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Dr R.K. Morris, scholar, author, poet, astronomer, sailor and good friend to submariners everywhere, died aged 84 in Connecticut on 5 October 2000. He was the biographer of J.P. Holland.

It is fair to suppose that, without Dick Morris, submariners would not appreciate the extent of the debt we owe to John Philip Holland.

There were many hundreds of inventors, over two centuries and more, who endeavored but failed to design a submarine that functioned as it should. Only a quizzical little Irish immigrant, quondam monk and schoolmaster, got it right – and Morris told us why.

“John P. Holland (1841 – 1914), Inventor of the Modern Submarine” was published by the US Naval Institute in 1966 (with a new edition surfacing for the centennial) and was quickly recognized as a classical, definitive and very readable work.

Inspired initially by diaries and papers of his grandfather, Charles A Morris, Superintending Engineer of the John P Holland Torpedo Boat Company, Dick Morris researched deeply and internationally, establishing a close relationship with submarine communities. The abiding respect that resulted was mutual.

Morris explained how Holland overcame the dramatic problem of longitudinal instability that plagued other submarine torpedo boats; bow he rejected safer-seeming submergence on a level keel and insisted on changing depth with down or up angles applied by properly positioned diving rudders; how he propelled HOLLAND VI, which became USS HOLLAND (SSL) on 12 October 1900, by the (then) best combination of internal combustion engine and electric motor-cum-generator; we adopted a streamlined shape that was close to being ideally proportioned for submerged performance; and how he fought continually, albeit not in the end successfully, to preserve a fishlike uncluttered hull against what he saw as the desire of officers for “a deck to strut upon”.

Some 40 years after Holland’s death we found his beliefs about hull-form vindicated and revived, first in USS ALBACORE and then SKIPJACK.

If history is indeed equivalent to risk-free experience, Dick Morris made this freely available to us by recording John Holland’s struggle in the face of pride, prejudice, politics and bureaucracy-to produce what was rightly called the world’s first really successful submarine. We may be grateful to Holland’s biographer.


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