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NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive


Alligator


Introduction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR):

The creation of French inventor, Brutus De Villeroi. Whether a deliberate publicity stunt or not, DeVilleroi succeeded in convincing the Union Navy that he could produce a submersible warship from which a diver could place an explosive charge under an enemy ship. Six months later, in November 1861, he was under contract to build the Union's first submarine, Alligator.
Built in Philadelphia, the 47-foot long Alligator was primarily intended to counter the threat of the Confederate ironclad, the Virginia. Although the Navy specified that the submarine's construction take no more than 40 days at a cost of $14,000, the project suffered long delays. As project supervisor, DeVilleroi objected to changes in certain aspects of his plans for the vessel's construction. In response, he effectively exited himself from the process and was later officially dismissed as supervisor.
About a month after its launch on May 1,1862, the oar-propelled submarine was towed to Hampton Roads, Virginia. Her first missions: to destroy a strategically important bridge across the Appomattox River and to clear away obstructions in the James River.
When the Alligator arrived at the James River, with civilian Samuel Eakins in charge, a fierce battle was being waged in the area. Because neither the James nor the Appomattox was deep enough to permit the vessel to submerge, it was feared that even a partially visible submarine would be vulnerable to seizure by the Confederates. The Alligator was sent to the Washington Navy Yard, for further experimentation and testing.
In August 1862, Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge accepted command of the submarine, after being promised promotion to captain if he and the Alligator's new crew destroyed the new Confederate ironclad, the Virginia II. During test runs in the Potomac, the Alligator proved to be underpowered and unwieldy. During one particular trial, the sub's air quickly grew foul, the crew panicked, and all tried to get out of the same hatch at the same time--prompting Selfridge to call the whole enterprise "a failure." He and his crew were reassigned and the vessel was sent to dry dock for extensive conversion. The dream of using this "secret weapon" against the Virginia II was scrapped.
Over the next six months, the Alligator's system of oars was replaced by a screw propeller. In early spring 1863, President Lincoln observed a demonstration of the "improved" vessel. Shortly thereafter, RADM Samuel Dupont ordered the Alligator, once again commanded by Eakins, to participate in the capture of Charleston.
Towed by the USS Sumpter, the unmanned Alligator left Washington for Port Royal on March 31, 1863. On April 2nd, a fierce storm forced the crew of the endangered Sumpter to cut the submarine adrift, somewhere off the Cape Hatteras coast. According to reports sent to Secretary of the Navy Welles, the Alligator was "lost" at sea.

Specifications: She was said to be about 30' long and 6' or 8' in diameter. "It was made of iron, with the upper part pierced for small circular plates of glass, for light, and in it were several water tight compartments." It had originally been fitted with sixteen paddles protruding from the sides to be worked by men inside, but on July 3, 1862, she was ordered to Washington Navy Yard to have her folding oars replaced by a propeller which was powered by a hand crank. It was said to be capable of seven knots. "The Alligator was to have been manned by sixteen men, besides one in submarine armor, who was the explorer, and a captain who was to steer the craft. An air pump in the center of the machine, to which were attached two air tubes, attached to floats, was to furnish air to the occupants, the machine being of course air tight. The entrance to it was through a man-hole at one end, which was covered with an iron plate, with leather packing." She was to have been submerged by the flooding of compartments. The Alligator was also described as a "semi-submarine boat," 46' (or 47') long and 4'6" in diameter, with a crew of seventeen.

Transcribed from Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, (Washington, DC, 1959), Volume 1, p. 34 Civil War Naval Chronology 1861-1865, compiled by Navy History Division, Navy Department, (Washington, DC, 1971), Volume 3, p. 54, paragraph 26, courtesy of treasurenet.com.


