How did the Alligator get its name?
The submarine built in Philadelphia in 1861-62 which we call the Alligator has been called in official Navy correspondence some of the following:
Submarine Battery Alligator
Submarine Steamer Alligator
Submarine Boat Alligator
…and various other combinations of these names.
However, records show no mention of the name Alligator in reference to the submarine prior to its arrival in the James River in the summer of 1862, and historians have found no evidence that the boat was ever christened or officially commissioned under that name. It appears that the nickname was a reflection of the vessel’s appearance while partially submerged: with its low profile, greenish color, and forward dome bearing small windows that looked like eyes, the Alligator would have borne a striking resemblance to its reptilian namesake.
Was the Alligator ever commissioned in the US Navy?
We have no record of the boat ever being formally commissioned in the US Navy. Therefore it could not be called "in commission." The modern equivalent to its status would be "in service."
Normally a ship’s name is selected while it is being built, then when launched it is christened and formally given that name. As the ship is accepted into the United States Navy, it is "commissioned." At that time an officer takes command and becomes the "Captain" of the ship and the prefix "USS" is attached to the ships name. The "USS" stands for "United States Ship," meaning it is, through Congress and the Navy, the property of the United States and represents our country.
However, the formal use of the "USS" prefix as a standard manner to mean only ships in commission in the Navy is relatively recent and did not apply during the Civil War as it does now. Before the issuance of Executive Order 549 of 8 January 1907 a ship’s name could be prefixed by (in a loose manner) the type of ship it was or by its status. For example, the USS Minnesota (of Civil War fame) was variously called the Steam Frigate Minnesota and the Flagship Minnesota in official orders and communication. The lack of USS does not mean the ship was not "in commission" during the periods she carried the other prefixes.
After 8 January 1907 the use of "USS" meant the ship was formally "in commission." It wasn’t until 1948 that the Navy formalized the precise status each ship and boat in the Navy had. Article 2001 (Navy Regulations 1948) further stated that only those ships which were on "Active status" and "In commission" could carry the prefix "USS."
To call the Submarine Propeller the "USS" Alligator by today’s standards is not precisely correct. But to call her thatrealizing the ship designations that were in use during her lifetimeis acceptable. The use of "USS" Alligator is not meant to infer that the vessel was "in commission" by today’s standards, but is meant to honor the submarine propeller, its duty "in service" to the United States Navy, and its honored status in Naval Submarine Force history.
What is the Hunt for the Alligator?
The Hunt for the Alligator is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary effort to answer such questions as: What was the Alligator’s final design? Who served aboard the vessel? What was life like on the Alligator? Were Villeroi’s submarine prototypes the inspiration for Captain Nemo’s Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? What happened to the Alligator after it was cut loose from the USS Sumpter? Did she stay afloat or sink immediately? Can the lost submarine be found with today’s search technology?
The effort involves many organizations and individuals, including historians, marine archaeologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, engineers, naval experts, Civil War history interpreters, artists, teachers, and students. The 2005 Alligator search and survey mission, led by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, is just one of many efforts to learn more about the Alligator.
What are the chances of the Alligator ever being found?
Finding the Alligator will be a challenge. But thanks to newly uncovered information about the lost submarine, including the recent discovery of blueprints and other documents, the odds of finding it are improving. We have more clues than ever about the vessel and the circumstances of its sinking. These clues are helping researchers refine their theories about how and where the Alligator may have gone down, improving the chances of finding it. But even if the Alligator is never found, we will have expanded our knowledge and understanding of the marine environment, enhanced our ability to find undersea resources and potential threats, learned more about our nation’s history and Civil War era technology, fostered new partnerships, and engaged people of all ages in an effort of national historic importance.
How was the search area developed?
The 2005 search area is based upon research conducted by the NOAA HAZMAT modeling group in Seattle, Wash., which has experience in predicting how wind, currents, and other oceanographic processes might move an object on the water. Their analysis of where the Alligator may have come to rest is based in part on primary source material documenting the sea conditions surrounding the loss of the Alligator.
If the Alligator is found, will it be recovered?
It is too soon to know whether or not the recovery of the Alligator or portions of its wreckage is possible, or even desirable. If the Alligator is found, the U.S. Navy will determine what happens next, because the navy retains custody of all its ship and aircraft wrecks unless specific, formal action is taken to dispose of them. Unauthorized removal of any property from a U.S. Navy wreck is illegal.
Who is funding the Hunt for the Alligator?
This year’s search is being funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which is also supplying a research ship, the YP-679, for the effort. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is providing archaeological expertise and education and outreach support.
Why is NOAA involved in the Hunt for the Alligator?
NOAA is in the business of ocean exploration, education, and marine resource stewardship. Through the Hunt for the Alligator, NOAA aims to expand our knowledge of undersea resources in our nation’s waters, enhance the public’s understanding of our oceans, preserve America’s maritime heritage, and inspire the nation’s youth to pursue scientific careersall of which are part of NOAA’s mission. NOAA brings its expertise in finding, studying, preserving, and protecting shipwrecks and other historical undersea resources to the Hunt for the Alligator, as well as more than a century of experience exploring and charting coastal waters and conducting oceanographic and meteorological research.
Why is ONR involved in the Hunt for the Alligator?
In addition to the historical and maritime significance of the Alligator as a once state-of-the-art naval weapon, ONR sees this challenge as a way to build on its long-standing interest in developing systems to locate, identify and recover objects on the ocean floor.
ONR encourages and supports endeavors by others that can lead to the advancement of the science. To operate effectively in the oceans, knowing what lies below is imperative. This reality takes on even more importance when one considers potential threats to homeland security that may lie in the waters off our shores and harbors. The science of finding an object in the depths of the ocean is a priority to ONR and attempting to find the Alligator is an ideal exercise of those skills. The theory is that if we can find the Alligator, we can find anything.
ONR also sees this expedition as a way to develop working relationships with various other government and academic organizations to exercise the effectiveness of what we call the “Naval Research Enterprise,” an informal organization of laboratories, commands, universities and businesses working to meet the goals and objectives of the Department of the Navy.
What is ONR’s history in the field of underwater search?
The Office of Naval Research has pursued research projects that enhance deep-underwater search capability since the 1950s, within a decade of its founding. During that time, in cooperation with Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution, ONR supported the work of Bruce Heezen, who produced the famous Heezen-Tharp map of the ocean floor. In 1960, ONR teamed with Woods Hole to build three submersibles, one of which later was named Alvin. Also in 1960, ONR sponsored a historic descent by a Navy oceanographer, Lt. Don Walsh, and ocean engineer Jacques Piccard, to a depth of 35,800 feet in the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench aboard the deep submergence vehicle Trieste. In 1963, Trieste was employed to search for the lost nuclear-powered submarine Thresher. Alvin assisted in the 1966 search for a lost hydrogen bomb in waters off Spain, and has subsequently been used for many search missions at depths beyond 13,000 feet.
In the mid-1960s, ONR organized and led the Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea program, which studied the effects on humans of long-term confinement in an undersea environment. Teams aboard the Navy’s SEALAB II undersea vehicle spent 45 days living on the sea floor off the California coast. In the 1970s the Man-in-the-Sea program supported extensive studies by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Environmental Medicine to examine man’s ability to work in the undersea environment.
A major highlight of ONR’s undersea search operations over several decades has been its support for undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, who in 1985 discovered the lost luxury liner Titanic in 1985. In the past decade, ONR has accelerated its undersea search and surveillance programs to support Navy mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, and special operations.
Current programs such as the REMUS and battlespace preparation autonomous undersea vehicle, among others, also offer a mix of advanced search capabilities for military and scientific missions.
How can I get involved in the Hunt for the Alligator?
The public’s help in the Hunt for the Alligator is both welcomed and appreciated. Getting the word out to others about the Alligator is an important first step. Tell your friends, family, and neighbors about the green submarine! You never know who might have useful and important information. Already, descendants of Alligator crew members have come forward with letters and other historical documents that have been useful to researchers. Information about the Alligator, including resources for teachers, is available at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/alligator and www.navyandmarine.org.