Dr. Morris is Professor Emeritus of Education and Anthropology at Trinity College in Connecticut. His book Jahn P. Holland, 1841-1914. Inventor of the Modern Submarine. Library of Congress card, No. 66-20339, was published in 1966 by the U.S. Naval Institute.
The 17th day of May 1997 marked the 100th anniversary of the launching of HOLLAND VI which became the first submarine of the U.S. Navy. Its basic design inaugurated the submarine fleets of Great Britain and Japan, and augmented Russia’s first operative submarine flotilla at the time of the Russo Japanese War. Other centennials are soon to follow: the founding of the Electric Boat Company, formerly the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Co., d(1999); the government’s purchase of HOLLAND VI (April 11, 2000-Submarine Day); and the commissioning of HOLLAND (SS 1) (October 12, 2000).
There is a published view to the effect that midget submarines are no more than unworthy, secretive and dangerous toys. The disparagement is not applied to short-range and generally wet chariot-like vehicles employed by special forces such as SEALs and the SBS: it is the independent midgets with fairly long range and powerful weapons-true miniature submarines-that seem most subject to snide comments.
These centennial celebrations will pay tribute to an Irish-American inventor who, with minimal formal training as a draftsman and engineer, revolutionized naval warfare. His influence extended into the mid-point of the 20111 century, and his name is heard and respected to this day.
Sadly enough, 1997 also marked the 150th anniversary of the Bleak Year of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland through which inventor John P. Holland and his family suffered before emigrating to the United States.
Launching of HOLLAND VI occurred on Monday. 17 May 1897, at Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport. New Jersey. A crowd of Holland Torpedo Boat Company officials and investors, shipbuilders, marine engineers, government naval observers and curious onlookers waited patiently in expectant silence. Mrs. Lewis Nixon stood poised on a hastily erected platform beneath the bow of the strange vessel, champagne bottle in hand. The scheduled time for the launching (8:30 AM) had passed when a smalI, bespectacled man with a walrus mustache, dressed in a dark suit and black bowler, sporting a large cravat under his winged collar, gently pushed his way through the gathering and nimbly ascended the platform. A cheer rose from the crowd. Mrs. Nixon smashed the bottle against the steel hull. A fragment of glass cut her hand .
“Wedge up! Saw away!”
The 53 foot, 63 (light) ton craft slid down the ways and into the Arthur Kill. The New York Times cautiously reported:
HOLLAND, the little cigar-shaped vessel owned by her inventor. which may or may not play an important part in the navies of the world in years to come, was launched from Lewis Nixon’s shipyard this morning.
When my biography John p. Holland: Inventor of The Modern Submarine appeared 69 years later. the subtitle caused something of a stir both here and abroad. Captain Donald McIntyre, RN- (Ret.) insisted that “Inventor of The Modem Submarine” was a designation that belonged to the much decorated French marine engineer Maxime Laubeuf whose NARY AL was the first of its kind.
NARVAL AL was launched three years after HOLLAND VI. The claim that she was the first double hull is erroneous. Her 42 percent positive buoyancy, as against HOLLAND’s 12 percent, certainly favored her in competing with conventional vessels. Imagine what the difference in these ratios meant for the profiles of the boats awash. John Holland, however, was determined to design a craft that was fully maneuverable beneath the waves, and not one designed to compete with surface ships.
John de Courcy Ireland, the noted Irish military historian, favored Captain McIntyre’s view. Writing in the Irish Sword, he said: .. NARVAL was certainly larger than the famous HOLLAND VI, and her career was chequered with fewer troubles, but one point is not to do the impossible and claim for any individual the credit for ‘inventing’ the submarine.”
It should be noted that the publisher chose the subtitle, not the author. I have, however, become convinced that it was the right choice. Furthermore, anticipating potential criticism, I warned the reader in my introduction:
Yet it must be clear from the outset that a machine as complicated as the submarine is not the creation of a single genius striving through one brief period of history. A man and his work belong to one generation, but both are molded by the achievements of previous generations and are judged by the generations which follow. So it must be with Holland.
On the positive side of the ledger, de Courcy Ireland himself acknowledged that the book was “likely to remain the standard biography of Holland.The New York Times called it ” … a solid, scholarly step toward belated recognition [of the inventor]. ”
Commander Richard Compton-Hall, compatriot of Captain Mcintyre, an ex-Royal Navy submariner, and today’s leading authority on submarine history, wrote:
Amongst many reference books consulted [the Morris biography] was particularly helpful and pointed the way to many original sources. My sincere thanks go to the author for permission to use this excellent work-by far the best in the field-as a basis for reliable research.
