need in the next few minutes to walk over to the table and buy them
     
  18. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Decisions, decisions.
     
  19. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    My "to read" shelf is now three shelfs long. I am almost a year and a half behind on reading. When I buy a book there us a good chance it will end up on my never will read shelf.
     
  20. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    And the problem with that is. . . ?
     
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  21. Dilandu

    Dilandu Sergeant

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    Agreed. If such rocket engine could be made in XIX century, we would have artifical sattelites in 1910s :smile:

    Easily. Probably some underwater tube, either mounted inside hull, or placed externally.
     

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