Submarine Navigation: Past and Present

By Alan Burgoyne
E. P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1903
page 304 - 309


The following appeared in the estimates for 1901-1902:

‘Five submarine vessels of the type invented by Mr. Holland have been ordered, the first of which should be delivered next autumn.

‘What the future value of these boats may be in naval warfare can only be a matter of conjecture. The experiments with these boats will assist the Admiralty in assessing their true value. The question of employment must be studied, and all developments in their mechanism carefully watched by this country’

These vessels were laid down with the utmost secrecy in the latter part of 1900 and every vessel had been on the stocks five months before anyone outside the works and the Admiralty knew of their contemplated construction. Their dimensions are as follows:1

Length over all 63 feet 4 inches, beam 11 feet 9 inches, with displacement when submerged of 120 tons. One torpedo expulsion tube is formed at the extreme forward end of the boat, and four of the 18-in. White-head torpedoes are carried, the gear being arranged so that the torpedo may be discharged with the boat stationary or running at any speed, and when the vessel is awash or submerged. The scantlings of the hull have been designed to withstand the pressures consequent on submergence at a depth of 100 feet from the surface, the double bottom tanks being utilized for ballast and storing purposes. Ingress and egress are through a conning-tower of armoured steel 4 inches thick and 32 inches in external diameter, fitted with observation ports. The propulsion of the vessel awash is by gasolene engine with four single-acting cylinders water-jacketed, actuating pistons of the trunk type, with long surfaces, the connecting rods being attached direct to the pistons. The inlet and exhaust valves are of the poppet type, and are in the cylinder heads, the levers by which they are operated being actuated by hand, mounted by sleeves keyed to the cam shaft running alongside and near to the top of the cylinder. The cam shaft makes one revolution for every two of the main shaft, and the motion is transmitted by two pairs of skew gears through a vertical shaft. The electric ignitors are actuated by eccentrics also from the cam shaft; the moveable and fixed electrodes are fitted with platinum points. There being four cylinders it follows that there is an impulse for each revolution, and the speed may be varied from 200 to 300 revolutions per minute, giving a maximum power of 190 B.H.P. The boat has one propeller with four blades and the speed awash is expected to be 8 knots. Fuel is to be carried for a radius of 400 miles at this speed. Propulsion when submerged is by an electric motor, which, like the gasolene engine, drives the shaft from the propeller through gearing with clutch connection. This gearing enables both the gasolene engine and motor to be at a lower level than the shaft, which is on the center line of the boat. For diving the boats are fitted with horizontal as well as vertical rudder, while at the same time a simple system of automatically arranging the disposition of water ballast is fitted to overcome any lack of horizontal stability consequent upon the diving action. Automatic means are also provided for determining the angle of diving or rising to the surface, and to obviate submergence to excessive depths. At the same time hand gear for most purposes is fitted.

These five vessels, all of which are afloat, were built at Messrs. Vickers, Sons and Maxim, Barrow-in-Furness.

H.M. Torpedo Gunboat 'Hazard' was specially commissioned by Captain R. S. H. Bacon, D.S.O., an expert torpedo officer, to act as 'mother ship' to the submarines. On this gunboat also is a son of the present Secretary to the Admiralty, who has always taken a great interest in wireless telegraphy and torpedo work.

The programme to be carried out on the first boat finished was as follows. A surface run of 10 knots at full speed and then a submerged run of 2 knots at the same speed, at the end of which run a torpedo was to be discharged at a target 150 feet long by 16 feet deep, the upper edge of the target being awash and placed at right angles to the course. During the submerged run the boat would only be permitted to come to the surface three times before firing the torpedo and the duration of each appearance was in no case to exceed one minute.

Submarine boat ‘No. 1’ was launched on October 3rd, 1901, ‘No. 2’ on February 21st, 1902, ‘No. 3’ on May 9th, ‘No. 4’ on May 23rd and ‘No. 5’ on June 10th of the same year.

As a foster-ship for this strange squadron, the third-class cruiser 'Latona' has been commissioned, and in her the crews of these subaqueous craft will take up their lodging.

Whilst the last three of the five ordered in the Naval programme were still on the stocks, a sixth, designated 'No. 6' was laid down.

This vessel about which it is very difficult as yet to obtain details, is apparently nothing more than an elongated Holland; being 100 feet instead of 63 feet 4 inches in length.

