Royal Navy launches 1st submarine
With America, Germany and France all having commissioned submarines by 1900, the Admiralty’s prejudice against the craft was finally and reluctantly set aside. The very British attitude had been that submarines were not cricket – one admiral had suggested all captured submariners should be hanged as pirates, an insult that led to the Royal Navy tradition of subs flying the Jolly Roger when they return to port having sunk an enemy vessel.
Britain was so far behind in the new technology that it was decided to buy it in, the Irish-American engineer John P Holland of the American Electric Boat Company providing the design and know-how for the Barrow shipyard of Vickers-Maxim to build the first vessels.
Her Majesty’s Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 1 is thus known as Holland 1, the powers that be not deigning to give the vessel a name, seemingly regarding her as part of the equipment of floating submarine base HMS Hazard. The craft was 63 feet long, powered by a 160 horse power petrol engine when travelling on the surface, and a 70 horse power electric motor when submerged, and was manned by eight volunteers headed by a lieutenant.
Launched secretly and perhaps shamefacedly on October 2 1901 from Yacht Shed No 1 at the Vickers yard, the 105 ton craft could dive to 100 feet, and her armament was just one torpedo tube and three 18 inch torpedoes to fire from it. The system to detect noxious petrol fumes and other dangerous gases consisted of white mice.
When the capabilities of the craft were seen British prejudices against the new weapon were rapidly dropped. By the start of World War One in 1914 the British Navy had 100 submarines, more than any other power, and during that conflict five of the navy’s 14 VCs were won by submariners.
Holland 1 sank in 1913 on her way to be decommissioned, in its way a happy accident as the craft was raised in 1980. After considerable restoration and preservation work the Holland 1 can now be seen at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hampshire .
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