Long before these critiques were proffered, and back at a time when John Holland was withdrawing from public life in 1911, the British journal Engineering published a lengthy document entitled “The Development of the Holland Submarine Boat.” It reviewed the inventor’s original insights and contrasted them with the pre World War I innovations attributed to Lawrence Y. Spear and other Electric Boat constructors. The implications are clear: Holland’s porpoising boats had been compromised; high maneuverability submerged gave way to lengthened hulls in proportion to their diameters. Speeds on the surface increased, but speeds beneath the surface remained relatively unchanged.
By this time, the embittered inventor fully realized what his ancient friends, as he called them (i.e., Isaac Rice, E.B. Frost and Frank Cable) had done to modify his basic designs.
These comments are not intended to defend my biography, but rather to defend John Holland’s rightful place in the history of submarine navigation; more specifically, why the centennial of the launching of HOLLAND VI deserves to be celebrated.
Years before the historic event of 17 May 1897, John Holland had drawn several plans for one-man submersibles, devised two clock-spring models to demonstrate his principles (one, while a teacher in Ireland; one in this country) and built, or had built, five submarines to designs from his board. The other remarkable thing was that he dared, indeed insisted, on risking his own life by commanding each of his untried, full-scale vessels. The culmination of this 28 year effort was HOLLAND VI.
The art and science of naval architecture began making enormous strides about the time that Holland emigrated to America. The first tow-testing tank was built at Torquay, England (1871) and Froude’s Law of Comparison enabled one to predict from towed models power curves, wave patterns and speed-length ratios for surface vessels. But only the French and John Holland seemed concerned to use such advances to determine similar results for vessels that moved totally submerged beneath the surface of the sea.
Mention of five Holland innovations should substantiate his right to be called inventor of the Modem Submarine. Taken singly, there is room for argument; taken collectively there can be little dispute.
1. HOLLAND VI was the first underwater craft successfully to combine two means of propulsion: ope for the surface, the other for running submerged.
Of course, others before him had tried dual propulsion. As early as 1801, Robert Fulton’s NAUTILUS ( the first of many submarines, both real and fictional, to bear that famous name) used a hand-cranked.fly propeller for power submerged, and a collapsible sail for its surface runs. Fulton, also, devised the first all metal hull made of copper.
In 1863, Confederate engineer Alstitt-working in Mobile, Alabama, the birthplace of the famous HUNLEY and a site which was to be a bane for the Union Navy-used one of the first imported European electric motors combined with a steam engine in his semi-submersible RAM. But he had not solved the problem of how to recharge the batteries. A retractable smokestack was all well and good, but running even partially submerged under steam was fraught with all sorts of limitations, not to mention the roasting of the crew. Furthermore, his diving planes were in the bow instead of the stem, “a recurring fault,” observed Compton-Hall. The whole contraption was quite unmanageable. Maxime Laubeauf’s NARYAL faced similar problems many years later.
It was Holland who seized upon the potential of the early internal combustion engine. He used the George B. Brayton petroleum engines in his Boats I, II, and IV. In his first attempt he
actually bad to operate Brayton’s sliding valves by ingeniously connecting a hose to an accompanying steam launch. But the Braytons improved.
Then came the Otto 45hp gas engine for surface runs, clutched to charge the accumulators that operated the 75hp dynamotor used when submerged. It was this pattern of dual propulsion that lasted for half a century, for the diesel also must be considered an internal combustion engine.
John Holland was fully aware of diesel development. As early as 1899, he urged his company to negotiate with foreign firms for a diesel engine to replace the cumbersome steam monstrosity in PLUNGER (hull No. V) which was then nearing completion in Baltimore. 10 But, unlike Laubeauf, he was far removed from the initial source of such machinery. Later, in 1900, he even sketched a six cylinder diesel, ever searching for more horsepower.
2. HOLLAND VI was designed to maintain a relativity fixed center of gravity below the axis of the vessel.
This feature aided Holland in conquering longitudinal and transverse stability which had plagued bis predecessors and bis contemporaries alike. Using a central ballast tank, coordinated with a series of smaller trim and weight-expended compensating tanks, and with careful attention to the distribution of heavy machinery within the hull, the center of gravity remained almost constant.
When hull shapes departed from the circular frames which provided the greatest strength against pressure on the hull with minimum wetted surface, and became flattened on top, the boats’ surface capabilities were enhanced. But in the act of submergence the transverse meta center would substantially drop decreasing stability below the surface.
The Austrian calvary officer, Whilhem Bauer, famous for his BRANDTAUCHER and LE DIABLE MARIN, had introduced trim tanks. It is an irony of history that Holland never knew of Bauer’s work-the one man whose years of persistent effort to build submarines was exceeded only by Holland himself.
The problem of maintaining longitudinal stability proved a difficult one. Thorsten Nordenfeldt, the Swedish engineer, who incorporated in his boats principles worked out by the English Reverend George Garrett, offered two of his boats to the government of Turkey. The story goes that in a demonstration before government officials in the Bosphorus, the Nordenfeldt’s ABDUL MEDIID, surfaced, dove, and reappeared again to the cheers of the official onlookers. What the surface observers failed to realize was that when she dove the crew rushed aft, and when she rose, it rushed forward, simulating a porpoising craft. And all the while water was surging about dangerously in her boilers and large fore and aft ballast tanks. Turkey bought the boat anyway.
Nordenfeldt, along with George Baker and one Professor J.H.L. Tuck, lost out to John Holland in the first U.S. government competition for submarine plans announced in the Circular of 1888. But no one really won; the government shifted the appropriation to surface vessels. But, in 1893, the story would be different.
3. Holland favored porpoising over level-keel submergence.
This debate became of the utmost importance for the future development of the submarine. The outcome of the debate delayed the appearance of the true submarine, Holland’s dream, for decades to come.
The improved Hollands, i.e., the A-Boats, were soon competing with Simon Lake’s level-keel submarines. Lake had become Holland’s major American competitor. Before the outbreak of World War I (1909, to be exact) diesel power had been introduced in our submarines and hydroplanes had been added to the bows. Lake-built boats began to appear on the Navy list of ships with the SS 191/z, the 0-1, named SEAL, commissioned in 1912. Hulls were extended, the reserve of positive buoyancy increased, stanchions began to line the decks, guns appeared mounted fore and aft of the conning towers, negative buoyancy-rather than neutral buoyancy-could be readily achieved (for Lake was fond of boats that could ride on wheels along the ocean bottom). Here was a submarine that could hold its own with surface ships in a seaway and fight back when the need arose. There is probably little doubt but what crews preferred the level keel ships. And, more seriously, they received the approbation of naval constructors who, as Holland quipped, “should have known better.”
This drastic change in submarine design really began before Simon Lake received his first government contract. The Navy had appointed Lawrence Y. Spear naval constructor in charge of submarines about which he knew little or nothing. Holland was furious. Even Frank T. Cable, Holland’s trial captain, publically voiced disapproval. But Spear won the day and paved the way for the introduction of the Lake boats. He left the government (1902) to become naval architect for Electric Boat’s Quincy Fore River Yard operations. (The Holland Torpedo Boat Company bad become a subsidiary of Electric Boat Company in 1899.)
In Spear’s words, these developments were needed to make the submarine more “habitable and comfortable in cruising at sea. “12 He would return the submarine to the status of a Civil War semisubmersible. Hull shapes abandoned the hydrodynamic lines of the porpoise which had characterized Holland’s boats ever since the days of FENIAN RAM (1881).
John Holland summoned up his Irish wit in counterattack. “The Navy doesn’t like submarines because there is no deck to strut on .. .Sweep out all interesting but useless devices that encumber the present boats .. .She cannot have a deck on which her men can enjoy sunlight. ”
But Spear and Lake prevailed. Speeds submerged were compromised. Even the fleet submarines of World War II, for all their glorious exploits, could barely match HOLLAND Vi’s underwater acceleration. Oh, yes, on the surface they were superior and could clock more than 20 knots. But it took them minutes to submerge, where the Hollands could disappear in seconds.
4. Holland designed his boats with a small reserve of positive buoyancy and with the propeller aft of the rudders and divine planes.
This combination he felt enhanced a submarine’s maneuverability underwater, for once neutral buoyancy bad been achieved he found that it took surprisingly little power to drive a porpoiseshaped hull between waters. It was a radical idea to place the propeller aft of the rudders and diving planes, an arrangement found in the original plans of all of his submarines, excepting the abortive Zalinski Boat (hull IV).
In trials before a government board of naval inspectors, 12 November 1898, HOLLAND VI yawed submerged. The periscope had not been perfected, and the inventor’s vision through the dead.lights in the turret was understandably limited. Furthermore, it was unreasonable, naval experts declared, to place a propeller aft of the rudders and diving planes. Who had ever heard of such a thing? You just didn’t build boats that way. And so HOLLAND was hauled out in the severe winter of 1898-99. The stem was shortened, the propeller brought inboard, and frames extended aft to accommodate rudders and diving planes, with a V-vane on top to automatically keep her on course when running submerged.
But, the original insight of John Holland was vindicated in 1953. He had anticipated by 45 years the theories of Dr. KeMeth Davidson of Stevens Institute who studied the shape and skin of the porpoise or dolphin, and whose theories helped to persuade naval architects to return to HOLLAND Vi’s hydrodynamic contours.The result was the conventionally powered ALBACORE (SS569), with a teardrop hull and a propeller aft of the rudders. Trails demonstrated a dramatic increase in speeds under water. When nuclear generated energy became available to drive the propulsion system and a refined hydrodynamic hull was also incorporated in SKIPJACK (SS585), the true submarine which Holland had envisioned became a reality.
5. Finally. a word should be credited to the Irish-American for his introduction of missiles; that could be fired from his boats when either awash or submerged.
Detachable explosives had been used by David Bushnell (1775), Robert Fulton (1801), Bauer (1856) and Alstitt (1863), among others. Spar torpedoes were common on the Confederate Davids in the War of the Rebellion. But the self-propelled submarine torpedo did not appear until 1869 when the Englishman Robert Whitehead and his son completed their initial work at the Luppis yard in Fiume (Rejaka), Austria.
Automobile torpedoes were first launched from surface ships, and hence the name torpedo boats. The internal torpedo tube was a later development.
The Campbell and Ash NAUTILUS (1884), France’s GYMNOTE (1888) which was the first submarine accepted by a major naval power-and NORDENFELDT I (1898), all released their torpedoes from the outer skins of their submarines. When the first tube was installed in the bow of a submarine is not clear, though the credit may belong to Lieutenant Isaac Peral of Spain.
Experiments with torpedoes in France and England proved that the automotive fish could not be ignored. True, it was totally erratic until contra-rotating propellers were devised and the running depths were reasonably controlled by pressure gauges, while the gyroscope assured their trajectories. In the meantime, Holland wryly observed that unless something was invented or improved by an Englishman that the U.S. Navy would have nothing to do with it. But events abroad did encourage him to include two torpedo tubes in PLUNGER which was soon to be replaced by HOLLAND VI.
Holland literally “stuck to his guns”-pneumatic and dynamite. FENIAN RAM (1881) had a tube along its central axis opening at the bow that for all the world resembled a torpedo tube. It had an 8 inch bore and compressed air fired a six-foot non-self-propelling missile. Captain John Ericsson, of MONITOR fame, supplied the Irish-American with dummy projectiles. In some hair raising experiments, these projectiles were hurled 60 yards when expelled submerged and 100 yards when fired while FENIAN RAM was awash. They could carry 110 pounds of gun cotton as warheads.
Edmund Zalinski, an Army ordinance officer and one time instructor at MIT, joined with Holland to form the Nautilus Submarine Boat company in order to test his patented dynamite gun. But the venture ended in disaster (1885).
Holland, however, perservered and two gun tubes were installed in HOLLAND VI, one fore and one aft, inclined 15 degrees above the horizontal, an angle which could be altered by trimming the vessel. The after tube was removed in the overhaul of the submarine in 1898-1899 to make room for improved exhaust equipment for the Otto engine. But his faith in missiles never faltered. His patents for a larger, faster submarine, granted in 1905, prove this point. As Compton-Hall observed: “Perhaps, as usual, he was right. ”
Once again, John Holland was a prophet. Now, self-propelled missiles from the onboard silos of OHIO (SSBN726)(Trident class), armed with mutliple-targeted nuclear warheads capable of being launched from beneath the waves, carry more firepower than all the bombs dropped in World War II.
Little wonder that Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross) who took a “dip” in HOLLAND VI when it put in at Sag Harbor on 23 July 1899-and she may have been the first woman ever to descend in a submarine-berated the inventor for devising a horrible weapon of war.17 The quiet, unassuming school teacher from Paterson, New Jersey, could only reply that he hoped the boat would be a deterrent to all future wars-the perennial rationalization of arms manufacturers the world over.
The Irish-born inventor died 12 August 1914, at age 73. Forty days later U-9 sank the British cruisers ABOUKIR, CRESSY and HOGUE within an hour; 36,000 tons of naval armament with a loss of 1400 lives. The submarine was something to be reckoned with.
This fore-shortened history hopefully makes the point that John Philip Holland was not only a mechanical genius but that he does, indeed, deserve the distinction of being called the Inventor of the Modem Submarine. It is for others to prove otherwise.
So it is appropriate that we commemorate the centennial of the launching of HOLLAND VI, SS 1, our Navy’s first submarine, and the centennials of the achievements of this mechanical genius which are certain to follow.