Adders (later A-1 through A-7, designated SS-2 through
essentially enlarged versions of Holland VI with a more powerful
four-cylinder Otto-cycle gasoline engine – 64 feet long, 123
tons submerged displacement, and 180 horsepower. Their nominal submerged
endurance was four hours, and they carried a single 18-inch torpedo
tube forward with three torpedoes. Five were laid down at the Crescent
Shipyard and two at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, and the
last of them (Plunger and Shark) were commissioned
in September 1903. These boats – and Holland –
provided the Navy’s pioneer submariners their initial entrée
into the world of undersea warfare.
appropriated no additional money for submarines until 1903 and 1904,
but in the latter year, the Navy ordered four more from Electric
Boat: the three members of the 170-ton B class and the first of
the larger, 273-ton C class. Isaac Rice had lobbied vigorously in
Washington for more submarines during the fiscal hiatus, but Electric
Boat was forced to turn to foreign business to remain afloat, largely
by licensing the right to build overseas variants of Holland’s
Adder design. Britain’s Vickers Sons & Maxim,
Ltd., which had purchased an interest in the Company, built five
of these, including the Royal Navy’s first submarine, Holland
I, launched in October 1901, only a few months after Adder
herself. Similarly, the Russians built six Adder variants
under license, and the Dutch, one – their first submarine
O-1 – completed in 1906. Additionally, Japan ordered five
prefabricated versions, built for Electric Boat at the Fore River
(Massachusetts) Shipbuilding Company and assembled in Japan in 1905.
Counting Fulton, this meant that within five years, fully
25 of Holland’s A-class submarines were serving worldwide.
evocative photograph shows USS Porpoise (later A-6,
SS-7) running at speed on the surface. Of particular interest
is the officer steering the boat with a horizontal wheel and
the old 13-star ensign at the stern.
Holland and L.Y. Spear likely collaborated during the early phases
of the B-class design, the ensuing C-class boats – and their
successors – were entirely Spear’s. Thus, in the evolution
of the A-, B-, and C-class configurations, one can trace the waning
of John Holland’s influence and the increasing shift toward
L.Y. Spear’s own technical vision. As a former officer of
the Navy’s pre-1900 Construction Corps, Spear retained a strong
surface-ship orientation. One of Rice’s key motivations in
bringing him into Electric Boat was his recent Navy experience and
his presumed familiarity with the service’s operational needs
and its likes and dislikes. Thus, Spear was quick to retreat from
Holland’s ideal concept of the “true” submarine
– shaped like a fish and more at home underwater than on the
surface. Rather, he – and the Navy – saw the submarine
primarily as a submersible surface ship, to be optimized for operating
Consequently, to improve sea-keeping and to provide
greater visibility, a larger, free-flooding superstructure with
a sail-like conning tower was grafted onto the pressure hull, and
surface buoyancy was significantly enhanced to decrease wetness.
To Holland’s dismay, these changes inevitably diminished the
boats’ inherent underwater maneuverability and lengthened
the time it took them to submerge.
At this time,
Holland was experimenting actively with the application of rudimentary
automatic controls to submarines, beginning with a “steering
vane” intended to facilitate navigating a straight course
underwater. He also believed that the commander should be able to
maneuver the boat single-handedly with all necessary controls at
the conning station. This led to a long series of detailed and complex
refinements to his basic design, which increasingly exasperated
Electric Boat’s new management, particularly at a time when
they were striving to market submarines in quantity. As Isaac Rice
later put it, the Company needed ‘a naval constructor, not
an inventor,’ and most of Holland’s “improvements”
were thrown out.
