As the U.S. Navy raced in 1861 to build its own ironclad to counter CSS Virginia, a private citizen―an immigrant Frenchman speaking little or no English―offered another solution: a bateau sous-marin or submarine boat. Long-recognized in his native France as an “Engineer of the First Class” for his numerous inventions, Brutus de Villeroi had the experience of having built two previous submarines. Although frowned upon by every navy as “ungentlemanly” at best, illegal at worst, investing in the unique weapon seemed a small investment compared to the possible return; what is more, local civilians agreed to fund the work, with Washington paying only upon acceptance of the boat. Overall, it seemed a good idea. Unfortunately, nothing went as smoothly as everyone naively expected. Here is the long-awaited tale of the U.S. Navy's first submarine, Alligator―the details of her construction, how she worked, her attempted missions, and ultimate loss. Moreover, this is the life story of Brutus de Villeroi. To understand Alligator, it is necessary to understand her designer. His innovations are undeniable: the first double-hulled ballast tank, bow hydroplanes, and a diver's lockout chamber. These should be no surprise for someone who listed his occupation in the 1860 census as "natural genius," but was this greatest of his inventions more than he could handle?

(original letters & transcription)


"Chuck Veit has done it again with a masterful story of French inventor Brutus de Villeroi and the challenges of the U.S. Navy's first submarine during the Civil War! Thoroughly researched and very informative. Well worth a deep dive into this key piece of submarine history!"  (RAdm Jay Deloach, USN (ret.)


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