Her engine power has been vastly augmented, and during a preliminary trial, - for she is already afloat, having been launched on July 9th 1902, - she attained a surface speed of over 15 knots. This constitutes a record for the modern vessel, unless one includes the unsuccessful 'Nordenfelt' which came to so untimely an end off Denmark.

Now again three more are being built, of the 100 foot class, so that by the end of 1903, England will possess no less than nine craft of the most advanced type.

There is one fault in the British ‘Hollands,’ however: the interiors are filled with pieces of mechanism that might easily be dispensed with. What struck me especially on board the American boats (the author had an opportunity of inspecting several on Long Island in October 1902) was the wonderful amount of space - or elbow room - they possessed, which must make a great difference to the comfort of those managing the boat during trials.

Submarine boat ‘No. 1’ was put through an important series of trials in Barrow docks during April 1902. She first under went surface tests with the view of ascertaining the results attending the erection of a brass conning-tower, which was originally composed of steel, as well as a new steering wheel, now fixed to the boat close to the tower, which can be worked from above and below alike. These improvements, it is understood, proved highly satisfactory. This was the first time the craft had been entirely under water. She proceeded at a slow pace along the dock, and was seen to sink at the bow and then suddenly disappear from sight, a few inches of the periscope only being visible. The sinking was executed in the space of a few seconds. There were five persons on board and the vessel was submerged for over two hours, the crew feeling not the slightest inconvenience. This preliminary test gave the greatest satisfaction, the boat behaving admirably at a depth of about 9 feet.

A noteworthy feature of the test was her excellent diving propensities, which for three days were put to the severest trials. In this respect it is intended the boat, on sighting its object for ‘destruction,’ shall immediately dive down, first of all as far as the small conning-tower, in which position she can travel if necessary for a distance of 400 miles. When within suitable range - say about 2,800 yards - she goes completely below the surface, a lookout being kept by means of the periscope, which reflects down into the boat any objects ahead, when she is under to the depth of about 10 feet.

It was expected that this operation could be accomplished in a very short time, and the exhaustive tests of ‘No. 1’ boat have shown the surmise to be quite correct. In fact, the boat, after submerging to the tower, suddenly disappeared, and then came again in sight some yards distant with remarkable rapidity, the diving being continued at intervals, for several hours at a time, without any perceptible hitch.

Seven persons were on board the submarine, and the vessel repeatedly ran the length of the dock submerged a few feet below the surface of the water. The trials were accomplished in a remarkably short time, the submerging not taking more than six seconds, while the ascent to the surface was made in a very little longer time. The operations were continued for some time, the vessel being kept on a straight course. The steam launch ‘Cayzer,’ with Admiralty and other officials on board was in attendance.

These tests having proved successful, the boat was taken out into the Irish Sea, escorted by the tug ‘Furness,’ on board of which were divers ready for instant action in case of accident. All went well with the submarine, and it is reported that her open-sea trials, which tool place off the west coast of Walney Island, were successful. The vessel was submerged to a depth of 15 feet and ran 6 miles under these conditions. She remained off Walney Island until late in the evening waiting for the flood tide, upon which, attend by the tug, she returned safely to Barrow.

A few words as to the trials of the British boats. It would be mere repetition to quote all these in full, since they corresponded in detail almost exactly to those of the American vessels, which have been given very fully elsewhere.

Captain Cable, who has made some 2,500 descents in vessels of the 'Holland' type, came over here especially to initiate some of our experts into the mysteries and to teach them the various tricks of submarine boats.

He had apt pupils, and they speedily learned to control their novel craft with great skill, if not with the finesse of the master hand of Captain Cable.

The speed realised on the surface was between 9 and 10 knots, in all cases exceeding that required by contract. The mere fact of having a new order for the additional boats proves that the distrust and laisser-faire policy of 'the powers that be' in Whitehall have given way to confidence and energy. Captain Bacon has been appointed Inspecting Captain of submarines.

In May 1901, a report was current that the Admiralty had ordered two more 'Holland' boats of an improved type and on a large scale. These were to be built at Sayville, Long Island, U.S.A.

This rumor I can positively assert is nothing but a fabrication of the paper that promulgated it.

It has also been stated in official quarters that a tenth submarine boat is actually on the stocks in a private yard in England, the vessel being built to the designs of an English inventor, whose name has not transpired.

The author, despite repeated inquiries, has been able to find no trace of this vessel, and its existence is denied in official quarters.

  1. By permission of Lieutenant A Trevor Dawson, of Vickers, Maxim, Limited