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Alligator665kThe Alligator was the first submarine purchased by the U.S. Navy. It contained two crude air purifiers, a chemical based system for producing oxygen and a bellows to force air through lime. Text & photo courtesy of chinfo.navy.mil.
Alligator158kVilleroi's original, hand-drawn designs of the Alligator. Photo courtesy of Historique de la Marine/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & noaanews.noaa.gov.
Alligator38kExterior side view of the view of Villeroi's original, hand-drawn designs of the Alligator. Photo courtesy of Historique de la Marine/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & noaanews.noaa.gov.
Alligator62kInterior side view of Villeroi's original, hand-drawn designs of the Alligator. Photo courtesy of Historique de la Marine/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & noaanews.noaa.gov.
Alligator70kInterior top view of Villeroi's original, hand-drawn designs of the Alligator. Photo courtesy of Historique de la Marine/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & noaanews.noaa.gov.
Alligator69kExterior top view of the Alligator with cross section. Photo courtesy of Historique de la Marine/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & noaanews.noaa.gov.
Alligator266k Alligator shown in what we believe was her actual configuration. Drawing by Jim Christley.
Alligator990kAlligator plan, 1862. Drawing by Jim Christley.
Photo added 01/20/14.
Alligator405kThe Launch.
This painting shows the boat being lowered into the water for the first time on 1 May 1862 in Philadelphia, PA. The original is in the collection of the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum Collection.
Drawing by Jim Christley.
Alligator439kAlligator in the James.
This shows the boat with the steam tug Satelite in the background in the James River in June of 1862 during the Seven Days Campaign.
Drawing by Jim Christley.
Alligator832kDiver Deployed.
This is a painting in a private collection. The boat’s primary weapon, a tethered hard hat diver is making his way along the bottom after having exited from the lock out chamber.
Photo courtesy of Jim Christley.
Alligator720kSumpter setting out with Alligator in tow.
Drawing by Jim Christley.
Alligator831kSumpter with Alligator Under Tow.
The original is in a private collection.
Photo courtesy of Jim Christley.
Alligator146kActing Master Samuel Eakins served as the 2nd commanding officer of the first Union Navy's submarine Alligator. He had a very short career in the Union Navy having been the “civilian overseer” during the Alligator's glorious puttering around in Navy experiments. He was appointed Acting Master on 24 March 1863 and had his appointment was revoked on 15 April 1863 shortly after the Alligator was "lost at sea" on 2 April 1863. U.S. Navy photo courtesty of Bill Gonyo.
Alligator756kDemise of Alligator.
This painting is a part of the Office of Naval Research collection and shows the boat after being cut loose in a storm off Cape Hatteras.
Drawing by Jim Christley.
Alligator25kCatherine Marzin, left, and Michiko Martin examine Brutus De Villeroi's design drawings of the Alligator that Marzin found last year in France. Both women work for the National Marine Sanctuaries Program and are members of the Alligator Project team. Photo courtesty of (NOAA)/ newbernsj.com The New Bern Sun Journal.
Alligator339kVisitors to the Preservation Society in Ocracoke, N.C., view a display featuring the U.S. Navy's first submarine, Alligator invented by Brutus de Villeroi, and built in Philadelphia in 1862. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-025 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator425kThe Geometrics G-882 Magnetometer is one of the main survey tools being used in a high-tech underwater search by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The G-882 will be used during the hunt for the Navy's first submarine, the Alligator in a week-long expedition in an area off Cape Hatteras where the Civil War era vessel was lost during a fierce storm in 1863. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-074 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator332kChief Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mike Overfield, adjusts the display receiving data from the Towfish. The Towfish is a 600KHZ Marine Sonic Side Scan Sonar unit that is being used during by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) are conducting search for the Navy's first submarine, the Alligator. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-133 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator391kThe Office of Naval Research (ONR) vessel YP-679, Afloat Lab, was open for visitation while docked in Ocracoke, N.C., 24 August 2004, where it is taking part in the 2004 Hunt for the Alligator Expedition. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from ONR is conducting a week-long expedition off Cape Hatteras where the Civil War era vessel was lost during a fierce storm in 1863. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-041 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator411k Chief Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mike Overfield, discusses the day's plans with the crew prior to departing Cracker, N.C. NOAA with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) while conducting a search for the Navy's first submarine the, Alligator. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-022 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator358k East Carolina University maritime studies graduate student Chris McCabe, attaches a cable to the Towfish. The Towfish is a 600KHZ Marine Sonic Side Scan Sonar unit that is being used by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) while conducting search for the Navy's first submarine the Alligator. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-018 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator332k The Geometrics G-882 Magnetometer is one of the main survey tools being used in a high-tech underwater search for the Navy's first submarine the Alligator. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-012 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator224kEducation Liaison, Kate Thompson, left, and Media Coordinator, David Hall assigned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) interview Deputy, Commander Submarine Force Atlantic, Rear Adm. Jay Deloach, center, for an education video that will be used as part of the 2004 Hunt for the Alligator Expedition video. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-073 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator332kChief Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mike Overfield, adjusts the display receiving data from the Towfish. The Towfish is a 600KHZ Marine Sonic Side Scan Sonar unit that is being used during by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) are conducting search for the Navy's first submarine the Alligator. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-044 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator413k Mark Connelly, left, and Gary Umberger, center, both with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), work with a crew man to retrieve the Office of Naval Research (ONR) funded Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS (REMUS) off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., after conducting a search for the Alligator. Based in Ocracoke, N.C., the 2005 survey is part of an ongoing effort by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ONR, and partners to solve the mystery of the Alligator's fate while promoting scientific and historical research, education and ocean literacy, 9 September 2005. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-054 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator250k Aamir Qaiyumi, foreground, and Mark Connelly, with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Panama City, Fla., 10 September 2005, analyze data from Remote Environmental Monitoring Units (REMUS) aboard the Office of Naval Research (ONR) vessel, YP-679. The side scan sonar data was collected from the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) during the previous days mission when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from ONR, returned to the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" to continue the search for the Alligator, the U.S. Navy's first submarine. U.S. Navy photo # N-7676W-063 by Chief Journalist John F. Williams, courtesty of news.navy.mil.
Alligator84k The Laser Line Scan instrument, mounted on the FOCUS 1500 Remote Operated Tow Vehicle (ROTV). Image courtesy of Scientific Applications International Corporation, courtesy of oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.
Alligator43k The laser line scan (LLS) systems utilize a sweeping blue-green laser to reflect light across the seafloor to generate a gray-scale image similar to a black and white photography. Image courtesy of Scientific Applications International Corporation, courtesy of oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.
Alligator294kDreams of Discovery.
This also is in a private collection. It shows the boat on the bottom, possibly off Cape Hatteras in 10,000 feet of water being surveyed after discovery by an AUV. The boat has not been discovered and it most likely will never be.
Photo courtesy of Jim Christley.

Additional Resources and Web Sites of Interest
Secrets of the USS Alligator
French archives contain submarine treasure trove, Woman discovers sketches by designer from the mid-1800s
Submarine History / An Illustrated Survey of Key Events in Submarine History

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