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Father Of The Modern Submarine
Dauntless John Holland not only perfected the undersea boat but fought to get it accepted. Both achievements brought him only grief
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
About the Holland’s performance during her early voyages her chief engineer, Charles A. Morris, was exultant. “She goes like a fish,” he said, “and dives better than one.” But the Holland’s first successful dive ended in a mudbank, and the trials were to go on and on. In Raritan Bay on April 20, with an official Navy Board of Inspection looking on, the Holland made impressive dives of thirty-eight and fifty-eight minutes, and satisfactorily fired both a dummy aerial projectile and a dummy torpedo. The Navy, however, downgrading a favorable report from its board, still dragged its feet. The boat had been offered to the government for the war, which began the day after the April trials, but the offer was rejected by the brass despite Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt’s recommendation. The Holland never saw action; instead, from a new base in Brooklyn, she continued to undergo tests in the peaceful waters of New York Harbor, occasionally giving demonstration rides to American officers like Kimball and to naval observers from Norway and Japan.
More trials were held in November, this time before a review board including Captain Robley (“Fighting Bob”) Evans of Santiago fame. Although everybody was impressed when the Holland fired a real Whitehead torpedo, the boat when submerged yawed “like a drunken washerwoman,” and the board recommended further trials. Something had to be done about her steering. It was Engineer Morris who finally persuaded Holland that the rudders would have to be repositioned aft of the propeller if she were to answer to her helm. (Morris could hardly envisage the enormous power that was to make the original arrangement work in the nuclear submarine Skipjack.) An entrepreneur named Isaac Rice, sold on submarines after a demonstration ride in the Holland, paid for the alterations, which were carried out during the winter of 1898–1899. The stern was rebuilt, weight compensation tanks added, and the after dynamite gun removed as superfluous.
In June of 1899 the Holland, now operating for Rice’s new Electric Boat Company, was towed to Long Island, where the country’s first submarine base was established at the Goldsmith and Tuthill yard at New Suffolk. By July a safe, uncrowded three-mile course had been marked out in deserted Little Peconic Bay, and there, removed from a too-inquisitive public, intensive testing was continued during the summer. Occasionally, exhibition runs were made for important people like Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, who scolded Holland roundly for inventing a “deadly instrument of war.” Another time, two visiting senators and the crew were temporarily felled by exhaust fumes; the submarine glided into its basin with no one at the controls. In November final, stringent trials, more elaborate than anything that had gone before, were held before another Navy board. Though the boat and its crew acquitted themselves magnificently, the board still turned in an adverse report to Washington.
“We are going to send the Holland to Washington and make her lobby for an appropriation,” an angry Elihu Frost told Kimball. Congress, perhaps, would change the Navy’s mind. In December, under Cable’s charge, the Holland headed down the inland waterway—no insurance company would insure her for a voyage on the open Atlantic—toward the capital.
It was a 500-mile trip, longer than a submarine had ever traveled up to that time. The public was excited. Headlines announced: THE HOLLAND BOAT COMING TODAY; THE HOLLAND BOAT HERE. Crowds lined the banks of the canals and mobbed the boat wherever she tied up. Arriving in Washington, the Holland was overhauled at the navy yard during the winter, and between March 14 and 27, 1900, final Navy trials were held on the Potomac. An enthusiastic Admiral Dewey watched the first run (his aide, Lieutenant Harry H. Caldwell, was in the boat). While the Holland awaited the Navy’s verdict, exhibitions were held for newspapermen, foreign naval attachés, and congressmen. On April 11 the Navy finally agreed to purchase the Holland, and accepted her a week later. The price was $150,000. She had cost $236,615 to build.