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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 93 - Give 'em the Old Razzle Dazzle (Weapons Week)

Tom's Notes - The Turtle

This was an excellent choice by a listener, so well done you. I had no problem researching this bad boy. Plenty of silly military inventions made themselves known to me within minutes of beginning my research. However, it was when my research changed tact that I discovered something so silly and interesting that I thought, you are the one for me baby. You are my one and only. How did my research change tact I hear you cry? Well, I decided to go back to basics and read the 60 page article on the military weaponry in the 1986 Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it was in this gem of a resource that I came across a quaint little picture of the Turtle, an early attempt at a submarine. Many of our American listeners may have heard about it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s a popular topic in American schools. But fuck it, we’re going to tell the story with silly voices and toilet humour SILLY VOICE, floppy donkey dicks.

Now I’d like to start by just giving our listeners, a high number of whom are American, some background information about an important event called the United States War of Independence, also known as the American Revolutionary Wars, or the American War of Independence, or the United States Revolutionary Wars, or That War That The American’s Turned Up On Time For, probably because they were still British at the time and hadn’t become all yankeefied, you know, all sidewalks and gridiron, garbage cans and tomatoes, soccer and second amendment, ‘it’s my right to carry ten military grade guns to a kids birthday party’.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about this because you and I have discussed this before; our American history isn’t very good and we know that a lot of our listeners our Americans and they’ll know a lot about their history, so just a brief summary of the start of the War of Independence; on 19th April 1775, John F. Kennedy led a band of sharp shooters known as the Magnificent 7 in some battles in Massachusetts against British forces that were searching for stores of horrendously over processed cheese and high fructose corn syrup that the Americans were planning to fill every conceivable type of food with. The Magnificent 7 were defeated easily by better trained British soldiers who were fighting properly and not wandering around like the big i-am thinking war was a Hollywood movie with smart quips, big cigars and machines guns in each arm. The American forces withdrew under the leadership of Colonel Sanders and decided to catch the British off-guard on Sesame Street. The British evacuated Sesame Street and refocussed on securing the very important port of Disney Land. The American forces led by General Dolly Parton were defeated and the British kept control of Disney Land for the remainder of the war.

Right, I’d better repeat at least the last part of that with accurate information. The British evacuated Boston, and refocussed on securing the very important harbour of New York. The American forces led by General George Washington were defeated and the British kept control of New York harbour for the remainder of the war.

The Battle of Long Island/Brooklyn, which was the Battle that led to the British seizing New York harbour, was one of the earliest battles in the 8 year war, and the biggest. 30,000 men fought with the British having twice as many men, men who were far better trained. George Washington famously managed to make a daring and very successful retreat from a besieged position on Brooklyn Heights late at night, catching the British off guard. Had he not managed this, the whole war could have taken a different course. Wonderfully British historiography this by the way, getting a spanking and then finding a way to spin it positively. Good job Americans!

The background information has been provided, let me introduce the Turtle Submarine built in 1775 and used once, very unsuccessfully, in an attempt to sink a British ship in the New York harbour in 1776. A remarkably shit invention that didn’t do its job very well at all, but, bizarrely, had some remarkably advanced features. It was also the first submarine to be used in war.

The Turtle has been attributed to a man called David Bushnell but it’s widely accepted that a chap called Isaac Doolittle contributed as much, if not more, to the invention. In fact, from my research, the only good bits of the invention appear to have been made by Doolittle. Bushnell created the shit bits that didn’t work. So it’s a sort of Sam and Tom relationship. I’ll let the listeners decide who is who here.

There’s not much to say about Bushnell that’s particularly interesting. He had a wife, some kids, two legs, an equal number of arms, a head. He slept at night and did shit during the day. Standard stuff really. He studied at Yale College, a forerunner to the University I think.

Doolittle was actually quite hardworking and productive despite his name. He was basically an engineer. A very religious one too. He had 9 children – every sperm is sacred and all that. He ran a very successful shop near Yale College repairing clocks and doing other little mechanical things. He also sold big bells. That’ll do for him.

