The Turtle and other weapons of desperation

Military History Carnival #10 has been posted over at Walking the Berkshires. This month, the post I enjoyed the most was at Boston 1775, about various improvised weapon systems which ragtag insurgents hoped would turn the tide against the overwhelmingly superior forces of a colonial power. Ok, it's a stretch to call these first submarines 'improvised weapon systems', as they were pioneering attempts at an entirely new mode of transportation. (The post is more about other proposed weapons, such as 'Row-Gallies'. I want to talk about submarines though :) But they were also weapons of desperation, of the weak against the strong. The British didn't need to invent submarines because they already ruled the waves. Why bother with such frail contraptions, more of a danger to their own crew than anyone else? Submarines have come a long way since then. They are integral parts of big navies, though for very different purposes than the Turtle (platforms for SLBMs, for example). Middle powers such as Australia like to have a few around to lurk about and deter any potential aggressors, and to add some heft to their offensive capabilities. It's in small, coastal defence navies that submarines retain something like their original purpose, as force equalisers. It's in the North Korean navy and its like that the true heirs of the Turtle are to be found today.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

9 thoughts on “The Turtle and other weapons of desperation

  1. CK

    Well Brett, I'm not sure whether I've shared this particular weapon of desperation with with you before, but slap in the headphones, turn up the volume, and get into the six turnin' four burnin' zeitgeist of the b-36 Peacemaker

    And yes that was James Stewart as an aircraft engineer an yes he was also a fully qualified B-58 pilot and yes he was also a b-17 pilot in Europe in ww2.

  2. Jakob

    Well, as elegant as the aluminium overcast could be... with all those pushers and the jets it looks like something from Norman Bel Geddes's imagination.

    It does seem to have been the basis for at least two crack-fuelled projects - the NB-36H airnborne nuclear reactor test aircraft and the FICON parasite fighter/recon system.

    I didn't know Jimmy Stewart flew the B-58 as well - I wouldn't have thought they'd have let reserve pilots loose on such a hot (and dangerous!) ship.

  3. CK

    I await with pure, unashamed schadenfreude, Brett.

    Here's a short clip of a B-58 (and others) from Nellis AFB Nevada where the narrator uses the phrase "airminded population" (actually I suspect roped in USAF families living at, err, Nellis AFB).

    Possibly my most significant contribution to your thesis: This maybe the last use of the term "airminded" on film. Or not. Meh.

  4. Post author

    I love the fact that all those sleek, superfast jets on display are long gone now -- and that the humble C-130s, KC-135s and (considerably less humble, but also not a speed demon) B-52s are still with us, nearly half a century later! The B-52Hs now in service are a bit younger, but not much: they were built in the early 1960s. And on current plans won't be retired until at least 2040.

    Googling for a bit more information on the 'World Congress of Flight' (wonder if the Russians were invited), I found this titbit about Edward Teller's proposal to test relativity. Always with the nukes, that boy!

  5. CK

    Absolutely Brett. And it makes you wonder how the RAN could have got it so wrong re the SeaSprite

    And as far as the JSF ( is concerned, well, let's not go there. Completely inappropriate to our defense needs and purchased on the mere whim of a minister against RAAF advice.

    Living in Perth, we also occasionally get SAS leaping from Hercs and the odd Caribou somewhere over the ocean. Trucks of the sky - you can hear them coming from miles away.

    So, being an honest citizen, I guess I'll have to kill you now.

    Sorry. Not personal...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *