Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sea Hornet II comes to Miami - a little sub with big prospects

Scientific American, 1920

By Jane Feehan

According to the Miami Daily Metropolis, the Sea Hornet II, a torpedo boat that “almost revolutionized submarine warfare” during the world war and will probably revolutionize American Coast Guard defenses,” slipped into Miami and moored at the Biscayne Bay Yacht club in February, 1921.

The small sub, invented and built by W.B. Shearer, a torpedo expert for the navy, was constructed for $1.5 million. It could fire the largest torpedo made, was fireproof, and non-sinkable. Shearer sailed the boat from New York at 20 knots an hour to St. Augustine, where he entered what was known then as the East Coast canal (now the Intracoastal Waterway) and continued to Miami. The torpedo expert planned to bring the sub through some sea trials in Biscayne Bay before heading to the U.S. Navy base in Key West for government experiments.

The Metropolis reported that the boat’s capabilities were divulged to the U.S. Navy in 1917. It was one of the war’s “secrets.” Plans were made to build a fleet of them in England to use in a simultaneous attack on German naval bases; signing of the armistice halted those plans.

Shearer told the Metropolis reporter that the Navy was about to conduct experiments to test the advisability of creating a fleet for use in coastal defense. The sub was fast and simple in design. The 58-foot craft had a nine and a half foot beam and drew three and a half feet of water. It was painted dark gray, held a small mast atop a high bow that disappeared when in action. Two men operated the Sea Hornet but it could hold four.

“The Sea Hornet can be on its way in 32 seconds after firing,” said Shearer. The sub could make a getaway doing 34 mph with its 300-horsepower engines and could get within 1000 feet of another before being detected.

Did the Sea Hornet revolutionize sub warfare? I can't find additional information on what happened to this torpedo boat. After wars, Congress often cuts back defense spending; the Sea Hornet may have fallen victim to that.  A simple, low-cost boat like the Sea Hornet may have come in handy during World War II when German subs stirred up trouble along the Atlantic seaboard.

New York Times, Dec. 12, 1920:
Miami Daily Metropolis, Feb 1, 1921

Tags: experimental submarines after World War I, Miami during the 1920s, Miami history, warship history,  historical researcher, Florida history, maritime history

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