By Rob Morgan
A very valuable article on what is still a very much neglected area in the naval warfare of the American Civil War has appeared in The Mariner’s Mirror (Vol. 01, No. 4) journal of the Society for Nautical Research ( pp. 410-425), “Reconstructing the Design of CSS David.” Written by John D. Littlefield of Texas, this is an evaluation of the small group of interesting semi-submersible torpedo boats used by the Confederacy. Much was expected of these vessels initially, so that the Yankees might be “… chased from our coast by submarine propellors.”
It was CSS David which carried out the first successful torpedo attack, on the huge Union Ironclad USS New Ironsides. The warship was seriously damaged and Littlefield provides an interesting analysis of the boat’s action and potential, which was, arguably, significant. There were several of them, and they differed a little in dimensions and in capability. Some were given protection against small-arms fire, a big problem in the attack on New Ironsides, but not in armament or overall simplicity of design. At one point, the author refers to the Midge on display at New York, as a David Class vessel, and hints that there was (where now I wonder?) a collection of photographs which were taken at the War’s end, and he gives a specific number, of six torpedo boats, at Charleston, in 1865. They seem to have been simply abandoned at their jetties!
I found this article very useful, especially when read in conjunction with the Osprey New Vanguard “Confederate Submarines and Torpedo Vessels” title by Angus Konstam (a volume previously reviewed in Battlefleet) and it is an interesting sortie into a field of war which has more potential in wargames terms than those (sadly) one-sided dust-ups between a single Confederate ironclad ram with poor engines and a couple of Federal monitors!
In terms of wargame models of these delightful and dangerous men-o’-war, there are two sources of good sound models in 1/600th scale, first and at low
cost, is the pack of four David’s from Peter Pig. These are semi-submerged and only about 10-12mm of the hull shows. The funnel can be altered slightly for different variants of the torpedo boats. (Two photos on pages 420 and 421 of Littlefield’s article show that there was indeed a noticeable difference.) The rest of the model is hidden beneath the waves, of course! A larger and far more imposing, but rather expensive CSS David is in the American company Thoroughbred’s list, again a pack of four. The hull sits higher in the water; the bow torpedo boom is complete and visible; there’s just a little internal detail visible too; and the funnel is separate, so again this can be slightly altered for some variety. With a pack of each (all of them are sea-base mounted, by the way), you have more or less the complete class. Unfortunately, the other big 1/600th producer, Bay Area Yards, doesn’t seem to have ventured in this direction yet. Other readers may have other favoured sources of models.
The article ends with a long list of some 40 references, most probably all of them known to US readers, but barely known at all on this side of the pond. Titles like the South Carolina Historical Magazine, Lippincott’s Magazine and Confederate Veteran, for example, part of a wealth of “new” material which hopefully may become more widely known as Littlefield’s research and publication progresses. I wondered if these boats were simply given numbers or even local names in service? Hunley was.
I was talking about the article on CSS David with a colleague who builds “real” (his comment, not mine) ship models, full-hull and in large scales. He told me about an American company called Flagship models, found at:
These look fascinating, big and expensive. A David in 1/72nd costs about $70 US with add-on costs for bits, I suspect. The Flagship range, completely unknown to me, but possibly a household name in the States, has a number of ACW submersibles, including USS Alligator (anyone got more information, or a drawing of her? The box art shows her bright green!) and also a fair range of the Monitors and Ironclad rams, enough for a sea fight, if you have around $500 US to spare. Most of these are available in 1/600th of course from either Toby at Thoroughbred or Martyn at Peter Pig, but the Flagship 1/192nd models are magnificent! I ran through the list, and enjoyed the illustrations, but, when I came upon CSS Palmetto State, I stopped in my tracks! The painted model shown by Flagship is painted white overall! Why? The ship’s name alludes to South Carolina but where was she serving that a coat of white paint was considered suitable, or even necessary? Anyone know?