The internal combustion engine offered speed and comparative endurance on the surface, but its deadly carbon monoxide exhaust fumes and high oxygen consumption were obstacles to life beneath the surface. By 1900, submarine designers had solved this problem with the storage battery and electric motors. John Holland was the first to conceive of employing electric motors and the internal combustion engine to power a submarine. Holland and another American, Simon Lake, became the first modern submarine designers. They began their experiments in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Holland in the 1870s and Lake in the 1890s.
Holland built six submarines, including one under government contract, before the Navy would accept one of his underwater boats. SS-1 Holland was designed in the 1890's by John P. Holland, an inventor and self-taught engineer who had emigrated from Ireland some twenty-five years earlier. Built under his supervision at the Crescent Shipyard at Elizabethport, NJ, the HOLLAND VI was purchased by the US Navy 18 April 1900 for $160,000; and commissioned on 12 October 1900.
USS Holland (SS-1) was originally named Holland VI and was not developed under Navy contract. Holland VI was designed and built by its namesake using his own funds. USS Holland had the "amazing speed" of seven knots surfaced, made possible by her 45-horsepower internal combustion engine. She also had an endurance of several hours submerged when running on rechargeable storage batteries.
Holland was powered by a 50hp Otto gasoline engine; she carried 1500 gallons of gasoline. For underwater operations she utilized an ESB storage battery and 50hp 110-volt motor. She had one 18-inch torpedo tube with one Whitehead torpedo loaded and an 8-inch dynamite gun. Holland carried three Whitehead torpedoes, each with a pressure-sensitive piston that controlled the depth of the torpedoes' run. The torpedo's stability was controlled by a pendulum, while direction was controlled by a gyroscope. A number of modern torpedoes used similar principles. The pneumatic dynamite gun fired through an opening in the bow. Her original crew was five enlisted and one officer; an executive officer was later added.
For all its innovations, USS Holland had at least one major flaw; lack of vision when submerged. The submarine had to broach the surface so the crew could look out through windows in the conning tower. Broaching deprived the Holland of one of the submarine's greatest advantages - stealth.
Utilized mainly for experimental work, Holland became a training platform for the new crews to man them. She spent summers in Newport and winters in Annapolis and then was transferred to the Reserve Torpedo Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia and languished there until decommissioned on 21 November 1910 and stricken.
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