With his influence
diminishing and his ideas ignored, John Holland had become thoroughly
disenchanted with Electric Boat within only a few years of its founding
– particularly since the company seemed interested only in
keeping him as a figurehead and capitalizing on his fame in advertising
“Holland-type” boats. Thus, when his five-year contract
with the young company expired in spring 1904, he hesitated little
before submitting a two-sentence letter of resignation to Isaac
Rice. It concluded, pointedly, “The success of your company
can never be as great as what I ardently desired for it.”14
the last knownphotographic portrait of John Holland, taken in
1912 when he retired from public life. After leaving Electric
Boat in 1904, Holland sought to establish a new submarine company
of his own, but having signed away his patents to EB five years
earlier, he was prevented from using them to establish himself
as a competitor. Within afew years, “John P. Holland’s
Torpedo Boat Company” went under, and Holland abandoned
the submarine business. He died in August 1914, only two weeks
after the outbreak of World War I.
It was John
Holland’s intention in leaving Electric Boat to found a new
submarine company of his own. During the relative idleness of his
last several years, he had worked on a more powerfully-engined design
that seemed to promise a surface speed in excess of 20 knots. With
his Electric Boat stock worth only $50,000, Holland lacked sufficient
capital for a major initiative, but with the encouragement of loyal
friends like Charles Morris and William Kimball, he built a scale
model of his new configuration and tested it in the Navy’s
towing tank at the Washington Navy Yard. Despite promising experimental
results, a special Naval Board declined to support his design, partly
on the grounds that operating an underwater craft at speeds over
six knots was considered too dangerous. However, in mid-1904, the
Japanese government purchased a set of Holland’s plans and
proceeded to build two local variants in Kobe, their sixth and seventh
submarines.Presumably lacking the large engines originally intended
for them, these boats were little faster than the A class that preceded
them, and one was lost with all hands in an accident in 1910.
All of Holland’s
subsequent attempts to sell submarines or submarine designs under
the aegis of “John P. Holland’s Submarine Boat Company”
were thwarted by a series of legal actions by Rice and Frost, who
sought to deny the inventor not only the use of his patents for
foreign business, but even the use of the name “Holland”
for either his company or in marketing “Holland-type”
boats. Although the Electric Boat lawsuits were later dismissed,
they succeeded in discouraging both the start-up capital and overseas
orders that Holland needed to get his company off the ground, and
by 1907, the Submarine Boat Company had essentially folded. The
next year, when Simon Lake’s political influence moved Congress
to investigate the de facto Electric Boat monopoly on U.S. submarine
building – amid charges of collusion and covert stock transfers
to Navy officials – Holland supported Lake’s position.
out the rest of his life in East Orange and Newark, New Jersey,
where he enjoyed the company of his family and became quietly active
in community affairs. He was slowed down considerably by increasing
rheumatism and by a minor stroke and partial paralysis in 1909,
but he continued to tinker with mechanical contrivances in a workshop
behind his home. In November 1913, Holland suffered a major setback
with the death of his 19-year old daughter, Julia, and after his
longtime friend Charles Morris passed away a few months later, his
own health deteriorated rapidly. He died of pneumonia in Newark
on 12 August 1914, only two weeks after the outbreak of the First
World War. Almost immediately, “Holland-type” submarines
on both sides of the conflict began exacting the early losses of
ships and men that showed undersea warfare coming into its own far
more rapidly than even John Holland himself could have predicted.15,16
Holland’s Fenian craft was never intended to be operated
as a “ram,” but its inventor admitted that with its
pointed bow and ample displacement, it could have been very effective
in that role.
The dynamite gun was a short-lived, late 19th-century projectile-firing
weapon that used the relatively “soft” impulse of compressed
air to launch powerful dynamite warheads that would likely be detonated
prematurely by the shock of firing from a conventional powder gun.
The Fenian Ram, stripped of its engine, was stored in New
Haven until 1916, when it was transported to New York as the centerpiece
of a fund-raising event for Irish victims of the Easter Rebellion.
After several more relocations, it eventually came to rest in the
Paterson (New Jersey) Museum, where it is on display with Holland
I, which was raised from the Passaic River in 1927. The
16-foot model still lies somewhere in New York’s East River.