Now the Turtle! It looked like a giant hazelnut, with enough room for a man to sit inside. The shell was made of oak and bound together with iron hoops, much like a barrel. It was 3 meters long, 2 meters tall and about a meter wide. It had some glass panels on the top to let in some light and for good indoor-outdoor flow and all of the mechanical instruments inside, so the buttons, levers, twiddlers, cock-wangles, yanky-pulls, tickle-nips etc. were all covered in foxfire; a really cool natural luminescent substance from some types of fungi. Although unfortunately it didn’t work when temperatures dropped, so was useless under water. The most beautiful thing about this submarine in my opinion is the steam-punk esque, HG Wells controls. I made up some silly words a moment ago, but the pictures and descriptions of this device make it look like a cross-between Wallace and Gromit’s rocket and Dick Van Dyke’s one man band in Mary Poppins. “Oh it’s a jolly holiday with Wallace! Eating all the cheese that we can!”

What makes it even better, is the picture in my Encyclopaedia Britannica and a popular picture on the internet, from 1885 has a chap with a moustache, in a suit, with a waist coat, and nice shoes, operating this thing. He pressing one thing down with his foot, waggling another thing with one hand, yanking on another with his other arm, blowing through a hole to move something else, pressing down with his arse on something to control the speed. It’s ridiculous!

All of these intricate, well designed controls and mechanical parts were the work of Doolittle, and in all seriousness, there are lots of them. Many very innovative. Apparently the Turtle had the first underwater depth gauge, the first clockwork detonated explosive and most impressively, the first ever propeller. I shit you not, this guy invented the propeller which I think was powered by hand, so the person operating this submarine would have been whirling around this handle to make the thing move. Which probably explains why it moves at a staggering 3 mph. I mean for fuck sake, someone could have swum out there with an octopus on their head faster that the Turtle, and they would have attracted less attention. On the subject of inconspicuousness, now think about the speed, and now take into the account that the submarine could only hold enough air for 30 minutes. So the Turtle would have to come up every couple of kilometres for air. Not ideal.

The Turtle was only ever used once, on September 6th 1776, piloted by Sergeant Lee. The plan was, as the Turtle had been designed for, to sneak up on the British ship Eagle and use a screw to attach an explosive to the hull of the ship. Simple right? Well to start with, it took Lee 2 hours to get to the ship, presumably with a lot of lever turning. He couldn’t see very much because it was the evening and the sun was setting, and the foxfire wasn’t working because it was too cold. There was also a strong current to contend with. When Lee did finally get to the boat, things got very comical. He was probably knackered from all the wanking, sorry lever turning, and also probably suffering from carbon-dioxide poisoning. He made the mistake of starting the clockwork detonator and then couldn’t manage to attach the explosive to the ship. You can imagine the scene; Lee panicking as the timer counts down. Eventually he gave up, left the explosive in the water, made his exceptionally slow getaway and the explosive drifted away and blew up far away from anyone.

Not long after, the British sunk a ship that was transporting the submarine. It was gone for ever.

A few years later, Bushnell, the highly successful military inventor, SARCASM, planned to sink some British ships by floating some kegs of gunpowder towards them, like river mines. Not one of the kegs hit a British ship but there were two casualties; two kids who played with one that had washed up.

Two US submarines have been named after Bushnell, one from WW1 and one from WW2.

I’ve got an honorary mention here; dazzle camouflage invented by British artist Norman Wilkinson. Wilkinson was a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during the First World War. Whilst patrolling for U-boats and minesweeping, he had a Eureka moment, why would you try to camouflage a ship when the camouflage is never going to work at sea? The ship is always going to stand out. Instead, SONG give them the old razzle-dazzle, razzle-dazzle them!

Wilkinson’s idea was to make ships very obvious, but confusing, with geometric designs that made it hard for U-boats to work out which way, and at what speed the ships were going. These ships often look like zebras, well not in outline, but the black and white pattern. Zebras have apparently evolved there pattern because as a heard, the patterns can dazzle and confuse predators. Wilkinson was a conventional artist by the way and modern, geometric art was in its infancy really; cubism was created in the 1910s.

A modern demonstration impressed, amongst other people, King George V. The Naval high command was willing to give it a shot also. Most of the models used to test out designs and the theory are still owned by the Imperial War Museum by the way. Around 2300 British ships were painted this way within the last year of the First World War. The American Navy had over 1200 ships painted this way at the same time. Dazzle painting was again used by the Americans and British during the Second World War. There were also experiments to see if dazzle painting worked on airplanes. Sea Shepherd, the marine conservation charity that pesters Japanese whalers, use dazzle paintings on their ships, although I think that as a tactic, it’s almost completely redundant now with radar technology. The evidence for its effectiveness is none existent. Attempts have been made to establish whether it worked or not and the results are inconclusive. I saw reference to a modern study that suggested that boats weren’t moving fast enough for it to be effective.

Showmen next week

Failed despots week after

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