Other early submarine pioneers, such as the Swede Thorsten Nordenfeldt
and the American Simon Lake, opted for a “level diving”
approach, in which their boats submerged on an even keel, largely
by carefully establishing near-neutral buoyancy and controlling
trim with amidships hydroplanes.
This island, formerly Fort Lafayette, is just south of today’s
Verranzano Narrows bridge.
This same problem was experienced in the Royal Navy’s infamous
K-class submarines of World War I, which were also steam-powered
to achieve high surface speeds.
Holland’s five previous submersibles had been Holland
I, the Fenian Ram, the Fenian model, the Zalinski
Boat, and Plunger.
It appears that this was the first early submarine to combine an
internal combustion engine for surface running with an electric
motor for underwater operation.
Presumably, the requirement for a surface speed of 15 knots was
In summary, Holland VI and the first of the “improved”
boats were bought under the 1896 appropriation; five of the new
boats were appropriated in 1900; and the seventh was funded largely
with the 1895 appropriation. At the time, there was considerable
criticism of the Navy for letting Holland and Electric Boat “off
the hook” for Plunger so easily.
However, before the two submarines could go head-to-head in a comparative
Navy trial scheduled for May 1904 – just after the outbreak
of the Russo-Japanese War – Lake sold Protector to
the Russian navy, and within months, Fulton had been sold
to them too.
The seven boats of the Adder class (later the A class)
were originally named Adder, Grampus, Moccasin, Pike,
Porpoise, Shark, and Plunger. Confusingly,
Plunger – not the earlier unsuccessful boat and actually
laid down last – was later designated A-1 (SS-2), presumably
because she replaced the earlier Plunger of the original
(1895) appropriation. Adder became A-2 (SS-3), etc.
This position prompted Holland’s famous observation that “The
Navy does not like
submarines because there is no deck to strut on.”
Isaac Rice died in 1915. Lawrence Spear and Frank Cable eventually
rose to high management positions within Electric Boat after collaborating
to establish the New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) in
1910 to build diesel engines for U.S. D- and E-class submarines.
Spear became president of Electric Boat in 1940 and then chairman
of the board in 1947. He died in 1950, and the submarine tender
USS Lawrence Y. Spear (AS-36, commissioned in 1970) was
later named after him. Frank Cable served as General Manager of
Electric Boat after it absorbed NELSECO in 1930. He died in 1945,
and the tender USS Frank Cable (AS-40, commissioned in
1980) was subsequently named for him.
Holland is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in the Paterson suburb
of Totowa, New Jersey, only a mile or so from the Passaic River,
where he first tested Holland I in 1878. His gravestone
bears a bas-relief of the famous photograph of him – with
walrus mustache and bowler hat – emerging from the conning
tower of Holland VI.
The U.S. Navy subsequently named two submarine tenders for John
Holland: USS Holland (AS-3), which was commissioned in
1926, served as the COMSUBPAC flagship in late World War II, and
was decommissioned in 1947; and a second USS Holland (AS-32),
which was commissioned in 1963 specifically to tend the SSBN force
and decommissioned in 1996.
Paul, The Garrett Enigma and the Early Submarine Pioneers,
Airlife Publishing, Ltd, 1999.
Norman, U.S. Submarines Through 1945 – An Illustrated
Design History, U.S. Naval Institute Press (1995)
Brayton, The Navy Times Baook of Submarines – A Social,
Political, and Military History, Berkeley Publishing Group
Richard Knowles, John P. Holland – 1841-1914 – Inventor
of the Modern Submarine, U. of South Carolina Press (1998)
The author has
also found a wealth of useful information on Gary McCue’s
comprehensive website devoted to the life and work of John P. Holland:
www.geocities.com/gwmccue. Not only is there a detailed technical
description of Holland VI but also a computer model that
shows how the various subsystems were configured. There is also
a large collection of photographs and a set of hyperlinks to all
of John Holland’s original patents.